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117th Congress: Sen. Elizabeth Warren

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) ran for president as a champion for working families and the middle class and pushes corporations and politicians alike on progressive issues. Warren joins Washington Post Live to discuss her memoir, “Persist,” as well as her top legislative priorities following President Biden’s joint session speech. Join "Power Up” author Jacqueline Alemany on Thursday, May 6, at 9:30am ET.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

JOE BIDEN: I, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., do solemnly swear--

KAMALA HARRIS: So help me God.

NANCY PELOSI: His election is historic.

MITCH MCCONNELL: It will be smart bipartisan action to help us finish the fight.

MARK KELLY: There is nothing that we cannot achieve.

- This is a referendum for us to start working together.

JEN PSAKI: Rebuilding trust will be central to our focus in the White House.

JACKIE ALEMANY: Welcome to "Washington Post Live." I'm Jackie Alemany, a congressional correspondent and author of "The Washington Post" early morning newsletter "Power Up." Thanks so much for joining me today. I'm thrilled to introduce our guest, former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, senator from Massachusetts. Thank you so much for joining us today. You just released your book titled "Persist." Congratulations on the release. I know it's a big week for you. So thanks for making the time for us.

ELIZABETH WARREN: Thank you for having me. I'm delighted to be here.

JACKIE ALEMANY: I want to dig into the book, but first I want to get to some news of the day. Facebook's independent oversight board decided to extend Donald Trump's ban from the platform for six months. In another six months, Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook board are going to have to decide what to do. Should they-- when they're going to re-evaluate his suspension again, should they ban him again?

ELIZABETH WARREN: I-- I am much happier with Donald Trump off the airs, off Facebook, right? I don't like having to get up every morning and go through what he's done. I think he-- he poses a lot of risk. But I see this and think about the amount of power that Facebook has.

You know, this group that made the decision at this point for Facebook Facebook calls the Supreme Court. Does that tell you how much power they see themselves as having? More power than governments. Last I saw, nobody did advice and consent. Nobody nominated those people other than Mark Zuckerberg.

This is a reminder for me about two reasons that we need to break up big tech, including Facebook. One is because [AUDIO OUT] destroy economic competition. Best example is probably easiest to understand is Amazon. Here they run this platform. You want to buy or sell goods over the internet, you pretty much have to go to Amazon to do it.

But Amazon does more than provide the platform. They suck information out of every single one of those transactions, and then if they see Jackie is running a great hair products company and very creative, they decide, well, maybe we'll do an Amazon Jackie hair product company and move your company to the back of the line.

So you took all the early risk. You did the proof of concept. You showed how to make it work. You developed a following, and then Amazon comes in and scoops it up. That destroys competition in America. The giants need to be broken up. And this is true Facebook, Google, all of them.

But the second reason, these people have more power than governments. And that poses a danger to our democracy. It's time right now for the Department of Justice to pick up the antitrust rules that have been on the books for a century and break up these giant tech companies.

JACKIE ALEMANY: In the case, though, that that doesn't happen in the next six months, do you think that president-- former President Trump should be treated like an ordinary American?

ELIZABETH WARREN: I think he poses much more risk than an ordinary American. And I think that the risk he poses, he spreads lies, indeed he is now forcing evidently everybody else in the Republican Party or leadership of the Republican Party to agree to say the lie out loud. He spreads misinformation. He is truly a danger to our democracy.

JACKIE ALEMANY: So would you call for a forever ban on him then?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Yes.

JACKIE ALEMANY: And your position on Section 230, do you support keeping it or throwing it out?

ELIZABETH WARREN: You know, I think this is one where we're going to have to do a lot of work around this and try to find the right place. Getting government in the right place on this one is not going to be easy. So I just-- I don't think it's as easy as a toggle switch implies.

JACKIE ALEMANY: And just moments ago, Governor Rick Sanchez of Florida just signed a new voter suppression law. Do you think that President Biden needs to call to eliminate the filibuster or at least call for a carve-out in order for the Senate to push through the two voting rights acts that have been passed by the House already?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Look. So I know where I am on the filibuster. Shoot, I ran for president in part saying I would lead the charge to get rid of the filibuster. And I do that for all kinds of reasons starting with the fact that our founders address the question of whether or not they wanted a supermajority vote in order to pass legislation.

