LAWRENCE, Mass. — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., formally announced her 2020 presidential bid Saturday, calling for “fundamental change” on behalf of working people and arguing that President Donald Trump is “just the latest and most extreme symptom of what’s gone wrong in America.”
Speaking on a clear, chilly day against a backdrop of old red brick mill buildings at the site of one of the nation’s most famous labor strikes, she said workers now, like workers then, had had enough. She said replacing Trump, whose administration she called “the most corrupt in living memory,” was only the first step in fighting back against a system tilted in favor of the wealthy.
“It won’t be enough to just undo the terrible acts of this administration,” Warren said. “We can’t afford to just tinker around the edges — a tax credit here, a regulation there. Our fight is for big, structural change.”
The selection of Lawrence was symbolic: In 1912, a historic labor strike was started by a group of women at Everett Mill, where Warren made her announcement. The senator drew on the strike as a story of women, many of them immigrants, taking on a stacked system and triumphing by gaining raises, overtime and other benefits.
Warren described the U.S. economy as similarly tilted against the middle class, with wealth and political power concentrated at the top.
“Today, millions and millions and millions of American families are also struggling to survive in a system that’s been rigged, rigged by the wealthy and the well-connected,” Warren said. She added: “Like the women of Lawrence, we are here to say enough is enough!”
Warren, 69, who took the stage to the Dolly Parton song “9-to-5,” described her own journey, growing up as the daughter of a janitor and going on to become a law professor and a senator. As a scholar of bankruptcy law, she explained, she had studied how the opportunities she was afforded had narrowed in recent decades, as the rich became richer and the middle class was squeezed.
She said the rising generation of young people could be the first in which a majority were worse off economically than their parents, while the rich “seem to break the rules and pay no price.” In response, the crowd began to shout, “Enough is enough!”
When they quieted, Warren said, “When I talk about this, some rich guys scream, ‘Class warfare!’ Well, let me tell you something: These same rich guys have been waging class warfare against hard-working people for decades. I say it’s time to fight back!”
Warren touted proposals aimed at diminishing the financial industry’s power in Washington and cited her proposed wealth tax, which she called an “ultra-millionaire tax.”
In practical terms, Warren entered the presidential race over a month ago and has campaigned in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Puerto Rico since then. But as the Democratic field becomes increasingly crowded, the event in Lawrence was seen as a way to draw a fresh burst of attention to her candidacy.
Her announcement comes as she seeks to establish herself in the race as a champion of liberal policy but also as she continues to face questions about her claims to Native American ancestry and her sometimes awkward attempts to settle the issue.
Although there is no evidence that claiming Native American identity helped her professionally, the matter has dogged her throughout her political career. Trump has long branded her with the slur “Pocahontas,” suggesting that she made up a minority identity.
Trump weighed in on Twitter on Saturday night, making what appeared to be a derisive reference to the Trail of Tears, during which thousands of Native Americans died while being forcibly relocated from their homelands in the mid-1800s.
“Today Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to by me as Pocahontas, joined the race for President,” he wrote. “Will she run as our first Native American presidential candidate, or has she decided that after 32 years, this is not playing so well anymore? See you on the campaign TRAIL, Liz!”
His son Donald Trump Jr. used Instagram to add: “Savage!!! Love my President.”
On social media, there was immediate blowback to the president’s tweet and accusations he was joking about one of the worst tragedies Native Americans ever experienced to focus attention on his favorite line of attack against Warren.
Warren stepped afoul of some Democrats last year when she took a DNA test to prove Native ancestry, which angered some social justice activists and Native American leaders who felt that she gave undue credence to the controversial claim that race could be determined by blood and conflated heritage with tribal citizenship.
Warren apologized to the Cherokee Nation after months of resisting her own advisers and staff, some of whom had called for her to show contrition earlier. Democratic voters at Warren’s early campaign stops have repeatedly said the issue was not important to them, but it continues to be discussed.
New questions were raised Tuesday when The Washington Post reported that in 1986 Warren filled out a registration card for the State Bar of Texas on which she listed her race as “American Indian.”
Several people at the rally in Lawrence said that the issue did not bother them personally but expressed concern that it could be an ongoing weakness for her, especially in a general election.
“I think it will be more of a sexism problem that she’ll have to deal with, especially if she wins the primary,” said Jennifer Robertson, 21, a senior majoring in political science at Merrimack College in nearby North Andover. “I think they’ll hold her more accountable for her mistakes in the past.”
But some other comments suggested how successful Trump had been at painting Warren as fundamentally dishonest about her background.
John Boyle, 18, a high school senior from Andover, who was wearing a “Love Trumps Hate” button and said he was a registered independent, said the issue was a problem for him.
“She lied about her ethnicity, and that’s not OK,” he said. “I think if she lies about something so fundamental as her ethnicity, what’s to stop her from lying about something bigger when she’s going to be president? To me, that really rubs me the wrong way.”