Elizabeth Warren's Softening on Medicare Signals She's Serious About Being Biden's VP

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren's continued evolution in how she talks about health care serve as the latest signal to former Vice President Joe Biden that she's serious about being seen as a viable governing partner, as his campaign's search for a vice presidential nominee accelerates.

"I argued for Medicare for All, I think ultimately getting us to single payer. I think it's what makes sense," she told David Axelrod and students at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics this week. "But the question is how we're going to get there in a way that brings people in and people feel comfortable with it. I think right now people want to see improvements in our health care system, and that means strengthening the Affordable Care Act."

Political observers said Warren's emphasis on fixing and improving the Affordable Care Act first is a clear message to Biden, who has made it clear in interviews that he's looking first and foremost for someone who could do the job and help him govern.

"I'm not surprised because in the primary you run to the extreme and in the general you come back," said Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a political scientist at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. "What hurt her the most during the primary was her grayness—she went back and forth and people didn't know what she stood for and that gave folks pause. The fact that she's open to a more pragmatic approach to Medicare for All, along with her strong brand on accountability during the financial crisis, has got to make Biden think she would be a great running mate."

But Warren allies and supporters said the height of vice presidential speculation has led people to forget that she mentioned defending the Affordable Health Care Act in both the January and February debates, while still invoking Medicare for All as she has recently.

"I don't think what Elizabeth Warren said was necessarily changing her opinions on heath care," said Brad Bauman, the former executive director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who believes Warren is the best pick for vice president. "She's always been a supporter of Obamacare, fixing Obamacare, making sure it does what it needs to do."

Yet Warren's de-emphasis of Medicare for All largely came in the heat of the primary campaign in January and February, with her website revealing her approach for much of her run.

"The Affordable Care Act made massive strides in expanding access to health insurance coverage, and we must defend Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act against Republican attempts to rip health care away from people," Warren wrote.

"But it's time for the next step," she added, diving deep on why Medicare for All represented "the best way to give every single person in this country a guarantee of high-quality health care."

The signal to the Biden campaign follows an op-ed she co-authored with Biden on the lack of oversight on coronavirus relief at the beginning of the month. Additionally, Warren lent him her trademark fundraising pleas to normal Americans and low-dollar donors in a Biden campaign video that featured her calling a donor—before she unveils the surprise that the former vice president was joining the call via video conference from home.

The political maneuvering comes amid the backdrop of a global health crisis that has affected every aspect of American life, and ahead of a grim and shocking milestone: 100,000 deaths due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The crisis also personally brought tragedy to Warren and her family with the death of her brother, Donald Reed Herring. Political observers told Newsweek it's an unassailable fact that Warren's personal connection to the crisis represent a reason why she is a formidable choice as vice president.

"We're in an emotionally raw moment with COVID-19," said DeFrancesco Soto. "We know from decades of research, the power of emotion in messaging and persuasion. You can look no further than Trump, who is a master of using emotion, anger and anxiety. It would be about the story she tells about her brother growing up, but also his final days, and the administration's response to the crisis."

Warren's office did not respond to a request for comment before publication.

Calculations of Warren's effect on a ticket and how she would excite progressives must also include a strong push across the Democratic Party to select a woman of color—as well as concerns that an all-white ticket would dim enthusiasm among the party's base of voters of color.

Unlike other senators who are considered as top-tier candidates for the role like Senators Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Warren's replacement for her Senate seat would be chosen by a Republican, Governor Charlie Baker.

Still, the push for Warren, aided by her own maneuvering, is serious. According to The New York Times, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg gave a presentation to the Biden campaign last month that said supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders campaign were "dangerously not" on board with Biden yet—and that Warren would serve as the salve to excite young people and liberals who are looking for a progressive economic message.

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Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (L) shakes hands with former Vice President Joe Biden after the eighth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by ABC News, WMUR-TV and Apple News at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on February 7, 2020. Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty