PHOENIX — Sen. Elizabeth Warren jumped into the 2016 race on Friday — not as a candidate, but as a progressive power broker.
In her Friday keynote speech at Netroots Nation, a notable weekend gathering of progressives, Warren asked those in attendance to judge all presidential contenders with a very simple litmus test: Do they support the bill introduced to end Wall Street bonuses for outgoing executives taking government jobs?
“It’s a bill that any presidential candidate should be able to cheer for,” she declared to thundering applause. “That’s why I’m here today. I’m here today because I need your help …The only way that candidates will say 'enough is enough' is if you, you demand that they say it.”
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Both Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley have spoken out against Wall Street's so-called revolving door to Washington, but there's one very notable Democratic candidate who has not: Hillary Clinton, who declined organizers' invitation to speak this weekend.
Progressives criticize Clinton for being cozy with Wall Street — which employs some of her biggest donors — and Warren's challenge seem designed at drawing the former secretary of state to the left on Wall Street reform.
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In her economic policy speech last week, Clinton vowed better oversight on Wall Street and championed many of the policies progressives desperately want — but came short of embracing the Glass-Steagall bill that would break up the big banks. Warren has championed that legislation. Clinton's economic adviser said after her economic address she wouldn't be throwing her support behind it.
Netroots Nation is undeniably the "Warren wing" of the Democratic party. Many here spent years trying through the Draft Warren movement to get the junior senator to make a presidential bid. The sentiment clearly remains: Attendees interrupted her speech to call yet again for her to run. This crowd is likely the vehicle she'll use to influence the 2016 race.
Warren's speech — like the Senate bill introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin this week that she championed — aimed to expose “the revolving door” between big banks and government economic policy jobs. Warren said the relationship leaves the government favoring big business over the American people.
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“I just want to talk about one example of that revolving door: The gold-plated door with Citigroup’s name engraved in big letters,” Warren began. “So let’s count. Three of the last four Treasury Secretaries under Democrat presidents have had close Citigroup ties — by the way the fourth was offered the CEO job at Citigroup but found a better job. The vice chairman of the Federal Reserve system is a Citigroup alum, the under-secretary of international affairs for the treasury is a Citigroup alum, the U.S. trade rep is a Citigroup alum .... " The list grew as she continued to call out government officials with Citigroup ties before concluding with "And those are just the most visible parts!"
"House Republicans may still want to fly the Confederate flag ... but the American people understand that black lives matter..."'
Warren hit on a wide variety of issues in her speech — from race and immigration to gun control.
“House Republicans may still want to fly the Confederate flag and Republican leaders may cower in the shadow of Donald Trump, but the American people understand that black lives matter and America is not a nation that stands for racism,” she said. “On equality and justice, American people are progressives.”
But it was her economic policies, which launched her onto the national stage as an advocate for Wall Street reform, that were best received.
“For anyone running for that job, anyone who wants that power, they should say loud and clear ‘we don’t run this country for Wall Street and mega-corporations, we run it for the people,'" Warren said to roaring cheers from the crowd. “No one is disqualified just because they have Wall Street experience, but public service is about more than serving one industry, [and presidents] should only appoint people who have already demonstrated that they are independent, that they can hold big banks accountable.”
In her address, Warren promised the packed ballroom on Friday morning that the country is just as progressive as they are, on everything from immigration to the minimum wage.
“Here at Netroots Nation, we have news for insider Washington, the American people are progressive and our day is coming,” she said to thundering applause. “Our values are America’s values. And America’s values are progressive values!"
Warren condemned Republicans as the gatekeepers of “insider Washington” who prevented the nation from legislating and enforcing the country’s progressive colors repeatedly.
“Progressives believe that students shouldn’t be crushed by debt and the federal government shouldn’t make a profit on student loans — and so do 73% of Americans,” Warren said to more cheers. “Beltway Republicans may vote to stomp on people who are deep in debt, but on student loans, American people are progressives and to them, debt-free college sounds pretty good.”