Meet the first Gen Z Republican elected to the Minnesota Legislature

Meet the first Gen Z Republican elected to the Minnesota Legislature

Elliott Engen loves his job.

Engen, who is 24, took office in January in the Minnesota House of Representatives representing House district 36A, which includes Lino Lakes, Circle Pines, North Oaks, Centerville and White Bear Township in the northeast part of the metro. 

“It’s such a high learning curve, but every single day, you get to wake up and you get to help people,” Engen said of his first month in office. 

He took a step back from his job with an environmental conservation nonprofit to commit to legislating full-time, something he says he owes his constituency. He’s still figuring out the work-life balance — like when to turn off the office lights and head home for dinner — but he’s steadily working towards the white picket fence life in Lino Lakes, Minn. with his wife Faith Engen and their dog, Finn.

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Engen is one of two Generation Z lawmakers stepping into the Minnesota Legislature this year. Engen is a Republican while the other, state Sen. Zaynab Mohamed, is a DFLer, making each the only legislator of their generation in their respective political parties in the state. Already, these young politicians are poised to shape the course of their parties. 

The Pew Research Center defines Millennials as people born 1981 through 1996, and Gen Z after 1997 (an end year has yet to be defined).

These two generations will be a majority of potential voters by 2028, according to a report released last month from The Brookings Institution, which also noted that young voters overwhelmingly voted for Democratic congressional candidates in 2022, swinging elections in almost every battleground state.

Engen isn’t fazed by that. 

“A lot of folks would characterize my generation as being more progressive in their leanings and that might be true,” he told MPR News. “But I do know that we don’t always trust institutions that have quote-unquote power over us … we don’t always want helicopter parents.”  

“We just want things to run smoothly,” he adds. “We want transparency, we want accountability. But we also want policies that care about people and we can do all of the above.” 

Engen sees an opportunity to change public perception of Republicans.

“I think that we are compassionate. I don’t think that conservatives are across the board heartless. Some of them for sure and some Democrats for sure. But I think overall we do want to do good by our constituents and for the state, but we haven’t been doing a good enough job of letting people know why it is what we believe. If we do that more, we can show people that we actually have a heart,” Engen said.

As young people not only come of age but begin to start families and businesses, Engen wanted to get a head start on elevating their voices to find solutions to pressing issues. 

“We’ve constantly heard politicians for forever say ‘We’re doing this for the next generation.’ Well, we are the next generation and maybe we should be at the table as well.” 

His path to politics

A few years ago, Engen was a passionate baseball player at Hamline University considering law school down the road. He said he got politically involved after feeling conversations on campus wouldn’t lead to needed social change.

“I just saw that percolating on campus was a sense of discourse that wasn’t necessarily sustainable. In my eyes, it was a lot more of reciting the talking points of either Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow, just kind of the extremes talking at each other rather than talking with each other,” Engen said. 

So he founded a chapter of the conservative youth organization Turning Point USA at Hamline where people with both liberal and conservative political beliefs would meet to debate ideas.  

That he could bring affinity for discourse to the State Capitol did not occur to him until a chance encounter in December 2019 with Joe Mitchell, who at 21 became the youngest person in the Iowa Legislature in 2018.

Engen and his wife were in West Palm Beach, Fla. for the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit. They were discussing policy in a hot tub when Mitchell overheard and asked if he was a candidate or in office. 

Engen recalls laughing at the idea. “No way,” he said he had responded. “I’m not older and don’t have any individual wealth. So why would I be in office?” 

Mitchell said Engen asked him, “’Who’s gonna vote for a 20 year old?’ And so I said, ‘Well, you know, 6,800 people in Iowa’s 84th district when I first ran when I was 20.’” 

Engen said hearing about Mitchell’s success planted a seed.

“That’s what got it into my mind that we’re not bound to be on the sidelines of politics until later in our lives,” he said.

Engen quit his college baseball team to run for office, first in 2020, when he narrowly lost to the Democrat incumbent by 100 votes. He ran for state house again after redistricting and won in another tight race.

He said he is no longer affiliated with Turning Point USA, which has been criticized for targeting professors they identified as liberal and amplifying far-right extremists.

“The org’s original stances aligned with my values of free markets, individualism and limited government. I no longer feel that those values are the identity of the organization, and therefore, I don’t support it,” he said. “I have never, nor will ever, support extremism from the right. I aim to unify, not divide.”

