When Senator Elizabeth Warren took the stage at Netroots Nation in Phoenix on Friday, many of the assembled activists hoped she would be coming to them as a presidential candidate—in fact, more than a few of them operated campaigns to convince her to run.
It didn’t work, but the various Draft Warren campaigns, in concert with the Massachusetts senator’s rapid rise in the party, leave her in a unique position to influence the direction of the presidential primary debate. Warren cashed in some of those chips during her speech Friday, issuing a direct challenge to presidential candidates (read: Hillary Clinton) to support specific legislation that would curb some of the financial sector’s influence at federal regulatory agencies.
Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representative Elijah Cummings announced the Financial Services Conflict of Interest Act on Wednesday, which would end private-sector bonuses given to government employees for entering public service, as well as tighten lobbying restrictions, lengthen the “cooling-off period” between public service and lobbying activities, and require financial regulators to exempt themselves from a broader array of potential conflicts of interest.
Warren, who was an original co-sponsor to the bill, used her entire speech to build up to her challenge for candidates: back this legislation.
“We have a presidential election coming up. I think anyone running for that job—anyone who wants the power to make every key economic appointment and nomination across the federal government—should say loud and clear that they agree: we don’t run this country for Wall Street and mega corporations. We run it for people,” Warren said, according to her prepared remarks.
“So let’s turn that into something specific: Just two days ago, Tammy Baldwin introduced a new bill to slow down the revolving door,” she continued, before describing the bill. “That won’t fix everything, but it will throw some heavy sand in the gears of the revolving door—and it’s a bill any presidential candidate should be able to cheer for.”
Warren made clear she expected the assembled activists to push candidates directly to make this promise. “The only way that candidates for President—or for any office—will slow down the revolving door, the only way candidates will say ‘enough is enough’ is if you, you demand that they say it,” she said.
This can fairly be read as a direct challenge to Clinton, because, while it’s not outside the universe of possibility that Jeb Bush or Rand Paul would embrace such a pledge, it’s very close to the edge. And the bloggers and activists at Netroots Nation have nonexistent pull with Republican candidates anyhow.
In her economic speech on Monday, Clinton pledged to “appoint and empower regulators who understand that too big to fail is still too big a problem,” though didn’t offer more detail. Clinton’s campaign didn’t immediately return a request for comment about whether Clinton is inclined to support the Baldwin-Cummings legislation.
Activists are ready to take up Warren’s charge, however—the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, and Americans for Financial Reform began circulating a petition demanding that a specific list of financial regulatory positions, along with presidential campaign staffing, be staffed by people “a strong commitment toward holding Wall Street accountable.”
Warren has launched several campaigns in recent months to keep former financial-industry employees from entering public service, first with deputy Treasury secretary nominee Antonio Weiss, and now with potential Securities and Exchange Commission member Keir Gumbs, who previously worked as a corporate lawyer. With her current call to action, Warren clearly wants to preemptively win those battles with the next president before he or she even takes office.