Sen. Bernie Sanders said in an interview published Monday that too much of the Democratic Party has “turned its back on the working class” and is in need of a dramatic shift as central elements of its agenda—from voting rights to climate action to social spending—face possible collapse thanks to corporate-backed lawmakers.
In the conversation with The Guardian, Sanders (I-Vt.)—a two-time contender for the Democratic presidential nomination and the current chair of the Senate Budget Committee—said the party must immediately undertake “a major course correction” if it hopes to advance its popular agenda, reverse its falling support among key constituencies, and prevent the increasingly authoritarian GOP from seizing power.
“We have tried a strategy over the last several months, which has been mostly backdoor negotiations with a handful of senators,” Sanders noted, referring to talks over Democrats’ $1.75 trillion reconciliation package and other pressing issues. “It hasn’t succeeded on Build Back Better or on voting rights. It has demoralized millions of Americans.”
“It is no great secret that the Republican Party is winning more and more support from working people,” he said. “It’s not because the Republican Party has anything to say to them. It’s because in too many ways the Democratic Party has turned its back on the working class.”
With the entirety of the Build Back Better Act verging on failure largely due to the persistent obstruction of one lawmaker—fossil fuel industry ally and coal profiteer Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—Sanders called on President Joe Biden and the Democratic leadership to force floor votes on highly popular individual components of the legislation.
Such a tactic, the Vermont senator argued, would at the very least make Manchin, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Senate Republicans go on public record opposing the poverty-reducing child tax credit expansion, lower prescription drug costs, substantial renewable energy investments, and more.
“If I were Senator Sinema and a vote came up to lower the outrageously high cost of prescription drugs, I’d think twice if I want to get re-elected in Arizona to vote against that,” Sanders said. “If I were Mr. Manchin and I know that tens of thousands of struggling families in West Virginia benefited from the expansion of the child tax credit, I’d think long and hard before I voted against it.”
“All these issues, they are just not Bernie Sanders standing up and saying this would be a great thing,” he added. “They are issues that are enormously popular, and on every one of them, the Republicans are in opposition. But a lot of people don’t know that because the Republicans haven’t been forced to vote on them.”
More broadly, Sanders argued that Democrats must be vocal and aggressive in challenging the corporate interests that continue to hold significant sway over many of its members—Manchin and Sinema included—if it hopes to regain the trust of millions of people who feel betrayed or dejected by the party’s direction.
“I think the Democrats are going to have to clear the air and say to the drug companies—and say it loudly—we’re talking about the needs of the working class—and use the expression ‘working class,'” said Sanders. “The Democrats have to make clear that they’re on the side of the working class and ready to take on the wealthy and powerful. That is not only the right thing to do, but I think it will be the politically right thing to do.”
Sanders’ interview came after he spent recent weeks hosting virtual town halls and attending rallies with workers striking for better pay, benefits, and conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic, during which highly profitable corporations have attempted to extract ever more productivity from exhausted and vulnerable employees.
Last last month, Sanders publicly challenged billionaire investor Warren Buffett—one of the richest men on the planet—over his refusal to stand with steelworkers as they fight Precision Castparts’ attempt to hike their healthcare premiums and cut their pay.
Days later, the Vermont senator convened a roundtable discussion with Alabama coal miners, California bakers, and West Virginia steelworkers who he said are “taking on powerful companies, and winning.”
“These entities, where the people on top have done phenomenally well, are squeezing their workers and lowering the standard of living for workers who are striking,” Sanders told The Guardian on Monday. “It’s unacceptable.”