Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Exploratory Committee Organizing Event
Des Moines, IA
January 5, 2019

  [Democracy in Action transcript  |  C-SPAN video]


Hello, Des Moines. 

Okay. So the bad news is, I've caught a cold. The good news is, yeah, nevertheless I persist. [applause]

Now I want to start just by saying, these are dangerous times for our country, and the direction we go will in part be set right here in Iowa. I am grateful to all of you who take this seriously, who are in this fight all the way and who are going to help us make a better country. So thank you; thanks for being here. [applause]

Okay. So I thought I'd just talk a little bit, tell you a little bit about myself and why I'm in this fight and then we'll just take some questions. And then afterwards, if you want to we'ill take pictures, cause that's [inaud.] [applause, shout]

Okay, none of that. So Isabella got it started. I grew up in Oklahoma, Big 12. Yeah we've got a few Okies here. I grew up in a family—my daddy, he sold stuff. He sold carpeting, he sold paint, he sold housewares. I have three older brothers. They all went off and joined the military. They carry their veterans' cards today, proudly. [applause]

I was what used to be known as the late-in-life baby. My mama always called me the surprise. I was about 30 before it hit me what that meant. [laughter] But it worked out.

So for a long time, it was just my mom and my daddy and me. And when I was in middle school, daddy had a heart attack, and my mom and I thought he was going to die. He didn't. He was in the hospital for a while, and then came home but he couldn't work. And so the bills piled up. We lost our family's station wagon, and at night my mama would tuck me into bed, and I'd hear them talk, and I learned words like mortgage and foreclosure. Heavy words for a kid.

One day I walked into my folks' bedroom and laid out on the bed was the dress. Now some of you know the dress. It's the one that only comes out for weddings, funerals, and graduations. And my mother had it laid out, and she was pacing, pacing back and forth. She was in her stocking feet and she was crying. And she was saying we will not lose this house. We will not lose this house. We will not lose this house. She was 50 years old. She had never worked outside the home, and she was terrified. And so, finally, she pulled that dress on, she put on her high heels, blew her nose, and she walked to the Sears and got a minimum wage job. And that minimum wage job saved our house and it saved our family. And if you want to know who I am, there it is. That's the story written on my heart.

And for a long time, I thought that story was a story just about my mother, a story about how she dug deep, and when she had to, she dug deeper. And then I started to understand, years later, it's the story of millions of families across this country, people who do what needs to be done to take care of those they love.

And then, years after that, I came to understand it's also a story about government because when I was a kid, a minimum wage job would support a family of three. Yeah.  [applause]

it would cover a mortgage. it would cover utilities, and it would still get basic food on the table. Today a minimum wage job in America, full-time, will not keep a mama and a baby out of poverty. That is wrong and it's why I'm in this fight. Yes.  [applause]

So it was a bumpy path for me. I wanted to be a schoolteacher. We got any schoolteachers here? There's one, good. I wanted to be a schoolteacher, but that meant college. There was no money for that so like I said it's a bumpy path. I got a scholarship, dropped out of school, got married -- smart. [laughter] 

My chance was a community college that cost $50 a semester. Yeah, yeah. An America that invests in young people. I had babies. I went to a state law school, and I ended up as a professor.

Now that was pretty amazing, but the one thing I can tell you about all of my grown-up professional life is that it is centered around one fundamental question: What's happening to working families in this country? Why is it getting harder and harder for young people to be able to build some security? Why is the path getting rockier, and particularly rockier for people of color? Why is that happening in this country? [applause]

So, let me just lay it out a little bit. 

It's Washington. And think about it with the story I started out with. Back when I was a little girl, the folks in Washington, and check this, they thought about the minimum wage in terms of what does it take a family of three to survive? And that's where they thought the minimum wage should be set because it should be an opportunity, a gateway, a chance to get in. Today, the folks in Washington who are in charge think that they way to set a minimum wage is to maximize the profits of a multinational corporation. They work for the rich and the powerful, not for the rest of us.

And it's not just there. It's throughout the system.

