BURLINGTON, Vt. — Bernie Sanders has a problem. He won seat at the table of the Democratic Party by galvanizing a movement, but now he has to work with the party he criticized if he wants to get anything done.
His “Medicare for All” push is a prime example. Universal healthcare is popular enough with progressives to keep his grassroots followers engaged, but it’s not an issue the Democratic establishment is likely to embrace anytime soon.
In an interview with VICE News, Sanders conceded that Medicare for All has no hope of going anywhere in Congress while Republicans are in control, but he told us he’s playing a longer game.
“Things don’t happen overnight. And especially when you’re taking on the entire political establishment, you have to begin someplace,” he said. “Our job now is to mobilize people to talk about the advantages the costs effectiveness, the human right that healthcare is.”
Asked later whether he’d go as far as mounting primary challenges to Democratic incumbents who don’t back Medicare for All, Sanders dodged the question. “That’s political gossip, in which I’m not particularly interested,” he said.
Sanders’ willingness to be a team player reflects an understanding that whatever he hopes to accomplish in his political future — whether he does in fact run for president in 2020, as many speculate he will, or whether he simply wants to see his progressive priorities become law — he’ll need the Democratic establishment on his side.
But he can’t play too nice with the party. Many in his base still feel burned by the DNC after the divisive Democratic presidential primary.
So while, he joined the chairman of the DNC on an April “unity tour” meant to help heal those wounds, he called out the party in a speech at the “People’s Summit,” a gathering of Sanders diehards, just a month later.
“The current model and the current strategy of the Democratic Party is an absolute failure,” he said at the time.
But last week at a town hall in Detroit, he was singing yet another tune. Asked by one disaffected supporter why he hasn’t simply started a new party, Sanders defended the Democrats, insisting his only option was to work within the party. “Don’t lump Democrats and Republicans together,” he said.
“If you want to be critical of Democrats, I’m with you. There’s a lot that we can criticize. But to say that the average Democrat is equivalent to the average Republican member — these are the guys doing voter suppression. They don’t believe in climate change. They condone racism and homophobia.”
“So the place that I am in right now is to try to transform the Democratic Party, to open it up to people like you.”
This segment originally aired August 29, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.