WASHINGTON, D.C. (WPRI) - When the U.S. Senate was debating a tough new bankruptcy bill seven years ago, Elizabeth Warren was blogging about her opposition to it for a liberal website. On Thursday, she was sworn in as the Senate's newest member.
It's been a wild ride for Warren, the Harvard Law School professor who became a Democratic Party heroine thanks to her vocal critique of Wall Street and last November won an eight-point victory over Republican Scott Brown, a political superstar in his own right.
Warren, 63, doesn't even have her own office on Capitol Hill yet - on Thursday morning she waited for her swearing-in with a few staff members in a narrow, sparsely decorated conference room in a Senate office building. Among those with her was Mindy Myers, a former chief of staff to Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse who is taking the same job for Warren after managing her campaign.
Warren was full of energy and chomping at the bit to start working during an interview in the makeshift office. "It's so exciting to be here," she told WPRI.com.
"I've been out there fighting for middle-class families pretty much all my grownup life, and trying to find every way I could to do it," she said. "I come to the United States Senate and see this as a place of opportunities - the real possibility that we could move the needle to help working families."
Just after noon on Thursday, Warren took the oath of office from Vice President Joe Biden on the floor of the Senate by placing her hand on a small, careworn Bible that she got when she was a third-grader growing up in Oklahoma. "It's always been on my bedside table," she said. "It's the one I read." She keeps a cross inside that was crocheted by an elderly blind woman who was friends with her mother.
Warren criticized Republicans who've suggested this week's compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff should have reduced spending on Social Security and Medicare or kept taxes lower on Americans who earn $450,000 or more. "Government should not be the tool of those who can hire armies of lobbyists," she said. "Government needs to work for the people."
Another big debate is looming in the coming weeks over the debt ceiling, a legal limit on how much the country can borrow that Republicans say they don't want to lift. Warren said she will look for different ways to be effective in that debate and others.
"The way I look at this is it's all about how to be effective," she said. "Sometimes that means being quiet in the backseat and just helping the wheels roll; other times it means jumping out in the headlights. It's where the opportunities are. But always with a clear goal in mind: what makes the world a little better for our middle-class families?"
Despite rumors of opposition from Wall Street lobbyists, Warren was appointed to the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees the finance industry that she has criticized before. "For me it's all about accountability," she said. "If they're willing to be transparent, then they have nothing to be afraid of."
Warren also declined to endorse Democratic Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey, who has already said he will run for the U.S. Senate that will be vacated if John Kerry is confirmed as President Obama's new secretary of state. Other congressmen including Stephen Lynch and Michael Capuano have also signaled interest in the race.
"Ed Markey has been a terrific congressman for the people of Massachusetts," she said. "He's provided great leadership, particularly on environmental issues, and I think he would make a very strong senator."
"But," she added, "you have to see what unfolds."
If Kerry does get confirmed, Warren would become the senior senator from Massachusetts - just weeks after taking office. Gov. Deval Patrick would appoint an interim senator to fill Kerry's seat until a special election is held, likely next summer, to pick someone to finish Kerry's term, which expires at the end of next year. Brown may run.