U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren stumps in Northeast Philly, presents education plan

Promising tuition-free public colleges and retiring student loan debt for millions if she’s elected president in 2020, Sen. Warren met with members of the American Federation

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 presidential candidate, addresses teachers in Philadelphia on Monday, May 12. 2019. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 presidential candidate, addresses teachers in Philadelphia on Monday, May 12. 2019. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign stopped Monday in Northeast Philadelphia to meet with members of the American Federation of Teachers.

It was a friendly crowd. In a previous life, Warren was a special-education teacher in New Jersey. And, like many Democratic politicians, she’s staunchly pro-union.

“I am like the most unlikely person to run for president — never thought I would do this. But, you know, there comes a time when the fight comes to your front door, and you see what it’s about, and you say ‘there’s no more standing on the sidelines,’” said Warren inside Plumbers Union Local 690 headquarters.

The Massachusetts lawmaker spent most of her 15-minute stump speech laying out her $1.25 trillion education plan, which calls for providing universal child care, free college tuition at public universities, and erasing student loan debt for millions of people.

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If elected, Warren also vowed to have a secretary of education who has time as a public school teacher on his or her resume.

“No more Betsy DeVos,” said Warren, referring to President Donald Trump’s appointee. “I want someone who is committed to public education. I want someone who has seen tattered textbooks or tried to manage when there are too many kids in a classroom.”

A wealth tax drives Warren’s platform, including her proposal to offer free college tuition. Under her plan, families with fortunes worth more than $50 million would pay a 2% levy on any earnings above that mark.

Warren also wants to use the money to provide universal child care and universal pre-K for all children, as well as raise wages for preschool teachers and child care workers.

During a wide-ranging question and answer session, Warren took questions from the audience about climate change, foreign policy, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Toward the end of the session, Warren was asked a simple, but complicated question: How are you going to get anything done with such a polarized Congress?

Warren said she isn’t worried about that.

“Things that touch people’s lives, it’s touching the lives of Democrats and Republicans. This is not just one party. This is our getting out and talking about our values and talking about ways that we can actually fix what’s broken in this country,” said Warren.

Warren is the fifth presidential candidate to go before AFT membership this election cycle. U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar, as well as U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, have pitched themselves to the teachers group, which represents 1.7 million members, according to the organization’s website.

As part of a new endorsement process, the union is giving members more say before it moves to back a candidate. Every town hall, including Monday’s event in Philadelphia, has been live-streamed on Facebook so members across the country can listen and learn.

The union has yet to endorse anyone running for president, but Warren is likely to get serious consideration.

“I’m trying to be very, very careful to not put my finger on the scale in any way, but it’s hard to not be as fulsome in the introduction I’m about to do for Sen. Warren because Sen. Warren has been a friend of students and educators,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

More than 20 Democrats are running to replace Trump in 2020.

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