Allies urge Bernie Sanders to run for reelection: ‘We won’t let him retire’

Longtime allies of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are urging him to run for reelection and say they believe he will seek to hold onto his Senate seat in November.

The 82-year-old two-time presidential candidate from solidly blue Vermont is the second-oldest member of the Senate and would be nearing 90 years old at the end of another six-year term. But as chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, he’s cut an energetic figure — shutting down an almost-physical altercation between a union leader and a senator with a wagging finger and grilling pharmaceutical CEOs last year. And the progressive movement he built and still leads says they are not ready for him to exit the political scene.

“We won’t let him retire,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, the former head of the National Nurses United union and a close political ally to the senator who said she expects him to run. “The absence of Bernie Sanders in the Senate would cause a massive vacuum.”

The Democratic socialist has transformed the Democratic Party and U.S. politics over the course of his career, channeling grass-roots anger over worsening economic inequality in his 2016 presidential run and pushing centrist lawmakers such as President Biden to embrace more sweeping measures to combat climate change and soaring health care costs in 2020.

Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats, has continued to stake out some of the leftmost positions in the Senate in recent months, becoming the first liberal senator to vote down military aid to Israel and forcing the Senate to take a vote to require the State Department to look into potential human rights abuses perpetrated by the country in its war in Gaza.

The senator’s progressive allies say Sanders hasn’t yet told them whether he will run again for his seat and caution that he could always choose to step aside. But they believe he is showing no signs of slowing down and have trouble picturing him retiring.

“I think he’s one of these kinds of guys who wants to go out with his boots on,” said Mark Longabaugh, a Democratic strategist who advised Sanders’s previous presidential run but is no longer in his inner circle. “No riding off into the sunset.”

His allies say he appears to be in good health and is clearly still energized by his business in the Senate. “He hasn’t lost his passion for it at all,” said one Democratic senator who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail private discussions. “He’s not planning a life in Florida.”

Sanders — who told reporters in January he would announce his future political plans “soon” — still has months before he needs to disclose his intentions, and it’s possible he could decide not to run. The filing deadline in Vermont is not until late May. If he were to forgo a run, Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) would be a likely successor in the blue state. Sanders has not told Balint his plans, according to the congresswoman’s spokesperson, and allies of the senator say he is keeping his decision-making to a very small circle of top advisers and family.

“As Sen. Sanders said himself just this week, this is between him and the people of Vermont, and he will make his decision and announcement at the appropriate time,” Sanders spokeswoman Freeland Ellis said in a statement Friday.

Sanders is closely eyeing the 2024 election and wants to do all he can to help prevent former president Donald Trump from beating Biden, several allies said. He would have more influence to do so as a senator running for reelection than as a lame duck, they point out.

Sanders opposed Biden in the 2020 Democratic primary and after losing to him, he pushed the president to adopt positions closer in line with those espoused by his movement. Since Biden became president, however, Sanders has been a reliable ally to him. He recently broke with a liberal organization he founded, Our Revolution, when he declined to join their effort to get Democrats to vote “uncommitted” in the Michigan presidential primary last month to pressure Biden on his handling of the war in Gaza. That decision — from a politician who has never been afraid to poke other Democrats to push them on policy — shows how concerned Sanders is about not weakening Biden ahead of what he sees as an existential presidential election in November, his allies said.

Sanders, who would be 83 by Election Day, has also defended Biden from voters’ concerns about his age.

“When you look at anybody — you, me, Trump, Biden — you’ve got to look at the totality of the person, right?” Sanders said in an interview with CBS on Friday. “There are people who are 90 who are busy writing books, who are brilliant; there are people who are 60 and can’t put two words together.” (Sanders was on the program in part to promote his book “It’s OK to be Angry About Capitalism.”)

Sanders would probably be a valuable asset on the stump for Biden. Polls show Biden losing support among young voters, who were a key part of Sanders’s constituency when he ran for president. But Sanders has also faced some backlash of his own among the young progressives who rallied behind his presidential runs, after declining to call for a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.

“We need Bernie Sanders’ leadership today more than ever. He has the most compelling agenda for the working class in the party,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), the former co-chair of Sanders’s 2020 campaign, said in a statement.

A person close to the senator said Sanders’s age is a consideration for him as he ponders another Senate run, mostly in terms of how he’s perceived as voters engage in a debate over whether Biden is too old to seek reelection. “He’s older than Biden and so that’s on his mind,” the person said.

In the CBS interview, Sanders acknowledged that voters’ concerns about age are legitimate but that people should also look at what candidates believe in and have accomplished.

The senator, who first joined the House in 1991 and would be running for reelection for a fourth term in the Senate, suffered a heart attack in 2019 while he was running for president and had two stents inserted into a blocked artery.

But his allies say age should not be a factor, given that he is in good health.

“The birth date is what the birth date is, but as far as I’m concerned, if Joseph Robinette Biden is running for president then why can’t Senator Bernard Sanders run for Senate again?” said Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and Sanders surrogate.

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