Getting Gen Z elected

Mitchell started a nonprofit called Run GenZ in 2020 to recruit, empower and mentor young conservatives to run for office, ranging from school boards and city councils to state legislatures.

After their initial meeting, Mitchell said he was a resource for Engen throughout his campaigning, offering advice on messaging, developing an online presence and getting the party endorsement.

“It’s not rocket science,” Mitchell said. “It’s pretty simple. It’s about viability in that seat, making sure it’s a viable seat to run in. Making sure that you can hold a conversation and that you can work hard and ask people for their vote at the doorstep.”

A man takes the oath of office

Rep. Joe Mitchell, R-Wayland, center, takes the oath of office during the opening day of the Iowa Legislature on Jan. 14 at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa.

Charlie Neibergall | AP Photo 2019

In 2022, Mitchell reported Run GenZ had a 78 percent win rate, with 37 of 47 candidates under 30 years old taking office. He said while the country did not see a huge red wave, he thinks their program’s candidate quality and campaign training helped. 

Mitchell hopes to double their number of successful candidates in the next two years. He wants to both amplify young people with conservative values and counter the progressive faction of the Democratic Party, which he said offers young voters more representation with politicians like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost.

“Frankly, I think the Democrat Party does a really good job of trying to put some of these young people that have been successful on a pedestal and showcase them to the world,” he said. “And not necessarily neglect them like the Republican Party or the conservative movement has done to a certain extent when young people try to get involved.” 

In January, Run GenZ held its annual candidate training workshop. Engen attended for the first time as a speaker and found people had the same questions he did: Am I ready to do this? How do people perceive my age? Will I be taken seriously?

Engen estimates 150 Gen Z-ers were there and are running for office across the country. 

Engen said he told them, “Yes, you can. You need to quit seeing youth and quote unquote inexperience as something that’s a detriment. It’s a power, because you’re able to come to this with a fresh perspective.”

Engen’s first moves in office

As state representatives debated HF 1, a bill to protect abortion rights in Minnesota, for hours in January, Engen shared the story of a 15-year-old pressured into an abortion clinic by an abusive boyfriend. An older woman intervened, letting her know she could choose to raise the child. That girl was his mother.

He voted against the bill, which ultimately passed and became law, calling it “not reasonable” and expressing concern around the lack of guardian consent.

“I respect the stories that we’ve heard from the other side of the aisle and you’re strong for telling ‘em,” Engen told Democrats. But what was needed, he said, was for legislators to help constituents “find ways to actually speak to each other again.” 

Bringing people together and being responsive to constituents is at the heart Engen’s approach to his job.

On the campaign trail, he said he heard public safety, school safety and the general affordability of life were the top issues so it’s what he is prioritizing in his first term.

Recently, Engen voted against restoring voting rights for felons once they’re out of prison or jail. He also introduced the Safe Haven In Every Local District (SHIELD) Act, which would mandate and fund school security system improvements.

“We have passion. We have energy. And we have ideas. Now, it’s just time that they’re brought to the table and implemented in our state’s policy,” he said.  

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Nurses say new legislation could help solve staffing shortage

Nurses say new legislation could help solve staffing shortage

MNA President Mary Turner talks Nurses at the Bedside bill

MNA President Mary Turner talks Nurses at the Bedside bill


MINNEAPOLIS — There have been concerns about nursing staffing levels at local hospitals for years. It was the main reason for a brief nursing strike last fall.

Nurses say a piece of legislation at the Capitol would make a big difference. The bill is called Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act. It’s moving forward at the Capitol right now. 

Minnesota Nurses Association, the nurses’ union, says it will help keep nurses from leaving the profession. The bill would create committees made up of health care workers and management to set safe staffing levels on a hospital-by-hospital, unit-by-unit basis, including a maximum limit on the number of patients that any one nurse should safely care for. Disputes would go to arbitration.

A recent study says 2,400 Minnesota nurses left their jobs last year. And it’s not just here — it’s happening across the country. A national survey found more than half of all nurses are considering leaving the profession. Nurses cite staffing concerns and burnout as the major reasons. And it’s coming just as aging baby boomers are leading to increased demand.

Mary Turner, the president of the nurses’ union, was a guest on WCCO Sunday Morning at 10:30 a.m. 

“This piece of legislation, I should tell you, was created by no less than 70 bedside care nurses, so this is a homegrown, grassroots legislation,” Turner said. “And in creating this law, we asked nurses what are the number one reasons why nurses leave the bedside, and what would we need to bring them back.”