Washington works great for giant drug companies, not for people who are trying to fill a prescription. [applause]

Washington works great for giant oil companies that want to drill everywhere, but not for people who are worried that this planet is going to burn up if we don't make changes. [applause]

Washington works great for giant financial institutions, but not for people whose Social Security numbers get stolen. This is one step after another. Washington works for the rich and the powerful and leaves everyone else behind. This is corruption, plain and simple, and we need to call it out. [applause]

It is corruption, and it is eating away at our democracy, and at the very fiber of our lives. [applause]

I'll just do a couple of quick ones. Today, in America, wages have basically not budged for the median family for an entire generation, but the cost of housing has gone up. the cost of getting an education has gone up, the cost of childcare has gone up, the cost of health care has gone up. Families are in the squeeze because Washington is working for the rich.

Let me do another one. Homeownership, number one way in America for middle-class families to build wealth. It's generation after generation; it's how it works. Today in America, African-American homeownership rates are the same as they were when housing discrimination was legal. Think about that, yeah.

And student loans – like I said, I got a four year diploma at a cost I that could pay for on a part-time waitressing job. Today, young people in this country are getting crushed by a trillion and a half dollars in student loan debt. We have got to turn this around. [applause]

Understand the impact of this corruption. Whatever issue brought you here tonight, I guarantee it intersects through a Washington that's working for the rich and the powerful. Look.  Guns, gun safety – it goes through Washington. We can't do basic things that most of us agree on. Why? Because we've got the NRA calling the shots in Washington. not our democracy. [applause]

Climate, an existential threat to all of us, but the oil companies, the coal companies keep calling the shots in Washington. We have to fight back. We can talk about a lot of these pieces, but I want to put on the table an idea. And that is we need change, but not just one statute here or one law over there. That's not going to get the job done. We need big, structural change. Yes. [applause]

We've got to go big on this. So let me give you some ideas and examples and then we'll just, we'll get to some questions.

So here's the first one. We need to change the rules in Washington. Yes. And it's about money in politics; it's about the influence of money. I have the biggest anti-corruption proposal since Watergate. Yes. Yes. [applause]

How about we block the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington, do you think? [applause]  Boy, no kidding.

Or how about if we say that everyone who runs for federal office needs to put their taxes online? [applause]

Change the rules in Washington. Citizens United, money and politics, change the rules in Washington. That's one.

Two, we've got to change the rules of this economy. And here I want to start again with structural change. We've got a problem where the big corporations, the billionaires, they're calling the shots. We need to strengthen our unions, our workers. our [inaud.] get some balance back into the system. Yes. [applause]

And we need to attack head on the rising costs that are crippling middle-class families.

Health care is a basic human right. [applause]

A chance to get an education without getting crushed by student loans. [applause]

Childcare. How about we join the rest of the developed economies and help pay for child care? [applause]

And strengthen Social Security and protect our pensions. That's how we do this. [applause]

So we've got to change the rules in Washington. We've got to change the rules in our economy, and we've got to change the rules in our politics. And that means we need to protect democracy. Here's is my first idea. I want to see a constitutional amendment so every American citizen has a right to vote and that vote will be counted. [applause]


>>>>>>>>>>working. working. working.>>>>>>00:16:14



i will loop back into say one more time we have to get money out of politics. overturn citizens united. return democracy to the people, where it belongs. [applause]




i never thought i would run for public office, not in a million years. it was not on my to do list. not all my bucket list. not on my anything list. here's the deal. my daddy ended up as a janitor, and i got a chance to become a public school teacher, a college professor, and a united states senator because america invested in opportunity for me. i am determined that we will be a country that invests in opportunity for everyone of our children. that is why i am here. [applause]





this is about how we make change. for me, i will tell you what i am doing here in iowa. that is trying to build grassroots. i do not believe democracy should be for sale to billionaires and giant corporations. [applause]





i do not take corporate money. i do not take pac money of any kind. i do not take money from federal lobbyists. [applause]




this is about rebuilding what we do together. this is about rebuilding our democracy, person by person by person, across iowa and across this country. so, i am going to do this grassroots. i hope everybody in here will sign up, will be part of this. go there. volunteer. be part of this. get a signed, a bumper sticker, offered to make a few phone calls, pitch in five dollars. make an investment in democracy because this is our chance. this is our chance. we, together, can dream big and fight hard, and that is how we will make change. [applause]





questions? you're going to do questions. thank you.




high, everybody -- hi, everybody. you all were given tickets when you came in, raffle tickets, and we are going to draw some of these. there are two microphones, one at the front on both sides, and we are going to draw numbers. if you would make room for people to come down with their tickets -- i'm going to call some of these numbers. 9397, 9271.





we have a winner.




