Former Sen. Scott Brown won a surprising ally this week in his quest to become President-elect Donald Trump’s Veterans Affairs secretary: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Warren, a leader of the Democratic left and one of Trump’s sharpest-tongued critics, has been a longtime nemesis of Brown. She defeated him in 2012 in one of the most bitter and costly Senate elections in recent years, then campaigned against him two years later when he tried in vain to win a Senate seat in neighboring New Hampshire, and has mocked him ever since as “the biggest loser.”
Brown, a Republican, has been one of Warren’s harshest critics too, making her undocumented claims of Native American heritage a central campaign issue in their 2012 race. Trump latched on to it when he referred to Warren repeatedly as “Pocahontas” throughout his own public feud with her. As recently as June, Brown challenged Warren to take a DNA test to prove her ancestry and attacked her for “character flaws” while speaking on Trump’s behalf.
Such bitter animosity has faded, Brown said.
Relations between the two have been thawing for a while, he said, at mutual appearances including a recent celebration in Boston for an employee who worked in both of their Senate offices handling constituent problems. Brown said that Warren, her husband and her staff made him and his family feel especially welcome as they celebrated the employee, who had been a holdover from the time when their Senate seat was occupied by Edward M. Kennedy.
The friendly conversation occurred on the same night that top aides to Hillary Clinton’s and Trump’s campaigns argued heatedly over their election battle at a Harvard forum, a reminder that the country’s ugly divide over politics has not ended for many. Brown said he remembers all the barbs between him and Warren, and he did not quite apologize for his end. But he spoke humbly about the need to move on.
“We’ve been trying to tone things down for quite a while,” Brown said in a phone interview. “She won. I lost. She was jabbing at me and I was jabbing at her. …
“It wasn’t who I am. I [am] a better person. I don’t mind disagreeing on politics and policy. The personal stuff, as I get older, I’m trying to be better.”
Warren made her support for Brown public earlier Thursday on WGBH radio in Boston while criticizing Trump’s pick for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, whom she derided as “a man who was responsible for turning the lives of millions of people upside down financially.”
Warren had much kinder words for Brown.
“If Scott Brown is the nominee for Veterans Affairs, I have no doubt that he would put his heart and soul into trying to help veterans, and I would put my heart and soul into trying to help him do that,” she said. “You bet I’d support him for that.”
Warren also gave support, albeit more qualified, for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as a potential secretary of State.
“I’d like to hear more, but I think Mitt Romney is a smart man and and I think he’s got a pretty level-headed view of the world,” she said.
Brown thanked Warren on Twitter, and added in his phone interview that he was gratified that some of Warren’s liberal supporters sent him social media messages pointing to Warren’s validation as the basis for their newfound trust. Brown said he did not know of Warren’s support in advance, adding that Warren was probably merely responding to a question, rather than making a planned pitch.
Brown, who retired from the National Guard in 2014 after 35 years, has been a longtime veterans advocate dating to his days as a state senator. He has no significant administrative experience, which could hinder his bid in running a sprawling bureaucracy that will be central to fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise to repair the agency and improve veteran care.
But he was an early and enthusiastic Trump endorser in New Hampshire, where he now lives, and seems to have a strong relationship with Trump. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has also been reported as a potential candidate for the job, which may help Brown in winning support from senators who find her too polarizing.
Warren’s three brothers served in the military, and Brown said the commitment to veterans that he and Warren share is sincere. Trump’s spokesman did not respond to questions about Brown.
The detente came as a surprise, and drew some skepticism.
“Maybe she’s damning him with excessive praise,” said Rob Gray, a veteran GOP political operative in Massachusetts. “It’s hard to say what her motivations are. It may be just what’s she says it is. You have to wonder if Trump may think — if my enemy is your friend, maybe I should have second thoughts about you.”
Brown dismissed that theory. “We are people first,” he said. “This isn’t about me or her or Trump or anybody making criticisms. It’s about our veterans.”
Peter Ubertaccio, director of the Martin Institute at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., said it would smack of “knee-jerk partisanship” for Warren to oppose Brown, who has a record of helping veterans. But he does not expect the two to form a deeper alliance.
“I doubt that the relationship becomes warm and chummy in the way we’ve seen other partisans like Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter bury the hatchet or President Clinton and the first George Bush,” he said. “What this demonstrates is that people like Warren and Brown and plenty of others in Washington are able to compartmentalize.”