Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts ran for the Senate as a populist hell-bent on reforming Wall Street. And after starting her tenure as something of a wallflower — much to the consternation of her fans — it appears she's ready to do just that.
Her most recent target was HSBC, which recently settled money laundering charges to the tune of $1.9 billion.
"If you're caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you're gonna go to jail. If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life," Warren said, according to The Associated Press. "But evidently if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your bed at night."
That sounds a lot like Elizabeth Warren the candidate, who once said that if the Senate Banking Committee did not pass strong consumer protections, it better leave "plenty of blood and teeth on the floor." After taking office, some of her supporters wondered where that fiery consumer advocate had gone. Politico ran a story that featured her ducking the press, and pleading, "I'm new to the Senate and I confess I don’t get this."
Lately, however, she hasn't hesitated to go for the jugular. Shortly after that Politico piece was released, a video of her lambasting top regulators for settling with big banks instead of taking them to trial went viral on YouTube. Then she grilled Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke over a Bloomberg report that calculated that big banks essentially each receive an $83 billion subsidy from the government, because their too-big-to-fail status acts as a guarantee against insolvency. Next, she attacked Attorney General Eric Holder for admitting he was hesitant to prosecute big banks, arguing that his "testimony that the biggest banks are too-big-to-jail shows once again that it is past time to end too-big-to-fail."
Why the change? The Boston Globe's Joshua Green points out that unlike in Hillary Clinton's time, keeping a low profile isn't always in a freshman senator's best interest:
In the days of yore, a newcomer like Warren could bide her time, gradually win the respect of her colleagues, and then, maybe, after years of diligent effort, put together a coalition large enough to succeed. Today's Senate doesn’t operate that way. Public pressure, often driven by outrage and anger, is the only force that reliably brings results. [Boston Globe]
The left, predictably, loves it. Daily Kos gleefully announced, "Oh yeah, there's a new sheriff in town." David Sirota at Salon hopes that Warren's rise "will prove that quiescence is not a virtue and that good things do not come to those who wait."
The banking industry has, at least in public, been very polite concerning Warren. But it's not hard to imagine James Ballentine, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association, saying the following through clenched teeth: "She is as advertised. She came in and concentrated on being a strong advocate for consumers, and she has certainly done that and a little more."