FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) – On the same day Sen. Elizabeth Warren rolled out a new proposal aimed at curbing outsize corporate influence on the federal defense agenda, the 2020 presidential candidate hosted a town hall to promote her platform in Northern Virginia, a region where defense contractors dominate local industry.
Before a moderately-sized crowd gathered on the lawn of George Mason University in Fairfax – just minutes from Capitol Hill – the Massachusetts Democrat railed against defense contractors who routinely run through a “revolving door” between the Department of Defense and large defense corporations like Boeing.
“They want it spinning because it helps with their profits,” Warren said to cheers and chants of her campaign slogan, “Dream Big, Fight Hard.”
The senator painted broad strokes when describing the proposal Thursday night, which is also co-sponsored by California Democrat Rep. Jackie Speier.
At its core, the plan would ban defense giants like Lockheed Martin from hiring high ranking Department of Defense officials for at least four years and would also mandate that contractors clearly identify any former Defense Department officials who might be working for them. Precisely what work the contractors are doing must also be clear.
President Donald Trump’s nominee for defense secretary, acting secretary Patrick Shanahan would be one such person, Warren said, that she would never want to see leading the agency.
“He has absolutely no experience in government, or the military. He only has experience improving the profitability of Boeing,” Warren said.
Shanahan faces an uphill battle to be confirmed: Republicans are largely expected to fall in line with President Trump’s pick while Democrats have expressed reservations about his lack of experience and his willingness to bend to the administration’s demands for border wall funding in the last year.
No one, Warren said, should wonder whether the Secretary of Defense makes decisions based on profit motive instead of national security.
Beyond greater transparency for federal contractor and lobbyist records, Warren also said she wanted “no one in the intelligence community to work for a foreign government,” a thinly-veiled reference to former Trump campaign and administration intimates like onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn who pleaded guilty to the FBI for lying about his contact with a Russian ambassador.
The town hall, which ran just over an hour, was light on questions from the crowd. The senator only took three at random and after spending the bulk of her time pumping her proposal to end corruption at the Pentagon, the theme moved to well-tread territory for her: raising the minimum wage, overturning Citizens United and restructuring the economy to restore the middle class.
“The concentration of corporations are too big – they roll wherever they want to: over their own customers, employees and communities. To push back, we need more power in the hands of employees and we have to make it easier to join a union and give more unions more power in the fight,” Warren said.
The top one-tenth of the nation’s one-percent – roughly 75,000 families – should also be taxed at a higher rate, the senator said.
“Tired of free-loading billionaires,” the time has come for the uber-wealthy, Warren said, to chip in.
“A little fairness will level the playing field,” Warren said. “This is not punitive. The idea is to say look, you built or inherited a fortune. Good for you. But all of us pitch in to pay for things like roads and public services [like the Fire Department]. But you must start pitching in more so everyone else gets a chance to build something real,” Warren said.
Warren also briefly expressed support for action on climate change, launching a student loan debt forgiveness program for 95 percent of all borrowers, establishing universal pre-K and making public universities tuition free. Specifics on the issues, however, were scarce.
Fielding a question from the crowd about how a Warren administration might turn the tide of mounting public distrust toward the government, Warren repeated calls for transparency.
“People don’t trust the government to work for them because the government doesn’t work for them. We have to call this out. It isn’t working. It works great for those who have money, who can hire armies of lobbyists and can buy or pay experts or think tanks [to do their bidding],” Warren said to applause. “But it’s not working for the rest of America.”