And they said, you know, no, we don't. We need a supermajority for some things like impeaching a president but not just to pass day-to-day legislation. The filibuster has turned that on its head.

So my view about the filibuster is clear. But in particular about voter suppression, we must protect our democracy. Our democracy comes ahead of any so-called Senate rule. We need to make sure that American citizens have the right to vote, that they have meaningful access to the polls. And the idea now that state legislature after state legislature is trying to keep people from voting, that chips away at the very foundation of our democracy.

We need to pass S1-- that's to protect voting rights-- the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. We need to protect the vote in America. And we need to pass the anti-corruption legislation that is part of that.

JACKIE ALEMANY: Have you had conversations with President Biden about shifting his view on the filibuster in order to pass these things?

ELIZABETH WARREN: I'm not going to talk about private conversations. My view on this is public. And I'm very loud about it. No one would be surprised about what I say in public or in private. We need to get rid of the filibuster.

JACKIE ALEMANY: And the president has insisted at the moment that he wants to do a bipartisan deal on infrastructure on both the American Families Plan and the American Jobs Plan. What are you willing to give up in order to make this a bipartisan deal?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, I'm not going to start out by negotiating against myself, but I think we start by laying out the problem. And the problem is huge-- roads and bridges that are crumbling, wide swaths of America that have no access to broadband. Look, you can't go to work. You can't run a business in places like that. We need that infrastructure.

And we need another piece of infrastructure. And that is affordable, available child care. You know, as a country, we make those investments in infrastructure so that people can go to work, so they can build economic security, so that businesses can flourish, so that we can increase our productivity. Look what has happened principally to women over the year of this pandemic. We had a child care crisis before the pandemic. And now it has gotten worse than ever.

So I think we start by talking about the scope of the problem and then what it's going to take to fix it, what it's going to take to fix our roads and bridges and what it's going to take to build a complete universal child care and early childhood education, including pre-K for all of our three-year-olds and four-year-olds all across this nation. Fortunately, I got a plan for that. I've worked through the numbers. I'm ready to go. I've got a bill in Congress, got co-sponsors. Let's do it.

JACKIE ALEMANY: Do you think, though, that it's important to have bipartisan agreement on the scope of these problems and therefore the solution?

ELIZABETH WARREN: So I think of it this way. People all across this country, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, want to see us repair the roads and bridges. They want to see us get broadband to everyone. They want to see us make an investment so that child care is available to everyone.

To me, that's bipartisan. It helps everyone, and it has widespread public support. The folks who are out of touch are the Republican-elected officials in the United States Congress. And they cannot be given a veto over doing the business that the American people elected us to do. You know, the Democrats made a lot of promises, a lot of promises in '18 and a lot of promises in '20, promises that we need to deliver on now that we have a majority.

JACKIE ALEMANY: And in that vein, actually, you know, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Joe Biden won the presidency but Bernie Sanders has won the race for ideas. Is that an assessment that you agree with in terms of evaluating the, you know, Democratic voters?

ELIZABETH WARREN: You know, I think you need to go back and look at what Joe Biden ran on in the general election. He ran on a progressive agenda. He ran on child care. He ran on build back better. He ran on taxing millionaires and billionaires more. He ran on an effective government that is not just on the side of millionaires and billionaires and giant corporations but an effective government that's on the side of the people. He ran on a strong and robust response to problems starting with COVID.

He ran on those things. He met the moment. He won by more than seven million votes. And now he's delivering on those promises. Now, Mitch McConnell may not like that. But Mitch McConnell is in the minority on that, not just in the Senate. He's in the minority in this nation. The American people want to see a government that works for them. And that's what Joe Biden and the Democrats are delivering.

