Ironically, what may be the biggest obstacle between Warren and a chance to change how the economy works is her history of doing just that. Several of the people who have Biden’s ear are former Obama aides who felt like Warren was pursuing her own agenda during her days setting up the CFPB, or during the days when she was using her Senate perch for moves like torpedoing a pick for an undersecretary of the Treasury because of his Wall Street background. Some key people around Biden are on edge about the thought of having to constantly be looking over at the vice president’s office, wondering what she’s working on.
Warren has spoken privately about feeling chastened by the 2020 primaries. “She put it all out there. She knows she lost. She knows Biden won,” someone close to Warren told me. “She knows we’re in a time of crisis, and her priority moving forward is helping make him successful.”
Read: The story Elizabeth Warren isn’t telling
When I asked Warren about the ex-Obama aides’ misgivings, she gave me a long answer that started with: “I’m a team player. I want to get things done.” She ticked through her work setting up the CFPB as a success for Americans overall and for the Obama administration—and said that as a senator, she was doing her constitutional duty in a separate branch of government. “I know that can sometimes be a bumpy relationship,” she said. “That is my job.” She ended by repeating: “I am a team player because I want to get things done.”
Warren couldn’t go to her brother’s funeral after he died in April. She couldn’t do much beyond cry by herself, 1,600 miles away in Boston, holding the phone that she’d been calling Don on every day, twice a day, to check in. “To lose someone when you have to wonder what were their last days like? Were they afraid? Were they cold? Were they lonely? That is a kind of grief that is new to all of us. My brothers won’t get over this. They just won’t. None of us will.”
About 36 hours after Don died, Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts told me, Warren was on a Zoom call with her, Khanna, and Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, strategizing about the Essential Workers Bill of Rights. Her brother didn’t come up directly, though Pressley, who’s also been working with her on racial-data collection, said he was clearly on her mind.
“She knows that her loss, that she deeply feels, is sad and tragic—but that there are millions of families that are grappling with that same loss,” Pressley said. “Even when she deeply feels something, she’s projecting that out.”
It’s a crass but real thought that has come up among some Democratic operatives in the past two weeks: Imagine Warren debating Mike Pence. The vice-presidential debate is currently scheduled for October 7, at which point it’s possible that 200,000 or more Americans will have died of COVID-19. She would be in the position to look at the vice president, who was put in charge of the coronavirus response, and talk to him about families like hers that will never be whole again.