U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren meets with supporters on Sunday after speaking about issues before Congress.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's talks with constituents on Sunday were as much voter rallies as updates on her congressional priorities — and a perspective of Washington rift by competing visions.
"I believe this is a moment in history, it's a moment when we will decide which direction this country takes," said the Cambridge Democrat at the American Legion on Sunday afternoon, calling for continued investments in education, research and infrastructure — using Massachusetts as an example. "We make those investments because that's what makes opportunity for the future."
The former professor took dead aim at Republicans in Congress for filibustering important legislation or failing to move it out of committee, such as the budgets and the recent transportation bill. "The day before we left the Republicans filibustered it," Warren.
"That gets described as gridlock. That's not gridlock," she said. "That's one side saying, 'we obstruct. We do not want to make those investments.' ...
"What's going on in Washington now is not about gridlock, what's going on in Washington now is competing visions of who we are and what kind of country we are trying to build."
Warren pointed to attempts by the Republicans to slash $40 billion in food stamps out of the farm bill, double what had been proposed just a couple months ago. That would leave subsidies for "millionaire farmers" at the expense of struggling families, she said. "I don't get it." Later in Pittsfield, she told Monica Webb of Monterey she was not in favor of a farm bill amendment by Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa that Webb says would negate state efforts to require the labeling of genetically modified foods.
"I think federal labeling is the long-term right answer. I think when the states start to move, the industry becomes more interested in federal labeling because they realize patchwork is even harder for them," Warren said.
The state's senior senator was in the Berkshires for receptions in the county's two cities, with scheduled testimony before a state committee on Monday and tours of a couple big employers in the region.
Warren had expected to take a number of questions from residents in North Adams but was only able to squeeze in a handful after being delayed on the Massachusetts Turnpike. She apologized profusely for being late but the 100 or so people who turned out for the event didn't seem to mind, punctuating her remarks with loud applause.
Linnea Nelson, a North Adams native and fervent Warren supporter, was excited to meet her. "I think she's wonderful," said Nelson as ice cream sandwiches were handed out to the crowd. She later got the chance to speak with Warren. "I'm proud to be from Massachusetts."
"She has guts, and that's what we need in the Senate, someone with guts," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, introducing the senator along state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, and state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams.
Warren thanked the crowd for sending her to Washington to fight for their beliefs. She pushed against the recent deal on student loan rates that ties in interest rates to Treasury bonds, saying it was still costing too much for students and their families.
"The U.S. government will make — you ready for this — $57 billion off the backs of our kids who are trying to get an education," she said, and will make another $184 billion off the new loans over the next 10 years. That's money they could use to invest back into their communities, she continued. "I think this is fundamentally wrong."
Warren also touched on the sequester, saying its cutting into essential programs like Head Start and important research that can make lives better and develop new business.
"People are worried what does it mean if we're not making investments," she said afterward, and expressed frustration that questions tended to start with "what cuts are coming" rather than "how can we strengthen" programs.
The senator had to cut the North Adams reception short to make her next appointment in Pittsfield, but stayed for a few minutes to speak and shake hands with supporters.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren talked with Berkshire Brigades Chairwoman Sheila Murray.
"I was just telling her how proud I was," said Sylvia Lefebvre, who was there with her husband, John, who also wanted to bring Warren's attention to some issues important to the elderly. "They're saying how she's really raising all kinds of hell down there with the bankers and everything and I think, 'yes,' that's what she wanted to do."
In Pittsfield, Warren met with the Berkshire Brigades, which less than two years ago headed efforts to get her elected.
Warren reflected on her trip two years ago to the law offices of Sherwood Guernsey, where she met with nearly 100 members of the Brigades as she was considering a run. A storm had come in and the crowd shuffled into the room where Warren stood up on a chair and expressed her views.
"I remember that meeting because the Berkshire Brigades said 'if you did this, we will have your back all the way,'" Warren told the members, most of whom had worked on the campaign. "I remember going back to the car after that meeting and thinking maybe this is the right decision."
The Democratic group rallied voters and Warren soared to victory. Now, in her freshman year in Washington, she said she knows that when she "fights for what I believe in," it is what the voters asked her to do.
Warren thanked those who helped but kept her remarks short, allowing for about a half-dozen questions before meeting with residents individually, shaking hands and taking photos with supporters. The questions ranged from an amendment in the farm bill to arts and culture to humanities.
Warren, who appears before the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development on Monday, questioned "what kind of a country can't put a little aside to support the arts?" She said it would be "stupid and foolish" not to support humanities.
Warren also said she was "disappointed in the gun vote," because the bill aimed to "create a modest change" in the gun registration process. She said "powerful interests" have too much of a say in Washington.
Massachusetts' ban assault weapons doesn't stop trafficking from other states and federal action could reduce that, she said.
But Democrats, particularly those from Connecticut, aren't giving up. "Some things you don't get the first time. But you stand up and fight a second time and a third time," Warren said.
She also fielded questions about sequestration and says she supports Janet Yellen to head the U.S. Federal Reserve.