Bernie Sanders says Gaza could be Joe Biden’s Vietnam. But he is ready to fight for Biden against Trump

Bernie Sanders says Gaza could be Joe Biden’s Vietnam.  But he is ready to fight for Biden against Trump

WASHINGTON | In April, Bernie Sanders repeatedly stood alongside President Joe Biden, promoting their shared achievements on health care and climate at official White House events, while eviscerating Donald Trump in a widely viewed TikTok campaign video.

Just last week, Sanders bluntly warned that the crisis in Gaza could be Biden’s “Vietnam” and invoked President Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision not to run for office while the nation was in uproar over his support for this war.

This is Bernie Sanders’ political dichotomy when it comes to Joe Biden. They are two octogenarians who share a bond that was forged during a fiercely contested primary in 2020 and strengthened by the political achievements of the past three years.

Now, in this election year, Sanders will be Biden’s most powerful emissary to progressives and young voters — a task that will test the senator’s appeal to sectors of the Democratic Party most disillusioned with the president and his policies, particularly on Gaza.

Privately, Sanders has felt less enthusiastic in recent days about making the political case for Biden as the crisis in Gaza deepens, according to a person familiar with Sanders’ feelings. Yet Sanders remains adamant that the specter of Trump’s return to the Oval Office poses too grave a threat, emphasizing that “this election is not between Joe Biden and God.” It’s between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

“I understand that a lot of people in this country are not very enthusiastic about Biden for a number of reasons and I understand that. And I strongly disagree with him, particularly on what’s happening in Gaza,” Sanders said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

But Sanders continued: “You have to have a certain maturity when you approach politics and that is yes, you can disagree with someone. That doesn’t mean you can vote for someone else who might be the most dangerous person in American history, or not vote and allow that other person to win.”

That will be the crux of Sanders’ message throughout November, even as progressive fury over Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza continues to escalate, protests continue to fester, and Sanders’s own criticisms of the administration’s policies are becoming more pointed.

“He’s not trimming the sails on Gaza, because of Biden,” said Sen. Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont, who succeeded Sanders in the House and joined him in the Senate last year. “Bernie’s credibility is that he has maintained his strong positions, and then he will explain why, Biden versus Trump.”


Few can doubt Sanders’ influence throughout the Biden presidency. Once rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, the two men then joined forces to bring together a half-dozen political task forces that supported the party’s policy platform later that year – a unusual undertaking that helped bring the democratic socialist’s supporters into Biden’s fold.

This laid the groundwork for a wave of ambitious policymaking in the first two years of the Biden administration, from a sweeping $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package in early 2021 to legislation to summer 2022 that was a hodgepodge of long-standing Democratic priorities, including less costly prescriptions. medications for Medicare beneficiaries. Sanders, who helped craft these plans as head of the Senate Budget Committee, had been directly encouraged by Biden to go big on these proposals, with assurances that the president supported him.

“You and I have been fighting this for 25 years,” Biden admiringly told Sanders at their joint health care event in April. “Finally, we finally beat Big Pharma. Finally.”

Sanders, like many others who support Biden’s domestic achievements, believes the public still ignores them too much. He was the one who contacted White House officials to organize an event specifically to highlight the falling cost of inhalers.

More than three years into Biden’s term, Sanders’ ties to the West Wing run deep. He speaks regularly not only with the president, but also with his top aides, including White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, senior adviser Anita Dunn and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

“He doesn’t mince words,” Dunn said. “He’s very direct with us, quite direct, and that’s a good thing.”


It took only hours for Sanders, who announced his own re-election bid on Monday, to support Biden’s campaign once the president made it official last April. It was an unequivocal signal to his supporters that, despite all misgivings, it was imperative to support Biden without hesitation.

Still, some Democrats worry that progressives’ anger over Gaza runs so deep that even Sanders can’t persuade them to support Biden. A persistent bloc of voters in several primaries continues to choose “uncommitted” or some variation to protest Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, sometimes far exceeding Biden’s margin of victory in those same states in the 2020 general elections.

