Elizabeth Warren to Obama: ‘You Had Me at Predatory Lending’

Consumer protection chief Elizabeth Warren describes her first encounter with Obama.

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She’s smart, Harvard educated, TV attractive, and a bit nerdy just like her new boss, President Obama. But the coupling of Obama and Elizabeth Warren, the president’s choice to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, didn’t just happen in some Washington personnel office. As Warren explains it, their first encounter was a Hollywood moment.

It took place way back in September 2003, when the little-known Illinois state senator began his bid for the U.S. Senate. Obama needed money, so he tapped alumni and faculty of Harvard Law School, from which he and his wife Michelle had graduated. Their favorite professor, David Wilkins, hosted 30 to 40 potential donors in his home. “I suggested that he come to Cambridge, and I would host a fundraiser for some of the people who also knew him as a student or had heard of his reputation while he was here,” Wilkins recalls. [See photos of Michelle Obama.]

The schools’s vice dean for global initiatives on the legal profession, Wilkins says he was “especially keen” for Obama to meet fellow Harvard Law professor Warren. “I knew he had been fighting against predatory lending in the Illinois state Senate, and she was and is one of the foremost experts in the country on the subject,” says Wilkins.

Warren recalls entering the home as the sun was setting and seeing a tall, slim man standing in a back room. He held out his hand and their fingers touched. “Just like in the movies,” says Warren, who recently revealed the story to students at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Ark. At that point, she recalls, Obama said “predatory lending.” “On and on and on, and I never get a word in,” she adds of the discussion.

As he summed up, Obama flashed his famous toothy grin, knowing he had won her over. “Well?” said Obama. Warren reached for a line from the popular 1996 movie Jerry Maguire: “You had me at ‘predatory lending.’ ”

Wilkins says the other famous line from that movie—“Show me the money!”—wasn’t uttered, noting that “$250 was probably the top price for the event, and not very many people paid that!”

He says Warren wasn’t the only Obama-ite created that night. “By the end, every single person in the room left as a rabid Obama supporter, a network we relied upon the next time we hosted a fundraiser for him shortly after he announced for president. We had 250 people crammed into that back room and Fox News camped outside our door,” he says. “The rest, as they say, is history.”

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