Progressives and Elizabeth Warren Die-Hards Are Preparing for Life With Hillary Clinton

With Clinton officially in the race, progressives are changing course from hyping an implausible Warren candidacy to trying to hold Clinton accountable.

Now that Hillary Clinton has officially declared her presidential candidacy, progressives who have previously expressed reservations about her are changing their strategy to make sure she advocates for a strong populist agenda.

Shortly after Clinton's video announcement Sunday, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee hosted a press call saying it hoped Clinton would adopt policies in line with its "Ready for Boldness" campaign, which calls for candidates to support "big, bold, economic-populist ideas" in the mold of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has explicitly ruled out running for president.

PCCC co-founder Adam Green was optimistic about the tone of Clinton's announcement.

"Hillary Clinton echoed Elizabeth Warren's rhetoric when she said the deck is rigged for those at the top," Green said on the conference call, adding that his organization was already mobilizing people in Iowa and New Hampshire to support things like debt-free college and expanding Social Security.

Progressives had a chance to immediately show some support for Clinton Monday at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs, a conference featuring an alliance of environmentalists and labor unions. The specter of Clinton's candidacy was present, as were Warren and Vice President Joe Biden, a possible challenger to Clinton, who was on hand to receive an award.

But the receptions for Warren and Biden were indicative of where progressives are. As Biden took the stage, he was greeted with chants of "no fast-track," in reference to the fast-track authority the White House wants in order to expedite the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade deal opposed by many environmentalists and almost all labor unions. Clinton has previously spoken in support of the trade deal.

Meanwhile, when Warren took the stage, she received a rousing standing ovation, with some attendees hoisting "Run Warren Run" signs, which received no response from the senator.

Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers, joked at a press conference after Biden's speech that he was busy watching the Pittsburgh Penguins game on Sunday during Clinton's official presidential entry. "I think it's too early to make any judgments on what I would call a very short opening statement."

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said he had high expectations for Clinton. "We know that she clearly understands the science of climate change," he said.

Progressive hope for a dark-horse Clinton challenger isn't completely dead yet, though. Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University who ran a primary challenge against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, spoke with National Journal before Sunday's call, saying that she still believed a Warren run to be possible. At a minimum, she said, it'd be healthy to have a contested Democratic primary, even if it was just with Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"I'd love to see Warren run, and I'd love to see O'Malley run, and I'd love to see Biden, and I'd love to see Sanders run," she said. Among the issues she said wanted highlighted in a presidential campaign would be supporting net neutrality, taking on Wall Street excess, and supporting public education.

Some activists are still actively advocating a Warren candidacy. The same day as Clinton's announcement, Ready for Warren released a statement saying it would step up efforts to encourage Warren to run for president.

"With the 2016 race officially underway, we anticipate more Americans expressing their desire for a vigorous Democratic primary with Elizabeth Warren in it," Ready for Warren campaign manager Erica Sagrans said. "A primary that would strengthen the eventual nominee, ensure Democrats are better-positioned to win the general election, and give working families a champion in Washington."

Rep. Alan Grayson, who joined on the Sunday call, said he hoped Clinton would come out in support of initiatives by congressional Democrats. "Whatever it is we are grappling with, many of us are hoping that she will weigh in and that she's shoulder to shoulder on important issues."

That doesn't mean progressives' hearts aren't still with Warren, but it does show that Warren fans now seem to understand the unlikelihood of a Warren candidacy and are focusing in on holding Clinton accountable.

"I think Sen. Warren has made her position very clear that she's all going to be right behind Hillary, but I do believe that if you're a Warren supporter, your job is to move Hillary to the way she's been going instead of where she's been at," Herb Keener, of the Communications Workers of America's Local 6215 in Dallas, told National Journal at Monday's conference, while wearing a t-shirt with Warren's face emblazoned on it. "Hillary's stance on trade has not always been positive. She was with Bill totally on NAFTA," he said.

But Keener has begun to accept the reality that many progressives are now slowly being forced to embrace: He would much rather have Hillary in the White House than a Republican.

This story has been updated with a statement from Ready for Warren, which supports a Warren candidacy.