JACKIE ALEMANY: And Leader Schumer said in an interview that-- last week that you and him are at loggerheads with Biden over your proposal of eliminating $50,000 of student debt, having that be forgiven. You have said as has Schumer that this could be something similar to the way that the stimulus checks have been received by the American public, could be super helpful in Democrats making their case in 2022. What's the status of those conversations?

ELIZABETH WARREN: So we are continuing to talk. You know, this is a place where I want to-- I talk about this in the new book that I have, "Persist." I talk about how policy is personal. It's not some abstract thing that happens in Washington. It's something that touches our lives.

And the fact that it is personal is part of what keeps us-- gets us and keeps us in the fight to make change. So for example, in the book, one of the things I talk about is student loan debt. And I talk about the fact that two generations ago, when I went to college, I went to a state school that cost $50 a semester.

Why? Because the American taxpayers had invested in those state schools so that it was possible for a kid like me first in my family to graduate from college-- my dad had ended up as a janitor-- it was possible for a kid like me to be able to graduate from college and pay for it on a part-time waitressing job.

Through the years, public support as a proportion of the cost of educating our kids has gone down. And that means more and more of that cost has been shoved onto families. And the federal government has said we'll lend you the money and then squeeze you dry to repay it.

So now we find ourselves in this circumstance where tens of millions of people across this country are struggling with student loan debt. And the federal government is the one squeezing them. That's just not right, and it's not how we build a future.

So for example, I've said cancel $50,000 of student loan debt. And I lay all this out in the book "Persist" and talk about the personal stories, all the stories I heard when I was out on the campaign trail. Canceling $50,000 of student loan debt, 40% of the folks who have student loan debt never graduated from college. So they're trying to manage these debt loads on what you make as a high school grad.

Student loan debt is part of a huge Black-white wealth gap. I'll give you just one fact on this that I talk about in the book. And that is 20 years after you borrow money, the typical white borrower owes 5% of the original amount they borrowed, in other words, 20 years out, but the end is in sight. That same 20 years out, the typical Black borrower still owes 95% of the debt they originally borrowed.

This is crushing people. And it's making the Black-white wealth gap worse. This is the one thing Joe Biden could do by himself to help close the Black-white wealth gap for those with student loan debt, could close it by about 25 points. Same things with Latino students.

Close that gap, and free people up. Free them up to buy homes. Free them up to be able to start small businesses. Free them up so they have a chance to go forward in this economy. This is something the president can do. And Leader Schumer and I are pushing hard to try to get it done.

JACKIE ALEMANY: And would it necessitate raising taxes?

ELIZABETH WARREN: No.

JACKIE ALEMANY: How would you pay for it?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, it-- it's an executive order. And the-- the president can sign the order. And he can cancel the student loan debt. Now, remember, this has already happened before. So when President Obama was president, he canceled student loan debt as an administrative act, all of the outstanding debt for thousands of students that had been trapped by different for-profit colleges.

When President Trump was in the White House, and the coronavirus hit, he canceled all outstanding interest rate payments for every single borrower in this country. It's an estimated $5 billion a month. Just canceled it all. When President Biden came in, he also canceled, continued that and continued to cancel, the interest on all the outstanding student loan debt.

The power is clearly there. We've got three presidents now who have used the power to cancel student loan debts. What Leader Schumer and I are asking for is pick up that same power that Congress already granted to the president decades ago, pick up that power, and use it in a way that will have a big effect on tens of millions of people, on young people who are just getting a start and I should add all the way to some seniors who today are having their social security checks garnished in order to pay student loan debt.

President Biden can help a lot of families get back on their feet. $50,000 of student loan debt, it is the number that helps us close the Black-white wealth gap for those with student loan debt. It helps all those folks who have student loan debt but don't have a college diploma. And even for those who have more debt, it puts them in range of being able to pay that debt off.

JACKIE ALEMANY: And before we dig deeper into "Persist," I want to just ask about, when we're talking about all of this spending, the White House has recently acknowledged, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, some of the concerns, growing concerns, about inflationary pressures. Is this a concern of yours at all?