For example, more than 48,000 votes cast “uneducated” votes in Wisconsin’s Democratic primary in early April, surpassing the roughly 20,700 votes by which Biden edged Trump, a Republican, in the field state. battle four years ago. This year’s Wisconsin primary took place three weeks after Biden had already clinched the nomination.

“This campaign is in trouble. And Senator Sanders will do everything – again, everything – he can to try to get this man across the finish line,” said Nina Turner, who was national co-chair of Sanders’ 2020 campaign. “I’m not sure it’s going to work this time.”

Mitch Landrieu, national co-chairman of the Biden campaign, told CNN that Sanders’ comparisons to the Vietnam War were an “over-exaggeration.” A March poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics found that 18- to 29-year-olds were less likely to say the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the national issue they were most concerned about, compared to issues like the economy, immigration and abortion.

But it is not only in Gaza that Sanders is putting pressure on Biden and his collaborators. He urges them to change their campaign strategy not only to pit Biden against Trump, but also to set ambitious goals on health care, education, child care and workers’ rights.

Biden’s State of the Union address, which his advisers view as a road map for his second term, was a “general start,” Sanders said, but he added that Biden must do more to inspire voters.

“What I said at the White House is that it’s not enough to just talk about Donald Trump,” Sanders said in the interview. “It’s not enough to talk about your accomplishments, which I have. You must have a bold agenda for the future.

Biden aides point to specific proposals released around the State of the Union, such as a sweeping housing plan that would build or preserve two million homes. Sanders is also currently crafting new health care legislation in tandem with the White House that would extend to all Americans the $2,000 annual cap on prescription costs that the Inflation Reduction Act provides for seniors on benefits. Medicare.


Biden is not shy about pointing out where he parts company with Sanders when given the opportunity.

“I like him, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I’m not a socialist,” Biden said in January 2022. “I’m a traditional Democrat. »

Yet top advisers to the president, long a pillar of the Democratic center-left, and Sanders, the undisputed leader of the party’s progressive wing, say the two men share more traits in common than their ideological positions would suggest.

On the one hand, they both believe that government should be a force for good. Their political careers are rooted in small, sparsely populated states that exposed them to the most hyperlocal and grassroots politics. They have a sense of pragmatism when it comes to working within the realities of the political system, even as Sanders strives to push those boundaries and Biden governs within them.

Biden, as vice president, was the rare establishment Democrat who was warm to Sanders during the senator’s first presidential bid. He invited Sanders to the vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory to discuss his campaign and policy ideas in 2015 – a time when tensions between Hillary Clinton’s coalition and Sanders’ ascendant wing were escalating. more acute.

“I know he felt that even though there was a lot of hostility within the Democratic Party and at the top…he felt warmth and positivity from Joe Biden,” said Faiz Shakir, who served as Sanders’ campaign manager in 2020 and remains a close political adviser.

Even though the 2020 debates were hotly contested, Biden and Sanders never let the differences get personal. Rep. Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, Sanders’ other national co-chair in 2020, recalled that when some of his aides wanted to forcefully attack Biden in personal terms, the senator responded, “Absolutely not.”


Now, Sanders is determined to ensure that Trump doesn’t win again.

The Biden campaign has made it clear to Sanders’ political team that it wants him to be as involved as possible, viewing his long-standing ties to major voting blocs as an asset. Because Sanders campaigned for Biden four years ago, the re-election team also knows very well how Sanders would be most helpful to Biden.

It wouldn’t be a surprise, for example, if Sanders was sent again to Michigan, where he fought for Biden in October 2020, or to union halls to energize working-class voters.

“He knows himself, his team knows him and we know what worked,” said Carla Frank, the Biden campaign’s surrogate operations director.

For his part, Sanders is still wondering how he can be most effective as an activist this fall and how he can best target the audiences who most need to hear his case for Biden, according to his aides.

But “I intend to be aggressive,” Sanders said.

“I consider that this is an extremely important election and that, for my part, I will not remain absent,” he added. “I will be active.”

Associated Press writer Lisa Rathke in Marshfield, Vermont, contributed to this report.