Columns

Warren Slams Reagan: ‘Government Help Is "Terrifying"? Give Me a Break’

(Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) argued that presidential candidates should be required by law to release their tax returns and disclose all of their financial interests.

Warren has proposed creating a new agency to “police corruption” in Congress, the White House and in the federal government.

“If a person works for the government, then that person should serve the public. No making policy decisions to help yourself instead of taxpayers. Right now, that problem begins with a president who may be vulnerable to financial blackmail from a hostile foreign power and God knows what else because it’s a president and his family who may be personally profiting off hundreds of policy decisions every day – but we don’t know because he won’t show us his tax returns and won’t get rid of his personal business interests,” Warren said in reference to her new anti-corruption bill on Tuesday at the National Press Club.

“The truth is, it is insane that we have to beg the president of the United States to put the American people ahead of his own business interests – insane. Presidents should not be able to own companies on the side and we shouldn’t have to beg candidates to let the American people see their financial interests – that should be the law, not just for presidential candidates, but for every candidate for every federal office,” she added.

The Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, which Warren recently introduced, would ban any American from “getting paid to lobby for foreign governments” and prohibit elected officials from trading stocks.

“Enough of the spectacle of HHS secretaries and herds of congressmen caught up in insider-trading schemes. It’s time to ban elected officials and senior agency officials from owning or trading any company stocks while in office. They can put their savings in conflict-free investments like mutual funds or they can pick a different line of work,” Warren said.

“The trial of Donald Trump’s campaign manager has exposed how foreign governments hide their efforts to influence the American government through lobbying,” she also said; while he was found guilty on eight counts of financial crimes Tuesday in the Eastern District of Virginia, Paul Manafort goes on trial in D.C. District Court next month on lobbying-related charges. “We should ban Americans from getting paid to lobby for foreign governments, period.  If foreign governments want to express their views, they can use their diplomats.”

Warren, who originally proposed the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has suggested establishing a new federal anti-corruption agency.

“Hire a new independent sheriff to police corruption. There are dedicated public servants that enforce our ethics laws, but they have less authority than security guards at the mall. Build a new anti-corruption agency to make sure that all key federal officials, even powerful senators and presidents, file disclosures and get rid of conflicts,” Warren said.

“Close up the loopholes in federal open-records laws. This agency can shine floodlights on government actions and empower the public and press with new tools to help safeguard our democracy, and we can do our best to insulate the sheriff’s office from partisan politics and give it the tools it needs to seriously investigate violations and punish offenders,” she added.

Warren slammed President Reagan’s famous quote, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”

“Since Watergate, generation after generation of American politicians have attacked the very idea that our government can do anything right,” the senator said. “Anyone remember Ronald Reagan’s famous line? ‘What are the nine most terrifying words in the English language? I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ Really? Government help is terrifying? Give me a break.”

“Do you know what’s actually terrifying? Hurricanes like Katrina and Maria are terrifying, which is why the victims of natural disasters ask for government help,” she added. “After a lifetime of hard work, growing old and going broke is terrifying, which is why the American people strongly support Social Security. Choosing between food and medicine is terrifying, and that’s why the American people rise up and take to the streets when Republicans try to cut back Medicare and Medicaid.”

Warren was asked if her anti-corruption proposals are a “purely partisan” endeavor. In response, Warren said corruption among government officials also includes her party.

“Look at Mary Jo White. She worked on Wall Street, worked for the biggest Wall Street companies, she gets nominated to head the SEC, she comes into the SEC, does the lightest touch of regulation, never completes the rules on corporate campaign contributions, never finishes part of the agenda that was serious about trying to clamp down on the corporations and then whizzes right back through the revolving door and is out representing those same folks again,” she said of the Securities and Exchange Commission chairwoman from 2013-17.

“This is not a Republican-only problem. I started this by saying the problem of an 18 percent approval rating of government is not because Donald Trump sits in the White House. It’s because we have a big systemic problem and we need to fix that problem,” she added.

Warren expressed support for “audio live-streaming” Supreme Court proceedings.

“The courts should also be more open. Individuals and small businesses should be able to have their day in court. Americans should be able to see easily what’s happening in the judicial process,” she said. “Public filings should be easier to access online and free to the public, and it is 10 years past time for us to start audio live-streaming federal appellate and Supreme Court proceedings.”