Sen. Elizabeth Warren has followed a circuitous path to the largest stages of American politics. Raised in Oklahoma by a family of modest means, she won a college scholarship but dropped out to get married at 19. Later she got her degree, then a law degree, and ultimately became a Harvard Law School professor and a leading authority on the economic struggles of American families.
Along the way, she came up with the idea that eventually became the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created as part of a new regulatory bill enacted after the 2008 Wall Street crisis. Republican senators announced they would block President Barack Obama from placing her atop the bureau, so in 2012 she won a Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat for herself.
Heavily favored to win a second term this fall, Warren has moved to the front ranks of Democratic presidential prospects to take on President Donald Trump in 2020. The 69-year-old Warren sat down with CNBC editor at large John Harwood at a cafe in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to talk about Trump, the American economy and the political path forward for the Democratic Party. What follows is a condensed, edited transcript of their conversation.
Q: Let me start with a question about the predicament the country's in right now. There's some people who look at what happened in Helsinki, what happened with NATO and the G-7, the Mueller investigation and say, "well, we have a president who's very unusual, eccentric, but the government's running on a separate track from the president." Other people are more alarmed, who think that we're actually in a national security emergency at the moment. What do you think?
A: So I see the behavior of the president is deeply problematic. He attacks our allies and cuddles up to dictators. And by attacking our allies he not only distances us from them, he also is basically teaching our allies they can get along without us. Does the dollar have to be the reserve currency? You know, that's of enormous value to America. But if you've got an unstable leader, everybody else starts to back up and say, "Wait a minute, I want to rethink that."
A: Look, I don't know. All I can do is measure what he does. And when he stands up and attacks our intelligence agencies and attacks our law enforcement officers, and then defends a country that has launched a cyberattack on the United States — and indeed, seems to go, "wink-wink, nod-nod" — then boy, he is not serving the interests of the United States of America.
Q: The fact that I’m asking you that question is an indication of how people's nerves have gotten jangled. When you think about what you and fellow Democrats need to do in response, do you see more of an imperative to calm and soothe, or fight?
A: There are two things Democrats need to do. One is to be really clear about what we stand for. And the second is to be really clear that we're willing to fight for it.
We believe there's value in each of us, and that government can be a real force for good on health care, on helping our kids get an education, on building the infrastructure we need to build, on fighting back this horrible opioid crisis, on investing in medical research. These are the things we can do together. Right now this government under Donald Trump, and under the Republicans for a long time now, has been about making government more for the richest and most powerful in the country.