It’s a tricky balancing act for what’s shaping up to be a pivotal few weeks for Sanders, a two-time presidential candidate who Republicans like to assert is essentially running the party’s policy operation. Yet Sanders is eager to meet Republicans where they are, literally.
The Vermont senator is barnstorming conservative Iowa and Indiana this weekend to sell Democrats’ sweeping visions of hiking taxes on the wealthy and corporations while expanding health care coverage, taking climate action and increasing access to education. He’s also expected to host an event in Michigan with progressive Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib.
“I understand that budget chairpersons, historically, have done their work within the Beltway in D.C. I think really the function of a budget chairman is to get out among the people,” Sanders said. “What we are proposing in this budget is going to be enormously popular.”
Yet as he seeks to increase support among working class Republicans across the country, Sanders also must ensure he can keep his fellow 49 Democratic Caucus members on board in D.C. It’s part of an inside-outside game Sanders has worked on for years — in part with his fellow Brooklynite-turned-majority leader.
“He’s great at coming up with ideas and getting a movement behind it, but now he’s proven to be a really good legislator as well,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “We’ve worked so closely together, we probably talk four or five times a day.”
Sanders said if he could, he would travel to all 50 states this fall to make his case. And he did not rule out West Virginia and Arizona, home to the Senate’s two most conservative Democrats.
Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are the most obvious obstacles to implementing Sanders’s agenda, with Sinema reiterating her opposition to a $3.5 trillion spending bill earlier this week. Though Sanders wrote the budget and is one of the most public faces of both the spending bill and the effort to increase taxes on the wealthy, he said the massive spending bill will pass because most of the bill is based on Biden’s jobs and family plans.
“Democrats have a very slim majority in the House. We have no majority in the Senate. That’s it. It is 50/50,” Sanders said. “Trust me, there are a lot of differences in the Senate among the Democrats. But at the end of the day, every Democrat understands that it is terribly important that we support the president’s agenda. And most of these ideas came from the White House.”