As Hillary Clinton fights off intense criticism over her ties to Wall Street, a central question has gone unanswered: Has she ever taken any action that favored the financial industry?
To make its case, the Sanders campaign is leaning on years-old criticism from Ms. Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat and liberal icon, over Mrs. Clinton’s vote in 2001 to make it harder for Americans to wipe out their debts through bankruptcy.
Mrs. Clinton, who has received millions from the financial sector in speaking fees and donations to her campaigns and charitable foundation, expressed regret over the legislation when she ran for president in 2008, though she had plenty of company among Democrats in voting for it.
Ms. Warren’s critique had its beginnings in 1998, when Congress was contemplating an overhaul to the bankruptcy system. Ms. Warren, a Harvard law professor, wrote an Op-Ed piece for The New York Times warning that under such an overhaul, a woman owed child support could lose some of her ability to collect it if the child’s father declared bankruptcy.
Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Warren later recalled, asked to meet with her. Sitting down for a lunch of a hamburger and French fries after giving a speech in Boston, Mrs. Clinton peppered Ms. Warren with questions about bankruptcy law. “She said, ‘Professor Warren, we’ve got to stop that awful bill,’ ” Ms. Warren said in a 2004 interview with Bill Moyers.
Mrs. Clinton took a strong interest in the fate of the bankruptcy legislation, and President Bill Clinton vetoed it in late 2000. But its supporters pressed on, and in 2001, as a senator from New York, Mrs. Clinton was among 83 senators who voted in favor of overhauling the bankruptcy system, a group that included 36 Democrats.
In a 2003 book, “The Two-Income Trap,” Ms. Warren offered a stinging portrayal of how, by her account, Mrs. Clinton changed her views.
“Had the bill been transformed to get rid of all those awful provisions that had so concerned First Lady Hillary Clinton? No,” Ms. Warren wrote. “The bill was essentially the same, but Hillary Rodham Clinton was not.”
She wrote that as first lady, Mrs. Clinton had been “willing to fight for her beliefs.”
“As New York’s newest senator, however, it seems that Hillary Clinton could not afford such a principled position,” Ms. Warren added.
“Campaigns cost money, and that money wasn’t coming from families in financial trouble.”
The number of bankruptcy filings had risen in the 1990s, and the legislation would have made it harder for people to wipe out their unsecured debts, including credit card debts. The legislation was avidly sought by the banking and credit card industries; its supporters said it would rein in abuse of the bankruptcy system that had driven up the cost of borrowing.
Ms. Warren later cited Mrs. Clinton’s campaign fund-raising from the banking industry as a factor in her vote. Mrs. Clinton represented Wall Street as a senator, but as she made the case for the legislation, she talked about small credit unions around New York whose members suffered, she said, when the credit union had to cover bankruptcy losses.
Though the Senate passed the legislation in 2001, it did not become law. Congress eventually agreed on an overhaul in 2005; Mrs. Clinton was absent for that vote but expressed disapproval of the legislation.
As a House member, Mr. Sanders voted no on that chamber’s version of the bill in 2001, and he also voted no on the 2005 bill.
But Charles J. Tabb, a law professor at the University of Illinois who opposed the legislation, said Mrs. Clinton’s vote “shows the power of the consumer credit industry and our campaign finance world.”
“She did a 180 once she became senator,” he said. “It was galling.”
Mrs. Clinton faced scrutiny over her bankruptcy vote when she ran for president in 2008, and was criticized for it by Barack Obama.
Asked during a debate in 2008 if she regretted voting for the measure, she responded, “Sure, I do,” adding, “I was happy that it never became law.”
An aide to Ms. Warren said on Friday that the senator appreciated that Mrs. Clinton had expressed regret.
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