Vice President Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) delivered a one-two punch Thursday to Donald Trump in speeches that signaled the increasingly coordinated effort by Democrats to push the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and his restive GOP allies on Capitol Hill.
Speaking before the American Constitution Society, a liberal legal group, Warren delivered the latest in a series of derisive anti-Trump speeches, adopting the mogul’s own mocking tone to call him “thin-skinned, racist bully” and “a guy who inherited a fortune and kept it rolling along by cheating people.” When the applause died down, she went further, focused on Trump’s recent “race-baiting” of Gonzalo P. Curiel, a Mexican-American federal judge overseeing a lawsuit against him.
“Donald – what you are doing is a total disgrace,” said Warren. “You should be ashamed of yourself. Ashamed for using the megaphone of a presidential campaign to attack a judge’s character and integrity simply because you think you have some God-given right to steal people’s money and get away with it. You shame yourself and you shame this great country.”
Warren’s searing rhetoric, delivered to the largest ballroom in the Capitol Hilton, came just two hours before she told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that she was endorsing Hillary Clinton as the Democrats’ nominee for president. Warren, who once signed a letter encouraging Clinton to run for president, was the lone holdout among Democratic women in the Senate to back her. Instead, in recent weeks, she took on the role of leading Trump critic, going round after round with the candidate on his preferred social media platform, Twitter.
That pugilistic approach has increased Democrats’ interest in Warren as potential vice-presidential nominee for Clinton. A leading expert on debt and personal finance, even before her 2012 run for Senate, Warren has vast political clout with many supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). In 2014 and early 2015, before Sanders ran for president, many progressive activists attempted to draft Warren herself into the race. Many stuck around to back Sanders, and Senate Democrats noticed, with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid quietly exploring ways for Democrats to keep her seat if Warren became vice president.
“The Draft Warren movement showed just how much support there is for a progressive, populist Democrat, and when Warren decided not to run for president, much of that energy turned to Bernie Sanders’ political revolution,” said Erica Sagrans, who ran the “Ready for Warren” draft effort. “The Warren-Sanders wing is the future of the Democratic Party, and that Clinton is considering Warren means the Democratic establishment is paying attention.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) mocked Warren’s calls for up-or-down votes on Obama’s judicial nominees, citing the many filibusters that Senate Democrats applied to then-President George W. Bush’s lower-court nominees last decade, including those supported by Obama, Clinton and Biden when they served in the Senate together.
“If Sen. Warren held her current beliefs about ensuring votes for all nominees when her party was engaged in serial and unprecedented filibusters against women and minorities during the Bush administration, she kept them to herself,” David Popp, spokesman for McConnell, said in a statement.
On Thursday, Warren set up the remarks of the sitting vice president, a lectern with the seal of the office being placed onstage as soon as she left. Biden, the onetime chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, entered to the opening bars of “Hail to the Chief,” and cheers of “Joe, Joe, Joe!” Biden, admitting that he’d only arrived as Warren was leaving, joked that he’d “compared notes on a number of things” with the Massachusetts senator.
“If you want to see your popularity soar, announce you’re not running for president,” he joked. “I’d have done that every year had I known it before.”
While Warren spoke from a prepared text, Biden was quiet and discursive, talking about everything from the “steel-trap mind” of his former chief of staff Ron Klain to the Civil War history of Delaware to his days as a young lawyer who declined to eat at a segregated club. He criticized the Republican majority’s decision to refuse holding hearings for President Obama’s selection for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland — “a judge of unquestionable credentials” — until the next president takes office, asking how they consider giving that duty to Trump.
“I don’t think the framers envisioned a candidate accusing a federal judge being incapable of reaching a fair decision because of his ethnic descent,” said Biden. “It’s my view that when a presidential candidate attacks a federal judge, he cannot be trusted to respect the independent of the judiciary as president.”
Their speeches Thursday demonstrated that, throughout the summer and fall, Biden and Warren plan to play aggressive roles as political pitbulls going after Trump and linking him to congressional Republicans. And at the ACS gala, Warren got a crowd of young lawyers laughing with an impromptu impression of Mitch McConnell.
“Oh, you know — Donald Trump is a different kind of candidate,” said Warren, bobbing her head. “Heh, heh, heh!”
That set up Warren’s argument that Trump, who has sent Republicans scrambling for ways to distance their candidates from him, was a perfect representative of an obstructionist party.
“Trump isn’t a different kind of candidate: He’s a Mitch McConnell kind of candidate,” said Warren. “Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell want Donald Trump to appoint the next generation of judges. They want those judges to tilt the law to favor big business and billionaires like Trump. They just want Donald to quit being so vulgar and obvious about it.”
Having Biden and Warren in her corner gives Clinton a major boost, both in terms of surrogates on the campaign trail and in terms of symbolic unity for Democrats. After the “Draft Warren” movement petered out, there came a “Draft Biden” boomlet last summer and fall, as his more natural charisma and common touch appeared the perfect counter to Clinton’s stilted delivery and vast personal wealth.
Biden even brought Warren to the vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory last August to discuss issues and a potential campaign, with some believing Biden would offer her the slot as vice-presidential nominee if he ran.
Instead, both are now in Clinton’s camp, and trying to coax voters who drifted from the presumptive nominee as the primaries dragged on. At Thursday night’s gala, both seemed to connect with voters who were still struggling to support Clinton.
“I love her,” said Peter Dotson, a law student from Minneapolis, of Warren. “I wish she’d have run for president. I’m glad Bernie ran, but he was never electable — and Warren could have won.”