Warren bashes banks and billionaires in first 2020 campaign swing

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s first trip to Iowa as a likely presidential candidate highlighted her fiery anti-Wall Street populism and could set the tone for the sprawling field of Democrats expected to jockey for the right to challenge President Trump in 2020.

In a weekend swing that saw overflow crowds at every stop, the Massachusetts liberal harshly critiqued a Washington political culture she called “corrupt” and “beholden to giant corporations.”

Warren’s critiques of Wall Street’s political influence struck a chord with many of the Iowans who came to see her, 13 months ahead of the Iowa caucuses that formally kick off the nomination race.

“Trump says Make America Great Again, but he’s making corporations great — he doesn’t give a s**t about us, and his flunkies don’t care either,” said Dana Evans, 69, of Aurelia, Iowa, president of Vietnam Veterans of Northwest Iowa.

More than two dozen Democrats are believed to be seriously contemplating bids for the party’s 2020 nomination, although none — with the possible exception of former Vice President Joe Biden — are obvious front-runners. Biden is nearing a decision on whether to run, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California are some of Warren’s Senate colleagues likely to join her soon as either preliminary or full-on candidates. Both made trips to Iowa to help Democrats ahead of November’s election, where the party won three of the state’s four congressional seats.

Julian Castro, a former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary from Texas who has already announced a presidential exploratory committee, was scheduled to make several stops in Iowa on Monday. Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland has also established a presidential campaign.

Pledging to forsake corporate contributions if she runs for president, Warren challenged her Democratic competitors to do likewise. She also repeatedly criticized the idea that wealthy presidential hopefuls might use their personal fortunes to fund campaigns, a notion she said Democrats should find offensive.

“Campaigns should not be for sale,” she said at a stop in western Iowa. “As Democrats in a Democratic primary, we ought to be building grassroots support. We ought to be building a movement [and] not having billionaires buy these campaigns, whether we’re talking about super PACs or self-funders.”

Although Warren didn’t mention them by name, billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg have indicated they’re considering joining the Democratic fray and have the resources to finance their own campaigns if they wanted to do so.

Steyer, a former hedge fund manager, has spent millions of dollars on a campaign calling for Trump’s impeachment. He’s scheduled to make two stops Wednesday in central Iowa.

Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor and the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, made a trip to Iowa in early December to showcase the climate change issue. During a Dec. 30 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Bloomberg said he expects to make a decision about a presidential run in the next month or so.

While much of Wall Street despises her, Warren’s advocacy has endeared her to a progressive base whose voters are hungry for a more liberal Democratic Party.

Warren, 69, a former Harvard Law School professor, became the highest-profile Democrat to launch a presidential exploratory committee when she filed papers Dec. 31 with the Federal Election Commission. The trip to Iowa, her first in four years, marked the start of many this year by Democrats competing in the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, currently scheduled for Feb. 3, 2020.

Warren, who introduced herself at one stop as “a banking wonk” and touted her role in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, criticized a financial system she said remains far too powerful even after the global financial crisis a decade ago, and in need of “big structural changes.”

She singled out Wells Fargo and Equifax for what she said were abuses of the public’s trust.

Wells Fargo, the largest private employer in the Des Moines metropolitan area, has been fined billions of dollars as part of a series of scandals involving its business operations.

Equifax disclosed in 2017 a hack of its computers that put almost half the U.S. population’s sensitive personal information at risk. The credit reporting giant has been criticized by a congressional oversight committee for failing to modernize its technology security to match the company’s data gathering.

Since 2017 “we have taken meaningful steps to enhance our technology and security programs and have worked in good faith with legislators to be transparent, cooperative and shed light on our learnings from the incident,” Equifax spokesman Jacob Hawkins said Sunday in an emailed statement. A spokesman for Wells Fargo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The recent turbulence in the stock market was an added source of concern for some of those attending Warren’s events. “As a retired person whose entire retirement savings is in the stock market, I remember the 2008 crash and don’t want to see that happen again,” said Barbara Stroud, 71, who quizzed Warren about banking regulations before a roundtable discussion in Storm Lake. “It’s important that our markets are safe and stable.”

While most voters who attended her rallies say they remain undecided about which Democrat they’ll support, others sounded ready to commit. “She made me proud to be a Democrat,” said Lorene Bliss, 74, a retired scientist from Council Bluffs. “I could follow a lady like that. I’m an Indian, not a chief. She could wind up being the one for me.”

Warren has long been a favorite target of Trump, who frequently calls her “Pocahontas” in reference to her claims of Native American ancestry. But even some Democrats have mocked her handling of the release in October of a DNA test meant to bolster her claims that showed she likely has distant Native American heritage from six to 10 generations ago.

First elected to the Senate in 2012, Warren has been a reliably liberal voice, clashing not only with conservatives but also with fellow Democrats in her opposition to financial deregulation. She resisted a push from some to run in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

In Iowa, Warren presented a narrative of a middle class forgotten by Washington, victimized by corporate greed and steadily falling behind. At various points, she assailed drug companies, oil manufacturers, insurance companies, financial services corporations and even “big fertilizer companies making a bazillion dollars.”

She’s already secured the services of some top Democratic operatives in Iowa. Warren has signed on Emily Parcell, who worked as then-Sen. Barack Obama’s Iowa political director for the 2008 caucus and as a senior adviser to Clinton in the state in 2016, as well as Brendan Summers, who served as the 2016 Iowa and national caucus director for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

Some of the weekend stops took Warren to conservative parts of the state, as she sought to prove her comfort outside urban America and show stamina for what promises to be a long slog. By Saturday evening, she was losing her voice.

“The bad news is I’ve got a cold,“ she said. “The good news is, nevertheless, I persist.”

Bloomberg News
Election 2020 Law and regulation Financial regulations Elizabeth Warren Wells Fargo Equifax Iowa