Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren wove details of her personal history — her father’s heart attack, her mother’s minimum wage job, her commuter college — with calls for a radical remaking of America’s economy and political system, as she spoke in Seattle on Sunday to what her staff called the largest crowd of her 7-month-old campaign.
The U.S. senator from Massachusetts described a country that has gone off course. When she was a child and her father got sick, she recalled, her mother was able to take a minimum wage job at Sears that paid the mortgage and put food on the table. When Warren went to college, she said, it cost $50 a semester. Law school was $450 a semester.
“Today, a full-time minimum wage job in America will not keep a mama and a baby out of poverty, that is wrong,” Warren said, underneath the Space Needle, at Seattle Center. “Understand this, that difference is no accident, that difference is who government works for.”
Warren, who is running second or third among nearly two dozen Democratic candidates in polling averages, described a government that works for drug companies, but not people filling prescriptions. A government for investors in private prisons, but not for families torn apart by incarceration. A government that once had two political parties that aimed to address climate change, but now, largely, does not.
“When you see a government that works great for the rich,” Warren said, “that works great for the wealthy and the well-connected and is not working so well for everyone else, that is corruption, pure and simple.”
Warren, who’s known for her two-dozen or so detailed policy plans to address specific issues, spoke on a broader level to a crowd that her staff estimated at 15,000.
The crowd size, she said, was evidence that “people are ready for change in Washington.
“They understand they’ve got a government that’s working great for the bazillionaires but just not working for them,” she said. “To change that it’s going to take all of us, nobody gets to stay on the sidelines.”
After speaking for about an hour, Warren stayed hours longer, taking selfies with everybody in a massive line that snaked around the perimeter of the Seattle Center lawn.
Her speech outlined three tenets: ending corruption, remaking the economy and rebuilding democracy.
She used climate change as an example of the corruption she said is endemic to Washington, D.C.
A generation ago, Republicans and Democrats both sought to address climate change. President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, signed the United Nations’ first treaty on climate change and got it ratified by Congress.
But, she said, years of massive spending by oil companies and the Koch brothers on climate-denying experts gave Republican politicians an “umbrella they can hide under” so they can feign ignorance on the topic.
“I guarantee that if there’s a decision to be made in Washington, it has been influenced by money,” Warren said. “It has been shaped by money, money, money, money.”
She promised, on her first day in office, to halt drilling and mining on federal lands. She also thanked Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who just dropped his climate-centered campaign, for bringing attention to the issue and called him “one of the finest governors in America.”
Warren spent a portion of her speech pitching one of the foundational ideas of her campaign — a wealth tax of 2% on families with more than $50 million in assets.
“Your first $50 million is free and clear,” Warren said. “Your 50 millionth and first dollar you’ve got to pitch in 2 cents, and 2 cents on every dollar after that.”
With that money, Warren said, we could pay for child care, pre-K and public college for everybody in the country.
Standing just blocks from Amazon’s headquarters and major office sites of Facebook and Google, Warren only hinted at her plans to break up America’s largest tech companies.
“How about we get a president who has the courage to enforce the anti-trust laws?” she said, to cheers.
Warren has said she would appoint regulators who would use antitrust laws already on the books to undo mergers that have allowed the companies to grow more powerful and eliminate competitors. She’d roll back Amazon’s purchases of Whole Foods and Zappos, Facebook’s union with WhatsApp and Instagram and Google’s acquisition of Waze.
She would tighten regulations on the largest tech companies (those with over $50 billion in annual revenue), banning them from sharing data with third parties and barring Amazon from acting as an independent merchant on its own marketplace.
Heather Matthies, who attended the speech, likes Warren’s message of economic fairness and consumer protection.
“The only thing I am worried about is she might get stuck in the weeds,” said Matthies, a Lynnwood resident. “A president needs to think about the big picture.”
Charlie Lapham, who works for the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, likes Warren but is undecided.
“Electability is important,” he said. “I want to see if she can make a connection with people.”
Kaitlin Vintertun, executive director of the Washington State Republican Party, in a prepared statement on Warren’s visit, called Seattle “a haven for insane liberal policies” and said it’s “more important now than ever before to make sure we reelect President (Donald) Trump.” She called Warren “one of the furthest left candidates in the presidential race” and described the senator’s policies as reckless.
Asked by an audience member how she’d counter Trump, Warren said she wouldn’t back down but his election is a reflection of deeper issues affecting the country.
“A country that elects Donald Trump is a country in serious trouble,” she said. “We need to pay attention to what’s been broken not just in the last two-and-a-half years, but what’s been broken for decades.”