Sen. Elizabeth Warren sees new dangers lurking 10 years after collapse of Lehman Brothers

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren says a crisis like the one that happened in 2008 may not happen again, but she worries about working class Americans.
  • The Democrat and possible 2020 presidential candidate contrasted her economic vision from U.S. President Donald Trump's.
  • She discussed various ways to safeguard markets, including through potentially separating planks of Amazon's business.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren does not necessarily see a better financial system 10 years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Rather, she said, the United States is in a "different place" — one which poses risks separate from the ones that led to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

On Thursday evening, the Massachusetts Democrat and champion of bank regulation said "parts" of the American system have improved. She pointed to the Dodd-Frank financial reforms and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog she helped to create after the crisis.

Still, Warren said she worries about the financial security of working and middle class Americans, who she described as not having enjoyed the spoils of strong gross domestic product growth and record corporate profits. Issues such as mounting student debt and costs of health care and other necessities outpacing wage gains raise concerns for the senator, she said.

"Families live one bad diagnosis, one pink slip away from financial calamity," Warren said during a New York Times TimesTalks event.

"And they know it. And they read every headline that says 'economy great,' and they think, 'What the hell happened to my family?' And they are right to ask that question. Because America's government has failed them," she added.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Warren, often mentioned as a potential Democratic presidential contender in 2020, spent the hour-long talk largely detailing proposals to further secure the financial system and contrasting her economic vision from President Donald Trump's. The senator repeatedly described herself as someone who believes in the power of financial markets — when they have the right safeguards in place.

Warren, who vaulted to national prominence partly through rallying cries to hold bankers accountable for the crisis, said she still wants to break up big banks.

"Oh yeah. Give me a chance," she said. Warren highlighted her bipartisan legislation for a "21st Century Glass-Steagall," which would break riskier investment banking activities from the more mundane bank functions such as checking and savings accounts.

Warren touched on similar regulation in other industries, too. She suggested a possible mechanism to separate planks of Amazon's business: its role as a platform on which companies sell their products, and the company's sales of its own products. She said Amazon has "got to pick one business or the other" because hosting other vendors' goods could give it a competitive advantage when deciding what products to sell itself.

Ten years after the collapse of Lehman, some of the reflection on the crisis has focused on how much it contributed to populism in both major American political parties. Warren described populism as talking "about the lived experience of working people."

She said Trump, as a presidential candidate, "tapped into a genuine anger" at least partly fueled by the financial crisis. Warren and candidate Trump had some similarities, including a desire to renegotiate free trade deals and implement a new version of Glass-Steagall.

But the senator argued that Trump has not followed through on his vision.

"On trade, I don't think chaos is a plan," she said, referencing Trump's tariffs slapped on major trading partners as he pushes them to negotiate new deals.

Warren contended that he needs a "coherent vision," and an understanding of "who are your friends and who are not your friends." Many lawmakers have criticized the White House for targeting Canada with steel and aluminum tariffs, using a national security justification.

She also criticized the Republican tax plan, and former Goldman Sachs No. 2 Gary Cohn's work on it as a White House economic advisor. "What he did was help Goldman Sachs" by helping to push through major tax cut for corporations, Warren said.

While the Democrat repeatedly contrasted her vision from Trump's, she dodged a question about a potential run in 2020. Warren stressed that she faces reelection on Nov. 6. In this year's midterms, Democrats have a strong chance of taking a House majority, and are mounting a longshot bid to flip the Senate, as well.

"This is an enormously consequential election coming up in 54 days," she said.

Warren did engage on other possible 2020 candidates. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said Wednesday that he thinks he could beat Trump in an election, before quickly clarifying that he is "not running for president."

Asked about Dimon running on Thursday, Warren laughed.

"I'm not voting for either one of those guys," she said about a choice between Dimon and Trump.