ELIZABETH WARREN: No, and I'll tell you why, partly because the Republicans have yelled inflation more often than the little boy who cried wolf. But more importantly, if we do hit an inflationary period, if inflation starts to creep up, one of the-- the-- we have a lot of tools. Janet Yellen has plenty of tools. The Federal Reserve has plenty of tools.

We lived through an inflationary period decades and decades ago back-- back in the '70s. And we developed the tools to deal with inflation. We haven't needed them because we simply have had very, very low inflation, in fact, inflation that is below the Fed's target levels. So if inflation starts up, we'll have plenty of warning and plenty of tools to deal with it.

JACKIE ALEMANY: And in "Persist," which we've got right here-- we're almost done with-- a very interesting read, you outline what went right and what went wrong with your 2020 presidential campaign. You write that in this moment, against this president, in this field of candidates, maybe I just wasn't good enough to reassure voters to bring along the doubters and to embolden the hopeful. You also write that this possibility was painful. Why do you think that you weren't able to reassure enough voters that you should have been the Democratic nominee?

ELIZABETH WARREN: You know, I just tried to give an honest account of what I saw. I talk about the questions that I got. I talk about the answers that I gave. But more importantly, I talk about where we go from here. The message of this book is not the past. The message of this book is about the future.

Think of where we are right at this moment, I mean, today. Over the last year, we have lived through a global pandemic, a racial reckoning, an armed insurrection. We have gotten a new president. And we have passed an historic rescue plan. This is much like it was in 2008 when the financial crash hit or back in the 1930s when the depression hit. Big changes that are going on opened the door for changes in Washington, not wide open, not guarantee that there will be changes, but open it a little.

I wrote this book to talk about the fight for change from my own personal point of view. There are a lot of personal stories in this and stories of the people I love. I hope to connect with other people in-- in their fight in how policy touches them so personally.

What have we just been talking about? Student loan debt, how personally that touches literally tens of millions of people in this country, what we talked about earlier, child care, how it touches people personally all across this country. The fact that it touches us personally is what pulls many of us into the fight and keeps us into the fight and at this moment brings us right to the edge of change.

Last week, the President of the United States addressed the nation. And he talked about hundreds of billions of dollars to go into child care and early childhood education, into our caregiving economy. That's-- that's the moment. That's the sound that change is possible. And that's what this book is about. Get in the fight.

JACKIE ALEMANY: Your fight to change the health care system, which was a big part of your presidential campaign, it's something that you say in the book was in part to blame for your loss, that you struggled to explain how you were going to overhaul the nation's health care system. If you had to do it again when explaining your health care plan, what would you have done differently?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Look, I put out a lot of plans, including a health care plan. In fact, I put out 81 glorious, juicy, detailed plans. And I'm proud of every single one of them, including this one. They are a roadmap for what Democrats can do in the future. I've laid out the plans. I've laid out the money. These are things we can get out there and fight for. And right now, in a lot of these areas, we really do have an opportunity for change.

JACKIE ALEMANY: So do-- I just-- do you want to give your pitch again on what you would do to change the health care system or is that something--

ELIZABETH WARREN: Sure.

JACKIE ALEMANY: --that you no longer [AUDIO OUT]?

ELIZABETH WARREN: I'm glad to do it any time. Look, ultimately we need to make sure that everyone in this nation is covered. Health care is a basic human right. And we fight for basic human rights.

I laid out a plan for how to do that that came in steps for how we can start by lowering the age of Medicare which, by the way, is on the table right now and something that we're all talking about. I'd like to see it start out by lowering the age of Medicare down to 55. That would cover people who as-- as your health care costs go up, that's kind of the time period that you would get good, solid, publicly available coverage.

I also would like to see us right now attack the cost of prescription drugs. You know, we're having this conversation worldwide about making the coronavirus vaccine available all around the world and lifting the patent protections so that other companies can manufacture it. I believe that this is also a good moment for us to be talking about right here at home having the federal government move in and make certain drugs available at low cost.

So right now, the federal government could sign contracts to produce insulin, to produce EpiPens, and a handful of other commonly used drugs. And that would relieve the pressure, bring down costs for tens of millions of families across this country.