Hospitals have expressed support for one provision of the Nurses at the Bedside bill. The bill would set aside $5 million every year for a forgiveness program for nurses’ student loans. 

WCCO did invite a representative of the hospitals on. They were unable to be here. WCCO hopes to have them on next week.

You can watch WCCO Sunday morning with Esme Murphy and Joseph Dames every Sunday at 6 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

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China's Xi Jinping flexes his diplomatic muscle with a visit to Moscow

China's Xi Jinping flexes his diplomatic muscle with a visit to Moscow

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during an awarding ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on June 8, 2018. Xi is traveling to Moscow to show support for Putin.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during an awarding ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on June 8, 2018. Xi is traveling to Moscow to show support for Putin.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

China’s leader Xi Jinping lands in Moscow on Monday to show support for Russian leader Vladimir Putin and probe possible steps toward peace in Ukraine.

After the three-day visit to Russia, Xi is expected to have talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The conversation would be the first since the start of the war. Analysts say the likelihood of a big breakthrough on Ukraine is slim because Russian and Ukrainian negotiating positions remain so far apart.

For Xi, who this month locked up a rare third term as China’s president, the Russia trip offers a chance to strengthen relations with a key neighbor and partner-of-convenience. At the same time, the trip could help burnish China’s credentials as a global heavyweight.

“He can cast his visit to Moscow in the context of some grand international diplomacy, [yet] he doesn’t actually have to achieve much to accomplish this goal,” said Paul Haenle, a China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former director on the National Security Council under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

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On the eve of the Ukraine invasion a year ago, Russia and China declared a “no limits” friendship. And while many believe China’s leadership was caught off guard by the full-scale invasion of Ukraine that followed, Beijing has refused to condemn the move, instead trumpeting the strength of Beijing-Moscow ties.

Xi says the relationship has grown ‘more mature and resilient’

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photograph during their meeting in Beijing, on Feb. 4, 2022.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photograph during their meeting in Beijing, on Feb. 4, 2022.

Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Ahead of his visit to Moscow, Xi wrote in the state-owned Russian Gazette newspaper that the two countries have “cemented political mutual trust and fostered a new model of major-country relations.”

“The bilateral relationship has grown more mature and resilient,” Xi declared. On the Ukraine crisis, Xi urged all parties to “embrace the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, and pursue equal-footed, rational and results-oriented dialogue and consultation.”

China’s steadfast support of Moscow throughout the war has dented its image in western Europe, where Beijing is keen to forge deeper relations.

Rana Mitter, a professor of Chinese history and politics at the University of Oxford, says China may hope the Moscow trip will help persuade some in Europe “to take a more America-skeptic position on questions of security and economic cooperation.”

“If the case is that [China] actually can talk to Putin and try and mediate some of the difficulties with Russia that those of you in Western Europe simply cannot,” he said, “that’s a proposition that at least some leaders in the region might listen to.”

For its part, Beijing appears keen to foster the image of peacemaker.

Earlier this month, China helped finalize a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran on re-establishing diplomatic relations. The Chinese government in February published a 12-point “position paper” laying out broad principles for resolving the Ukraine conflict. And on Friday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China would “play a constructive role in urging peace and promoting talks.”

“The mood has been set. The framework has been set. The idea of China potentially as the peacemaker that goes where other countries can’t has been set. But the actual solution still looks in some ways much, much more vague, much more fluid,” said Mitter.

The Chinese are not really aiming to be “the real problem solver here,” according to Yun Sun, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C.

She said, with Xi visiting Moscow, “they know that there will be these critical questions on China, about what China plans to do on the war in Ukraine. I think that political position [paper] and the framing of China as a peace broker is to serve that political purpose.”

China’s past mediations showed its limits

China’s role as a mediator in the past suggests limits to what it may achieve when it comes to Ukraine.

“Even in the Iran-Saudi deal, China was not a peace broker. I think China exploited an opportunity that ripened,” Sun said. “Those two countries actually wanted to improve their relations, but I don’t think that condition exists between Russia and Ukraine — at least not now and at least not for the foreseeable future.”

Haenle, of the Carnegie Endowment, says during the Six Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, in which he took part, Beijing excelled at bringing negotiators to the table. But he says Chinese officials rarely pressed any of the parties to move the ball down the field.

“We always had the sense that the United States, South Korea, Japan, we were really aggressively trying to find a way to solve the North Korean nuclear issue, where the Chinese were really looking for a process to manage the North Korean nuclear issue,” he said.