9396. come on up.




hold on. let him do some more.








one more. ok. we ready?




my name is jeffrey. welcome to des moines.




i love being in des moines.




first, i want to thank you. i am a bankruptcy practitioner. thank you for sponsoring the bankruptcy reform act of 2018.




yes. it is a nerd thing.




it is a nerd thing.




but it matters to families in trouble and small businesses in trouble. i'm going to nerd out with you and say it is a good bill.




much appreciated. you have already hit one of my top issues, which is corruption and money in politics. my second issue is defense of the separation of church and state. it has been under tremendous attack. when you give us your thoughts





that >> -- would you give us your thoughts on that?




we talk about the separation of church and state, the importance of each person being able -- for free exercise to be able to worship as you want. what worries me now in america is whether that is turning into a weapon. when i see a case like hobby lobby, in which a corporation free exercise has to be protected, and that means the corporation does not have to provide a full range of health services for women, this has become, in a case like hobby lobby, a tool to advance an ideological agenda. i think hobby lobby is wrong. we have to fight back on this. i was a fifth grade sunday school teacher. that is a long story in itself. all i can say is no one was injured. it was a very low bar. but i believe this is what makes our country great is that people are free to choose their religion or to choose no religion at all, but they do not get to use that to keep others from their rights. thank you. good question. who is next? have we got one? we have one over here -- where are we? ok. ok.





first of all, thank you for coming to iowa and bringing a positive message. i wanted to ask -- how do you debate someone who is not interested in civility





did you have someone specific in mind?




let me preface that with -- it is a question for you, but also for us.




so, here's how i see this. we have a chance now, over the next year and three quarters, to get out there and talk about something we have not talked about nearly enough. that is what we are fighting for. i believe that when we get a chance to do this, we can actually come together on this. i told you i grew up in oklahoma. all three of my brothers still live in oklahoma, and one of my three brothers is a democrat. [laughter]





we are working on it. here is the deal. i love all three of my brothers, and what i believe is that, whatever else is going on, the noise and the nonsense and the wind and the craziness, we have to stay focused on whatand what matters to us is that everybody gets a fighting chance to build something. what matters to us is that people get a chance to get an education without getting crushed my student loan debt. what matters to us is that people get access to health care. that they can afford, and it's real, and it's there in rural hospitals and communities all across this country. i think that when we talk -- i have to tell you. i have been talking about corruption for a little while now. i am so into this. here's the deal. you don't have to persuade people. you have to go out and say let me show you the 45 pieces of evidence. democrats, republicans come an independents -- there are some signed on a different direction, it they know our government is broken. that needs to be the place we start, that's how we begin to build a movement and change that country. that's what i believe. thank you. go ahead. we have another one. 9320. are you one of these?





first off, it's been a few years the i remember you talking about letting students refinance their loans through the post office and i haven't heard that for a while. but it's a great idea. as democrats, we need to run as the party of the people. what do you think is the big anchor issue that we can use not just to join progressives together, but the american people so they understand that you are fighting for not just the middle class but to help build up the middle class how can we build up the middle class? that's the working class? -- the working class?





the central part of this is about opportunity. is not like i have tested this out some focus group or done a much of polling. i'm in this fight but has been the same fight of my lifetime. it's a fight to make sure that the chances i got are there for other kids. that the chances to build something are real. and i watch every day is those chances are denied. two young people, that are denied to people of color, they are denied to immigrants, they are denied to people in the lgbtq community. they are denied to native americans over and over and over. a rocky path gets rockier and rockier. i believe that what we need to fight for is an america where it's just a level playing field. i don't think people are a handout, they just want a chance , they work hard, they play by the rules, they can do this. i think that's where we started. and i do have to say it, we have to call corruption out. we have to call it for what it is.





we have some more. 9261. 9296. 9353. there are two microphones. bring your ticket. the system worked really well in massachusetts, i'm told.




is going to work in des moines. the idea is everyone gets a chance to ask a question, not just the people who run to the front. we have somebody. [laughter] go ahead.





i am from olathe, kansas. we traveled three hours to be here. [applause]




that's commitments. i'm impressed. thank you. collects i want to say that you are probably one of the most natural feeling candidates that i have met and that speaks volumes. i hope this is not the last time we see you in that we see you in a more presidential position.





thank you.




