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Briefings: Five-sided Oversight in Sen. Warren’s Future…

Senator Elizabeth Warren. (WMassP&I)

Senator Elizabeth Warren. (WMassP&I)

United States Senator Warren will receive a major assignment in the new Congress amid the shuffling that follows every election. The Democrat has secured a seat on the Senate Armed Services committee pending approval from her party’s caucus and the Senate itself. It is a notable addition to the portfolio of a senator better known for her expertise on financial issues and populist touch on income inequality.

Despite hosting fewer bases today the military contractors employ many Massachusetts residents. Countless Bay State firms are contractors for the Pentagon and Warren has rallied for components of the commonwealth’s economy. Yet, the seat also gives Warren a chance to define herself on military and foreign affairs.

“All three of my brothers served in the military, and I understand the sacrifices America’s servicemembers make to defend our country—and the important work that our Defense Department does to keep Americans safe,” the commonwealth’s senior senator said in a release.

Armed Services is often among the Senate’s coveted posts due to the Pentagon’s size and budget and the concurrent visibility. Democrats’ 2016 vice-presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, serves on the committee as do Republican Tom Cotton and Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, both considered potential presidential candidates.

US Capitol (WMassP&I)

US Capitol (WMassP&I)

Senate sources Wednesday night were unsure if Warren obtained her seat because Dems gained an Armed Services seat or because a current member switched to another panel. Despite remaining in the minority, Senate Democrats gained seats potentially increase their numbers on committees. No outright vacancy exists, however, as no Democrat on Armed Services retired or was defeated for reelection.

Profile is hardly a problem for Warren and she will continue to serve on the powerful Banking, Housing, & Urban Affairs committee and the Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions committee. She will keep her post on the Special Committee on Aging, but is expected to relinquish her spot on Energy & Natural Resources.

Still, the nomination seems notable for a relatively junior senator better known for reveling in the details of Wall Street regulation and championing worker and consumer protections. Overseeing the Pentagon will be a dramatic change and greatly expands her legislative resume.

Sen. Warren in Lowell this year. (WMassP&I)

Sen. Warren in Lowell this year. (WMassP&I)

In addition to monitoring military operations, the Armed Services Committee will vet Pentagon nominees—both civilian and military—put forth by real estate tycoon and provocateur Donald Trump, who won last month’s presidential election.

In her statement, Warren mentioned the economic impact of the defense industry in Massachusetts. “I’m proud that Massachusetts leads the nation in innovative defense work and scientific research that helps and protects our servicemembers as they do their jobs,” her statement said.

Since her election in 2012, Warren has mostly hewed closely to the Obama administration position on Pentagon matters. On the Armed Services Committee Warren may sculpt her own image on military and foreign affairs, moving beyond an otherwise generic Democratic line on defense issues.

As a hero of the Left, Warren could face pressure to adopt a progressive line on national security and defense spending, too. For example, last week progressive activists in Cambridge called for less Pentagon spending in favor of infrastructure dollars (subways not submarines). However, opposing fraud and waste in the defense budget does not seems out of character for the senator.

Likewise, privacy advocates may expect Warren to help pare back the surveillance state, perhaps by appealing to her consumer advocacy via related concerns about how businesses collect and use Americans’ data.