Elizabeth Warren On How Personal Struggles Inspired Her Politics

Aug 13, 2019
Originally published on August 13, 2019 7:40 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Massachusetts senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren is known for her policy plans - plans on big issues like guns, trade, race relations. She talked about that when she sat down recently with the NPR Politics Podcast and Iowa Public Radio. But Warren also revealed some things from her personal life. NPR's Asma Khalid reports on how Warren's experiences have informed her politics and her plans.

ASMA KHALID: Elizabeth Warren always wanted to be a teacher. So when she got a job as a professor at a law school back in the '70s, she was thrilled. She had two little kids and a career.

ELIZABETH WARREN: And I'm doing it all. I'm - not well - in fact, pretty badly. I'm doing dinner slips until 8:30 at night, and baths aren't until 9:30. And I'm doing laundry at 11 o'clock, and I'm doing my class preps at midnight. And I'm just scratching to try to hold it all together.

KHALID: Warren told us this story when we asked her to describe a moment in her life when she failed. Things got worse. One day, the babysitter quit. Then her aunt called.

WARREN: And she said, how are you doing, sweetie? And I said, fine. And then I started to cry. And I told her, I'm going to quit my job. I just couldn't do this. I was failing my classes. I was failing my children. I was a failure.

KHALID: Her aunt moved in, and Warren kept her job. It is no accident that one of the first policy proposals Warren put forth was an ambitious plan for universal affordable child care. Her politics are rooted in a central message - government works great for a thin slice at the top and works badly for everyone else.

There's a story she often shares on the campaign trail - a moment from her childhood that has shaped how she sees government. Her dad had a heart attack and was out of work for a long time.

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WARREN: My mother, who was 50 years old and had never worked outside the home, pulled on her best dress and put on her high heels and walked to the Sears and got a minimum wage job. And that minimum wage job saved our home. And more importantly, it saved our family.

KHALID: Warren says years later, she realized it wasn't just family folklore. It was a fundamental story about government. She says a minimum wage job used to keep a family of three afloat. Nowadays, it can't.

At times in our conversation, Warren folds up her leg, sneaker on the chair and her hand on her knee. I asked her about her faith. And the senator, who once taught Sunday school in Texas, quotes Scripture.

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WARREN: Matthew 25 - for I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was in prison, and you visited me. It's not just about having a good heart. It's about getting up and doing what needs to be done.

KHALID: After we ended the interview, I still had a burning question I had been wanting to ask her. Warren has this signature look. Everywhere she goes - on the stump, at a debate, in our interview - she wears a black top, black pants and a monochrome blazer or cardigan, usually in jewel tones. When we spoke, it was teal. So I asked her, is it intentional? And before y'all scream sexist, just take a listen.

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KHALID: I've been very intrigued by your fashion choices. You have the black camisole look, and it's a - like, a different colored blazer.

WARREN: Yeah.

KHALID: Is that a conscious decision...

WARREN: Yep.

KHALID: ...Or do you just - it's easy. Like, you don't...

WARREN: Do you know how long it takes me to get dressed in the morning?

KHALID: Yeah.

WARREN: Four minutes.

KHALID: Did you catch that? It takes her four minutes to get dressed. She says she's saving her decision-making capacity. The candidate who has a reputation for having plans for just about everything has even got a plan for how to efficiently get dressed in the morning.

Asma Khalid, NPR News.

CHANG: And you can listen to the full interview with Elizabeth Warren on the NPR Politics Podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.