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Our One Hundredth: Invest…in Hamburgers…

Elizabeth Warren Greets White Hut Patrons (WMassP&I)

WEST SPRINGFIELD—Cameras and reporters jockeyed for space in the small dining room of the White Hut restaurant on Memorial Avenue.  It was official.  The race for the United States Senate had truly arrived to the greater Springfield area as Elizabeth Warren greeted voters and sampled the cuisine (hamburger w/ onions) at the legendary burger joint.

Warren arrived at White Hut with State Senator James Welch and Representative Michael Finn, both of West Springfield at about 12:30.  She spent the first few minutes of her visit slowly moving down the line of patrons sitting on the stools facing the counter.  Warren, who has never run for office before, showed off how much of a natural she is at retail politics, which has surprised many within an often skeptical media.  Patrons and staff, in response received her warmly and offered more than a few words of encouragement.

Reporters chatted with patrons and Warren staffers as the candidate conversed with Welch and Finn over some of the restaurants trademark hamburgers.  Patrons came and went during the busy lunch hour some bewildered by the mob, some stopping to greet Warren as she and the West Springfield elected officials lunched.


Sen. Scott Brown last summer (WMassP&I)

Meanwhile more than three hundred miles away, the man Warren seeks to unseat, Scott Brown, was making his own moves to secure reelection.  Working in tandem with several Democrats and armed with 90+ votes on a procedural action in the Senate, Brown touted the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act.  That proposed law would ban members of Congress, their families and their staffs, from using material information they glean from their duties to make stock trades. 

Originally, Brown and New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand introduced two separate bills, but they have since been merged into one committee bill.  Brown’s bill was the weaker of the two and attracted considerably less support than Gillibrand’s, but as Brown is a member of the committee with jurisdiction he has been given equal billing with Gillibrand.  Until recently, Brown’s public statements on the bill omitted any mention of Gillibrand.  The New York senator’s public comments, by contrast, often alluded to Brown.

The STOCK Act became the latest political football in the Massachusetts senate and the latest in a line of efforts on the part of Brown to appear more moderate since Warren announced in September.  Brown has voted somewhat more often with Democrats since last Fall in contrast to the first half of his term.  Indeed, Brown hurriedly walked up to President Barack Obama after the State of the Union to pitch the bill.  The president had alluded to the issue of congressional insider trading in his address.

Warren w/ Rep. Mike Finn and Sen. Jim Welch (WMassP&am

During an impromptu press conference Warren held after lunch, several reporters asked Warren about the insider trading legislation.  Mirroring comments she made on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell last week, Warren said she is “delighted to see it go forward.”  However she added an important caveat.  She wants to see the legislation take on stronger language. 

Specifically, Warren called on Congress to ban legislators from owning stock.  The thinking being that legislators should not be writing laws that could benefit the companies they own through shares.  For her part, Warren has committed herself to selling long held shares in IBM once elected to the Senate.  Brown, by comparison, is said to own shares in banks that benefited from the weakening of the 2011 Wall Street reform law, concessions Brown extracted from Democrats in exchange for his filibuster-ending vote.

Almost on cue, Warren’s request became a reality and entered the consciousness of the Senate thanks to a Senator Brown.  Not the Massachusetts Republican.  It was Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, who announced today that he would propose an amendment to the STOCK Act that would ban the ownership in company shares for elected federal officials.  As reported by Greg Sargent of the Washington Post, the Ohioan is quoted saying, “I want to see us go further. Why should members of the Senate vote on issues that affect the oil industry while owning oil industry stock? This is pure, it’s simple, it’s clean, it’s direct.”  

Sen. Sherrod Brown D-OH (Official Site)

Whether Sherrod Brown’s amendment finds its way onto the bill or not, it has the effect of upending Brown’s good press on the subject.  If Scott Brown supports the amendment, Warren gets to one-up him as she pushed for the change from the outside.  If he opposes the amendment, Warren can hammer him.  Even if the amendment never gets a vote, Warren can still hang it around the Massachusetts Republican’s neck.

For all of the talk of the STOCK Act and the policy that will play a huge part of the campaign, Warren seemed to genuinely enjoy her White Hut outing.  She noted that the restaurant had been in business for three generations and that it was encouraging to see a small businesses like that prosper.  Warren added that she liked being able to talk to people.  When asked what patrons said to her as she greeted them, Warren said they were telling her, “Keep it up, girl.”

Warren also fielded questions about her and Brown’s historic anti-SuperPAC pact and her work for Travelers Insurance.  Warren consulted for the insurance company on a Supreme Court case which, if decided, differently, could have damaged the effectiveness of compensation funds for victims.

Warren departed for Springfield to meet with Mayor Domenic Sarno and tour tornado damage in the city.  That meeting and tour were closed to the press, but was followed by a public visit to Lenox Tool in East Longmeadow.