Sen. Warren On DACA And The Future Of The Democratic Party

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks to governors Thursday at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee during a hearing on ways to stabilize health insurance markets​. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks to governors Thursday at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee during a hearing on ways to stabilize health insurance markets​. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

On Thursday, Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke to WBUR senior political reporter Anthony Brooks about the Trump administration's move to rescind DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. She also spoke about health care reform, the future of the Democratic Party, and whether or not she's running for the presidential nomination in 2020.

A transcript of their conversation, edited for clarity, is below.

Anthony Brooks: We just heard testimony [from a bipartisan group of five governors] about the need for lawmakers of both parties to work together to stabilize the individual health insurance markets. Are you hopeful that this effort to fix at least parts of the Affordable Care Act, rather than kill it, will prevail?

Elizabeth Warren: I certainly hope so. We have Democrats and Republicans who are coming together and saying, we can make some fixes to the Affordable Care Act to help stabilize these markets.

I think Massachusetts is truly the exemplary state for everyone on this. We have worked on health care in a bipartisan way in Massachusetts for more than 10 years. We recognized when we built our health care system that if we really wanted to get coverage for everyone and try to help bring down costs, the only way to do that was to write the law and then come back and adjust it.

Today, basically, that's what Governor [Charlie] Baker was testifying about. He said, we have good, stable markets in Massachusetts, and ... [we have] high quality plans. We don't say, "Hey, it's a great market, only your insurance coverage isn't enough to cover you if you actually get sick."

Does the fact that Republicans and Democrats are talking about this together in Washington mean that the Affordable Care Act is safe here? We saw a lot of efforts just recently to kill it.

I sure hope it means it's safe. It means we're here fighting for it. I think we all have to remember, though ... we barely saved the Affordable Care Act, by a single vote. But people across this country engaged in this debate ... and over time, they made it clear to Congress that they want to see health care for all Americans, and they want to see it at an affordable price. The federal government has an important role to play in that.

The big news this week was President Trump's decision to end DACA, the program to help young immigrants who were brought to this country as kids illegally. Trump says now it's up to Congress to fix this problem. Will this provide the impetus for Congress to actually fix it?

Again, I hope so. We have a bipartisan bill already on the floor that would make the program for Dreamers permanent. I hope that we can get it through both the Senate and the House.

I want to be clear: I think that President Trump was morally wrong to say that we're going to throw 800,000 young people in this country out, that we're going to take students, we're going to take people who are working, people who want to serve this country, and throw them out of the only home most of them have ever known. And I've got colleagues here in the Senate on both sides, Democrats and Republicans, who say that's wrong. So the ball has been put in Congress' court. It's up to us to pass the DACA bill and I want to be clear: I think we need to pass it right now. Not six months from now. Right now.

If there is a defense of what Trump did, it might be that he saw DACA as legally indefensible. Several state attorneys general were preparing to bring a legal challenge against the program. What is wrong with the idea that this is up to Congress to fix?

I'm glad for Congress to fix this. But the president didn't have to roll back protections. And let's be clear: If there is a challenge in the courts, then let the courts play that out ... no court had forced President Trump to roll back DACA. And then to say to all those people, whose anti-immigrant fears he has been stirring up for over a year now, "I'm going to throw out a bunch of kids who weren't born in the United States" — I just think it's morally despicable.

I'd love to ask you couple of big questions about where the Democrats find themselves in this political moment. In the past eight years, they have lost Senate seats, House seats, governorships, congressional seats, the White House. What happened to your party?

Well. What I care about is what is my party going to do right now. And I think our party has to show two things. One — what are our values? And the second is — are we really willing to get out there and fight?

I think health care has given us the perfect chance to do that. Let's face it. In America right now, there is one party that said, it's fine to knock 25 million people off their health care coverage, drive up costs for tens of millions more so that you can produce tax breaks for a handful of millionaires and billionaires. There's another party, the Democratic Party, that says health care is a basic human right. And we will find a way to get coverage for all Americans and a way to help bring down the cost before it bankrupts millions of families across this country. I think that's a good starting point for us. It's about our values and it's about hardworking people across this country who play by the rules and who just want a level playing field. I think health care is a good place to start that.

Senator, I appreciate you saying that you're less concerned about looking at the past, and you'd rather look forward. But to get the car back on the road, don't you need to figure out why it ran off the road? I'm still stuck on this question, of what did the Democrats do so wrong?

Actually, I'm not sure I accept the premise of your question. Look — do you want to hear us all say, we got all these things wrong? Or do you want to hear us say, we're in the fight? Last November, when it was clear that the Republicans were going to control the House, the Senate, and Donald Trump had been elected to the White House, we looked around and said, on things like health care, it's over. We don't have the votes to stop them. They'll be able to roll through a health care repeal that's going to knock millions of people off their health care coverage. But we got in that fight anyway. And ... people across this country got engaged. You know where the strength of the Democratic Party is today? It's down at the grassroots. It's where people do stand up and say, "I believe in health care coverage, I believe that every kid in this country ought to get a good education without being crushed by student loan debt, I believe that after a lifetime of hard work people ought to be able to retire with dignity, and that means not just protecting Social Security but expanding Social Security coverage." We have these core values that people across this country, whether they identify themselves as Democrats or not, say matter to them. Democrats are now in that fight all the way and I think that's what matters.


I know that people want to ask you, are you running for president? You say you want to focus on your reelection.

No, I also say no.

You say no, you say you want to focus on running for reelection, and I get it. I'm not going to ask you that question. But the question I do want to ask you that's somewhat related is, there's a debate in the Democratic Party between the progressive wing, the Elizabeth Warren wing of the party, and the more centrist, moderate wing. If the Democrats are going to prevail next year and in 2020, is it the Elizabeth Warren progressive wing, the Bernie Sanders progressive wing, that has to carry the day?

Look, the energy of this party right now is progressive. The energy of this party is around opportunity for hard working people. It's around a progressive economic agenda on health care, on jobs, on college, on retirement. That's the heart of where we are. But keep in mind, in this latest health care debate, 46 Democrats and two independents stood shoulder to shoulder and said, it's not OK with any of us to roll back health care for millions of Americans. We have stood shoulder to shoulder on trying to bring down the cost of college, of trying to bring down the cost of student loans. And I hope on these core economic issues, these issues that touch every family in this country, that we're going to show — we're in this fight and ready to go.

In July, Mark Penn, former adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton, wrote in the New York Times: "Candidates inspired by Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren and a host of well-funded groups have embraced a sharply leftist agenda. But the results of the voting booth have been anything but positive: Democrats lost over 1,000 legislative seats across the country and control of both houses of Congress during the Obama years."

So this is an argument for the moderate wing of the Democratic Party.

No it's not.

OK, tell me what it is.

Give me a break. I mean really. Health care. We just did this. Health care isn't some — What did he call it, leftist? Give --

"Sharply leftist ideas."

Sharply leftist ideas — health care? Not knocking 25 million people off health care? Reducing the costs of student loans that are crushing millions of people across this country? Strengthening and expanding Social Security? Building a strong infrastructure in this country? Repairing our crumbling roads and bridges? Making sure that there is internet coverage, not just in our cities but also in our rural areas? Those are the things we're out there fighting for. We're fighting for a chance for everybody to be part of the 21st century economy. That's the heart of what it means to be a Democrat.

This segment aired on September 7, 2017.



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