US Politics

Democrat Elizabeth Warren runs for US president

0:00

The 2020 race for the White House has its first Democrat contender.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren - an outspoken critic of Wall Street and nemesis of Donald Trump - on Monday entered the 2020 race for the White House.

The 69-year-old progressive announced she was launching an exploratory committee for president, becoming the first major candidate in what is set to be an extraordinarily crowded Democratic primary, united by a singular focus on unseating the Republican Trump.

The move will help her raise funds and hire more staff early in the campaign cycle - an effort in which she already leads most other potential Democratic candidates. 

"America's middle class is under attack," said a video message from Warren, who has represented Massachusetts in the Senate since 2013.

"Politicians look the other way while big insurance companies deny patients life-saving coverage, while big banks rip off consumers, and while big oil companies destroy this planet."

That, she said, is why she is launching her exploratory committee.

Going on the 'offense'

A former Harvard law professor, Warren has been a vocal advocate of consumer and workers' rights. But Americans may know her best for her frequent sparring with Trump - which has had mixed results. 

Warren's criticism of Trump's trade policies, erosion of consumer protections, and openness to authoritarian regimes has drawn his attention, and his disdain.

0:00
The stories that defined 2018.
The stories that defined 2018.

At his election-style rallies Trump took to mocking her claim to have some Native American heritage by dubbing her "Pocahontas," a derisive reference to the 17th-century Native American who lived in what is now Virginia.

When Trump offered to donate $1 million to Warren's favorite charity if she took a test proving "you're an Indian," she eventually did so, hoping to put an end to his ridicule. 

Instead, he seemed to relish the fact that the test showed her with only a sliver of Native American heritage.

'Nevertheless, she persisted'

But another encounter with a powerful male politician gave Warren a place in political folklore.

After she clashed in 2017 on the Senate floor with top Republican Mitch McConnell over the nomination of Jeff Sessions as attorney general and would not be quieted, his phrase "Nevertheless, she persisted" was quickly adopted by feminists - and turned into T-shirts and bumper stickers.

2017:  Elizabeth Warren addresses the Boston Women's March for America.
2017: Elizabeth Warren addresses the Boston Women's March for America.
AAP

As talk of a possible run for the presidency grew, Warren has worked to build her foreign-policy credentials, taking a seat on the Armed Services Committee. In a speech in November, she called for a reduced military budget and a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Her domestic policies are reliably liberal: She is staunchly pro-choice on abortion, supports gun control, and has urged Democrats to go on "offense" to expand health care coverage for Americans.

But her bread-and-butter issue has been the defense of ordinary Americans against abuses by those with wealth and power. 

"How did we get here? Billionaires and big corporations decided they wanted more of the pie, and they enlisted politicians to cut them a fatter slice," she said in her video.

Humble childhood

While Warren has gotten an early start, the road to the Democratic nomination will be long and arduous, with as many as three dozen party members weighing possible bids.

Elizabeth Warren;s book 'This Fight Is Our Fight'.
Elizabeth Warren;s book 'This Fight Is Our Fight'.
Getty Images

Among those who have already declared their intention to run are Julian Castro, a former housing secretary in Barack Obama's administration, John Delaney, a Maryland congressman, and Richard Ojeda, a former army paratrooper who is currently a state senator in West Virginia.

But Warren stands out for having already built the framework of a serious campaign, with a staff of more than 70 people working in several key states, and $12.5 million left in her coffers from her successful re-election effort.

Warren grew up in the Central Plains state of Oklahoma, in a family she said lived "on the ragged edge of the middle class." 

To help with finances after her father suffered a heart attack, she started at age 13 waiting tables in a restaurant -- part of a childhood she said gives her a visceral connection to ordinary Americans.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch