Obama, Sanders, and Warren back Biden: ‘Lives and democracy at stake’
Former President Barack Obama endorsed Joe Biden for president in a video he released yesterday. | Susan Walsh/AP

Three big endorsements that presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden picked up from April 13-15 – first from his last remaining foe, Bernie Sanders, then from his old boss, Barack Obama, and third from Elizabeth Warren – hit two big themes: The need to redo the economy to help workers, not the 1%, and to help Biden save democracy from GOP White House occupant Donald Trump and his Republicans.

Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, was Biden’s last foe from an original Democratic field of 24 running for the party nod to take on Trump this fall. Biden’s latest win came in Wisconsin a week after the GOP forced voters to risk their health – due to the coronavirus pandemic – by standing in line for hours to cast ballots.

Wisconsin reinforced the former vice president’s lead in delegates and in voting share. Biden won by about a 2-to-1 ratio in the Badger State.

Obama called his selection of Biden as his vice-presidential running mate in 2008 “one of the best decisions I ever made.” The former constitutional law professor, Illinois state senator, and U.S. senator also declared – without naming him — that Trump, unlike Biden, disregards the rule of law, the norms of a democracy and indeed, U.S. values.

Bernie Sanders | David Zalubowski/AP

All Trump and his Republicans are interested in, said Obama, “is power.”

Warren joined the parade of big-name endorsers this morning in a tweet: “In this moment of crisis it’s more important than ever that the next president restore Americans’ faith in good, effective government – and I’ve seen Joe Biden help our nation rebuild.”

All three blasted Trump for disregarding the coronavirus threat, thus plunging the nation into a deep recession – at least – by severely delaying needed separation measures and closures designed to slow and stop the “community spread” of the virus.

“This is a president who downplayed the pandemic, who dismissed the good advice his people were giving him” on how to combat it, Sanders added. And Trump “did not use the Defense Production Act early on so we could provide the masks, the gowns, the gloves, the ventilators they” – essential workers – “desperately need.”

As of the morning of April 15, the coronavirus sickened more than 600,000, killing at least 23,000. More than 16.8 million people are now jobless and the unemployment rate has passed the 10% peak of the Great Recession, which Obama and Biden had to deal with when they took over from George W. Bush in 2009.

But the two also hit Trump hard for the complete disregard for law, as Obama put it, and ignorance of the U.S. Constitution, as Sanders said.

Trump, the strongly pro-worker senator declared, is likely “a president who has never read the Constitution of the United States, and who believes he is above the law.”

Trump is “a president who lies all the time, who has shown he’s a racist, and a sexist and a homophobe and a xenophobe and a religious bigot.”

And Sanders, preceding Obama, willingly endorsed Biden. Sanders said the former vice president’s election is needed to limit “the most dangerous president in modern history” of the U.S. to one term in the White House. Both promised to enthusiastically campaign for him.

“Right now, we need Americans to unite against a politics that has been characterized by corruption, carelessness, self-dealing, disinformation, ignorance, and just plain meanness,” Obama said, listing Trump’s political characteristics without naming him.

Obama followed that by declaring his successor “disregarded American principles of the rule of law, American principles of voting rights, of transparency…principles that are the bedrock of our democracy.”

“So our country’s future hangs on this election. And it won’t be easy,” the former president warned. “The other side has a massive war chest” – some estimates put Trump’s cash haul at $600 million and counting – “and a propaganda network with little regard for the truth.”

Sanders talked more about the economy, and particularly economic inequality, than Obama did, though the former president did so in excoriating an economy that has left its most “essential” fighters against the coronavirus pandemic – “health professionals, delivery drivers, school teachers” – “underpaid, financially stretched and given little support.”

He admitted those conditions preceded Trump’s election and the coronavirus pandemic. It’s only exposed the severity of the problems for all to see, Obama noted.

He then lauded Biden for guiding the $787 billion economic recovery legislation through Congress in 2009 after the financier-caused crash the year before robbed people of their jobs, homes, pensions and sometimes their future. Obama had Biden closely monitor the spending to avoid waste and fraud.

But Obama passed up the chance to remind voters the GOP forced him to make that recovery law corporate-heavy. He did not admit his own Justice Department did not prosecute individual financiers and finaglers whose machinations brought the crash down on everybody else. Companies were fined.

Sanders still differs from Biden on health care, with the senator continuing to push for government-run single-payer Medicare For All. At least a dozen unions, led by National Nurses United – which has made that its top national and state priority for years – back it. Biden defended and wants to expand the Affordable Care Act, as did Obama in his speech.

Biden lobbied lawmakers to pass the ACA in 2009-2010 when it squeaked through on party-line votes in both the House and the Senate. Again unmentioned: Trump and congressional Republicans tried, unsuccessfully, 62 times, to repeal it. They chanted “repeal and replace” but their replacement: Nothing. Repeal would leave tens of millions of people at the mercy, or lack of it, of the health insurers.

Obama agreed with Biden that “we have to protect the gains of the ACA,” but saying it needs some improvements. “It’s time to go further and make plans affordable for everyone, through (enacting) a public option, and through expanding Medicare, so that health care for everyone isn’t just a right, but a reality.”  The insurers forced Obama to drop the public option a decade ago.

Sanders and then-Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, tried hard to get both the public option and Medicare For All, even on a state-by-state basis, into the ACA. They lost.

“Empathy matters,” Warren said in her endorsement tweet. “And, in this moment of crisis, it’s more important than ever that the next president restores faith in good, effective government. Joe Biden has spent nearly his entire life in public service. He knows that a government run with integrity, competence, and heart will save lives and save livelihoods. And we can’t afford to let Donald Trump continue to endanger the lives and livelihoods of every American.”

Both Sanders and Obama also enthusiastically pledged to get out on the hustings and campaign for Biden this fall.

Obama stayed presidential in the White House in 2016 and has refrained from campaigning, or even an endorsement, until now.

Some Sanders supporters are still leery of backing Biden, though less so now than in 2016, when Clinton was the nominee, and the assumed winner – until the results came in that November evening. She won the popular vote and lost in the Electoral College.

Elizabeth Warren | Patrick Semansky/AP

“The #DemocraticParty circled the wagons to maintain Wall Street Control,” tweeted RoseAnn DeMoro, former executive director of National Nurses United, the first union to back Bernie both in the 2016 campaign and now. “We changed the narrative, won the ideological struggle, Bernie is right about that. But our representatives will still belong to the wealthy. Wall Street Won again. Thank you, Bernie. We will carry on.”

“We sincerely thank Bernie for running a strong campaign and winning on the issues that matter most to working people. Because of Bernie and the grassroots organizing he inspired, issues like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and the Fight for $15 are more popular than ever,” said former Communications Workers President Larry Cohen, president of Our Revolution, the organization Sanders backers founded four years ago.

“Not only has Bernie won the issues debate, but he’s also inspired a new generation of progressive candidates to run on his platform up and down the ballot and mobilized the grassroots to fight locally to make the Democratic party more open and transparent. In these ways, his campaign was a resounding success…Bernie’s campaign was the spark and the fuse has been lit.”

And progressive youth groups, led by the Sunrise Coalition and March For Our Lives, made clear Biden would have to move closer to Sanders’s positions on various issues. So did Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in a New York Times interview, though she said she would vote for the former veep.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.