When we last saw U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) in March, he gave his “political revolution” a big, sunny, Silver State reboot. Just since then, much has changed. More candidates have jumped into the race. A new frontrunner has been crowned. And as that new frontrunner and some of the contenders argue over “electability”, others are aiming to give Sanders a run for his progressive wokeness.
So how is Sanders adapting to this new and ever changing reality? While his campaign decided to shake things up with a more open town hall in Henderson’s Sun City Anthem and more specific solutions on issues like prescription drug prices, he’s sticking to his “old-fashioned” values and “old-fashioned” focus on economic justice in hopes voters appreciate his consistency.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to defeat the worst President in our history. […] Bring people together. We are all Americans. Don’t divide us up!”
– Bernie Sanders
When Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd of just over 1,000 in Old Henderson on March 16, he was riding high in the polls and seemingly making progress in addressing the issues that held him back in 2016. Since then, former Vice President Joe Biden has finally made his run official and snatched the frontrunner mantle for himself. At the same time several of Sanders’ Senate colleagues, such as Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Kamala Harris (D-California), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), have been pushing the envelope on progressive policies for tax reform, climate action, immigrant rights, gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform, and much more.
While speaking with the Sun City Anthem Democratic Club just two days ago, Booker implored upon the crowd, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. […] We don’t need saviors in our politics. We need better results.”
Today, it was Sanders’ turn to address this room full of almost 200 Democrats. And instead of return plenty of “friendly fire” to Booker and the other Democratic candidates, Sanders kept focus on defeating President Donald Trump next year: “We’ve got to do everything we can to defeat the worst President in our history.”
He continued, “What [Trump] is intentionally trying to do is win our votes due to the color of our skin, our country of origin, our religion, our gender, or our sexual orientation. That is an absolute outrage.” For Sanders, he has a very different vision for the presidency: “Bring people together. We are all Americans. Don’t divide us up!”
“In the United States of America, we should not be forced to pay the highest [prescription drug] prices in the world.”
– Bernie Sanders
During a condensed version of his stump speech, Sanders then did a little humble-bragging about how his “radical” ideas from the 2016 campaign, such as “Medicare-for-All” single-payer health care, free public college education, trillion-dollar-plus infrastructure investment, a national $15 per hour minimum wage, and expanding Social Security (including raising the taxable income threshold to pay for it), have since become more popular in the Democratic Party.
For a while, Sanders got more specific in describing the growing problem of prescription drug costs and what he intends to do to solve it. “Last year, the major drug companies made $69 billion in profit. Ten companies, $69 billion in profit. Do you know how they’re able to make so much money? They charging us the highest prices of the world,” Sanders said. He continued, “In the United States of America, we should not be forced to pay the highest prices in the world.”
In a scene reminiscent of Elizabeth Warren’s Las Vegas town hall last month, Sanders placed the blame at the top: “It’s a corrupt political system where big money interests dominate what goes on in our [government].” But then, Sanders pivoted back to the specifics of drug costs as he called for allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug costs, and for allowing the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, and Japan, five nations with stringent safety standards. Sanders has put this into a bill he’s introduced in the Senate, the Prescription Drug Relief Act of 2019, and fellow candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker have co-sponsored the bill.
Sanders promised, “If we do that, and I will do that as President of the United States, we will lower our prescription drug costs by half.” He then added, “We will save a lot of lives by doing that.”
“You want to know why workers are angry? They are going nowhere in a hurry, and they are worried about our kids. […] They should be worried. If we don’t turn this around, these kids will have a lower standard of living than their parents.”
– Bernie Sanders
After getting a bit into the weeds on prescription drug costs, Sanders returned to the bigger picture of inequality and injustice. “The economy today has lower unemployment. That’s good,” Sanders acknowledged. He credited former President Barack Obama for “real progress”, but stated that under Trump, “It ain’t doing so great for ordinary Americans. You have half of ordinary Americans making paycheck to paycheck.”
Sanders then pointed to this as the reason why Trump was elected in 2016, as well as the reason he believes Trump will be defeated in 2020. “You want to know why workers are angry? They are going nowhere in a hurry, and they are worried about our kids,” Sanders declared. He continued, “They should be worried. If we don’t turn this around, these kids will have a lower standard of living than their parents.”
As Sanders pointed out, “The top 1% have more wealth than the bottom 92%. The three wealthiest families have more wealth than the bottom 50%. This is more wealth inequality we have than at any time since the 1920’s.” He then remarked, “I may be old-fashioned, but I believe democracy is one-person-one-vote, not billionaires buying elections.”
“Four years ago, I began this discussion. As President, I plan to end the discussion by bringing ‘Medicare for All’ single-payer health care to this country!”
