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2020 Contender Elizabeth Warren Unveils Her Plan to Drain the Swamp

Massachusetts Democrat takes aim at Donald Trump with wide-ranging anti-corruption plan

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., outlined a broad anti-corruption plan on Tuesday at the National Press Club. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., outlined a broad anti-corruption plan on Tuesday at the National Press Club. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a potential Democratic candidate for president in 2020, took a page from Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign playbook Tuesday and unveiled a wide-ranging anti-corruption package that targets Washington’s swampiest activity — lobbying. 

But in doing so, the Massachusetts Democrat did not speak of “draining the swamp” — one of Trump’s 2016 campaign slogans — and she scoffed at the notion that the president has changed Washington for the better.

Rather, Warren said the Trump administration has ushered in the most corrupt Washington era to date.

“But they are not the cause of the rot,” she said during a speech at the National Press Club in Washington. “They’re just the biggest, stinkiest example of it.”

Watch: Warren Targets Corruption in Washington With Proposed Lobbying Bill

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Conscious of a potential 2020 battle that will involve a new conversation about what it means to drain the swamp or change Washington, Warren went bigger and bolder with her anti-corruption package than Trump ever did in his proposals to overhaul ethics and lobbying regulations.

Warren said the six-title bill she is introducing Tuesday is “the most ambitious anti-corruption legislation since Watergate.”

The key proposals in the package focus on the intersection between federal lawmakers and officials and the lobbyists and others who seek to influence them. 

A centerpiece of Warren’s plan is a push to “padlock the revolving door.”

One such proposal would ban elected and appointed officials like cabinet secretaries and federal judges from becoming lobbyists. “Not for one year; not for two years; for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Trump has proposed lobbying bans, but his were time-limited. Within weeks of winning the 2016 election, he announced a five-year lobbying ban for anyone appointed to work in his administration. 

The executive decree followed a campaign proposal to do so that also included a request that Congress enact a five-year ban on lobbying for lawmakers and their aides after they leave Capitol Hill.

Warren proposes Hill aides and other federal employees be banned from lobbying their former chamber or agency through the end of the current administration but no less than two years after leaving their post (at least six years for corporate lobbyists). The same time frames apply to lobbyists who want to work in the federal government.

Nearly two years later, Trump’s lobbying ban and other ethics proposals have seen zero action in Congress, but Warren is not deterred. 

In fact, her proposal would go a step further and, as she describes it, “end lobbying as we know it.”

“Start by fixing the Swiss cheese definition of lobbying, requiring everyone who is paid to influence government to register,” she said.

Other proposals Warren outlined include prohibiting lobbyists from giving campaign checks or gifts to anyone running for or in federal office, making every meeting a lobbyist has with federal lawmakers and officials public knowledge and publicly releasing any document a lobbyist provides to lawmakers or officials. 

Warren also proposes raising congressional salaries to prevent Hill staff from feeling the need to “audition” for K Street jobs.

Direct aim at Trump 

Some of Warren’s proposals take direct aim at the president.

“Presidents should not be able to own companies on the side, and we shouldn’t have to beg candidates to see their financial interests,” she said, noting her bill would make that the law for every candidate for every federal office.

While Warren’s proposals follow the theme of Trump’s “drain the swamp,” her rhetoric Tuesday aligned more closely with Democratic talking points. 

“These reforms have one simple aim — to take power in Washington away from the wealthy and well connected … and put power back in the hands of the American people,” she said of her bill.

In pointing out the need for change, Warren cited examples of corrupt officials — all of them Republicans.

For example, she referenced by title, if not by name, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross acting like a “Wall Street fat cat,” former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigning in disgrace amid a litany of scandals and New York GOP Rep. Chris Collins being charged with insider trading. 

When asked whether she was trying to make this a partisan issue by not calling out Democrats, Warren brought up former Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White and said she plans to talk to lawmakers of both parties about her bill.

“I’m going to take this everywhere,” she said but declined to identify a potential GOP co-sponsor. “I would love it if this were not a partisan proposal.”

Asked what makes her optimistic she can enact some of her proposals, Warren said, “It’s the American people.”

She noted the growth in grass-roots organization and Americans coming off the sidelines to speak up about issues they care about. 

Lobbying, however, has not galvanized the grass roots compared to more personal issues like health care and immigration. 

Unsurprisingly, Warren was also asked about her 2020 ambitions, but she demurred, saying her focus is on the midterms. 

“I’m focused on 2018,” she said. “And I’m going to stay focused on 2018.” 

Watch: Trump Says Wall is Coming, Predicts a ‘Red Wave’ in November

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