on a recent public education graduate i focus was health. as someone who was on the grassroots, who experiences housing inequality, who is rent burden, who does not want a job that will allow them the opportunity to own a home and i know that the recent bill -- please talk about it. i know maybe there's a lot of people here who don't know about it but as someone who is on the ground, what can i do to keep pushing that message in my community about inclusivity and housing for ability for everyone? [applause]





so, how many people in here worry about the rising cost of housing so here's the deal in america. let's really want out for a minute here. new construction america has moved to the high-end. as a lot of housing opportunities and if you are middle class, working class, working poor, or poor, you basically have to does there has not been much in housing, the government has backed out from what it was doing and the consequence is housing is deteriorating at the same time, the prices going up because of the demand. what can we do about it? we can build 3.2 million new housing units across this country. urban, rural, we can do this. what would be the consequence of doing that? we produce 1.5 million jobs, that's a good part. second, we bring down according to moody's the price of rent instead of their continuing to go out by about 10%, that's their estimates. you bring 3.2 million housing units online and affects prices overall, not just the new uses you bring in because it affects the market. but that's not all we need to do. housing, we talked about earlier, the number one way that families, working families middle-class families built wealth is to buy a home. and that it had -- that is how it has worked generation after generation for white families. but not for african-american and latino families. and here's the deal. not just because of gravity, not just because that's how it worked out, it was official governments policy to redline african-american neighborhoods and prevent them from participating in housing wealth until the mid-1960's. think about that. that was the policy of our governments and many of those redline neighborhoods have never recovered. that's how we end up with african-american homeownership rates back where they were when housing discrimination was legal. what does this housing bill proposed to do? 3.2 million new units but it also says we need to take a first step towards rectifying the wrongs of the past. and help people informally redlined areas be able to buy homes. i will tell you one more part about this bill. it also requires that we put the money in to fully fund our obligations for housing in our native reservations. something we have not done in the past. now, let's talk democracy for just a minute. this is an expensive plan. there's a lot to this plan. but a lot of help for a lot of people. how do you pay for something like that? i got an answer. and the answer is if we just go back to the estate tax and tax the families that were taxed upon death during the george w. bush administration -- that's all it is, just that far back, we can raise enough money to pay for 3.2 million new housing units and not cost american taxpayers a single dime. here's the part about money talks. i go talk to experts in washington, but this bill together, there will be senior housing. so be senior housing for people with disabilities, so replaces housing in rural areas, lots of good stuff that comes out of this, 3.2 million new housing units plus all the spillover effects from this and jobs. who would help pay for this? the 10,000 richest families in america. and you know what people in washington say to me? you can never do that. because 10,000 rich families have so much more power in washington then millions of american families who are struggling to pay. what i say to them as you just wait till 2020. [applause]





with suitable more. -- let's do a couple more.




you talked a lot about tackling corruption at a national level in national politics i want to talk about tackling corruption on a party level. given some of the undemocratic behavior between the instant -- the dnc and hillary's campaign, was an impact do you hope to have on the party for more fair and transparent primary process?





going to say two things do. the first one is i'm not really getting 2016. but i think right now in a 2020 presidential primary that as democrats, we have a chance to strengthen democracy and here's how i think we ought to do it. i think that all the democratic candidates whoever they turn out to be should link arms and say our primary is not for sale to billionaires. [applause] none of us want super pac's to help us and none of us believe that billionaires ought to be able to self finance. it ought to be about building a movement, person by person by person, this is how we will build democracy. this is how we restore confidence in the democratic party. we are the party of the people, that we have to walk the walk. thank you.





one more question.




make it a good one. and then we will do pictures.




bienvenidos, iowa. you are in a thought leading state of the union. welcome. with that aside, i've question for you because i'm very worried about the course of our corporations. many of them are offshore and ireland and other offshore locations. i want to know we can do in 2022 incentivize them to stay here and balance the responsibility towards our communities, because we built their wealth and i think it's an opportunity in 2020 and i want to hear what we can do.





