JACKSON, Miss. — Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on Monday embraced a congressional proposal to study a framework for reparations to African-Americans hurt by the legacy of slavery as the best way to begin a “national, full-blown conversation” on the issue.
Warren first voiced support for reparations last month, becoming one of three 2020 Democratic candidates to do so. But her comments about a study on reparations, made during a CNN town hall broadcast from Mississippi, mark a keener focus from the Massachusetts senator on her preferred route to tackle the thorny question of how best to deal with systemic racial inequality.
The Democratic field’s ongoing debate over reparations comes as African-American voters are poised to exert significant influence over the selection of the party’s nominee to take on President Donald Trump.
Warren offered in-depth answers to several other questions that touched on issues important to African-American communities, winning cheers for a call for Mississippi to replace its state flag — the only one in the nation that depicts a Confederate image. Warren, 69, has made racial justice a centerpiece of her case for the Democratic nomination, even as she doubles down on her long-running emphasis on economic inequity.
Warren also came out in favor of eliminating of the electoral college, the most pointed instance of her opposition to the polarizing mechanism the nation uses to elect its presidents.
She has been critical of the electoral college in the past, saying last year that Trump’s 2016 victory — despite Democrat Hillary Clinton’s winning 3 million more total votes — is “not exactly the sign of a healthy democracy.” But Warren’s comments on Monday were her most straightforward endorsement of an end to the electoral college system.
“I think everybody ought to have to come and ask for your vote,” Warren said.
She also faced a tough question about her past claims to Native American identity, a political liability for her presidential run as she attempts to move past a DNA analysis she released last year that showed “significant evidence” of a distant tribal ancestor.
Warren told the audience that, growing up in Oklahoma, “I learned about my family from my family,” adding, “That’s just kind of who I am, and I do the best I can with it.” She added that, based on her experiences traveling to nearly a dozen states so far in her campaign, Americans are more inclined to ask her about issues that affect their everyday lives.
Change the Mississippi flag
During the event, Warren also touched upon the Mississippi state flag.
“Mississippi’s the only state in the country that still has the confederate battle emblem on the state flag — do you think Mississippi should adopt a new flag?” CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Warren at a town hall in Jackson, Mississippi.
Warren replied with one word — “Yes” — and was met with loud applause from the crowd.
There has been a big push to remove Confederate monuments, memorials and symbols after a white supremacist murdered nine African-Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
The nationwide debate over the removal of the Confederate symbols was renewed in 2017 after white nationalists and neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The violent march resulted in the death of a counter-protestor.
A questioner at the town hall asked, “As a presidential hopeful, do you have any plans on addressing the removal, or lack there of, of the reminders of this nation’s dark past, or have any plans on preserving the nation’s history in a way that explains it in a more educational sense versus showing praise to the losing side?”
Warren said she would “support removing Confederate celebrations from federal land and putting them in museums, where they belong.”
The Electoral College
For the first time on Monday, Warren said that she would back a plan to do away with the Electoral College.
The process, she said, effectively disenfranchises voters in states dominated by one of the two parties.
“Come a general election, presidential candidates don’t come to places like Mississippi. They also don’t come to places like California or Massachusetts, because we’re not the battleground states,” Warren said at a CNN town hall in Jackson, Mississippi.
“My view is that every vote matters,” Warren said as the applause in Jackson began to build into an ovation, “and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting and that means get rid of the Electoral College — and every vote counts.”
There are already efforts at the state level to diminish the effectiveness of the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote. Twelve states and Washington, D.C., have signed on to a compact agreeing to assign their Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote, regardless of the outcomes in their states.
The states will make the switch once enough states have signed on to secure a cumulative 270 electoral votes. Currently California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington state and the District of Columbia have signed on, totaling 181 electoral votes. New Mexico and Delaware are also considering legislation to join the interstate compact.
Colorado joined the group last week. If New Mexico and Delaware pass their own legislation it will move the compact eight votes closer to the 270-vote majority.
Although most states have winner-takes-all policies for their Electoral College votes, Maine and Nebraska split their electors proportionally based on the states’ popular votes.