These are the steps we could take immediately. Over the long arc, I think we need to get to single payer. It's the direction that makes sense that lets us make sure that we can get the greatest number of people covered at the lowest possible cost. But as I said in the campaign, we've got two big pieces right in front of us. Lower the age of Medicare. Reduce the cost of prescription drugs. Let's do them right now. Let's-- let's get some relief directly to the American people.

JACKIE ALEMANY: But some of these changes that you are calling for like lowering the cost of prescription drugs and expanding Medicare have been conspicuously left out of the administration's American Families Plan that they put forth. Should those be included?

ELIZABETH WARREN: I think they should be. I think they are very good plans. And I think they are things the American people want and need. You know, one of the things about running for president was I got the chance to stand up in front of crowds of people all around this country and talk about changes we could make together. I got to tell my own stories about child care and student loan debt. But I got to talk about the things that touch people where they live and to talk about how as a nation we can make a different set of decisions.

I used to be in rooms. And I would ask people, how many people in here use insulin if you don't mind saying? And hands would go up. And I would say how many people love someone who uses insulin? And it's like keep your hands up. And there'll be a whole bunch more hands that would go up. And I say, and how many people carry an EpiPen for a beloved child or grandchild or for yourself?

By the time I do those three questions, you'd hit almost everyone in the room. That's something where our federal government could step in and say, look, we're going to let out contracts to produce those things at low cost. An EpiPen that costs a hundred bucks, that makes no sense at all. Insulin that families are paying an arm and a leg for, this is a drug that's been around for a hundred years.

We need a federal government not on the side of big pharmaceutical companies. We need a federal government on the side of the people. And the best way to do that is just take some very concrete steps with some specific drugs. Bring down those prices. The drug companies will still be making plenty of money. But American families will have some relief.

JACKIE ALEMANY: And Senator Warren, there's much discussion in your book about the topic of gender. But you never directly attribute your loss to sexism. Do you believe that you lost the presidential race, the-- the Democratic primary, because Democrats are still biased and uncomfortable with the idea of electing a female president?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, like I said, I just try to give an honest account. I talk about the questions I got asked. I talk about the coverage. But I didn't write this to look backwards. I wrote it to try to bring in more women, to try to inspire more young women to run. I wrote it to talk about what it meant to get on on that stage and to be able to fight for things I believe in. I wrote it to remind everyone of what all the pinky promises were about.

I really believe that fighting for what you believe in and doing it with all those detailed plans is a way that-- that we move and make change. I didn't-- I didn't win the primary, obviously. Spoiler alert. I didn't-- I'm not president. But I put together a lot of plans. And I went out and fought for them and talked to a lot of people about them.

And today, some of those plans are still moving forward. And I'm still fighting for them. They are bits and parts of other things. Sometimes, they're plans on their own like forgiving $50,000 of student loan debt or universal-- universal preschool and universal child care, a wealth tax, a way to raise revenue from the richest in our nation.

This-- we need an agenda, an overall vision of where we're headed. And "Persist" is about that agenda. It's about why it's personal to me, why it's personal to you, and what we can do to make it the law. We've got our toes on the line. This book is about the next hundred days in America, where we go from here.

JACKIE ALEMANY: Do you believe though that if you were a man that you would be the Democratic-- you would have been the Democratic nominee instead of Joe Biden?

ELIZABETH WARREN: I think that Joe Biden is doing a great job as president. My job is to help him succeed.

JACKIE ALEMANY: Senator Warren, unfortunately that's all the time we have today. But thank you so much for joining us, and good luck with the book tour.

ELIZABETH WARREN: Thank you very much.

JACKIE ALEMANY: And everyone else, thanks again for joining us. Please stay tuned. We've got another interview coming up at 11:00 AM with Mayor Muriel Bowser. And at 1:00 PM, we have another panel with digital innovation IBM chairman and CEO Arvind Krishna and at 3:00 PM a new HBO documentary, "The Crime of the Century." It's a conversation with Alex Gibney, Scott Higham, and Sari Horwitz. Thanks so much for joining us. We'll see you later.