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Thu, Jul

In Private Meeting, Sanders Urged Biden to Embrace FDR-Style Agenda

VOICES

ELECTION WATCH - In a private meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and his top advisers last fall, Sen. Bernie Sanders urged his former rival in the 2020 presidential race to disregard pundits and strategists deeply embedded in the Washington, D.C. "bubble" who believe the president can ignore the daily economic strife of millions of Americans, and speak candidly to voters who are struggling despite his administration's accomplishments. 

As The Washington Postreported Wednesday, the Vermont Independent senator called on Biden to take inspiration from former President Franklin Roosevelt, who won reelection in 1936—three years after he introduced the first New Deal programs—after running a campaign in which he made clear that he would continue fighting for the working class and the 16% of Americans who were unemployed. 

According to the Post, Sanders pointed to a portrait of Roosevelt in the Oval Office and quoted his 1936 remark about powerful corporations' and Wall Street's opposition to the New Deal: "Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred."

Sanders told the Post that Biden "has a lot to be proud of" in his first term and that he should continue to "proudly talk about those achievements," including the inclusion of Medicare drug price negotiating power in the Inflation Reduction Act and his push for more clean energy manufacturing. 

But Sanders emphasized in the private meeting that neither Biden's accomplishments nor the relatively low unemployment rate change the fact that many working people are struggling to afford essentials as corporations keep prices high for consumer goods and the costs of essentials including rent and childcare rise.

"You have to understand that people can't afford housing. The healthcare system is broken... If you want to get reelected, talk about how you're going to solve and address those enormously important issues."

One of Biden's accomplishments, the expansion of the child tax credit in 2021, pushed child poverty to a record low before it was allowed to expire by Republicans and right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, after which the rate roughly doubled

Like Roosevelt, Sanders told the president and his advisers, Biden should call out his public enemies and those who are to blame for the suffering of working people. 

"You have to understand that people can't afford housing. The healthcare system is broken. The housing system is broken. We have more income inequality than we've ever had," Sanders told the newspaper. "If you want to get reelected, talk about how you're going to solve and address those enormously important issues."

The senator, who has previously pushed Biden to embrace Social Security expansion and proposals to lower drug costs, called on the president to explain to voters an agenda for the first 100 days of his second term if the Democrats win the House and maintain control of the Senate, modeled on Roosevelt's historically productive first 100 days in office. 

Expanding Social Security and Medicare benefits to help senior citizens, 23% of whom live in poverty; taxing the estates of the richest Americans; and raising the minimum wage should be agenda items for the beginning of Biden's second term, said Sanders. 

"Democrats seem to think—many of them—that, only if we can explain all that we have accomplished, people will come on board. But that ignores the pain ordinary people are now experiencing," Sanders said. "He has got to lay out a progressive agenda that speaks to the needs of working people, and promise if he has a Democratic majority in the House and Senate that he will implement that in the first few months of his term."

(Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams where this article was first published.)