Vermont senator eyes 2016 presidential contest

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at the National Press Club on Feb. 9.Photo by Josh Marks
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at the National Press Club on Feb. 9.
Photo by Josh Marks

Bernie Sanders doesn’t want to hear about Hillary Clinton’s emails.

The independent senator from Vermont is more focused on tackling income inequality, rebuilding the middle class, combating climate change by transforming America’s energy system away from fossil fuels and fixing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

That was the message the potential 2016 presidential contender delivered Monday at the National Press Club in Washington.

“I don’t run against people. It’s not my desire to trash people. Hillary Clinton is a remarkable woman with an extraordinary history of public service. It would not be my job to run against her. It would be my job if she ran and if I ran to debate the serious issues facing our country as intelligent people should be doing in a democracy,” said Sanders.

But while the 73-year-old self-described democratic socialist doesn’t see himself as a rival to Clinton, his supporters are hoping he challenges her for the Democratic nomination (Sanders caucuses with the Democrats). Along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sanders has momentum with populist-minded progressives who are not enthusiastic about another Clinton run for the White House as she is seen as too moderate and Wall Street-friendly for many on the left flank of the Democratic Party.

With his wife Jane O’Meara Sanders sitting to his left, Sanders was asked by National Press Club President John Hughes when he would declare his intentions for the 2016 presidential race.

“The reason that I’ve been thinking about running for president — you’ll have to trust me I’m sitting here next to my wife who is less than enthusiastic about this idea,” Sanders quipped to laughter from the audience, “is not because I wake up in the morning and say, ‘Boy, I have this burning desire to be president of the United States.’ I am as proud as I can possibly be representing the great state of Vermont, and I have reached a higher level of political achievement that I ever dreamed could be possible.

“But the reason I am thinking about running for president is that this is a time when the middle class of this country is disappearing and so many people are giving up on the political process. Last election 63 percent of the people didn’t even bother to vote. So I think we need an agenda. We need candidates who are going to stand up for the working class of this country, for working families.”

Sanders said it would be an uphill battle to build a national campaign by taking on what he described as the “billionaire class.” He said he is trying to find out if a political movement can be put together and that his travels around the country have demonstrated much support for his ideas.

But will popular ideas be enough to push Sanders over the top?

Said Sanders: “It ain’t an easy task. It’s easy to give a speech….Can we put together the political movement of millions of people who are prepared to work hard taking on the billionaire class? And that’s what I’m trying to find out.”

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