Elizabeth Warren
Credit: Elizabeth Warren/Flickr

Tuesday night, as Joe Biden was waiting for the polls to close in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona—states he would win handily—Elizabeth Warren published this Twitter thread:

This is brilliant. The moment to impose needed reforms on American industries is precisely when a crisis hits and they’re coming hat in hand to Washington asking for bailouts.

If I were Joe Biden, I’d immediately announce Warren as my vice-presidential pick. I’d further say that I agree with her bail out terms, and that while I don’t have a vote in the Senate, she does and she’s my proxy.

Such a move would give Biden serious leverage on a host of fronts.

First, by elevating Warren and her agenda, he’d be sending the message to Bernie voters that as president he really is willing to pursue serious structural change of the rules of American capitalism. Such a message would help unify the left and moderate wings of the Democratic Party while undercutting whatever argument Sanders still has for staying in the race.

Second, it would make Biden a power player in the immensely significant decisions that are going to be made in Washington in the coming weeks and months. Presuming he and Warren can come to terms—that is, he would have to agree to follow her lead on policy ideas but she’d have to agree that he’s the boss and not to go too far beyond what he’s comfortable with—her pronouncements on the Senate floor would be seen as the word of the presumptive Democratic nominee. As such, other Democratic lawmakers would be more inclined to support her positions. That would help unify the Democrats behind an aggressive set of demands they’d place before Mitch McConnell and, ultimately, Donald Trump, on the terms of any stimulus/bailout package. Every time Trump gives into a Democratic congressional demand, he would in essence be conceding to Joe Biden—months before the November elections.

This might sound fanciful. But is not far from the situation Biden’s boss Barack Obama found himself in during the winter of 2008-2009, when the auto industry sought billions of dollars in federal loans to stave off collapse in the midst of the financial crisis. Washington responded, but with stiff terms dictated mostly by congressional Democrats and Obama, who at the time hadn’t even been inaugurated.

Though Republicans refused to support a bailout bill, George W. Bush, as a lame duck, reversed himself and reluctantly agreed to use money from the TARP funds, created to fund the banks, for the auto industry bailout—precisely the position Obama had been advocating, and on the terms he’d called for—and months later, as president, Obama stiffened the terms when the auto companies asked for more money. The terms included the firing of car company CEOs and boards, elimination of unprofitable brands and dealerships, and new production of low-mileage cars, including electric models, in American plants (recall that part of the problem at the time was that Detroit had gone all in on SUVs and light trucks that they couldn’t move because of high oil prices).

Rightwing free marketers, as well as some on the left, condemned the auto company bailouts. But the truth is they not only saved the industry but helped keep the country out of another Great Depression–and the U.S. Treasury ultimately recovered all but about $9 billion of the $80 billion it invested in the industry.

All of this history will be revisited as the debate over the government’s economic response to the coronavirus picks up—including the fact that Trump was for the auto industry bailout before he was against it. By choosing Warren as his VP, Biden can put himself in the center of that action and start pushing Trump around on the single biggest issue facing the nation.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. A former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, he is writing a book on America’s involvement in the Greek War of Independence.