WASHINGTON -- MoveOn, a progressive group originally formed as an attempt to forestall the looming impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton, is now working to draft a challenger to take on his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in 2016's Democratic presidential primary.
MoveOn announced Tuesday that it's prepared to spend at least $1 million on a campaign to urge first-term Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to enter the 2016 presidential field. The group, which began in 1998 as an online petition asking lawmakers to "censure President Clinton and move on to issues affecting the nation," has since expressed a number of policy-related grievances with Hillary Clinton.
In a press release, MoveOn said it will poll its millions of members about whether the group should send staff to the early presidential caucuses of Iowa and New Hampshire and take donations from grassroots donors to show Warren that she would have a built-in foundation if she chose to run.
“MoveOn’s 8 million members are the volunteers, activists, and supporters who make up a key part of the Democratic base and, if they vote to move forward, we’ll go all out to encourage Senator Warren to take her vision and track record of fighting tooth-and-nail for working people and the middle class to the White House,” Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action, said in a statement. “There is too much at stake to have anything other than our best candidates in the debate. We are prepared to show Senator Warren she has the support she needs to enter -- and win -- the presidential race.”
The statement cited Warren's proposed legislation to lower student loan interest rates and her support for expanding Social Security benefits as two examples of her progressive credentials.
The push to have Warren seek the presidency reflects a tension between MoveOn and Hillary Clinton that dates back at least to the early stages of the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, when the group's members voted, 70 percent to 30 percent, to endorse then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama over Clinton. That endorsement drew a rebuke from Clinton two months later at a closed-door fundraiser.
"Moveon.org endorsed [Sen. Barack Obama] -- which is like a gusher of money that never seems to slow down," Clinton said then. "We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn didn't even want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that's what we're dealing with. And you know they turn out in great numbers. And they are very driven by their view of our positions, and it's primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don't agree with them. They know I don't agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me."
MoveOn has made no secret this year of its disapproval of Clinton's policy positions. In August, the group blasted Clinton for advocating for a more aggressive military response to conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and in November, it pressured her to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.
Yet in spite of its rocky history with Clinton, the group said on Tuesday that its push for Warren would not include efforts to upbraid Clinton's as-yet unannounced candidacy.
"If our members vote to launch this campaign, it's going to be a 100 percent positive effort," Brian Stewart, a MoveOn spokesman, told The Huffington Post. "We won't have anything negative to say about any other potential Democratic candidates."
Warren has repeatedly denied that she will run for president in 2016. Clinton, who has praised Warren as a "passionate champion" for workers and families, has started to sound a lot more like the Massachusetts senator on the subject of income inequality. Clinton is scheduled to give a paid speech in mid-March, something presidential candidates generally avoid doing -- which has led to speculation that if she does announce a presidential bid, she'll do so later in the spring of next year.