As speculation continues to swirl over whether she would run for president in 2016, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) solidified her standing as a favorite of Hollywood and Los Angeles progressives on Sunday when she delivered a speech hammering Washington for being beholden to corporate interests and the rich and powerful.
While some of the guests at the ACLU of Southern California’s Bill of Rights Dinner expressed frustration and dismay over the midterm campaigns of Democrats, Warren directed her remarks at the system on Capitol Hill.
“We face a basic question in this country: Who does this government work for?” she asked in a 12-minute speech at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. “Is government there only to advance the interests of the rich and powerful? Does government exercise its power only for those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers? Is there only to strengthen the strong and enrich the wealthy? Or does government work for all of us? Is government working to build opportunities, not only for some of our kids, but for all of our kids.
“We have to face it: The game is rigged in Congress.”
Industry donors already are laying the groundwork for a potential bid by Hillary Clinton, via the current activities of the Ready for Hillary SuperPAC and plans by Jeffrey Katzenberg to raise for Priorities USA Action. But some Hollywood progressives are privately or even publicly hoping that Warren runs. When asked about whether she would get in the race, Warren recently told People magazine, “I don’t think so.” But she seemed to leave the door open for the possibility.
Warren’s remarks were about “economic justice” — among the items on the ACLU agenda. She drew a standing ovation in the ballroom as she made her way to the stage to accept an award from Ramona Ripston, who stepped down as executive director of the ACLU Southern California two years ago. Ripston called Warren her “new hero,” and noted her “amazing rise to fame.” Norman Lear, who also has said he’d like to Warren run, although maybe not this cycle, introduced Ripston and the Massachusetts senator.
The other honorees included Jim Berk, the CEO of Participant Media; singer Cyndi Lauper, who co-founded the True Colors Fund; ACLU Southern California board member Marvin Schacter and Warner Bros. Records CEO Cameron Strang.
One of the Warner Bros. artists, Tom Morello, introduced Strang, while another artist for the label, Steve Earle, sang “Christmas in Washington.” But in his prelude, Earle talked about the election results, suggesting that Democrats have to look inward to figure out what went wrong.
When “you stand out in the middle of the road — my experience is, you get run over,” he said.
Warren did not delve into the election results, but warned of the influence of lobbyists and rich donors.
“The problem is everywhere in Washington,” she said. “Power is becoming more and more concentrated on one side. And I can go through a long list of examples where powerful industries and lobbyists get special tax deals. They get regulatory loopholes that let them get richer and more powerful while everyone else gets left behind. It happens over and over again in Congress.”
She cited as an example a bill to raise the minimum wage. Although it enjoys broad public support, and ballot initiatives passed in Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota and Nebraska last week, Republicans filibustered legislation earlier this year. She blamed it on the political influence of the top 1%.
“Among the richest Americans, those who are more likely to be shareholders, those who are more likely to own Wal-Mart than to work there, they don’t think like everyone else does,” she said. “Only 40% support raising the minimum wage.”
She also called for a greater professional diversity of federal judges, noting that dearth of jurists who do not come either from corporate law or who worked as prosecutors. And even though the Senate will be in Republican hands, she said that the new majority still has a duty to take action on the president’s nominations under the advise and consent clause in the Constitution.
“There is not clause that says, ‘Except when the president is a Democrat’,” she said.