“Whether they’ll play an active role in ending the Ukraine conflict, I think, is probably something that we will not see here in the near term,” Haenle said.

Instead, the focus of Xi’s Moscow trip will be on strengthening China-Russia relations. And for Xi, that means it will most likely be a win, says Suisheng Zhao, a professor at the University of Denver.

China frames its foreign relations within the context of its superpower rivalry with the United States. Xi’s trip to Russia is no exception.

“The benefits will definitely weigh over the costs,” Zhao said. “His most fundamental foreign policy objective now is [to] try to defend China’s interests against American confrontation.”

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

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Military pilots, ground crews face higher rates of cancer, Pentagon study says

Military pilots, ground crews face higher rates of cancer, Pentagon study says

A Pentagon study has found high rates of cancer among military pilots and for the first time has shown that ground crews who fuel, maintain and launch those aircraft are also getting sick.

The data had long been sought by retired military aviators who have raised alarms for years about the number of air and ground crew members they knew who had cancer. They were told that earlier military studies had found they were not at greater risk than the general U.S. population.

In its yearlong study of almost 900,000 service members who flew or worked on military aircraft between 1992 and 2017, the Pentagon found that air crew members had an 87% higher rate of melanoma and a 39% higher rate of thyroid cancer, while men had a 16% higher rate of prostate cancer and women a 16% higher rate of breast cancer. Overall, the air crews had a 24% higher rate of cancer of all types.

The study showed ground crews had a 19% higher rate of brain and nervous system cancers, a 15% higher rate of thyroid cancer and a 9% higher rate of kidney or renal cancers, while women had a 7% higher rate of breast cancer. The overall rate for cancers of all types was 3% higher.

An F/A-18 Hornet is seen early morning on the deck of the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier on May 12, 2018 in the Atlantic Ocean.

ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images

There was some good news reported as well. Both ground and air crews had far lower rates of lung cancer, and air crews also had lower rates of bladder and colon cancers.

The data compared the service members with the general U.S. population after adjusting for age, sex and race.

The Pentagon said the new study was one of the largest and most comprehensive to date. An earlier study had looked at just Air Force pilots and had found some higher rates of cancer, while this one looked across all services and at both air and ground crews. Even with the wider approach, the Pentagon cautioned that the actual number of cancer cases was likely to be even higher because of gaps in the data, which it said it would work to remedy.

The study “proves that it’s well past time for leaders and policy makers to move from skepticism to belief and active assistance,” said retired Air Force Col. Vince Alcazar, a member of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, which had lobbied the Pentagon and Congress for help. Alcazar serves on the association’s medical issues committee.

The study was required by Congress in the 2021 defense bill. Now, because higher rates were found, the Pentagon must conduct an even bigger review to try to understand why the crews are getting sick.

Isolating potential causes is difficult, and the Pentagon was careful to note that this study “does not imply that military service in air crew or ground crew occupations causes cancer, because there are multiple potential confounding factors that could not be controlled for in this analysis,” such as family histories, smoking or alcohol use.

Fighter plane lands on military airfield
An F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft extended its landing gear to land at the U.S. military airfield at Spangdahlem.

Harald Tittel/picture alliance via Getty Images

But aviation crews have long asked for the Pentagon to look closely at some of the environmental factors they are exposed to, such as jet fuels and solvents used to clean and maintain jet parts, sensors and their power sources in aircraft nose cones, and the massive radar systems on the decks of the ships they land on.

When Navy Capt. Jim Seaman would come home from a deployment aboard an aircraft carrier, his gear would reek of jet fuel, his widow Betty Seaman said. The A-6 Intruder pilot died in 2018 at age 61 of lung cancer. Betty Seaman still has his gear stored and it still smells of fuel, “which I love,” she said.

She and others wonder if there’s a link. She said crews would talk about how even the ship’s water systems would smell of fuel.

She said she and others have mixed feelings about finally seeing in data what they have suspected for years. But “it has the potential to do a lot of good as far as early communication, early detection,” she said.

The study found that when crew members were diagnosed with cancer, they were more likely to survive than members of the general population, which the study suggested was because they were diagnosed earlier due to regular required medical checkups and were more likely to be in better health because of their military fitness requirements.

The Pentagon acknowledged that the study had gaps that likely led to an undercount of cancer cases.

The military heath system database used in the study did not have reliable cancer data until 1990, so it may not have included pilots who flew early-generation jets in the prior decades.

