(Bloomberg Politics) — On Tuesday afternoon, only 91 people were watching Senator Elizabeth Warren’s YouTube live stream when she asked Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities a pointed question about retirement and savings.
That’s not many viewers, nor was it the sexiest subject. But Warren, wearing a forceful and perhaps symbolic purple while presiding over the first congressional forum of her Middle Class Prosperity Project, doesn’t seem to mind being far away from the action.
The project, announced jointly with Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat of Maryland on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday morning, was all about getting as far from the White House and Congress as possible.
“First they wanted to spend weeks passing a pipeline that principally benefits some foreign oil company,” Warren said. “And now they want to spend a month on shutting down Homeland Security at a time when we face terrorist threats.”
(Also today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Senate Republicans would fund the department, despite the party’s displeasure with the president’s immigration strategy.)
“So, what we’re trying to do is get some focus on what’s happening to America’s working people,” Warren continued. “What’s happening to the middle-class, and to remind people that the middle-class is in trouble because of deliberate policy choices made in Washington.”
The two lawmakers published an op-ed in USA Today Tuesday afternoon laying out the project, which, in their words, intends to “give a voice in Washington to those who need it most—hard- working people across this country.” The lawmakers wrote of the “progressive policies” that Congress enacted after the Great Depression, “to build and expand the middle class.” Unfortunately, they said, Washington has let corporations and lobbyists take it captive, corrupt it. “It’s time to change that system.”
In their op-ed, Warren and Cummings announced a series of congressional forums they would be holding, ”to examine economic policies threatening the middle class, and we’ll hear from leading economists about how to help families rebuild economic security.”
Not long after their article was published, the first such forum began, with Dr. Jared Bernstein, Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Dr. Beth Ann Bovino, U.S. Chief Economist at Standard & Poor’s Rating Services; Dr. Gerald Jaynes, Professor of Economics and African American Studies at Yale University; and Dr. Joseph E. Stiglitz, University Professor at Columbia University.
As Warren posed a question to Bernstein, the room looked like a sad delegation: planks of wood and people in suits. Few seemed riveted. But she asked a question about an initiative that Obama announced Monday, in his speech to the AARP, a plan to protect retirement savings through tighter regulations.
Doubtless Bernstein knew that this was the person who sat behind the president during his speech. Such is Warren’s power, this role that she’s carved out for herself: lender-of-advice to Hillary, careful watchdog of Barack, the holder of the Democratic Party. They all know that her disapproval matters.