Bernie Sanders holds campaign rally with woman who co-wrote Medicare for All bill: ‘Healthcare is a human right, not a privilege’

Vermont senator appears in Washington state as Nevada poll gives him 20 point lead

Andrew Buncombe
Tacoma, Washington
Tuesday 18 February 2020 06:32 GMT
Bernie Sanders responds to New Hampshire victory

Democratic frontrunner Bernie Sanders has thunderously championed his universal healthcare planMedicare for All –​ with the personal support of the woman who helped him write “the damn bill”.

In front of a large, raucous crowd south of Seattle, the senator said healthcare “was a human right, not a privilege”. For much of his speech, his words were drowned out by the cheers and roars of his supporters.

During debates with other Democrats seeking to become the nominee to take on Donald Trump in November, the Vermont senator has several times asserted his expertise on universal health care by declaring: “I wrote the damn bill.”

In truth he only wrote the Senate version of such a proposal. The legislation introduced in the House of Representatives was written by congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who has endorsed Mr Sanders and appeared with him in Tacoma on Monday night.

“I’m proud to be the person, along with Bernie Sanders, who sponsored Medicare for All,” said Ms Jayapal, a Democrat who represents Washington’s 7th congressional district, located 40 miles to the north. “[And] tuition for all.”

When he took the stage at the Tacoma Dome, where 17,000 people were said to have gathered to see him, Mr Sanders drew attention to many of the issues he has made central to his campaign –​ addressing inequality, combating climate change, working towards criminal justice reform.

He also dedicated considerable time on his vow to pass universal healthcare if he was elected president, an issue that could help propel him into the White House, or derail him if voters consider it too progressive.

No issue has acted more clearly as a marker for the different lanes of the Democratic Party. Elizabeth Warren initially supported Medicare for All, before tweaking her position to allow consumers to stay on a private plan during a three-year transition plan.

Bernie Sanders responds to New Hampshire victory

Pete Buttigieg supports Medicare for those who want it, while Joe Biden would like to see existing coverage –​ remnants of the Affordable Care Act he worked with Barack Obama to pass –​ expanded and improved.

“Healthcare is a human right, not a privilege,” said the 78-year-old democratic socialist. “It is insane we spend twice as much on healthcare per person as Canada and any other [country] on Earth.”

He added: “Despite all of that we have 87 million people, some of them who are here tonight, who are uninsured or under-insured. We have 30,000 people who die every year because they don’t get to a doctor on time.”

Among those who had come to see Mr Sanders were Jessica Livingstone, 36, a nanny from Seattle, who said she had to pay $400 a month for her health insurance. She had supported Mr Sanders four years ago, when she claims the nomination was unfairly denied to him by the Democratic National Committee, elements of which had favoured Hillary Clinton.

“I’ve been a a big Bernie supporter since 2016,” she said. “I think billionaires have too much money.”

Another supporter, Andrea Gamble, 53, an accountant, said she supported many of the senator’s policies. Asked if he could win the nomination and defeat Mr Trump, she said: “I think people will put him over. People are more important than money.”

Mr Sanders’ appearance in Washington state, his first in the 2020 campaign, comes on the back of a virtual tie in Iowa with Mr Buttigieg, and a narrow victory over the former South Bend mayor in New Hampshire.

In Nevada, the next state to vote and which holds its caucus on Saturday, Mr Sanders leads a poll published by Data for Change with 35 points, Ms Warren, 16, Mr Buttigieg on 15, and Mr Biden on 14.

“Donald Trump is a fraud. He sold out the working families of this country who he promised to defend,” said Mr Sanders. “He said that everyone would have healthcare, and yet he took 32 million people off the healthcare they had.”

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