As Democrats scramble to craft their midterm strategy amid rising fears of a GOP takeover, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday implored the party’s leadership to offer voters an honest assessment of the role Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema played in tanking the popular Build Back Better agenda — and make clear that a larger Democratic majority is necessary to push it over the finish line.
“Say to the American people: ‘Look, we don’t have the votes to do it right now. We have two corporate Democrats who are not going to be with us,’” Sanders (I-Vt.) said in an interview with Politico, warning that the increasingly authoritarian Republican Party stands “an excellent chance of gaining control of the House and quite possibly the Senate” if Democrats don’t change direction.
“The leadership has got to go out and say we don’t have the votes to pass anything significant right now. Sorry. You got 48 votes. And we need more to pass it,” added the Vermont senator. “That should be the message of this campaign.”
Democrats are clinging to slim majorities in both chambers, and the death of the party’s flagship climate and social spending package at the hands of Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sinema (D-Ariz.) has intensified concerns that Republicans are set to win big in November despite the unpopularity of the GOP’s agenda, as laid out by National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.).
The Republican platform that Scott unveiled in February would, among a slew of other moves, hike taxes on the poor and sunset all federal legislation after five years — a policy that would eliminate Social Security, Medicare, and other key programs.
Congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden have seized upon Scott’s right-wing blueprint as part of their midterm messaging, but Sanders — who has been sounding the alarm over a possible midterm wipeout since January — argued Wednesday that “you really can’t win an election with a bumper sticker that says: ‘Well, we can’t do much, but the other side is worse.’”
Instead, the Vermont senator said Democrats should embrace — and vow to approve — policies that are widely supported by the party’s base but impossible to pass as long as Manchin and Sinema remain a decisive force in the upper chamber.
“Two corporate Democrats, Sens. Manchin and Sen. Sinema, sabotaged [Build Back Better],” Sanders told Politico. “And it has been downhill ever since for the Democratic Party.”
According to the Washington Post, Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have restarted talks over a legislative package that would likely be much smaller than the $1.75 trillion bill passed by the House last November, but there’s little hope that the negotiations will yield concrete results.
“They have been negotiating for nine months,” Sanders said. “This is not exactly terribly effective negotiation. And during those nine months, support for Democrats has dissipated very rapidly.”
Directly addressing Biden, whose approval rating has dipped below 40% as he loses support among young voters and people of color, Sanders argued the president should do as much as he can through executive action and tell the Democratic base: “I want to raise the minimum wage, I want to deal with Medicare, I want to deal with housing, I want to deal with climate, I can’t do it. I need more votes.”
Thus far, as Politico reported in April, Biden’s election-year strategy has largely been “to emphasize police and defense spending, accentuate federal deficit reduction, and propose higher taxes on the ultra-rich.”
“Unless we turn around,” Sanders warned, “the voter turnout is going to be very, very low.”