One day after the Senate voted to begin debate on scaling back the bank reforms passed after the 2008 financial crisis, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) used a speech at a Democratic National Committee gala to chide colleagues who went along with it.
“Let’s build a party that stands against Republicans trying to roll back financial reforms – every one of us – rather than help the Republicans deliver even more goodies for big banks,” Warren said at the DNC’s “I Will Vote” dinner, the kickoff of a digital-driven voter-turnout campaign.
Seventeen members of the Senate Democratic caucus had voted to advance the legislation, with moderates like Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) arguing that rules meant to rein in the biggest financial institutions were being used to choke out small banks. Warren had fought them at every step, warning in speeches and across the media that the party was doing the bidding of the people who had crashed the world economy.
On Wednesday night, Warren pointedly cited that vote in a rundown of issues Democrats needed to “pick a fight on” to win back voters who began to see them as Republicans-lite. Democrats, she said, could win back “any American whose credit information gets stolen or who gets cheated by their cable company” and simultaneously “stand up for ‘dreamers,’ ” undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, and against money in politics.
She also noted that she had donated to all 50 state Democratic parties — and $15,000 to the DNC. In a CNN interview last year, after the publication of former DNC Chair Donna Brazile’s memoir, Warren had been asked whether the 2016 presidential primary was “rigged,” and she said “yes,” angering some Democrats.
“It’s not enough to be better than the other guys,” said Warren. “If people don’t believe we understand what’s gone wrong, and if they don’t believe that we’re ready and willing to fight for them – really fight, they’re going to turn their backs on us, too.”
Warren shared the stage at the gala with several other Democrats seen as potential presidential candidates, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
Gillibrand’s speech was a celebration of Democratic wins since last year, with special thanks to “black women, the heart and soul of our party” for electing Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) — and like Warren, she attacked the bank reform bill. Booker roamed the stage to deliver a 20-minute history lesson, quoting black power leader Stokely Carmichael and telling of how he sought advice from Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) before being sworn into the Senate.
“For the sign language interpreter who had to sit through that, thank you!” joked DNC Chairman Tom Perez.
The Democratic Party’s current image of itself — more confident than it was a year earlier, when it had been surprised by its tumble out of power — was on display all evening. A pair of musicians, one identified as a dreamer and one as bisexual, strummed and sang “Imagine” and “This Land is Your Land.” Pep-rally videos called the Democrats “the party of good trouble,” taking a cue from Lewis.
And Perez, who is followed from interview to interview by questions about the Republican National Committee’s fundraising advantage, told an audience of DNC voters and donors that their rivals were compromised.
“They’re morally bankrupt,” Perez said. “They invest their money in Roy Moore, in Joe Arpaio, in Donald Trump’s legal defense fund.”
Perez handed the microphone to Alabama’s Jones, the only speaker at the gala who had cast a vote to move along the bank bill. He chided the party for ignoring deep red states in the past — “we lost a generation of voters in the South” — and letting voters think “the party of Roosevelt had turns its back on them.” And he referred, in general terms, to the need for Democrats not to tumble into infighting.
“We can’t afford to be divided amongst ourselves — the country is divided enough,” Jones said. “We can’t afford to have a litmus test, to drive some people out.”