The study also did not include cancer data from the Department of Veterans Affairs or state cancer registries, which means it did not capture cases from former crew members who got sick after leaving the military medical system.

“It is important to note that study results may have differed had additional older former service members been included,” it said.

To remedy that, the Pentagon is now going to pull data from those registries to add to the total count, the study said.

The second phase of the study will try to isolate causes. The 2021 bill requires the Defense Department not only to identify “the carcinogenic toxicants or hazardous materials associated with military flight operations,” but also determine the type of aircraft and locations where diagnosed crews served.

After her husband got sick, Betty Seaman asked him if he would have chosen differently, knowing his service might be linked to his cancer.

“I flat-out asked Jim. And he, without hesitation, said, ‘I would have still done it.'”

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GOP donor Anton Lazzaro faces trial on charges of sex trafficking minors

GOP donor Anton Lazzaro faces trial on charges of sex trafficking minors

MINNEAPOLIS – A formerly well-connected Republican donor, accused of plying petite, vulnerable teenage girls with cash, liquor and gifts, goes on trial Tuesday on federal charges of sex trafficking minors.

Anton “Tony” Lazzaro is charged with seven counts involving “commercial sex acts” with five minors ages 15 and 16 in 2020, when he was 30 years old. His indictment touched off a political firestorm that led to the downfall of Jennifer Carnahan as chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota.

His co-defendant, Gisela Castro Medina, who formerly led the College Republicans chapter at the University of St. Thomas, pleaded guilty to two counts last year. She is cooperating with prosecutors and will testify against him. She faces sentencing in August.

READ MORE: Anton Lazzaro to remain detained until trial on charges he paid underage victims for sex, judge rules  

Lazzaro denies the sex-trafficking allegations. He says the government targeted him for political reasons and because of his wealth.

Prosecutors say it’s simply a sex-trafficking case. They have not signaled any intent to call political figures as witnesses, nor has the defense. U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz has already rejected Lazzaro’s claims of selective prosecution.

But Lazzaro insists he’s innocent and that the charges are politically motivated.

“Mr. Lazzaro believes he is being targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice for his political activities,” spokeswoman Stacy Bettison said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The unusual application of the federal sex trafficking statute to the facts in Mr. Lazzaro’s case supports his beliefs. He is not alone in his view that the U.S. Department of Justice is politicizing prosecutions. Many other individuals, including many members of Congress and most recently the Senate Judiciary Committee, have recently raised legitimate and credible concerns that Attorney General (Merrick) Garland is politicizing the department by aggressively investigating Republicans and conservative activists, like Mr. Lazzaro.”

Tony Lazzaro (credit: Sherburne County)

Carnahan is the widow of U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died of kidney cancer in February 2022. She denied knowing of any wrongdoing by Lazzaro before the charges were unsealed in August 2021, and she condemned his alleged crimes. But his arrest fueled outrage among party activists. Allegations surfaced that she created a toxic work environment and abused nondisclosure agreements to silence her critics. She resigned a week later.

Carnahan and Lazzaro became friends when she ran unsuccessfully for a legislative seat in 2016. He backed her bid to become party chair in 2017 and attended her 2018 wedding to Hagedorn. They hosted a podcast together for a few months.

Lazzaro also helped run the campaign of Republican Lacy Johnson, who failed to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, in 2020. Pictures on Lazzaro’s social media accounts showed him with prominent Republicans, including former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence. He founded a political action committee called Big Tent Republicans, which advocated for a more inclusive party.

Lazzaro gave more than $270,000 to Republican campaigns and political committees over the years, including $42,000 to the state party organization and $31,000 to Hagedorn’s campaign. Several recipients quickly donated those contributions to charity after the charges became public, including U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, of Minnesota, who received $15,600 but suffered no repercussions. Emmer became majority whip in January.

Prosecutors alleged in their trial brief earlier this month that Lazzaro conspired with Castro Medina and others to recruit 15- and 16-year-old girls to have sex with him in exchange for cash and valuable items. They met in May 2020 on a “sugar daddy” website when she was 18 years old and finishing high school, prosecutors wrote.

According to the brief, Lazzaro had “a stated sexual preference for young, tiny girls” and liked them “broken” and vulnerable – but without tattoos. Prosecutors say he paid Castro Medina “well over $50,000,” including money for her tuition, her off-campus apartment and her Mini Cooper.

He often sent cars to take the girls to his luxury penthouse condo at the Hotel Ivy in downtown Minneapolis, prosecutors said.

