At First Debate, Scott Brown Gets Nasty

Kelvin Ma/ZumaPress.com

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


If you hadn’t been following the Massachusetts Senate race closely, the attack seemed to come out of nowhere: At Thursday night’s Massachusetts Senate debate, Sen. Scott Brown (R) charged that Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren had represented the insurance giant Travelers in a case against asbestos victims. Far from being an advocate for the little guy, Brown argued, Warren was nothing more than a money-hungry corporate lawyer. If Brown’s criticism of Warren’s Native American ancestry was a not-so-subtle challenge appeal to identity politics, this attack went straight to Warren’s political core.

Except Brown is not telling the whole story about Warren and Travelers insurance. The Boston Globe explored the case—one of Warren’s only forays into corporate law—in detail in May and found a much more complicated picture. Warren had signed on with Travelers because she feared that a bad outcome could overturn an important part of federal bankruptcy law she’d long advocated for. One group of asbestos victims did oppose Warren and Travelers. But another, much larger group of asbestos victims were on the side of Warren and the insurance company. That’s because Warren believed she was securing a $500 million settlement from the insurance company on behalf of the asbestos victims.

That’s not how it turned out. After Warren, Travelers, and the largest group of asbestos victims won their Supreme Court case, Travelers reneged on its end of the deal and never paid out the $500 million settlement. Here’s how the Globe‘s Noah Bierman explained it:

Though some asbestos victims still objected to the Travelers settlement, another larger group of victims was on the same side as the insurer – at least during this portion of the case – in seeking to have the settlement upheld.

The Supreme Court decision gave Travelers a victory, validating the legality of the 1986 agreement and the immunity it provided. But it left to the lower courts to decide whether Chubb [another insurance company] had a right to challenge the 2004 settlement.

That triggered another series of legal arguments that ultimately unraveled the $500 million settlement, leaving Travelers with permanent immunity from most asbestos lawsuits without having to pay the victims.

It turned out pretty badly! But it’s not clear why that would make Warren a sell-out, as Brown suggests.

The beauty of this charge for Brown, though, is it’s an incredibly easy charge to level and a complicated one to explain—which is why you should expect to hear a lot more of it. And true to form, on Friday, in his first remarks following the debate, Brown held a press conference to hammer home the Travelers narrative.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate