FACT CHECK: Was Elizabeth Warren Once A Card-Carrying Republican?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

Twitter users claimed recently that Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren was once a Republican.

“Many people are surprised when I tell them that @SenWarren was an active Republican untill 1996,” wrote one user.

“By the way Elizabeth Warren was a Republican into 90s. Now she is a front runner for Democratic nomination,” said another user.

“BTW, Elizabeth Warren used to be a Republican too,” another person tweeted.

Verdict: True

Warren was relatively apolitical for much of her adult life and didn’t become a registered Democrat until the mid-1990s. At different times, she has also been registered as a Republican and, before that, an independent.

Fact Check:

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, President Barack Obama tapped Warren, at the time a professor at Harvard University, to develop the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency that would regulate the banking industry.

Obama had considered nominating Warren as the agency head, but opposition from Republicans and some Democrats sent her career on a different path.

She stepped down from her position advising the administration and announced her intention to run for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts as a Democrat.

Warren had already developed some notoriety among progressives, so when The Daily Beast published a profile on the new candidate in 2011, she acknowledged something that might have surprised supporters and critics alike – she had been a registered Republican into her 40s.

“I was a Republican because I thought that those were the people who best supported markets. I think that is not true anymore,” Warren said. “I was a Republican at a time when I felt like there was a problem that the markets were under a lot more strain. It worried me whether or not the government played too activist a role.”

Warren went on to defeat Scott Brown, her Republican opponent, and assumed office in 2013.

Since then, she has established herself as one of the most progressive members of the Senate. She receives high marks from Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and other liberal advocacy groups. But she’s best known for her vocal criticism of Wall Street.

Warren was once again asked about her affiliation with the Republican Party in 2014 when she appeared on ABC’s “This Week” to promote her memoir, “A Fighting Chance.”

ABC host George Stephanopoulos brought up that she was a registered Republican in Pennsylvania from 1991 to 1996.

“I was originally an independent,” she replied. “I was with the GOP for a while because I really thought that it was a party that was principled in its conservative approach to economics and to markets.”

To this day, Warren describes herself as a capitalist, but she believes in “markets with rules,” especially in the banking sector. She criticizes both political parties for the deregulatory environment of the last few decades, although she directs her sharpest criticisms at Republicans.

In her interview with Stephanopoulos, Warren claimed that her decision to leave the Republican Party had to do with what she saw as crony capitalism.

“They moved to a party that said, no, it’s not about a level playing field, it’s now about a field that has gotten tilted,” she said. “And they really stood up for the big financial institutions when the big financial institutions are just hammering middle class American families. You know, I just feel like that’s a party that moved way, way away.”

Warren recently introduced the Accountable Capitalism Act, a bill that would, among other provisions, constrain political spending by corporations, limit the influence of shareholders and require large corporations to obtain a revokable charter with the federal government.

Her legislation has earned praise within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and rebukes from conservatives.

It might surprise some to know, however, that her views haven’t always been so polarizing. In fact, for a good portion of her life, Warren was not especially politically active.

She often missed primary and midterm elections, and when voting for president, she cast votes for both Democrats and Republicans. For a while, she was a registered independent.

Warren opened up about her voting history in a February interview with The Intercept. She had voted for Republicans like Gerald Ford and Arlen Specter, she said, yet also supported Democrats like Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton.

“I would have said when I first met her that she was closer to being a moderate Republican,” her longtime colleague Jay Westbrook told The Intercept.

Warren says that her views began to change in the 1980s when she embarked on what would become her core interest as an academic – debt and consumer bankruptcy.

“I had grown up in a family that had been turned upside down economically, a family that had run out of money more than once when there were still bills to pay and kids to feed – but my family had never filed for bankruptcy,” she said. “So I approached it from the angle that these are people who may just be taking advantage of the system. These are people who aren’t like my family. We pulled our belts tighter, why didn’t they pull their belts tighter?”

Warren says that as she studied the practices of payday lenders and credit card companies, her skepticism turned into sympathy for lower-income families. By the mid-1990s, Warren had registered as a Democrat.

She’s not the only political figure to make such a transformation. President Ronald Reagan famously said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.” And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a politically active Republican into her college years.

Other examples include Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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