Sen. Warren On Her Fight For Democratic Party, Middle Class

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a rally in Boston March 31, 2017 with Sen. Bernie Sanders. (Steven Senne/AP)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a rally in Boston March 31, 2017 with Sen. Bernie Sanders. (Steven Senne/AP)

As we approach the 100-day mark of the Trump administration, perhaps the person who has emerged as one of the president's fiercest opponents is Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Her new book, "This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class," opens on election night in 2016 with Warren describing President Trump as the man who could deliver a knock out punch to America's middle class.


Elizabeth Warren, Democratic senator for Massachusetts. She tweets @SenWarren.

Interview Highlights

On why she chose to write this book now 

Since 1980 to right now it's kind of been one punch after another at the middle class. And what I worry about now deeply is that Donald Trump really could deliver the knockout blow. Let me describe it this way ... 1935 to 1980, GDP is going up and the 90 percent of America, everybody outside the top 10 percent, the 90 percent of America gets 70 percent of all new income growth generated in this country. And that's true of upper-middle class, middle class, working class, working poor, poor poor. In other words, the pie got bigger and we all got a little more to eat. 1980 to 2016, GDP keeps going up, but then 90 percent, everybody outside the top 10 percent, how much did they get of the new income growth? The answer is zero.

On what she says to Trump supporters who believe he's the person to protect the middle class

I think that Donald Trump correctly saw the anger in America. He saw that people are angry. They work hard, they play by the rules and they just don't have a chance to get ahead. People are angry that their kids can't get an education without getting crushed by student loan debt. They're angry that we've got a tax system that puts the best jobs overseas and doesn't put those jobs here in America. They're angry that people at the top don't pay their fair share, and our infrastructure is crumbling around our ears in some places. They're they're angry at our inability to build a stronger and more robust economy that gives them a chance and gives their kids a chance. The difference is that while Donald Trump saw the anger, he pointed in the wrong direction for what caused it. He wanted to point to a very different direction. He said it's their fault — it's the fault of immigrants, it's the fault of people who don't worship like you, it's the fault of people who don't look like you. And then when he got in office after having promised he would be there for working people, he's just turned around and handed the keys to government to a bunch of billionaires and bankers, and now they're delivering one punch to the middle class after another.

On what she says to critics who point out that she herself is not in the middle class

This is what I fight for and what I fought for long before I ever got into politics. You know, this is this is my 11th book and my books have all been about, basically, about what's happening to working families in this country. This matters to me, it matters to me in a very personal way. Maybe I can say it another way that that may explain this. I wanted to be a teacher, it's so all I ever wanted to be in my life, a public school teacher. And when the time came for me to go to college there wasn't any money for that, but I got a scholarship. I got married young, gave up the scholarship and I thought it was all over for me. My big chance came from going to a commuter college that cost $50 a semester and that college opened the door for me. I became a special needs teacher. I had other opportunities. I got to go back, I got to go to law school, a public law school that cost $460 a semester. And I am deeply grateful down to my toes because I understand that I got chances because I grew up in an America that was investing in its kids, an America that was opening up opportunities, an America that was bending the arc in the direction of more opportunity. And I look around this America today and I say that's not where we're headed. That's not what we're doing. What we're doing today is closing off one opportunity after another.

On whether the Democratic Party needs to move more to the left

I have to say, I'm not sure that left-right politics is the way to describe America anymore. I think it's clear that all the Republicans, because they've stood pretty elbow-to-elbow in terms of making sure that there are more tax cuts for the rich and powerful, you know they have a whole set of things they've worked on but there were a lot of Democrats who've helped them on that. There's no doubt about that. I really think the divide now is whether you're out there to build some opportunity, whether you believe fighting for working people. The way I always think of it is whether you believe in an America, in a government that works just for those at the top or one that's it's really working for the rest of America, trying to create the opportunities there.

On something she thinks Democrats and Republicans can work together on

I started in several years ago saying that we should break up the biggest financial institutions, the big banks. They wrecked our economy. And that these big banks ought to be broken up through Glass-Steagall, and we would have ordinary regular banking, you know your checking account and savings account, and on the other side they could go take risks on Wall Street, but they can't use your checking account and savings account money in order to do that. Divide them up and break them up. Wouldn't affect community banks, wouldn't affect our credit unions. It's just the big guys it would hit. Now there is an example of something that is bipartisan. My co-sponsor on that bill is John McCain, and Maria Cantwell from Washington is on that bill, Angus King from Maine. And Donald Trump said during the campaign that he was in favor of adopting Glass-Steagall, this 21st century Glass-Steagall as I call it. And Donald Trump's top economic adviser has now said he'd be willing to consider it. It was in the Republican platform and in the Democratic platform. So to me there is an area we can work together.

On whether she thinks she should have run for president and what the party needs to do next

Look, right now I'm very sorry that Donald Trump is president of the United States, and I'm sorry not because of the things he says or the things he tweets, I'm sorry because of the things he is doing. I'm sorry because of the laws he's signing off on. I am sorry because of the kind of health care, "TrumpCare," that he is advancing. And yeah, we can all sit around and say, "woulda, coulda, shoulda." But the real point, and the point I talk about in this book, is so what are we going to do now? What are we going to do to get in the fight and make sure that our voices, the people's voices, get heard in Washington?

This book, ultimately, is a book that is about optimism. It's a book that says democracy can work. It works if we all get in there and make our voices heard. All those phone calls to Washington a few weeks ago, and those protests and showing up at town halls, that's a big part of the reason that 24 million people didn't lose their health care coverage. I know, the Republicans may come back next week on it, but the point is it was a democratic moment — small "d" democratic. The Democrats didn't have enough votes to stop it. We don't have the votes to stop it in the House or in the Senate. But people across this country made their voices heard.

This article was originally published on April 21, 2017.

This segment aired on April 21, 2017.


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Kathleen McNerney was the senior producer/editor of Edify.


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