By Trevor Hunnicutt, Joseph Ax and James Oliphant
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Presumptive Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden has been speaking regularly with former rival Elizabeth Warren on public health and economic relief ideas as he crafts more ambitious proposals aimed at helping Americans through the coronavirus crisis.
While Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts and prominent voice on the Democratic Party’s left, criticized the former vice president’s approach on the campaign trail before dropping out and endorsing him, Biden advisers said the two see eye-to-eye on a number of issues.
In recent weeks, for example, Biden has endorsed Warren-backed ideas like canceling some student debt to help financially strapped Americans and echoed her calls for “structural change” in an economy ravaged by the pandemic.
Biden is poised to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election. Warren is thought to be on Biden’s short list of possible vice presidential running mates along with Senators Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, among others. A decision is not expected for weeks.
Warren and Biden have held telephone conversations since she exited the Democratic race in March, and now talk nearly weekly, according to people familiar with their discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity. The focus, according to one of the people, has been on public health and economic relief policy around a pandemic that has driven tens millions of Americans into unemployment.
“Like Senator Warren, Joe Biden has been a champion for working families over corporations his entire career,” Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo said, accusing Trump of pursuing policies favoring corporations and political allies over working Americans.
Ducklo added that Biden is working with Warren and “a number of experienced voices” to create plans to resolve the crisis and get help to Americans those who need it most.
Warren’s office declined to comment on her conversations with Biden.
Biden has consulted other former rivals for the Democratic nomination including Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, while his team also seeks the support of policy groups on the left.
During the Democratic race, Warren chided Biden for holding high-dollar fundraisers and not embracing sufficiently sweeping economic change. But people close to Biden said he and Warren are more aligned ideologically than their public differences might suggest, particularly in their belief that the U.S. middle class has been eviscerated – even before the pandemic.
‘I’M COUNTING ON HER’
Biden’s campaign on Sunday released a video showing him and Warren calling small-dollar donors together to thank them for their support. At one point, Biden joked that he never had as many contributors to thank until Warren’s endorsement, a reference to her grassroots fundraising prowess.
“I’m counting on her a great deal – not just for her endorsement but for her ideas and her leadership,” Biden said.
Biden already has begun embracing some Warren positions. In addition to the student-debt proposal, he joined Warren and Harris in their calls for federal health officials to release more data on racial disparities in the pandemic’s impact on the U.S. population.
Biden and Warren this month co-authored an opinion piece in McClatchy newspapers demanding more oversight over trillions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief aid that they said included “giveaways to the wealthy and big corporations.”
His rhetoric has shifted as well. Biden now talks about how the pandemic’s damage to the economy has created a “big” opportunity for “structural change,” echoing Warren’s campaign trail stump speech.
Last week, Biden said on his podcast that “we need some revolutionary institutional changes,” a shift in language from when he said after his victory in the pivotal Feb. 29 South Carolina primary contest: “Talk about revolution isn’t changing anyone’s life.”
But Biden remains opposed to some Warren priorities such as her proposed Medicare for All government-run healthcare system or a wealth tax on billionaires.
Former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president, last month praised Warren in the context of the pandemic, writing on Twitter that her proposals should serve as a model for policymakers. Biden and Obama speak regularly about his campaign.
“Joe Biden has more license now to go really big with bold systematic economic polices and not be accused of flip-flopping in any way, but instead be admired for meeting the moment,” said Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a policy advocacy group that backed Warren during the primary campaign.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Joseph Ax and James Oliphant; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Will Dunham)