WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., offered a sharp rebuke to the Trump administration's deregulatory agenda Tuesday, defending post-crisis reforms she helped implement and announcing legislation to end "corporate capture of the regulatory process."

In a speech that will fuel speculation of a presidential run in 2020, Warren said she plans to introduce bills to “padlock the revolving door between government and industry,” stop government officials from making policy decisions that benefit them personally, and empower government agencies to pass strong regulations to keep corporate influence out of the process.

She framed the Trump administration's recent policies, including efforts to roll back Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rules, as a "war on regulations."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren
“We cannot — we must not — accept a government that works only for a privileged few,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Bloomberg News

"The so-called war on regulations isn’t about freedom," Warren said in remarks prepared for an event at Georgetown University Law School. "The war on regulations is waged on behalf of giant companies that don’t want to follow any rules. So let’s call it what it really is — a war on public health, a war on public safety, a war on truly free and competitive markets, a war on American workers, a war on American consumers."

She said "ending this war on public safety and competitive markets will ... take standing up and making the case, loud and clear: strong government rules matter.”

“We cannot — we must not — accept a government that works only for a privileged few,” Warren said.

The architect of the CFPB, Warren has been the leading opponent on Capitol Hill of efforts by lawmakers and the Trump administration to ease provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act. She has also emerged as the chief critic of Mick Mulvaney, the administration's acting director of the CFPB, who has steadily overhauled the agency to make it more to the industry's liking.

In her Tuesday remarks, Warren defended the CFPB, which has returned roughly $12 billion back to consumers, as a tough cop on the beat. She called out the Trump administration’s efforts to limit the agency’s independence, and said the reason for the administration's anti-regulation stance is to benefit industry.

“The answer is pretty simple — corruption,” Warren said. “Giant corporations and wealthy individuals are working in the shadows to make sure that government works for them, not for the people.”

“To hide what they are doing, big corporations and Republicans here in Washington often claim that government regulations are bad for our economy,” Warren added. “They go on and on about how 'big government' restricts freedom and makes it harder for businesses to succeed. That’s a big, greasy baloney sandwich — a greasy baloney sandwich that has been left out in the sun too long and has started to stink.”

Warren said the CFPB is "under attack" but it is not alone.

"The Trump administration and an army of lobbyists are determined to rig the game in their favor, to boost their own profits — the cost to consumers be damned," she said. "But it’s not just the CFPB that under attack. In agency after agency, across the federal government, powerful corporations and their Republican allies are working overtime to roll back basic rules that protect the rest of us."

During her speech, Warren repeatedly turned to the history of banking regulation as proof it can work, arguing that post-Depression changes like the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Glass-Steagall Act helped make the system safer.

As she has in the past, she criticized the 1999 rollback of Glass-Steagall, which separated commercial and investment banking, calling it a key cause of the 2008 financial crisis.

“For decades, the Fed and other bank regulators looked the other way as big financial institutions found new ways to trick their customers,” Warren said. “The result should have surprised exactly no one.”

“Thirty years of deregulation, a crash that nearly brought our economy to its knees, a recovery that has left most of America behind, and what is the Trump administration’s answer? More deregulation,” she added.

Warren acknowledged that not “every regulation is good. Sometimes regulators get it wrong.”

But she said pro-competition, pro-consumer changes aren’t what Republicans are passing, but instead trying to let big corporations like the megabanks have free rein.

“The Republicans are working to insulate big corporations from competition and accountability,” she said.

She concluded, however, that she is optimistic about the future, in a send-off that seemed very similar to traditional campaign speeches.

“Change is coming,” Warren said. “When we send a message that corporate profits and powerful interests cannot overpower the health, safety, and economic well-being of hardworking families, we fire a warning shot. This is our time, our responsibility, our chance to rebuild a country where government works, not just for the rich and powerful, but for the people.”

Neil Haggerty

Neil Haggerty is the Congress reporter for American Banker. He previously was a financial regulation reporter at MLex Market Insight.