WASHINGTON – As Elizabeth Warren walked through the marble corridors of the United States Capitol on Tuesday, she tried assiduously to keep a low profile. Walking arm in arm with Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, they passed paintings of historic politicians, busts of former vice presidents, and the doors to the senate floor they will enter once sworn in.
A small gaggle of reporters awaited one of the rising stars in Washington, and Warren knew it. She leaned into Baldwin and was overheard saying, “Pretend you’re talking to me.”
She answered no questions, and strolled into a luncheon as reporters from the biggest news organizations in the country scolded themselves for not getting more information.
It was a completely different feel than the day two and a half years ago when the last new Massachusetts senator entered the building. Legions of reporters awaited Scott Brown, who seemed happy to accept the mantle of stardom that Washington was offering. He shook hands with nearly everyone who extended one (“You play hoops?” he asked a tall man, who did). Reporters and cameramen fought for space and congressional aides applauded and snapped photos as he walked through the hallways.
Warren seems eager to avoid any type of similar atmosphere. She doesn’t seem interested in taking any advice from Brown (they haven’t had a meeting yet, and none is scheduled), and it was Brown on Tuesday who held the press conference in the Capitol, not Warren.
Brown said he would work to make sure the transition would be a smooth one so that constituents would still be served.
“I’m going to certainly reach out and call,” he said at the press conference. “We will do it was it was done with me, with Senator [Paul] Kirk, to make sure nobody falls through the cracks.”
Warren is undergoing several days of orientation for the incoming class of senators. But while several of her new colleagues are former congressmen – having served on the other side of the building – Warren comes with a unique skill set.
She has testified before members of Congress. She helped lobby them, and she was almost sent for confirmation before them when President Obama was considering her as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
After several hours of meetings, she emerged from a room with a few books under her arm and a backpack on, which she removed and handed to a single aide traveling with her.
“It’s exciting to be here. I am eager to get started,” she said in a brief interview.
When told that she must know the building pretty well already, she motioned to the room where the orientation was taking place and said, “Not like that.” “Yes, yes,” she added. “I’m learning.”
Warren is trying to build a staff. She will spend Wednesday meeting with the Massachusetts delegation, and she’s already facing the prospect that, even before she’s officially sworn in, she could become the senior senator of Massachusetts if Senator John Kerry takes a Cabinet position.
A group of black ministers who supported Warren – including Rev. Jeffrey L. Brown, Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, and Rev. Bruce H. Wall – are calling on her to appoint a diverse staff, and have sent her names of minorities who could serve as members of her transition team.
“Professor Warren, we are confident that the composition of these proposed leadership groups will reflect your often-stated commitment to racial and class inclusion and diversity,” they wrote in a letter to her.
One of the biggest subjects of speculation concerned Warren’s committee assignment. Warren has not said what committee seat she is seeking, but the Banking Committee would be a natural fit for the former consumer advocate and consumer credit watchdog. The liberal blog Daily Kos has started a petition drive to pressure Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid into appointing her to the committee.
The number-two Democrat on the panel, Rhode Island’s Jack Reed, was quoted by The Nation as actively supportive of a Banking Committee assignment for Warren – if she is indeed seeking it. ``“I can’t think of anybody that’s come to the Senate with 30 years of detailed knowledge of the industry from the perspective of teaching at law school and doing many other things, and then serving in the drafting of significant aspects of Dodd-Frank from the administration standpoint. So she comes prepared,” Reed said.
Warren also is said to be interested in the Judiciary Committee, which would match up with her experience as a Harvard Law School professor. Reid is not expected to make committee assignments until next year.
“I just met her for the first time about a half hour ago,” said Senator-elect Jeff Flake, the new Republican from Arizona. “She’s very, very pleasant. I look forward to getting to know her and work with her.”
“I can’t wait to work with her. We’re very excited,” Baldwin said. “Smart as a whip and incredibly energetic and wants to make a difference.”