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Elizabeth Warren introduces sweeping ethics bill that faces tough odds on Capitol Hill

Last Updated Aug 21, 2018 11:38 AM EDT

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday introduced what she describes as the most ambitious anti-corruption legislation since Watergate, dubbing the the current administration the most "nakedly corrupt" in Americans' lifetimes, but claiming the problem is much bigger than President Trump. 

"The problem is far bigger than Trump. And the way I see it this loss of faith this broad and more profound...is a crisis, a crisis of faith," the Massachusetts Democrat said in a speech at the National Press Club.

Warren's Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act — unlikely to receive the approval of Republicans in Congress — aims to nix the influence of big money in politics by, among other things, reforming the so-called "revolving door" between politics and the private sector and limiting lobbying. 

Specifically, the legislation would "padlock" the revolving door in Washington by placing a lifetime ban on lobbying by former members of Congress, presidents and agency heads. The legislation would also expand the definition of who is a lobbyist to anyone who spends any time attempting to influence government. 

The proposal would also prohibit the world's largest companies, something defined by a company's annual revenue or market capitalization, from hiring or paying any former senior government official for four years after they leave government. Former senior officials would also have to file income disclosures for four years after federal employment. 

The proposal mirrors Mr. Trump's vows during his 2016 campaign to "drain the swamp" in Washington and Barack Obama's push during his 2008 presidential bid to also curb corruption and the influence of corporations on the federal government. But Mr. Trump has done little to enact anti-corruption legislation and several of his government's most senior officials face questions about their spending practices or personal wealth. Obama, meanwhile, struggled especially to enact lobbying reforms and ended up employing several former lobbyists in his administration despite a well-publicized attempt not to do so.

Warren's legislation would also ban members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, federal judges and other top government officials from owning and trading stocks. Currently, members simply need to disclose their stocks and trades. 

The legislation would also require the vice president and president to place any conflicted assets, including businesses into a blind trust to be sold off. And all senior government officials and White House employees would have to divest from any privately owned assets that could lead to conflicts of interest, including large companies and commercial real estate. 

The bill would also create an entirely new office designed to police public corruption, called the Office of the Public Integrity, to strengthen enforcement and investigate possible violations. 

The bill proposes a year-long transition before any of the changes would go into effect. 

Warren, viewed as a possible Democratic contender for 2020, said her proposals will force all elected officials to change some of their behaviors — "including me," she said.

The Massachusetts senator said she realizes some of the proposals won't be popular with her friends, and many will call her naive, suggesting her legislation will never pass. "Our country has responded to deep corruption with bold action before," she said, while also admitting to reporters that she had no Republican cosponsor for the legislation. 

Warren also called out several current and former administration officials – not by name, but by example. The list included Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, former economic adviser Gary Cohen, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, and New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins, a fervent Trump supporter now facing insider trading charges.

Asked later by a reporter to cite a Democrat who she believes of harboring similarly corrupt behaviors, she cited Mary Jo White, the former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission and a former federal prosecutor. She faulted White for light enforcement of federal rules on corporations and then returning quickly to working for them in private practice

White is now a New York-based attorney who is leading an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against CBS Corporation Chairman Leslie Moonves and related "cultural issues" across the CBS Corporation, according to a company announcement of the ongoing probe.

Warren's ideas will feed speculation that she is preparing for a run against Trump in 2020. Asked about her plans, she said she is focused on the 2018 midterms and is not taking her own reelection race "for granted."

"It is really important we focus on midterm elections," Warren said. "The important fight right now is the midterm elections."

Warren has been active in the 2018 midterm elections, traveling around the country to endorse Democrats seeking office up and down the ballot. Most recently, she's traveled to Nevada in support of congressional candidates and to New Orleans, for the annual Netroots Nation conference where other presidential prospects, including Sens. Corey Booker and Kamala Harris, also spoke.

In her remarks, Warren also brought up Mr. Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who is awaiting a verdict in a federal trial related to his past work as a lobbyist for foreign governments.

The allegations against Manafort prove that "We should ban Americans to lobby for foreign governments," Warren said. "If foreign governments want to express views they can use diplomats."

During a question and answer session with reporters, Warren was asked how this legislation would affect White House officials who have signed nondisclosure agreements. She said the nondisclosure agreements won't overrule federal law.