Sen. Elizabeth Warren unveiled a series of new planks Tuesday in her wider plan to stem corporate influence on government and root out corruption in Washington.
Introduced as a potential 2020 presidential primary contender, the Massachusetts Democrat took aim at President Donald Trump, casting him as the product of a rotten system rather than an outlier or fluke and saying his administration fit a decades-old pattern of self-dealing in Washington.
Warren’s plan, which would impose a lifetime ban on appointed officials from taking lobbying jobs, is dead on arrival in a Republican-controlled Congress. But it is likely to influence the talking points of other Democrats and, should she run for higher office in 2020, be a staple of her campaign pitch.
In a speech at the National Press Club, Warren called for Congress to “end lobbying as we know it” and not allow “the rich and powerful buy their way into congressional offices.”
“Our national crisis of faith in government boils down to this simple fact: People don’t trust their government to do the right thing because they think government works for the rich, the powerful and the well-connected and not for the American people,” Warren said. “And here’s the kicker: They’re right.”
The problem, Warren said, is much bigger than Trump, but Trump’s administration offers the clearest examples yet of the extremes to which the current laws can be exploited for personal gain.
“There’s no real question that the Trump era has given us the most nakedly corrupt leadership this nation has seen in our lifetimes,” she said. “But they are not the cause of the rot – they’re just the biggest, stinkiest example of it.”
Warren also highlighted a proposal that could affect Trump directly: A requirement that elected officials and candidates for federal office make public more robust information about their taxes and other financial dealings. Trump, of course, has refused to release his tax returns, and his company’s interests remain difficult to fully understand.
The proposal could also directly impact Warren, who many Democrats see as a top contender for the party’s presidential nomination in two years.
Among the more specific new rules Warren is proposing in her Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act are a prohibition on elected and senior agency officials owning or trading stock while in office; the livestreaming of audio from federal appellate court proceedings; a requirement to make public a record of all meetings between lobbyists and public officials; and perhaps most dramatically, the creating of a new independent agency to enforce new and existing ethics laws.
The unveiling on Tuesday marked the second major policy proposal from Warren, who is also up for re-election to the Senate this year, in as many weeks.
Her Accountable Capitalism Act, unveiled last week, would require American corporations to have 40% of their directors elected by their own workers, obtain shareholder and board approval for any political spending (which must then be made public), and put the brakes on the pace at which top executives can sell off stock in their own companies.
Warren didn’t limit her scope to the President, taking aim in her speech at a handful of Trump administration officials as well.
Still on the job is Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog agency drawn up by Warren herself. She recalled a meeting from earlier this year in which he reportedly offered lobbyists some advice in discussing how he managed his old congressional office: If you’re from out-of-town and “never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you,” he said. “If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.” (Constituents, Mulvaney noted, were always welcome.)
Warren argued that Mulvaney’s willingness to say what he did, knowing his comments could reach a wider audience, was symptomatic of a culture so deeply corrupt that it has ceased to even keep up appearances.
“When he made these comments right out in public, with the press listening in, Trump and pretty much every Republican in Washington just shrugged,” she said.
Trump’s erstwhile top economic adviser Gary Cohn also got called out. Cohn made the decision to leave the White House in March, as a rift opened up over the imposition of tariffs. But he had been instrumental in bringing home the GOP tax cut last year, one that gave his former employer, Goldman Sachs, a massive boost.
“For the taxpayers who paid Mr. Cohn’s salary and were under the mistaken impression that Mr. Cohn was working for them,” she said, “the return was not so good.”
Warren, who didn’t mention any Democrats by name in her prepared remarks, conceded during a question and answer session afterward that her party wasn’t without blame.
“This is not a Republican-only problem,” she said, pointing to former Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White, who was put in the job by former President Barack Obama but came under frequent criticism, including by Warren, for not pursuing new political spending disclosure rules and then returning to the law firm Debevoise and Plimpton, her old employer, after leaving the SEC.