Factions of the Democratic Party and the broader progressive political movement faced off even as presidential candidates called for unity at the Democratic National Committee summer meeting in San Francisco.
A parade of presidential candidates spoke at the meeting, telling personal stories, laying out policy platforms and tearing into President Donald Trump.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, arrived on stage late in the afternoon to thunderous applause and was one of the few candidates to focus her speech entirely on her own life and policy rather than the current president.
Warren said that from the time she was in second grade she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up: not president, but a schoolteacher, a dream she had realized long ago. Now, she said she sees an America that is not working for everyone.
“It’s working fabulously for a thinner and thinner slice at the top,” Warren said.
Warren said she considered corporate influence on American politics to be corruption, and, she said, invoking a meme that has grown around her campaign, “I have a plan for that.”
She called for a broad array of policy prescriptions that included ending lobbying, enacting a new wealth tax, and shifting power to workers and unions.
“Unions built America’s middle class and unions will rebuild America’s middle class,” Warren said.
Warren received one of the most enthusiastic responses from the crowd in the grand ballroom at the Hilton Union Square hotel in San Francisco, along with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, who shares a similar economic populist platform with Warren, and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, speaking in the city where she was district attorney for seven years.
Sanders called on the party to rise to a major moment in history with transformative change.
“There is no longer in my view a choice between incremental and the foundational change that the working man deserves,” Sanders said. He called on the party to “commit ourselves to being as bold and brave as the great Democratic party of history has in times of crisis,” listing the defeat of fascism in World War II, the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s, and the passage of Medicare and Medicaid as major Democratic accomplishments.
Harris meanwhile framed herself as someone who could beat the odds, citing her first race for district attorney in 2003, when she was behind in the polls but managed to emerge victorious. To take on Trump, she said, would take a prosecutor.
“This is the moment in time that we must fight to be the best of who we are,” Harris said.
She had a strong contingent of supporters in the room who stood and cheered loudly as she exited and left along with her, chanting on their way out the door, “She’s smart, she’s strong, with Kamala you can’t go wrong.”
But the president took most of the attention in the room, even as some candidates said that directing too much ire at Trump could be harmful to the party’s chances in 2020. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, said the president has engaged in “moral vandalism.”
“We beat Donald Trump by not making it all about Donald Trump,” Booker said. “We have got to talk to this nation not about what we are against but what we are for.”
Booker added, “This country now is looking for our vision and I was taught as a little boy in church that without vision you perish.”
But other candidates couldn’t resist taking pot shots at the president. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, referenced Trump’s recent comments about purchasing Greenland, which drew a rebuke from Denmark.
“So while the president is off talking about buying Greenland and pissing off the entire country of Denmark … I’ll be fighting for working people,” she said. “Do you know the difference between Donald Trump and Greenland? Greenland is not for sale.”
Still, Klobuchar pointed out that she may have an advantage over the president in Midwestern states as she carried 42 counties that Trump had won in Minnesota in her Senate race.
Tom Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund manager and philanthropist based in San Francisco, more recently entered the race after waging a public relations campaign calling for Trump’s impeachment. Steyer said he would relish a fight for the presidency.
Every candidate on that stage and everyone in the room that day “is more qualified, more decent and more patriotic than the criminal in the White House,” Steyer said. “I would dearly like to expose Mr. Trump for the fraud and failure that he is.”
The crowded field was reduced by one when U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton announced he would withdraw from the race. He said he would run again for Congress in Massachusetts.
Some candidates who declined or were unable to attend sent video messages, including the current frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“If we stand together we will win the battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden said.
But there were moments of discord throughout the meeting. Hundreds of activists with the Sunrise Movement gathered in the hallways for a sit-in to demand the Democrats hold a debate focusing on climate change.
The protesters hugged the walls so they would not be removed from the hotel floor.
One protester named Sally spoke to the group, saying that her 3-year-old nephew was asking her questions about the environment. She said when he asks, “what did you do when you heard what was happening to the Earth?” she wanted to have an answer.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, another candidate for president, addressed the group around noon.
“The future of manufacturing is directly connected to a green economy,” Ryan said.
He said that he wanted more electric vehicles, charging stations and batteries to be made in the United States.
“I want to dominate the solar industry in the U.S. and put people back to work,” he said.
When U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed her hometown crowd, two protesters silently stood in the back of the room with signs that said, “End the wars” and “Cut the Pentagon budget.”
One of the protesters, Jackie Barshak, said they were with Code Pink Women for Peace.
“We want Nancy Pelosi to use her influence and power to end the wars, end the war in Yemen,” Barshak said. She added that they also want Congress to pass single payer health care and to impeach President Donald Trump.
Pelosi ticked off a list of legislation passed by the Democrat-controlled House and sent to the Republican Senate, where it is likely to languish.
Such legislation includes a $15 per hour minimum wage, which Pelosi said would give a raise to 30 million Americans, including 20 million women, as well as background checks for firearms and legislation to shore up election security and voting rights.
“We will make them too hot to handle until the Senate passes the legislation,” Pelosi said. “There will be hell to pay if the Senate doesn’t pass the legislation.”