On Monday, billionaire hedge-fund manager Leon Cooperman—who has spent months parading his criticisms of progressive tax reforms in the media—got an invitation to complain before Congress from one of his least favorite politicians, Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Warren (D-MA) gave Cooperman until Thursday to say whether he will appear as a witness at a Senate Finance subcommittee hearing dedicated to the topic on which they clash: income inequality. But the investor, who heard about the invitation while he was on vacation in the Florida Keys, told The Daily Beast that he will likely decline the offer.
“I am probably not going to accept the invitation and I’ll tell you why: because she’s a bad person,” Cooperman said Tuesday afternoon, reached on his phone after a fishing expedition. “I’ll be in her den. I’ll be a cat in a lion’s den.”
The invitation was the latest in a series of gestures from Congressional progressives to shame billionaires into public interrogation over the structural forces that enabled their wealth. Just last month, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D) invited Jeff Bezos to a Senate Budget Committee meeting on income inequality, on the eve of the vote that could have created Amazon’s first union. Ultimately, Bezos declined Sanders’ invitation through a company spokesman.
Warren’s invitation suggested Cooperman could outline his objections to her proposed Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act, which would establish a 2 percent tax on households valued over $50 million, and an additional 1 percent surtax on those worth more than $1 billion. All told, it would impact only the top 100,000 Americans, or 0.05 percent of the country—a group that counts Cooperman, who is worth an estimated $2.5 billion, as a member.
“This hearing is an opportunity to share your views on how to strengthen the nation’s tax system,” Warren wrote, “to address economic inequality, raise revenues to fund critical pro-growth investments in families and communities, and bolster our long-term fiscal and economic outlooks.”
When Warren introduced the proposal in March, alongside Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Rep. Brendan Boyle, Cooperman scoffed at the plan. He told CNBC it “has no merit. It’s foolish. It probably is not legal.” Tax avoidance was so widespread, he argued, that if a wealth tax were imposed, rich people would simply hide their cash.
Warren hat-tipped to those comments, but she framed the hearing as an opportunity to air his complaints. “While this policy is backed by scores of experts and economists and is overwhelmingly popular with Democrats, Republicans, and independents,” she wrote, “I am aware that it is not particularly popular with you.”
But Cooperman told The Daily Beast he still resents Warren for a feud they had back in 2019. When Warren was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, the campaign fired off a tweet at Cooperman, calling for him to “pitch in a bit more.”
In response, the banker wrote a five-page single-spaced letter outlining his biography, his charitable donations, some business success stories of many billionaire friends, and a few of his own arguments about economics. In his call with The Daily Beast, Cooperman described his own letter, which likened Warren to “a parent chiding an ungrateful child,” as “outstanding.”
“Larry Summers—who was president of Harvard University and a very distinguished economist in his own right, and very liberal in his views, said if I submitted that paper in his class he’d give me an A-plus,” Cooperman said on the call. “Not an A, an A-plus.”
Back in 2019, Warren tweeted about the letter, but Cooperman griped that he never got a private response. “That was a fabulous letter. I spent six hours writing that letter,” Cooperman said. “She didn’t respond to it. Why should I assume she would respond any different [now?]?…if she wanted to have a serious dialogue, she would have responded to that letter.”