Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders told nearly 2,000 progressive activists on a conference call Wednesday night he is “giving very serious consideration” to running for President. While he has not made a final decision on whether he would run as a Democrat in the primary process or as an independent in the general election, he promised that if he does run, it will not be to merely play the role of “spoiler.”
Democracy for America hosted the 50-minute call that drew about 1,800 members. About 120 questions were submitted, which was “nothing we’ve ever seen before on a DFA live call,” said spokesman Neil Sroka said afterward.
When DFA asked its members last fall who the group should support in a hypothetical 2016 Democratic presidential primary, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was the favorite of 42 percent, but Sanders was second with 24 percent – 1 percentage point ahead of Hillary Clinton. DFA has joined with MoveOn.org to try to recruit Warren to run, but with Warren denying almost daily she will be a candidate, liberal activists could well be looking to Sanders as an alternative to Clinton.
“I’m giving it very serious consideration,” Sanders told the group, “but for a decision of that magnitude and what it means to one’s family and friends, one has to make sure you can do it well. We are reaching out all over the country to determine if we can put together a grassroots organization.
“If we do run, we will be taking on the billionaire class and all the big money interests, including the Koch brothers,” he said. “We have to determine what kind of support is out there and if there is a willingness to mix it up with the big money interests.”
DFA president Charles Chamberlain said DFA members hope Sanders runs as a Democrat. Sanders said he was undecided, but promised, “I will not be a spoiler and help to elect a right-wing Republican as President of the United States.”
Sanders pressed for strong, consistent mobilization of the grassroots.
“If there has been a mistake that President Obama has made, it has been not maintaining a strong ties with the grassroots, with those who have elected him…The only way we succeed is when people are actively involved 365 days a year,” he said.
Sanders said that as ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, he expects the Republican majority will try to impose tax breaks for the wealthy and cut Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. He warned about the consequences of what he called Republicans’ “hatred of government.”
Sanders noted that Wednesday was the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. “It was a disastrous decision that told us corporations are people and billionaires can spend as much as they wan ton political campaign,” including undisclosed “dark money,” he said.
“We’ve got to overturn this horrendous decision” with a constitutional amendment, Sanders said, “and move to public funding of elections. There is no issue out there domestically that is more important.”
In the 114th Congress, Sanders said he will be working against expected GOP efforts to cut Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, and food stamps. “They’ll go after disability benefits to increase military spending.
“I expect a very aggressive effort on the part of the Republicans to protect Wall Street and the wealthiest people of this country against the middle class and working families of this country,” Sanders said.
While he gave generally favorable reviews to President Obama’s State of the Union address, Sanders said he strongly opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which, he said, will mirror the “damage” done by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“Since 2002, we have seen the closings of 60,000 factories in America, and while factories close for many reasons, trade plays a major role,” he said. He called for a coalition with conservatives to kill legislation top fast-track the agreement.
Sanders, the former chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, was a leader in the passage of a $16 billion compromise bill last year to improve services to veterans.
“If this country stands for anything,” he said, “it is a moral responsibility to take care of every man and woman who came home hurt from wars and help their kids.”
Overall, he told the group, “Our views are what the American people believe in. We’ve got the people on our side.”