BUMBLING BERNIE: Sanders Seeks to Boost Biden, ‘the Squad’ in 2024

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says he vehemently disagrees with President Biden on his Israel policy and has even suggested Biden may lose his reelection bid over it.

But the 82-year-old progressive leader, who recently announced he’ll run for a fourth term, still plans on stumping for the president, making the case to what he describes as unenthusiastic young and liberal voters around the country that they should hold their noses and vote for him.

“It’s no great secret that there is not an enormous amount of enthusiasm for either candidate,” Sanders said in a May 8 interview. “People who are voting for Trump have doubts about him, as well. But when it comes down to it, it’s not Biden versus God, it is Biden versus Trump. And I think, there is no question in my mind that Biden is, by far by, by far the superior candidate.”

Sanders, who ran against Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, bluntly laid out what he feels are legitimate gripes young people have with Biden and Democrats, many of whom have recently distanced themselves from the campus protests sweeping the nation.

Biden and some Democratic lawmakers have suggested the protests against U.S. support for Israel’s invasion of Gaza have sometimes turned antisemitic, amid reports of harassment against Jewish students and heated protests against Israel’s conduct in the war.

“His view on Gaza distresses me,” Sanders said of Biden, although he praised his decision to pause delivering some weapons. “And the political implications are you’re going to have a lot of young people, a lot of energy that might not go into the campaign, which could make all the difference.”

On Friday, the Biden administration made an announcement that could further frustrate progressives like Sanders: it said it was “reasonable to assess” Israel violated intentional law using U.S. weapons in Gaza but found there’s not enough information to draw a firm conclusion – which means American military aid to Israel can continue.

Sanders said there has been a “real failure on the part of Democratic Party leadership” when it comes to speaking to young people.

“They are the future of America, and it does not make me feel good that large numbers of young people are turning away from the political process, or really feel there is no difference between the Democratic and Republican parties,” Sanders said. He has pressed Biden to lay out a clear second-term agenda that focuses on the priorities of working-class people.

The Vermont independent, who ran for president twice and caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, said he also plans to campaign for progressive House members who have been targeted over their criticism of how Israel has handled the war. The bipartisan American Israel Public Affairs Committee has endorsed challengers to some of these members, sometimes referred to as “the Squad,” and reportedly is prepared to spend millions this cycle.

“I will be standing with those young people and campaigning with them to the degree that they would like my support,” Sanders said. “We’re already beginning to raise some money for them.” He also said he would work with trade union leaders ahead of 2024, but did not say whether he planned to stump for any of his Senate colleagues, some of whom are running for reelection in red states.

Sanders could be especially helpful for Biden in Michigan, where he opposed a movement endorsed by some of his allies to get Democratic voters to withhold their primary votes for Biden in protest over his positions in the war.

Sanders recently warned on CNN that the war could be Biden’s “Vietnam” – a reference to the late president Lyndon B. Johnson losing the support of his party for reelection during widespread unrest over Vietnam despite a slew of liberal domestic achievements.

“I think President Biden has a lot to be proud of, a lot to defend,” Sanders said, listing his work to forgive some student loan debt and pass sweeping climate change reforms. “But I worry very much that not only young people, but a significant part of the Democratic base is very upset at him for his continued support, financial support, military support of the Netanyahu war machine.”

Polling, however, suggests a more complicated picture. Nearly 60 percent of liberals say the United States isn’t doing enough to protect Palestinian civilians, according to a recent ABC News poll, and 40 percent of Democrats say the United States is doing too much to help Israel. But just 12 percent of Americans said it would be one of their most important issues.

Despite his occasionally cutting public criticism, Sanders chats regularly with top aides in the West Wing, including senior adviser Anita Dunn and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

“He doesn’t mince words,” Dunn told the Associated Press. “He’s very direct with us, pretty blunt, and that’s a good thing.”

Sanders may be a helpful surrogate for Biden in another respect: He’s also an octogenarian seeking reelection and has made a forceful case for his own fitness for the job. He will be nearing 90 at the end of another six-year term. Sanders says that apart from his bout with covid, he hasn’t missed a day of work due to illness in three years.

“I would not have run if I didn’t think I had the energy,” he said. “And I think, you know, it is appropriate to look at age as a factor, but it is only one factor. What’s most important, I think, is what somebody stands for, what their views are and their ability to fight for those views.”

(c) 2024, The Washington Post · Liz Goodwin 


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