Sen. Elizabeth Warren is not running for president, but might she in the future? She wouldn’t say when repeatedly pressed on NPR Monday morning. Instead, she just repeated the same present tense denial she’s uttered dozens of times this year: “I’m not running for president.”
It’s hardly the first time Warren, who became a progressive hero this week during a high-profile Senate showdown over Wall Street regulation, has dodged a question on 2016. Even as she and her staff insist the senator is not interested in running – and she distances herself from an effort to draft her into the race – Warren appears to be intentionally leaving some doubt hanging in the air. She may not want to run, but she would like voters to think there’s a chance.
“She’s never slammed the door shut,” said Ben Wikler of MoveOn.org, who is hopeful she will run and recently launched a campaign to draft Warren.
In July, The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus had an almost identical exchange with Warren as her NPR interview. The columnist pointedly asked the senator why she refuses to rule out a run in the future, but got only more present tense answers:
Why not simply declare that she will not run for president in 2016? “I am not running for president in 2016,” Warren responded. Yes, I pressed, but why not say, I am not running and I will not run ? … “The point is not to try to create any ambiguity,” Warren added. “I am not running. I think I am being definitive.”
CNN’s Gloria Borger made a similar foray in October, but got only the same answer in return:
BORGER: Why not think about running?
WARREN: I’m not running for president.
WARREN: I am not running for president.
I am not running for president.
BORGER: But if Hillary didn’t run, you might give it a shot?
WARREN: I am not running for president.
Warren raised 2016 speculation earlier this year when she published a book, a typical move for any politician considering a presidential run. And on the tour promoting the book, staffers pre-screened questions from the audience – but they left in inquiries about running for president, according to BuzzFeed.
Meanwhile, anyone hoping to draft Warren into the presidential race will point to a quote Warren gave to People magazine in October, in which she went farther than before or since in raising the possibility of a White House bid. “If there’s any lesson I’ve learned in the last five years, it’s don’t be so sure about what lies ahead. There are amazing doors that could open,” Warren said.
Her office told reporters the quote changed nothing, but declined to provide a transcript of the interview. It’s unclear from People’s write-up whether Warren was responding to a question about 2016 or something else, and Warren’s staff didn’t seem eager to put that question to rest.
The Massachusetts senator has also played it coy when asked about Hillary Clinton, the presumed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. When a Boston reporter asked Warren whether Clinton is the right choice for Democrats in 2016, the senator clearly did not want to answer:
REPORTER: Do you believe Hillary Clinton is still best choice for your party coming up for 2016?
WARREN: Hillary is terrific.
REPORTER: Is she still the best choice though?
WARREN: I’m sorry?
REPORTER: Is she still the best choice?
At that point, Warren, was whisked away by an ally.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos got another non-answer in April when he asked about Clinton during an interview on “This Week:”
STEPHANOPOULOS: You hope [Clinton] does [run] and if she does, she’s your candidate?
WARREN: Hillary is terrific
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you’ve said she is terrific very many times. You say that again in this book, “A Fighting Chance.” But this book leaves out something of a pointed criticism from your earlier book, “The Two Income Trap.”… Are you worried that somehow she will bow to big business, those were your words in that book, if she becomes president?
She refused to take the bait, answering as if to a different question and speaking only about herself. He asked two more times: “Right. But – I understand. Do you think Hillary Clinton will push back on [banks] as well?” he pressed.
“I’m going to keep talking about this issue and I’m going to keep pushing on this issue,” Warren responded.
Katie Couric of Yahoo! tried as well in September:
COURIC: I’m curious if you think that Hillary Clinton is too cozy with Wall Street.
WARREN: You know, I worry a lot about the relationship between all of them–
COURIC: But what about Hillary Clinton in particular?
WARREN: Well, I worry across the board.
The Republican National Committee is eager to make hay out of Warren’s non-answers, and raise the specter of Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign loss ahead of 2016. “The crowd of Democrats not ready for Hillary keeps growing,” RNC spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski said in an email to reporters. “After all, President Obama said he wouldn’t run for the White House only to throw his hat in the ring.”
There’s little reason why Warren would want to completely rule a run for president. Circumstances could change and she gains little by foreclosing the possibility entirely, aside from being spared reporters’ questions.
And perhaps more importantly, she knows that the enthusiasm for her and a potential presidential run can help her in the Senate as she works to advance her agenda there.
Asked about the presidential speculation at a press conference a year ago in Boston, Warren again said she’s not running (present tense). But she continued, “I’m glad to see any possible energy put behind” my fights in Congress.
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