WASHINGTON — A year after Donald Trump’s election, it’s hard for Sen. Bernie Sanders to point to just one thing the president has done as the worst.
Beyond his “terrible policies,” one major concern is that the president has “gone overboard” in trying to divide people based on their color, nation of origin, religion or sexual orientation for “cheap politics,” said Sanders, a Vermont independent and 2016 presidential candidate. But what’s also “deeply disturbing” is that “he lies all of the time.”
Trump ran a “clever” campaign, portraying himself as a different kind of Republican who would represent working people and not just big money interests.
“But a year later if you look at his record, you find that almost everything that he said was a lie,” Sanders told USA TODAY.
Sanders, who defied expectations with his long-shot Democratic primary bid against Hillary Clinton, sat down with USA TODAY to discuss the anniversary of Trump’s election, its aftermath and the Democratic Party’s future.
While some Democrats are calling for Trump’s impeachment, Sanders said that kind of talk is “premature” and that investigations into whether his campaign colluded with Russia should play out first. But he said he was correct in predicting Trump’s presidency would be an “unprecedented disaster” for the country.
Democrats, he said, must confront Trump’s “outrageous behavior” every day, pushing back on his “hate-filled agenda.” But if they want to be successful in future races, they must also push for a progressive agenda that speaks to the needs of the middle and working classes.
Sanders said he sees a role for himself in rebuilding the Democratic Party — as an independent.
“I think the first thing the Democratic Party’s got to do is say to every independent in this country, ‘We want you, come on into the party,’ ” he said. “As an independent, I think I can play a very positive role in telling other independents, ‘You may disagree with Democrats on this and that, but come on in and fight it out and play a role in growing the Democratic Party.’ ”
Even if Democrats are united against Trump, the party clearly remains divided after the Democratic primary and revelations suggesting that the Democratic National Committee favored Clinton. Former interim DNC chairwoman Donna Brazile reopened those wounds with her new book, revealing a controversial agreement the Clinton campaign had with the DNC since August 2015. The agreement gave the campaign control of the DNC’s finances and strategy in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, she wrote.
Trump weighed in, tweeting on Nov. 3 “The real story on Collusion is in Donna B’s new book. Crooked Hillary bought the DNC & then stole the Democratic Primary from Crazy Bernie!”
Sanders fired back, “We won’t be distracted from your efforts to give billionaires tax cuts, take health care from millions and deny climate change. Do your job.”
We won't be distracted from your efforts to give billionaires tax cuts, take health care from millions and deny climate change. Do your job. https://t.co/35eWaiMuYt
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) November 3, 2017
Sanders wrote in an email to his supporters Monday that Brazile’s book excerpt shows they won’t be effective in taking on Trump and the “extremist” right-wing agenda “unless we get our act together,” promote a “fair and transparent political process” and refashion the Democratic Party into a grass-roots party.
During the interview with USA TODAY, he focused on the work of the DNC’s Unity Reform Commission as key to the party’s future. The commission, which includes Sanders and Clinton supporters and the DNC chair’s appointees, is expected to vote next month on recommendations to increase voter participation in the presidential nominating process, involve new and unaffiliated voters and broaden the party’s base.
Sanders has been calling for electoral reforms since the primary. He wants to limit the number of superdelegates, the party leaders and elected officials who can vote for the candidate of their choice at the convention and who overwhelmingly backed Clinton in 2016. He’s also calling for a more open primary process with same-day registration to encourage more voter participation.
“The goal is to open up the process to get more people in, it means having the caucuses have more accountability and it also means more transparency and democracy at the Democratic National Committee,” he said.
Sanders is the first independent to hold a party leadership position since the modern leadership structure began. As chair of outreach for Senate Democrats, he has organized more than 170 rallies and visited 19 states for events that include rallies for the Affordable Care Act, according to his office. He says Democrats need to get out of Washington,D.C., more and focus on creating a 50-state party, backing good candidates in places like Iowa and Kansas, even if they’re going to lose.
“You have many states where there is almost no Democratic Party presence,” he said. “The Democratic Party has got to take a deep breath and say, ‘Our approach has failed, we need to rethink it in a very fundamental way.’”
Democrats’ big wins Tuesday in Virginia and New Jersey governors’ races, along with down-ballot races, were “a referendum on President Trump, and he lost badly,” showing Americans are “deeply concerned about his temperament, policies and efforts to divide our country up,” Sanders said in a Wednesday statement to USA TODAY.
Sanders sees one positive outcome of Trump’s election. Now, millions of people understand that they need to be involved in the political process in a way they haven’t been previously, he told USA TODAY.
“You’re seeing the Women’s March, millions of people around the country and around the world, came out,” he said. “You’re seeing, I think, a significant growth in grass-roots activism.”