great question about corporations. i will do the short version of this and what it starts with, kind of the core of what this is about his neck to the point about corruption. why do you think the tax bill gave away $1.5 trillion to giant corporations, multinational corporations and billionaires? the estimate that i saw is that these multinationals that got hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks, 40% of their shareholders are not even here in the united states. we gave away money. why did we give away money? because washington is corrupt. because money talks. part of it has to be systemic change. structural change. we got -- we've got to start with an anticorruption bill. we've got to push them back is that gives us a chance to hit them on the tax code and this is going to be a shocking principle. everybody should pay a fair share. there's one more i want to throw it about this and that is that corporate behavior is determined by corporations themselves and up until the early 1980's, you can look at corporate minutes, you can look at the groups that represented corporations and you know what they say? they say here in america, corporations have a responsibility to their shareholders, to their employees , to their communities. that was how it was. and it used to be the case that as a corporation got richer, everybody participated. but the workers got richer two, that everybody got a bigger slice of pie. that changed in the late 1980's and corporations that is only one thing. it is shareholder wealth. and we are here to maximize it, even if it means we are making big money and we lay off our american workers to go somewhere else. we dump all kinds of poisons in the river because it improves profitability. that's the way corporations have shifted over time. they don't want to talk about this. they put lou correa logos on things. understand the rules that govern corporations are not just to corporations, they are up to you and me. i have a proposal for something that says that the giant corporations have to get a charter that requires them to respond at employees and customers and communities. employees must be able to elect 40% of the board.





one more and then one quick housekeeping after this you are going to say hello to these folks down here in the senators going to stay and see as many as she can. and we will work this way first, last question.





like you are being here. all of a sudden, this country no longer talks about the national debt. and yet i'm very impressed that donald trump turns around and gives giant tax breaks when the national debt goes up and he's giving it to corporations that are trying to destroy the unions and many workers do not keep up. my question for you is when you get to be president of the united states -- [applause]





we tell us to send the presidency towards a national budget amendment?




wait. i didn't hear the last few words. let me say on this, we need to make our dollars and budgets work for people. and i agree, our national debt right now is a drag. on our young people, on their future. it is obscene what america has done, but america went to war 17 years ago and put that on a credit card for children to pay. that is fundamentally wrong. then america gave away $1.5 trillion in tax breaks, fundamentally wrong. i think the way we have to do this one is going to be down trenches. we have to come back in this economy and we have to make the investments again. the investments in infrastructure and the investment in housing.





would you be willing to roll back the tax cuts donald trump gave?




for billionaires and big corporations, you bet. thank you. good question. first, thank you all for being here. i really do appreciate this. the me say something about this fight. this is about dreaming big. and it's about fighting hard and making structural change. not a nibble here in a piece around the edge, and a lot of people say it's just too hard. you just can't do that. it's just too hard. let me just say to all of you, people told me after the financial crash we can never get a consumer agency. that crash was caused one lousy mortgage at a time. one giant bank that cheated one family, another family, another family. targeted communities of color, targeted young people, targeted seniors and crushed them. the people said to me the banks have all the money and they will prevail. they spent more than $1 million a day for more than a year lobbying against financial reforms in particular that consumer agency, but here's the deal. we have nothing on our side. we didn't have money or big groups on our side, we got organized and we fought back in the consumer financial protection euro is the law today. [applause] and mick mulvaney tries to sideline it. it's going to stay in there. another one, back in 2011, 2012, i got a hold much of phone calls from people who said to me i love you, elizabeth, but massachusetts is not going to elect a woman to the senate. all i want to say is we got organized, we fought back and i am now the senior senator of the commonwealth. and just one more. wells fargo you've heard of wells fargo, i can tell. wells fargo cheats millions of its customers and decides the way to deal with that to fire a bunch people who make $15 an hour. and we saw what happened during the crash. the ceos of the giant banks they just rolled in the money and stayed in their jobs. people said to me you can't get any accountability, personal accountability from the executives of the company. like wells fargo. all i can say is you get that push back and the ceo of wells fargo is gone. the point of that is yeah, it's hard. a lot of things are hard. if they weren't hard, some real slim already done it. we are americans. and we have a history of coming together to fight the hard fights. the abolitionists -- they didn't say this is too hard, the suffragettes, they didn't say this was too hard. america's labor movements, they didn't say this was too hard. america's civil rights movements . [applause] yes, these folks were told it's too hard. give up before you start. but they organized, they persisted, and they changed america. [applause] i'm here tonight because i believe. i believe in what we can do. i believe that this right now is our moment. our moment to dream big and to take back this country for democracy. (music) [applause] (music) [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] (music)





everybody that wants to take a picture with the senator, make your way to the right side of the room. please woman orderly line to the right side of the room.





we're going to do together.




he's got the camera now. behind you, they will work with you. this is my best friend. we're going that way. she has the camera.




i have it right here.




we will see you tomorrow, in ankeny. you are rocks. -- you are a rock.