“Once the girls Castro Medina recruited arrived at Lazzaro’s apartment, a similar pattern ensued,” the brief alleges. “Lazzaro would brag about his wealth and connections. He would give the girls – small and young – hard liquor. Lazzaro would take out stacks of cash and offer the girls precise sums of money to perform certain sex acts with him, and with each other. $100 to kiss. $400 for sex. And so forth. He would send them home with cash, vapes, alcohol, Plan B, cell phones, and other items of value.” Plan B is a form of emergency birth control.

Lazzaro is also the target of a lawsuit by one alleged victim who claims he offered $1,000 in hush money to her and her parents and asked them to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

The charges against Lazzaro, who has been jailed since his arrest and has been denied bail, carry mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years with a maximum potential of life in prison.

The sources of Lazzaro’s wealth are murky. Defense filings have called him “an up-and-coming real estate owner and entrepreneur.” Items seized from him included a 2010 Ferrari and more than $371,000 in cash. The government put his net worth in a bond report at more than $2 million but said its calculations didn’t include his “extensive” but hard-to-trace cryptocurrency holdings. It noted that the search yielded multiple types of foreign currency, plus precious metals worth more than $500,000.

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Warren says proposal to lift FDIC insurance cap has "got to be on the table right now"

Warren says proposal to lift FDIC insurance cap has "got to be on the table right now"

Washington — Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Sunday that a proposal from Congress to lift the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) insurance cap from its current $250,000 limit is an option that has “got to be on the table right now” as lawmakers debate how to respond to the rapid collapse of two banks earlier this month.

“I think the lifting the FDIC insurance cap is a good move,” Warren said in an interview with “Face the Nation.” “Now the question is where’s the right number on lifting? But recognize that we have to do this, because these banks are under-regulated, and if we lift the cap, we are requiring — or relying even more heavily on the regulators to do their jobs.”

The Democratic senator said the key question for Congress to work through is where to set the insurance cap for FDIC deposits.

“Is it $2 million? Is it $5 million? Is it 10 million?” she said. “Small businesses need to be able to count on getting their money to make payroll, to pay the utility bills. Non-profits need to be able to do that. These are not folks who can investigate the safety and soundness of their individual banks. That’s the job the regulators are supposed to do.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on “Face the Nation,” March 19, 2023.

Warren declined to say whether she is speaking with the White House about a plan to lift FDIC insurance levels above its $250,000 cap, but said “it is one of the options that’s got to be on the table right now.”

The abrupt closure of Silicon Valley Bank on March 10, followed by the collapse of Signature Bank of New York days later, sent federal banking regulators scrambling to craft a plan to shore up the banking system and reassure Americans they can have confidence in the financial system. 

As part of the emergency measures from the Biden administration was to ensure all depositors with accounts at Silicon Valley Bank would have access to all of their money. The Federal Reserve also set up a new lending facility to help financial institutions meet depositors’ needs. 

But the collapse of the two banks has put renewed scrutiny on top banking regulators, including Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.

Warren said Sunday that regulators and the executives of these banks should be held accountable, and criticized the Fed and Powell specifically, who she said is a “dangerous man to have in this position.” 

“We need accountability for our regulators who clearly fell down on the job, and that starts with Jerome Powell, and we need accountability for the executives of these large financial institutions,” Warren said. “Look, there should be clawbacks for Gary Becker and the others who explode these banks.”

The senator from Massachusetts also said she does not have confidence in Mary Daly, the president of the San Francisco Fed, as public disclosures indicated as early as December there were issues with Silicon Valley Bank.

“The Fed should have acted, but the San Francisco Fed and the Federal Reserve Bank,” she said. “Remember the Federal Reserve Bank and Jerome Powell are ultimately responsible for the oversight and supervision of these banks. And they have made clear that they think their job is to lighten regulations on these banks. We’ve now seen the consequences.”

Warren said Powell “needs to turn around 180 degrees and put these banks under more careful scrutiny,” and Congress tighten banking regulations.

“This whole tranche of banks has been under-regulated for five years now. And people are very concerned about when you lift the hood, what’s under the hood, since the regulators clearly have not been on top of their job,” she said. “It’s the reason that I’m calling right now for changes in the Fed in its regulatory approach, and changes in Congress so that we’ve rolled back the authorization to lighten those regulations.”

Warren on Sunday separately called for an independent investigation into the bank and regulatory failures, and requested the inspectors general at the Treasury, FDIC and Federal Reserve provide a preliminary report to Congress in 30 days.

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