'You Get Very Personal': What Warren And Other VP Hopefuls May Be Going Through Right Now

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Joe Biden, then the vice president, welcomed Sen. Elizabeth Warren at her swearing-in ceremony in 2013. Seven years later, Biden could welcome Warren to his presidential campaign as a running mate. (Cliff Owen/AP)
Joe Biden, then the vice president, welcomed Sen. Elizabeth Warren at her swearing-in ceremony in 2013. Seven years later, Biden could welcome Warren to his presidential campaign as a running mate. (Cliff Owen/AP)

It's been compared to a colonoscopy.

The vetting of potential vice presidents is famously invasive, and it's going on now.

Possible running mates for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden include Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. She and anyone else being considered can expect some very probing questions, as retired Admiral James Stavridis can attest.

He recalls some of what he was asked four years ago, when Hillary Clinton's campaign vetted him: " 'What were you like in junior high school? Who were your friends? When did you start dating? What kind of physical relationships did you have?' You get very personal, very quickly."

Many people would like to forget their middle school years. Those who want to be vice president don't have the luxury — not even those with the stature of Stavridis, a former four-star Naval officer who was once the supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe.

A dean at Tufts at the time of his inquisition, Stavridis was reduced to rehashing his teenage romances.

There was more, too.

"Obviously, they wanted my taxes," he said. "They also wanted — this is interesting, I think — my complete medical records and my dental records. They asked for every article I'd ever published, transcripts of every school I'd attended. I remember looking at the stack of documents I was going to send them, and it was well over 2 feet."

And that's for just one possible running mate. White House contenders' teams may compile such hefty files on a half dozen people or more.

The task is complicated, but the logic is simple, according to veteran GOP strategist Eric Fehrnstrom.

"The vetting process is extremely thorough because the campaign, naturally, wants to avoid any embarrassments," said Fehrnstrom, who was a senior advisor to Mitt Romney when the former Massachusetts governor made John McCain's VP shortlist in 2008 and when Romney sought his own No. 2 as the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.

Every public figure has vulnerabilities. Warren's include her highly scrutinized claim of Native American ancestry, her handling of which led to several public apologies. Vetting isn't so much about seeking perfection as it is about preparing for the inevitable wave of media scrutiny and opposition research.

If you've ever done something that'll invite ridicule — like, say, drive a car with the family dog riding on the roof, as Romney memorably did — it's best to have a rebuttal ready.

Campaigns hire lawyers and accountants to pore over nearly every aspect of a contender's life. In some ways, their work is secretive.

"They sign nondisclosure documents; they work in a secure room," Fehrnstrom said.

Yet, in other ways, the VP search is very public, he added: "Campaigns will tease this out over time to generate fluffy coverage. They'll leak names of people who have been shortlisted in order to curry favor with their supporters."

This sort of political gamesmanship makes it hard to handicap Warren's chances. Biden's camp could be seriously considering her or just floating her name to excite some of the party's most progressive voters.

If Warren's Capitol Hill colleagues have a clue, they aren't sharing.

"I will only say that I'm fortunate to work with some of the most talented women who are being mentioned," said Rep. Lori Trahan, a Lowell Democrat.

"Joe Biden is committed to having a woman," noted fellow Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, "and seeing so many talented women be considered for this position really is thrilling."

Any vetting of Warren would likely include interviews with people who've known her a long time — people like University of Texas law professor Jay Westbrook, who met Warren in 1981, when she was a visiting law professor at the school.

"I was enormously impressed by her, and I liked her a lot, and we fell in and became good friends," said Westbrook. "Forgive me for the campaign speech, but she'd make one heck of a vice president — or president, for that matter."

Westbrook said he hasn't been contacted by the Biden campaign.

Not everyone from Warren's past is enthusiastic.

"I do find her extremely polarizing and off-putting as a politician," said conservative commentator Jennifer Braceras, who was a student of Warren's at Harvard Law School in 1990s. "I don't agree with her on policy matters at all."

Though she is no fan of Warren as a senator and potential vice president, Braceras was a big fan of Warren as a professor.

"I can tell you that she was a beloved professor during my time there," said Braceras, now director of the Washington-based Independent Women's Law Center. "So much so that our class bought her a golden retriever puppy at the end of the term."

To the best of Braceras' knowledge, Warren never put that puppy on the roof of her car.

There's one piece of dirt a vetting team won't dig up in Warren's background.

This segment aired on July 29, 2020.


Callum Borchers Reporter
Callum covered the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.



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