Warren: ‘Billionaires or Students?’

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, in Washington, D.C.

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, in Washington, D.C.

A day after a group formed to draft Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2016, the Massachusetts senator riled up student activists with a speech at a Washington conference on her bill that would let them refinance loans at lower rates.

The legislation would be paid for by raising income taxes on those making more than $1 million a year — and judging by the number of audience members who raised their hands when asked if they have debt — would personally impact about half of the attendees of the Make Progress National Summit.

“This really does boil down to three words: Billionaires or students?” said Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat. “We have to jump in now and make our own change.”

Warren has repeatedly said she’s not seeking her party’s nomination for president in 2016 — though activists on the left formally began urging her to do so yesterday by starting the website Ready4Warren.com.

“It’s time that the American people had a lobbyist of our own, and that lobbyist is Elizabeth Warren,” according to the website. “By standing up to Wall Street to defend Main Street, Warren has proven herself to be the spine that the Democratic Party forgot it had.”

The organization is run by Erica Sagrans, who told the Boston Globe that the group plans a show of support for Warren when she speaks Friday in Detroit to Netroots Nation, another Democratic confab.

Today’s event was sponsored by the Washington-based Center for American Progress, and organizers said it was the largest in the conference’s 10-year history with about 1,000 people signing up to attend.

As Warren took the stage in Washington, some in the audience stood to cheer and took out their smart phones to take photos of her. “I love her passion,” said Jessica Bowen, a 25 year-old audience member.

Bowen said she hasn’t heard anyone at the conference talking about Hillary Clinton, the Democart who leads in polling on the 2016 presidential nomination.

Warren’s student-loan legislation was blocked in the Senate by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, whose party led a filibuster of the bill. Warren pleaded with the students to press senators who oppose her measure to change their minds.

“Get a hold of these senators, find these senators,” Warren said. “Ask them why they work for billionaires instead of young people who are trying to build a future.”

Another version of the student-loan debt idea was outlined by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, who said she wants to see all such loans automatically refinanced to a 4 percent interest rate.

She focused her remarks on a different part of the student experience: Safety on college campuses. Gillibrand wants to increase the number of prosecutions for sexual assaults.

She said there’s a one-in-five chance of a woman being assaulted at college and that most of these incidents occur within the first few months of a woman’s college career.

“Nobody should have to be raped as the price of a college education,” she said.

Rep. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, talked about requiring universal background checks for gun purchases. He said it took the National Rifle Association “decades” to build a political organization that promotes gun ownership in the country and countering that force would require patience.

 

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