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Sanders: Trump 'Will Have An Ally With Me' If He Stands Up To Corporate America

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally on Capitol Hill Thursday.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally on Capitol Hill Thursday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. has plenty of differences with Donald Trump, but the former Democratic presidential candidate said Thursday there are areas where he could find agreement with the president-elect in the coming year.

"Mr. Trump campaigned as a populist, campaigned as somebody who is anti-establishment, and I have zero doubt that he received the support of many working class people all across the country because of some of the positions that he took," Sanders told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.

Despite being on opposite ends of the political spectrum in many ways, some of those populist ideas from Trump were similar to the ones Sanders made the cornerstone of his insurgent primary campaign, particularly an outspoken opposition to trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Sanders said the two might also be able to find common ground on an increase in infrastructure projects that could create more jobs.

But Sanders added that now it was time to see whether Trump's slogans and campaign promises were for real, and that he and other members of Congress would now hold his feet to the fire, particularly on his pledges not to slash Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

"During the campaign he said a lot, and we will find out soon enough about whether what he said was sincere ... our job is to hold him accountable and we intend to do that," Sanders said.

Sanders added that if Trump keeps his campaign promises and "has the guts" to stand up to corporate America and fight to stop companies from moving overseas, "he will have an ally with me."

Sanders was also very clear on where he disagreed with Trump, saying, "there are places where there can be no compromise — racism, homophobia, sexism, Islamophobia."

The Vermont senator was particularly incensed over Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon, Trump's campaign CEO and former head of Breitbart News, to be a senior strategist in the White House. Sanders said his office has already gotten hundreds of calls calling for Trump to cut ties with Bannon, who has come under scrutiny for his and Breitbart News's ties to the alt-right and the white nationalist movement.

"I would hope very much that President-elect Trump understands the fear and anxiety of [Bannon's] attitudes on race on, his attitude toward women and would try to make the American people feel more comfortable," Sanders said. "And I hope that he would do it by rescinding his nomination of Mr. Bannon."

Sanders also said he hoped Trump would apologize for some of the divisive language he helped fuel on the campaign trail.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a <em>Christian Science Monitor</em> breakfast on Thursday morning at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C.
/ Brian Dozier for The Christian Science Monitor
Brian Dozier for The Christian Science Monitor
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Thursday morning at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C.

"Let me be clear — I happen to think that Donald Trump is a very smart person, and he would not have been elected president if he were not a very smart person. I also have no doubt that he, in his way, loves this country," Sanders said. "I would hope very much that given his background and given some of the, what I consider to be, terrible, terrible things that he has said on the campaign trail to minorities" that he apologizes.

Sanders remains an independent, though he caucuses with Democrats and was just named to their leadership team as the new chairman of outreach, a position he described Thursday as working to transform America through the grassroots and get more people engaged in the political process.

He said that the Democratic Party had failed to do that this election, and now it was time for them to do some "soul searching."

"The evidence is pretty clear," Sanders continued, "that when you lose the White House in a campaign against a gentleman, who, I believe, will enter the White House as the least popular candidate in the history of this country, when you lose the Senate, when you lose the House, when you lose two-thirds of state governor's chairs, when you've lost some 900 seats of legislatures around the country in the last eight year, I think it is time for the Democratic Party to reassess what it stands for and where it wants to go."

Sanders said that amounted to a choice for Democrats to decide whether they're standing with "corporate America" and Wall Street or with a declining middle class. He echoed the sentiment at a rally in Washington Thursday

Those were exactly the same criticisms that Sanders lobbed at Clinton during their bitter primary fight, though he didn't directly criticize the campaign she ran or whether or not a greater emphasis on economic disparity might have helped her win over rural, white working-class voters.

At Thursday's breakfast, Sanders wouldn't speculate on whether or not he might have beaten Trump, though the night before speaking to students at George Washington University he seemed to do just that.

"It doesn't matter. I don't know if I could have won. Who knows. It doesn't make much sense to me to be looking backward. Right now the country is facing enormous crises" of income inequality and rising unemployment, Sanders said, that merit more concern.

Later on Thursday, Sanders held a "People's Rally" on Capitol Hill in conjunction with several progressive groups. He echoed many of the themes he hit on earlier that morning. As the crowd chanted "Bernie! Bernie!" he told them that they were "motivated by love unlike some who are motivated by hatred."

Basia Dugan, 24, was in the crowd and said she approved of Bernie's future-looking message.

"I think Bernie is making a lot of big steps to kind of say it doesn't matter how we got here. We're here now. How are we going to move forward?" said Dugan, who lives in D.C., but is originally from Pittsburgh. "I think he's done a really good job of not making it about him."

Taylor Eldridge, a D.C. resident agreed.

"It's so great that so many people are now fired up again, even though he's no longer in the running to become POTUS," Eldridge said. "I'm glad that he's still firing up the base and expanding that base."

NPR's Brakkton Booker contributed to this story.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.