Sanders pushes Biden to focus more on wages, health care

Sanders pushes Biden to focus more on wages, health care
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo This week: Congress starts year-end legislative sprint Restless progressives eye 2024 MORE (I-Vt.) is pushing Joe BidenJoe BidenDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized Pfizer to apply for COVID-19 booster approval for 16- and 17-year-olds: report Coronavirus variant raises fresh concerns for economy MORE’s presidential campaign to expand its appeal to liberal voters and boost its focus on kitchen table issues in the final sprint to Election Day.

Sanders, a progressive leader and former 2020 presidential candidate, has been advocating for Biden to put a greater emphasis on issues such as workers' wages and health care coverage, a former campaign aide says.

The Vermont senator “is working as hard as he can to help Joe Biden win the most important election in modern American history” but has said there are areas he thinks the former vice president's campaign can “continue to improve upon,” Faiz Shakir, the senator’s former campaign manager, said in a statement.

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The statement was first reported by The Washington Post and later shared with The Hill.

"He has been in direct contact with the Biden team and has urged them to put more emphasis on how they will raise wages, create millions of good paying jobs, lower the cost of prescription drugs and expand health care coverage," Shakir said.

"He also thinks that a stronger outreach to young people, the Latino community and the progressive movement will be of real help to the campaign," Shakir said.

The Biden campaign declined to comment on the statement.

Sanders first galvanized progressives in the 2016 cycle when he launched a long-shot Democratic primary bid against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE, the party's eventual nominee that year against President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE.

The independent Vermont senator kept up momentum among the party's progressive flank by jumping into the 2020 primaries, winning early victories before ultimately losing ground to Biden.

Sanders suspended his bid in April and has since worked to simultaneously boost Biden – campaigning for him and offering a plea at the Democratic National Convention for his supporters to rally around the former vice president – while also pushing progressive priorities like “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal.

The effort to get Biden to focus more on issues advocated by the party's left flank, which helped propel the senator's two White House bids, is somewhat unusual given that nominees generally modulate their rhetoric in the campaign's final stretch in an effort to appeal to more moderate voters in the general election.

The push underscores concerns among some skeptical liberals that the former vice president is not sufficiently appealing to the party's more progressive members who may not have come around to the former vice president's more centrist brand of politics.

The Post, citing three people familiar with the conversations, reported Saturday that Sanders has told associates that Biden could risk falling short in November if he continues with a more centrist approach.

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Sanders and Biden are known to have a good personal relationship, helping them avoid the acrimony that characterized the months after the 2016 primary season.

Biden has also already offered olive branches to progressives by crafting working groups to unite moderates and liberals, allowing them to hammer out proposals on issues such as climate change and health care, which have produced policies that have included progressive tenets.

Beyond policies, people familiar with the conversations between Sanders and Biden told the Post that Sanders is also concerned that the former vice president has not embraced some high-profile personalities in the progressive movement, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized Restless progressives eye 2024 Five issues that will define the months until the midterms  MORE (D-N.Y.).

But Biden has remained determined to push back on claims from Trump that he’s embraced radical “far-left” policies, distancing himself from calls to defund the police, implement a single-payer health plan and ban fracking. And polls have suggested that voters do not see Biden as a staunch progressive, indicating his moderate reputation remains intact.

“Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters?” Biden said in a speech last month in response to Trump’s claims’ he’d exacerbate national protests over systemic racism. “I want a safe America — safe from COVID, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops.”