Bernie Sanders hits back at Trump's 'socialist' taunts ahead of campaign swing

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WASHINGTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders is hitting back at President Donald Trump’s taunts of what he calls a failed “socialist” agenda, saying the president and his Republican allies want to shred popular programs like Medicare and Social Security to provide tax cuts for the privileged few.

The Vermont independent, who ran for president as a Democrat in 2016, said Trump is a “pathological liar” who makes false statements about something different every day, including health care. In an op-ed for USA TODAY, Trump alleged Sanders’ proposal for a “Medicare for All,” government-run health care system would “end Medicare as we know it and take away benefits that seniors have paid for their entire lives.” GOP candidates are also trying to link their Democratic opponents to the proposal in attack ads.

“This is a president who in his budget proposed cuts of 1 trillion dollars in Medicaid over a ten-year period – these are ten-year numbers – $500 billion in Medicare and 72 billion dollars in the Social Security trust fund, OK?” he said in an interview with USA TODAY. “And this is a president who by sabotaging the Affordable Care Act has driven premiums up in many parts of the country. So when he talks about my bill – Medicare for All – people I think should be highly dubious about what he says.” 

Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, said his bill would actually expand benefits for seniors by including dental and vision care and hearing aids. In citing one estimated $32.6 trillion price tag for the proposal over 10 years, Trump also ignores that it would do away with premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for families, Sanders said. Politifact fact-checkers wrote that Americans in the aggregate would pay a lot more to the government to fund health care, but less overall than they’re paying now.

“The reason that he is lying and Republicans are focusing on this issue is that the American people are more and more favorably disposed to Medicare for All,” Sanders said, citing a Reuters/Ipsos poll released in August that showed 70 percent of Americans support a Medicare For All policy.

Sanders made his comments ahead of a nine-state campaign swing for Democrats across the country, beginning Friday in Bloomington, Indiana, for Democratic congressional candidate Liz Watson, who is challenging GOP Rep. Trey Hollingsworth.

As he continues to tout his proposal, some Democrats in swing districts and states are distancing themselves from the program amid GOP attempts to smear them with it.

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., released a new ad, saying “socialists” will turn health care over to the government “over my dead body.” And while the “radical left” wants to eliminate the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Donnelly said he supports it along with Trump’s border wall.

Sanders said he isn’t campaigning with Donnelly, who will “say what he wants to say; he’s running his campaign.” But he hopes Donnelly wins because Senate Democrats will need him to gain a majority.

Republicans who are making the case against a single-payer health care system will welcome Sanders to competitive states and districts, said Cam Savage, a Republican strategist.

“I’m sure a Democratic congressional candidate in Bloomington would welcome him to rally college students, but Joe Donnelly wouldn’t be near that rally for anything,” Savage said.

Not every candidate Sanders is campaigning for on his trip is considered progressive. Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is challenging GOP Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada, and gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, are more mainstream Democrats, who haven’t embraced a Medicare for All proposal. Sanders endorsed one of Whitmer’s opponents during the state’s Democratic primary.

Sanders said Republicans will “lie about anything,” regardless of whether he’s campaigning or not. He said the candidates who invited him seem to think he can help them.

“If I am able to create some political excitement in the states that I go to along with these candidates, and we can drive up the voter turnout, I think that will be very positive,” he said.

Sanders, one of several potential 2020 presidential candidates barnstorming the country ahead of the midterms, will also make stops in Wisconsin, Arizona, Colorado, California and the key Democratic caucus and primary states, Iowa and South Carolina. He’ll stump in Iowa for J.D. Scholten, a Democrat challenging Rep. Steve King, and participate in a Medicare for All rally in South Carolina with state Rep. Justin Bamberg and Our Revolution, the activist spinoff group from his 2016 campaign.

Some South Carolina Democrats complained in an Associated Press story that Sanders’ visit to the Republican-leaning Palmetto state won’t help their candidates. Amanda Loveday, a former executive director of the state Democratic Party who also previously worked for the assistant Democratic leader, Rep. Jim Clyburn, called Sanders’ visit “extremely selfish.”

But candidates in other states are promoting their joint appearances.

Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign fund had nearly $4.8 million on hand as of Sept. 30. But Sanders, who is running for re-election to the Senate, said his focus is “100 percent” on the midterm election and that 2020 is a long way away.

If Democrats win control of the House or Senate, Sanders said he wants to see “quick movement” on legislation to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. He also wants to pass his Medicare for All proposal.

The big reason he’s traveling is to get out the vote, he said. He thinks Democrats have a shot at the winning the House and possibly the Senate if voter turnout is high.

“You just can’t complain and moan and groan,” he said. “People are going to have to get involved, people are going to have to stand up, fight back and vote.”

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Contributing: Maureen Groppe and Erin Kelly, USA TODAY

 

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