'It is a pleasure to blog with you': Elizabeth Warren's early years online

When a bankruptcy reform bill that contained favorable terms for the credit industry was moving through Congress in early 2005, Warren logged on.
Image: Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren is interviewed by the Associated Press in Washington on Dec. 18, 2008.Charles Dharapak / AP file

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By Jack Bohrer

Long before Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was exploring a run for president, she was a Harvard Law School professor with a side gig: blogger.

Warren's posts offer an unguarded look at her policy passions and withering critiques of corporate influence in government — including stinging barbs for a major potential 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Launched in 2005, "Warren Reports" was a group blog on TPMCafe, an offshoot of Talking Points Memo, founded by Josh Marshall. The website for Warren's blog is now defunct —she stopped blogging in 2008 when she became chief watchdog over the bank bailouts — but it can be accessed through the Internet Archive.

After Democrat Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign harnessed the power of the "netroots,” liberals banded together online to mobilize in the second term of President George W. Bush’s administration. By this time, Warren had authored books, appeared in the national media, and bent the ear of Hillary Clinton. Then as the blogosphere — the online political sensation of its time, a kind of precursor, perhaps, to Instagram stories — was taking off, Warren logged on.

"She was interested in projects we could develop that involved students that were not solely academic," Michael Negron, a former Warren student and aide, said.

When a bankruptcy reform bill that contained favorable terms for the credit industry was moving through Congress in early 2005, Warren had lunch with Negron and two other students, Jason Spitalnick and Ryan Spear to discuss how to stop it. Spitalnick remembers Warren asking, “What can be done to get the most amount of people to make an impact on this?”

Among the ideas: a blog.

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“She embraced it one hundred percent,” Spitalnick says. “She was tech savvy. She understood what it meant. She suggested starting a blog, but I remember telling her that there are others who have audiences built — let’s not start from scratch. And she got it. She totally got it.”

Spitalnick says he reached out to Marshall, who built them a section on his site.

As the bill sped toward passage, Warren acknowledged their likely defeat. “Folks, it is a pleasure to blog with you,” she wrote in a post on March 8, 2005.

But there was interest in hearing more from Warren. "Josh Marshall approached us about doing something more sustained," Negron said.

"Warren Reports: On the middle class" was the blog's full title, and an early post from the future senator laid out the terms of discussion by leaning heavily on populist rhetoric.

The topics stayed in the policy lane: bankruptcy, housing, credit offers, and health care. Subprime lending was a frequent subject long before it was front-page news, Warren wrote about academic papers, relatable studies or articles in that morning's New York Times that caught her eye.

While students were keen to blog on presidential aspirants' policy proposals during the 2008 campaign cycle, Warren largely steered clear of primary politics. In a November 2007 post titled "Presidential Leadership," she shared a Barack Obama campaign video on health care featuring an interview with her. Still, Warren did not endorse anyone during the Democratic primary, and was lobbying candidates behind the scenes to create what would become the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

But well before the 2008 race began, Warren had harsh words for Biden, one of its eventual contenders who has said he is still deciding whether to run in 2020. In March of 2006, Warren wrote that Biden's 2005 vote in favor of the bankruptcy bill that spurred her foray into blogging made him part of "a bi-partisan coalition to prefer powerful corporation [sic] over hard-working families."

"For years, Senator Joe Biden vied with Republican Senators Charles Grassley and Oren [sic] Hatch for head cheerleader for this bill," Warren wrote. “Even as he tried to position his national image as a strong supporter of women, Senator Biden was twisting arms to get the bankruptcy bill through Congress.”

The blog posts also contain glimpses of Democrats who would rise under Warren’s mentorship. In 2007, Warren highlighted work on a blog called CreditSlips, written by Katie Porter, who was then a University of Iowa law professor, and is now a member of Congress after flipping a Republican-held seat. Negron went on to work in the Obama administration and is now a candidate for alderman in Chicago. A frequent contributor to the blog, Dan Geldon, is expected to serve as Warren’s 2020 campaign manager, and another, Ganesh Sitaraman, is involved, too.

During Warren’s three years as a regular blog contributor, the subjects she wrote about gained wider interest, as the Great Recession threw the country into turmoil. It was out of these years that Warren gained a political leadership role — and continued to develop her online presence.

When she capped off the first day of her presidential exploratory committee by cracking open a beer on Instagram Live, critics mocked her for seeming to imitate the impromptu kitchen chats of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., or Beto O'Rourke’s daily livestreams. A Fox News panel blasted her as "inauthentic."

Negron said her move to Instagram was only natural.

"She's extremely policy driven, and so, for her, it’s about the best vehicle," Negron says. "So in 2005, it’s blogs. And after Obama won the presidency, it was video on the internet. And so I’m not surprised that she’s turned to Instagram."

After all, Negron says, the message is the same. "She was the same way then, and she’s the same way now."