Elizabeth Warren's stiff resistance to a bipartisan banking deregulation bill is not a surprise to her colleagues. But her tactics are.
She punched directly on Friday at her fellow Democratic senators who backed a bill easing up on regulations passed after the 2008 financial crisis — slamming it as a Wall Street giveaway.
The attack escalated a feud among the caucus’ moderate and liberal members that’s simmered all week long and underscores the ideological rift within the party as it tries to claw its way back to power.
Warren sent a fundraising email on Tuesday chastising the 16 Democratic senators who voted to move ahead on the bill for siding with the GOP and "with the big banks."
During senior staff meetings on Friday, according to two sources, the back-and-forth got so heated that Warren's camp offered to pass on the small amount of money raised from the Tuesday email to benefit one or more of her moderate Democratic targets.
A third Democratic aide present at the meeting described the conversation about the email as contentious, with Warren’s camp refusing to back down, and the offer to pass on the money as sarcastic.
Warren also told the Congressional Progressive Caucus at their Friday retreat in Baltimore that watching "a handful of" other Democrats support loosening financial regulations "felt like a stab in the heart — not for me, but for all the homeowners who were cheated and the taxpayers who bailed out those banks."
"It’s so hard to fight against all the money and all the lobbying, so hard when we fight and lose," Warren told fellow liberals. "But, yeah, it’s worse when some of our teammates don’t even show up for the fight."
But some moderate Democratic senators who argue the bill will boost smaller and community banks felt a sting of their own from Warren's attacks. They also happen to include seven of the caucus' 10 incumbents up for reelection in states Donald Trump won in 2016.
One of them, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), openly acknowledged that Warren "sure is" mad about it.
Warren "has her perspective and her point of view, but the truth will prevail," Heitkamp told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Thursday. "And you know, we’re going to spend a lot of time correcting the myths, correcting the misstatements about" the legislation to roll back some elements of the Dodd-Frank law.
Of course, being at odds with Warren may not be bad politics for some at-risk senators from conservative states. But behind the scenes, aides to Democrats who supported the bill were deeply frustrated.
One described Warren's fundraising email as "outrageous." Another said by email that the gambit was "quite a message to send the same week she made a big fuss of cutting checks to all 50 state parties. So, you want Dems to win in all 50 states, on the condition that Senators from North Dakota and Montana agree with the Senior Senator from Massachusetts on everything, all the time?"
Other Democrats worry the internecine war will only undermine the party ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections.
"This is Republicans' dream, which is to see Democrats work across the aisle and Elizabeth Warren kill them for it," said a third Democratic aide whose boss is frustrated with Warren.
Warren, a member of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) leadership team, extended an olive branch of sorts on Friday by sending out another fundraising email that praised the five Democrats up for reelection who voted against the banking bill.
The email's title: "These five senators stood up to Wall Street." The five Democrats whom Warren praised are Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio; Bob Casey of Pennsylvania; Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; and Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith of Minnesota.
Warren isn't the first 2020 presidential hopeful to tar her colleagues as beholden to corporate interests during this Congress. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who also sits in Schumer's leadership circle, pointedly blasted 13 fellow Democrats last year for coziness with the pharmaceutical industry after they voted against an amendment he pitched on drug importation from Canada.
Seven of the 13 Democrats Sanders hit for their drug importation vote are also supporting the banking bill: Heitkamp; Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado; Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia; Sen. Jon Tester of Montana; Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana; and Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper of Delaware.
The other Democrats who courted Warren's ire by supporting the banking bill were Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia; Bill Nelson of Florida; Claire McCaskill of Missouri; Joe Manchin of West Virginia; Doug Jones of Alabama; Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan; and Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.
Some of those senators regularly tout their independence from party leaders and liberal activists as part of their pitches for reelection.
A Warren spokeswoman declined to share the amount of money generated by the Tuesday fundraising pitch and declined to comment on the tense exchange at Friday's staff meeting.
Manchin's spokesman, Jonathan Kott, dismissed Warren's criticism as misguided.
"Senator Manchin believes this bill provides regulatory relief to the community banks in West Virginia so that [they] can start investing capital back into Main Street," Kott said by email.