April 21, 2014 -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has served in the U.S. Senate for less than two years, but her message of economic populism and boosting the middle class has catapulted her to stardom with Democrats nationwide.
In her new book, "A Fighting Chance," Warren reflects on growing up in a middle-class family in Oklahoma and shares how that upbringing shaped her mission to help struggling middle-class families. When Warren’s father suffered a heart attack, her mother got her first job answering telephones at a Sears store so the family could keep their home as they dealt with rising medical bills.
“I learned when I was 12 and my daddy had that heart attack that good people can get smacked in the head economically, and their whole lives can be turned upside down,” Warren told ABC News’ David Muir in an interview at her home in Cambridge, Mass. “After my daddy had a heart attack ... that's when I grew up. That's when I knew that my mother's job was to help take care of us, and my job was to help take care of us. I fought all my life for my family. And now for other families.”
Born in 1949 in Oklahoma, Warren went on to become a Harvard law professor and well-known consumer advocate. She helped develop the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency set up to protect consumers from predatory lending practices. But when it came time to assign someone to lead the agency, President Obama chose not to nominate her due to objections from Senate Republicans.
Warren recounted a tense meeting with President Obama when he told her he could not appoint her to lead the CFPB. The conversation took place on a day so hot she described it in her book as a “green version of hell.”
“These tall, tall hedges. So there was no air. And, you know, the president said, ‘Isn't this great?’ And I thought, ‘God, you gotta be kidding me.’ So that's when we sat down to have it out over the leadership of the agency,” Warren said.
“That was his line. ‘You make 'em nervous,'” Warren recalled the president saying about the Senate Republicans who wouldn’t confirm her. “I think he's right. I think I did make 'em nervous. Probably still do.”
Warren later ran for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in 2012, beating then-incumbent Sen. Scott Brown.
“I was 62 years old. And here I was, sorta turning my life over. But it was another chance to fight for what I believed in,” she said. “And now here I am ... I have a place to fight, a place to fight for what I believe in.”
In her time on and off Capitol Hill, Warren has taken on the big banks, fought for better student loan programs, and emerged as a strong advocate for consumers. The working title for Warren’s book was "Rigged," based on the idea that the system was rigged for the wealthy, an issue she raised throughout her 2012 Senate campaign.
“This book is about how Washington is rigged to work for those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers and make sure that everything that they want gets done in Washington,” Warren said. “The game is rigged to work for those who already have money and power. I wrote this book because the way I see it, working families, they’re not looking for a handout. They’re not looking for some special deal. They just want a level playing field. They just want a fighting chance.”
“I wrote this book out of gratitude. I am the daughter of someone who ended up as a maintenance man, a woman who worked a minimum-wage job at Sears. And I ended up in the United States Senate because I grew up in an America that was investing in kids, that was building a strong middle class,” she said. “We're not doing that anymore. And Washington isn't working for families. It's working for big corporations. It's working for billionaires, not for families. And so this is just the continuation of my work. I wrote 'A Fighting Chance' because that's what I want every kid to have.”
"A Fighting Chance" will be released Tuesday, April 22.