Lagging in the Democratic presidential primary and facing the unique challenge of running for office amid the coronavirus pandemic, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders says he is still assessing his campaign's future.
"It's changing every day because elections are being delayed," Sanders said in an interview with Morning Edition's Noel King.
"Where do we go from here with the elections that are being delayed, where we can't go out and hold rallies or knock on doors? That's what we're looking at right now," Sanders said.
Virtual campaigning has become the new normal for Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden with the coronavirus putting a halt to almost any in-person events or retail politicking. Both candidates have been holding online round tables, almost solely focused on the growing health crisis and the Trump administration's response to it.
Biden currently holds a more than 300 delegate lead in the race for the Democratic nomination. During an online press conference Wednesday, Biden was asked about whether there should be more Democratic primary debates and answered, "I think we've had enough debates. I think we should get on with this."
Sanders conceded that he substantially lagged Biden in the race, saying "it's going to be a very steep road," but said there was value to holding more debates.
"I think the American people, especially in this unprecedented moment in American history, want to hear the ideas that will lead us away from where we are right now," said Sanders, referring to his plans for the economy, criminal justice reform and climate change.
"These are enormously important issues and we need serious debates over them."
Sanders said that the kind of policies he's championed throughout his career are gaining resonance, and pointed to the Senate's passage Wednesday of a $2 trillion economic relief package.
"People might not have thought that the United States Congress, the Republican president, the Republican Senate would do what they did," Sanders said.
"There's a reason for that. And that is that millions of people are now demanding that we have a government that works for all. What role should the campaign play in continuing that fight to make sure that health care becomes a human right, not a privilege, that we raise the minimum wage to a living wage, et cetera, et cetera," he mused.
Sanders said the pandemic has caused Americans to rethink the nature of the role that government can play in their lives.
"I think there is growing sentiment in this country that people now understand that it is incomprehensible that we remain the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care to all, that we have an economy which leaves half of our people...living paycheck to paycheck," Sanders said.
"What kind of system is it where people today are dying, knowing they're sick, but they're not going to the hospital because they can't afford the bill that they'll be picking up?"
Sanders told King he's convinced the Senate's emergency relief package will be followed with another "massive" bill within the next month.
"I think given the nature of the healthcare crisis and the economic crisis, Congress will be back once again for a major, major stimulus package," Sanders said.
NOEL KING, HOST:
Earlier this month, Senator Bernie Sanders did poorly on Super Tuesday. And Joe Biden became the front-runner in the Democratic primary. And yes, that was just this month. But then the coronavirus came, and the campaign changed. Some states postponed their primaries. Campaign rallies stopped altogether. And Senator Sanders had to divide his attention between campaigning for president and dealing with the coronavirus. I asked him yesterday. He just helped pass that $2 trillion coronavirus aid package.
Is there anything about this moment that makes you think perhaps Congress and the country might be more open to the kind of big government programs that you have pushed for for a long time?
BERNIE SANDERS: The answer is yes. I think there is growing sentiment in this country that people now understand that it is incomprehensible that we remain the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all, that we have an economy which leaves half of our people living paycheck to paycheck, 40 million people living in poverty, while we have more income and wealth inequality than any other major country on Earth. And I think what this terrible moment of an unprecedented pandemic - the worst in 100 years - I think in this moment, I think people are beginning to rethink the nature of American society and the role the government plays in our lives.
KING: And do you think that's a good thing?
SANDERS: Absolutely. You know, I think the facts are clear. How does it happen that we are spending twice as much per person on health care, and you have doctors and nurses today at this moment who are putting their lives on the line because they don't even have masks or gloves or gowns to protect them? What kind of system is it where people today are dying, knowing they're sick, but they're not going to the hospital because they can't afford the bill that they'll be picking up?
KING: I want to ask you about the present day, though - 3.3 million people filed for unemployment last week. How long do you think it's going to take to recover from this? And what do you think it's going to take?
SANDERS: I have very little doubt that there will be another massive stimulus package within the next month. I think given the nature of this crisis, what the Congress did yesterday is a step forward. I would've gone a lot further. I'm disappointed that we put 500 million into corporate welfare without any accountability or the kind of transparency that we need. But I think, given the nature of the health care crisis and the economic crisis, Congress will be back once again for a major, major stimulus package.
KING: You are continuing your campaign for the presidency, yes?
SANDERS: We are assessing the situation we're in. It's changing every day because elections are being delayed. We don't hold rallies, obviously. We don't do door-to-door campaigning, which hundreds of thousands of volunteers had been doing. We're doing a virtual campaign, if you like. But right now, we're focusing on the health care and economic crisis facing the country.
KING: OK, that's interesting. I did expect you to just say yes. When you say you're assessing, what does that - may I ask you what that means?
SANDERS: Sure. I mean, this is something - this is what I've said. Look. We have some folks out there - in our campaign, grassroots campaign - who say, you know, Bernie, you should go on and keep the fight going for the ideas that we believe in that are gaining resonance. One of the things that has happened in this campaign is that our ideas are the dominant ideology of the Democratic Party right now. And I'm proud of that.
KING: I wonder at this moment in time, whether or not you're the nominee, do you see the general election being about anything other than the coronavirus? I understand it is still March - late March. We've got a couple months. But right now, it feels like this thing is all-consuming. Is there some concern that we get to November, and people are so focused on this virus that we stop thinking about some of the other things you've brought up?
SANDERS: Yeah, well, I think you raise a very good point. If you just lost your job, and 3.3 million people filed for unemployment insurance in one week, you know what you're worried about? You're worried about, how are you going to feed your family and pay your rent? So, obviously, that is what the country is consumed about. But what I would hope is that we broaden that discussion to not only address how we deal with these crises - and let's be clear - the Trump administration, in terms of this coronavirus, has been so, so, so irresponsible. But even above and beyond all of that, we need some space to be thinking about how we got here and where we want to go. And I think the American people are prepared to do that.
KING: Senator Bernie Sanders, thank you so much for taking the time. We do appreciate it.
SANDERS: Well, thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.