– Bernie Sanders
After about 22 minutes of speechifying, Sanders spent the following 32 minutes taking questions from the audience. After Sanders touched upon his “Medicare for All” single payer health care plan, a supporter in the audience expressed her frustration over her health insurance costs. Sanders expressed his sympathy: “$2,600 a month? $30,000 a year? Do any of you think this is sane?” Moments earlier, he exclaimed, “Four years ago, I began this discussion. As President, I plan to end the discussion by bringing ‘Medicare for All’ single-payer health care to this country!”
A little later, club member and local gun safety activist Wendy Starkweather declared, “We need safety for all as much as we need ‘Medicare for All’,” then asked what Sanders plans to do on gun violence. His reply: “We have to be aggressive as we can to make sure guns do not fall into the wrong hands.” Sanders specifically promised to sign legislation to expand background checks to all gun sales and ban military-grade assault weapons. He then boasted about how he ran on an assault weapons ban when he ran for Congress in 1988, though he declined to speak about his more checkered legislative history on gun violence since arriving to Congress in 1991.
Another club member then asked whether Sanders will absolutely endorse the Democratic nominee if he himself does not win the nomination. Sanders pointed to his signing of the “We Are Indivisible” 2020 Pledge as proof that he absolutely will. He then got some pushback from another club member who expressed frustration over the fallout from the 2016 campaign, fallout that more recently led to the Sanders campaign’s feud with ThinkProgress and The New York Times’ hit piece on the Center for American Progress last month. Sanders retorted, “I worked harder than anyone else to help [Hillary Clinton] win that election because I already knew how bad Trump would be,” then promised once more to ensure the Democratic nominee defeats Trump in 2020.
“We have a President who’s a pathological liar. He is trying to lead us into an authoritarian system. He has disdain for the Constitution of the United States.”
– Bernie Sanders
On that note, another club member asked about Robert Mueller’s latest explanation of his report and whether Sanders and his Democratic Congressional colleagues will finally do what Mueller didn’t (and claimed he couldn’t) by impeaching Trump. Right around the same time as Elizabeth Warren was (again) explaining her support for impeaching Trump as honoring her “oath to support the Constitution” on ABC’s The View, Sanders instead voiced support for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and her slow-walking of the matter. While Sanders did say, “This President is not above the law. No one is above the law,” he then repeated Pelosi’s claim that Trump allegedly “wants to be impeached” and worried that impeachment proceedings
Earlier in the program, Sanders acknowledged, “We have a President who’s a pathological liar. He is trying to lead us into an authoritarian system. He has disdain for the Constitution of the United States.” Yet when it comes to pursuing a Constitutional solution to this Constitutional crisis, Sanders claimed, “The challenge will be to walk down two paths simultaneously. We can not let Americans think they have been forgotten. […] We can not fall into the trap of letting us do what Trump wants us to do.”
Staying on foreign policy, Sanders also received a couple audience questions on the Middle East. On Yemen, he noted, “You want to know what’s going on in Yemen? Yemen is a poor country. Because of Saudi intervention in that civil war, over 200,000 people have died. They are now at risk of a severe famine. We should not be in that war, and I will do everything I can to get us out of that war.”
In addition, Sanders pledged to continue fighting against any possible Trump administration push to initiate war against Iran and ditch Trump’s haphazard approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in favor of “even-handed policy” that leads to peace. And when it comes to Trump’s autocratic friends, like North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Sanders declared, “You don’t praise someone [Kim] who runs the worst dictatorship in the world. […] You don’t praise Vladimir Putin. You don’t praise the anti-Semitic dictator from Hungary [Viktor Orban].”
“Let’s go forward together, not just to defeat Trump, but to create the kind of nation that the people in the wealthiest nation on earth deserve to have.”
– Bernie Sanders
The final audience question was on Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste. While he voiced support for Nevada’s Congressional delegation in ensuring the federal government removes the weapons-grade plutonium that was secretly shipped in last year and stopping the future shipment of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, Sanders also noted, “I believe the future of energy is in wind and solar. And by the way, I believe this state should be leading the way on wind and solar.” He then added, “No Yucca Mountain. Let’s figure out a safe way to handle this nuclear waste that lasts zillions of years.”
Sanders then closed his presentation with one more call for Democrats to keep their eye on the prize of defeating Trump next year: “This is an unprecedented moment in our history. We must act in an unprecedented manner.” He continued, “Let’s go forward together, not just to defeat Trump, but to create the kind of nation that the people in the wealthiest nation on earth deserve to have.”
Sanders didn’t stay in the room to speak with reporters or speak further with the audience, though his 32 minute Q&A session was a marked departure from previous campaign events that were structured more as lecture-style rallies. Sanders had another town hall in East Las Vegas today, and we’ll have to wait and see if today’s interactions with Nevada voters will lead Sanders and the other Democratic candidates to interact with more Nevada voters like this in the future.