Progressives’ hopes that President-elect Joe Biden could appoint Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to a key position in the cabinet seem to depend on a proposed amendment to a Massachusetts state law and the Democratic Party’s ability to turn over two Republican-held Senate seats in view of the Georgia runoff.
Both variables could affect the balance of power in the Senate currently controlled by the Republican Party. If the majority of Republicans in the Senate holds out until the January runoff elections in Georgia, Biden’s first term under split government will begin, which will affect the extent to which he can push through his government’s agenda.
Democrats were optimistic about their chances of winning a handful of vulnerable Senate seats in this election cycle, but this optimism waned as many state election results contradicted polls’ predictions. On Tuesday, the Democrats won only one additional Senate seat, with the only remaining race not yet called or conceded strongly in favor of the GOP in Alaska.
The election results so far shift the Senate balance slightly from 53-47 to 52-48, with the Republicans still in the majority and Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell likely to retain his role as majority leader. Two seats currently held by Republicans may still be turned around in the runoff elections in Georgia scheduled for January. If both seats go to the Democrats, this could put the parties on an equal footing, with Kamala Harris as the next vice president possibly breaking the connection.
Warren, a progressive who ran for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential campaign before suspending her campaign in March, was one of several politicians allegedly considered a potential candidate in Biden’s campaign after Biden declared he would vote for a woman. After Biden announced in August that California Senator Kamala Harris would join his ticket, speculation began about what other roles Biden might assign to satisfy the party’s progressive wing – and Warren’s name surfaced in Treasury Department conversations.
Before Warren was appointed chairman of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) during the 2008 Great Recession, she worked as a law professor specializing in insolvency law. Former President Barack Obama later made Warren an assistant to the President and asked her to oversee the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency created to advocate and protect American consumers. Part of her role in overseeing the office was to serve as special advisor to former Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner.
After working under the Obama administration, Warren Geithner became the first woman elected to represent Massachusetts in the Senate in 2012 and was re-elected in 2018. She ran for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidacy in 2019 and 2020 as a progressive whose political goals included resolving the student debt crisis, fighting climate change, introducing additional taxes for wealthy Americans and increasing wages.
Warren’s legal and economic background, coupled with her progressive priorities, seemed to make her a solid choice for Treasury leadership if Biden’s team decided to give some cabinet posts to politicians whose views tended further to the left than his own. While a Republican-led Senate could confront Biden with roadblocks as his administration attempts to push through its agenda, progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives and Senate could do the same. Biden tried to win over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ supporters in the months following Sanders’ decision to suspend his own presidential campaign, but there are still some in Congress who hoped the Democratic Party would elect a more progressive candidate than Biden.
Terry Sullivan, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina who advises the new governments on transition-related decisions, recently told Washington Newsday that Biden’s willingness to compromise could be a worrisome issue for progressives eager for a quick change. Sullivan