The View from Below: US Sen. Warren speaks to Reporter News Editor Jennifer Smith, and a young woman takes it all in from the floor. Courtesy, The Warren Campaign

Focus is on guns, opioids, and climate at Reporter forum

US Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressed a range of national and local issues last Thursday evening at a town hall sponsored by the Dorchester Reporter. A gathering of about 400 people at the Boston Teachers Union hall listened and engaged with the state‘s senior senator as Reporter news editor Jennifer Smith moderated the forum.

Smith asked Warren to explain her plans to address gun violence, the national opioid crisis, and climate change, the latter a key issue for Columbia Point, the site of the town hall, where rising tides continually pose a threat to coastal structures and transportation routes alike.

Warren said that in her capacity as a senator, she is pushing for broader acceptance that “the science is real” when it comes to the impacts of climate change, so the country should abide by the Paris Climate Accord, from which President Trump has withdrawn. The Environmental Protection Agency should be helmed by a director who believes the department mission is “to make us all safer,” she said, adding that the states also need to double-down on resilient building, and the infrastructure funding must be provided by the federal government.

Three years ago, Smith recalled, Warren told Josh Miller of the Boston Globe that her greatest regret in the senate was that she couldn’t pass gun legislation. Today, the gun debate still rages, with mass shootings sparking the student-led March For Our lives that just swept across Washington, Boston, and the nation at large. But the majority of gun deaths are suicides or the day-to-day drumbeat of shootings across the country.

“This is about making our kids safe every single day,” Warren said. She noted the roughly seven children per day that have died from gun violence since the Sandy Hook shooting, an epidemic on such a scale that proposing a sensible bipartisan solution should be plausible, she said.

“We have done that on background checks,” Warren said. “Most Americans, including most gun owners, agree that we could do better on background checks. Weapons of war do not belong on American streets. We should stop this.”

A particularly galling failure, Warren said, was resistance to a proposal that would have prevented those on a terrorist watch list from purchasing weapons. “If you cannot fly because you’re on the terrorist watch list, you should not be able to buy a gun,” she said.

Warren gave new details on a just-emerging bill that she filed the next day with US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) that would pump $100 billion into a federal assault on opioids— an approach that Warren likened to the nation’s eventual strategy to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

“We want to put enough money in not to nibble around the edges, but make a transformative difference. What we are going to propose tomorrow is that the federal government put $100 billion over next ten years— that’s $10 billion a year— into treating the opioid crisis in this country, Warren said.

Under the proposed law, funding would also go directly to clinics and nonprofit programs that help those struggling with opioids.
“We want to make this money available to the states,” she said. “We recognize what’s happening in Massachusetts does not look exactly like what’s happening in South Dakota. . . . We want the states, we want localities, we want treatment centers to get the money directly."

Amidst a deeply divided Congress, the bill may be a tough sell, the liberal firebrand acknowledged, “But you better believe that I’m going to reach out not just to Democrats but Republicans. Come, let us work together on this issue, for the good of everyone.”

Warren fielded questions from the audience on topics ranging from health care for veterans and affordable housing to whether she thinks Trump should be impeached.

“This is serious business,” Warren said when answering the impeachment question. “Right now I believe it is absolutely critical that the special counsel, [Robert] Mueller, be allowed to complete his investigation in full with no interference from anyone, Democrat or Republican, and make a full report, We need to see what his report says and then we take whatever are the appropriate next steps.”

Warren will appear on the state primary ballot on Tues., Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day. The final election is set for Nov. 6. She holds a hefty lead over her three main Republican challengers, according to recent polls.

Smith asked Warren if she intended to serve her full six-year term, through 2024, if re-elected. “That’s certainly my plan,” she answered.