It was always expected that Sen. Elizabeth Warren would receive a warm welcome in Cedar Rapids from the Linn Phoenix Club. The group works to elect progressive Democrats at the county level, and Warren is one of the most progressive Democrats running for president. What wasn’t expected was the size of the welcome.
The Thursday evening event was a fundraiser for the club (tickets were $20) that was originally scheduled as a meet-and-greet at Raygun in Cedar Rapids. By Tuesday, the numbers of RSVPs made it clear a bigger venue was needed. So it became a town hall-style meeting at CSPS Hall instead.
Warren received the first of three standing ovations from the audience of almost 200 as she stepped onto the platform in front of CSPS’s stage. The clapping almost drowned out the sound of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” the walk-up music Warren’s been using at every campaign stop.
Warren began her prepared remarks, as she did during her town hall at the Iowa Memorial Union in February, by talking about the economic struggles her family faced when she was growing up in Oklahoma.
Warren’s father had been salesman, but when she was in middle school, he had a massive heart attack. He almost died, and during his long, slow recovery, he couldn’t work. The family’s savings were spent. They couldn’t afford to keep the family car.
“At night, my momma would tuck me into bed, and then I’d lie in bed in the dark and I’d hear them talk,” Warren said. “That’s where I learned words like ‘mortgage’ and ‘foreclosure.’”
One morning she walked into her parent’s bedroom, she recalled. Her mother was alone, and “the dress” was on the bed.
“Some of you know ‘the dress,’” Warren said. “It’s the one that only comes out for weddings, funerals and graduations.”
Her mother was pacing back and forth, and crying.
Warren continued, “And she’s saying, ‘We will not lose this house. We will not lose this house. We will not lose this house.’”
“She was 50 years old, never worked outside the home and she was terrified,” Warren said. “She kept looking at that dress, and she looked over at me, and back at that dress. Finally, she blew her nose, she pulled the dress on, put on her high heels, and she walked down to Sears and got a minimum-wage job answering the phones.”
“That minimum-wage job saved our house and saved our family.”
Warren said growing up, she thought only her family had a story like this. As a young adult, she realized millions of other families lived through the same story.
“It was only years after that I came to understand it’s also a story about government,” Warren said. “Because when I was a girl, a minimum-wage job — full-time, in America — would support a family of three. It would pay the mortgage, it would cover the utilities and it would put food on the table.”
“Today, a minimum-wage job — full-time, in America — will not keep a momma and a baby out of poverty. That is wrong. And that is why I’m in this fight.”
It wasn’t any sort of economic inevitably that cause the decline in what the minimum wage does for workers, Warren explained.
“The question that Congress used to ask when setting the minimum wage was, ‘What does it take to for a family of three to survive? What will give them a toehold in America’s middle class?’” she said. “Today, the question that gets asked in Washington is, ‘What is the minimum wage that will maximize the profits of giant, multinational corporations?’ I don’t want a government that’s there to work for giant multinational corporations, I want one that’s there to work for our families.”
To achieve that, there needs to be “big structural changes in this country,” Warren stressed.
Warren’s focus on those changes made for an interesting contrast with Joe Biden, the other 2020 Democratic candidate for president making news on Thursday. In the video announcing his candidacy, the former vice president talked almost exclusively about Donald Trump.
Warren, on the other hand, never mentioned Trump’s name during the hour-long event at CSPS.
“I have a plan,” Warren said, regarding the big, structural changes she wants to make. The line provoked loud, appreciative laughs from the audience.
The Massachusetts senator is well-known for her many, detailed plans to tackle a range of problems, including universal child care, ending political corruption, creating affordable housing, strengthening the voice of voters, restraining overly dominant tech and agri-business companies, restructuring taxes, protecting public lands, decreasing maternal mortality, making college affordable and relieving the burden of student loan debt. (On Friday morning, Warren unveiled a new plan to improve military housing.)
Warren offered some broad-stroke views on some of her plans.
“Part one: Attack corruption head-on,” Warren began.
She wants to changes the rules on lobbying, making the Supreme Court abide by judicial ethics and requiring any candidate for federal office to publish their tax return online.
“Plan two: We’ve got change a couple of the basic rules in this economy,” Warren said.
Warren wants to strengthen unions and make labor organizing easier. “Unions built America’s middle class,” she said, “and unions will rebuild America’s middle class.”
Warren would also introduce a wealth tax “on the biggest fortunes in America.”
“The first $50 million of your fortune — that’s fine, no extra tax on that,” she said. But there would be a tax of two cents on every dollar over that first $50 million. According to Warren, that tax would produce enough revenue to provide universal child care for children from birth to age 5, create universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds (with professional-level wages for childcare and pre-K workers), and support free tuition at public colleges and universities for every undergraduate, as well as the canceling of student loan debts for approximately 95 percent of people currently trying to pay off those loans.
“We could do all of those things with the two-cent tax, all of those things and still have nearly $1 trillion left over,” Warren said. “It shows you just how badly skewed this economy has become, that two cents on the great fortunes can produce the kind of revenue that lets us invest in the future for all of our kids.”
The third reform Warren highlighted was the “need to rewrite some of the rules in politics to protect our democracy.”
The senator wants a constitutional amendment to protect the right to vote, and to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that gutted campaign finance regulations.
A further 30 minutes were budgeted for audience questions, but Warren’s answers were, unsurprisingly, long and detailed, so there was only time for four questions.
Warren was asked about climate change (she favors the Green New Deal, both because it treats climate change with the sort of urgency the problem deserves, and it offers the opportunity to massively improve America’s public infrastructure), why it’s important to make college affordable (it’s both a way of preparing people for the future, but also a way of reducing wealth inequities caused by racial prejudice and class divides), and how to make housing more affordable (having the federal government partner with developers and local communities, and even put up funding for cheaper financing or public infrastructure improvements).
All three of those questions had something in common, Warren said.
“There are these core pieces in America that we have so under-invested in for so long, and we’ve tried to hold it together,” she said. “Our kids have borrowed money to go to school, we’ve upped how much we spend on rent and mortgages.”
America’s middle class is being “hollowed out,” Warren said. “It’s being hollowed out because we’re just not making the investments to give middle-class families, working families, the working poor, a shot at getting in the game and building the future.”
The final question was about what Warren would do for women as president. The senator did go on to women’s health issues, but started her answer on more emotional note.
“There are so many ways to do this question, but can we just start with what the impact would be on women to have a woman in the White House?” Warren said, to wave of applause and foot stomping.
Warren echoed that answer when speaking to a little girl, as she was taking photos with anyone who wanted one after the questions period. (Almost the entire audience wanted one.)
After telling the little girl her dancing was “fabulous” as she twirled for the senator, Warren said to her, “My name is Elizabeth. I’m running for president, because that’s what girls do.”
It’s something Warren tells every young girl she meets on the campaign trail.
The candidate held up a pinky, and asked, “Can you do a pinky promise to remember that?”
The little girl linked pinkies with Warren, then started jumping up and down excitedly.