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Bernie Sanders, Shifting Tone, Takes On Democratic Party

Senator Bernie Sanders spent Thursday afternoon laying out in more detail than usual his views for shaping the Democratic Party’s agenda and the need for elected officials to focus on achieving progressive political goals.

The change in his campaign tone — focusing less on attacking Hillary Clinton — comes as the Vermont senator lays off staff members after several tough losses on Tuesday. Though Mr. Sanders remains adamant that he wants to win the Democratic presidential nomination, his shift hints that the senator is looking past the nominating fight and toward a future role in shaping the party.

At a rally Thursday in Springfield, Ore., Mr. Sanders spoke at length about how Democrats had not spent enough time trying to help working-class people obtain adequate health care and higher wages.

“The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion: Are we on the side of working people or big-money interests?” Mr. Sanders asked the crowd. “Do we stand with the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor? Or do we stand with Wall Street speculators and the drug companies and the insurance companies? Now our job is not just to revitalize the Democratic Party, not only to open the doors to young people and working people — our job is to revitalize American democracy.”

Mr. Sanders criticized Democratic leaders on many of the core issues of his campaign. He questioned whether leaders were thinking about the concerns of voters rather than the economic fortunes of large industries. He also said the party needed to focus on a “50-state strategy” to win local elections and bring in new members.

“The problem we are having now is not, in my view, that the Republicans are winning elections,” Mr. Sanders said. “The problem is that the Democrats are losing elections. In November of 2014, the midterm elections, 63 percent of the American people did not vote; 80 percent of young people and low-income people did not vote. And I think the reason for that is the Democratic Party up to now has not been clear about which side they are on on the major issues facing this country.”

Mr. Sanders also called for “automatic voter registration” and for doing way with recently passed voter identification laws. He went on to urge, as he has in dozens of speeches, the need to reform the campaign finance system.

With Mrs. Clinton closing in on the nomination, Mr. Sanders has faced increasing pressure to refrain from harsh attacks on her. In his address Thursday, he did criticize Mrs. Clinton for her stances on trade deals, hydraulic fracking, taxing carbon emissions and taking an incremental approach to addressing problems, but his criticisms were a bit toned down, as he instead saved his fiercest critiques for the party as a whole.

“You can’t be for Wall Street and for the working people of this country,” Mr. Sanders said of Democrats. “You cannot be for the drug companies and for the needs of senior citizens and veterans. You cannot be on the side of those workers who have lost their jobs because of disastrous trade agreements and support those corporations who have thrown millions of our workers out on the street.”

Meanwhile, Michael Briggs, a spokesman for the Sanders campaign, said 225 campaign staffers would be laid off, giving a specific number a day after Mr. Sanders divulged the layoffs. Most of those affected were notified Wednesday and had been working as field staff members in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, which held primaries last week. The workers were given 10 days of pay from the date they were laid off and will have health care benefits through the end of May.

source: The New York Times ~ By Yamiche Alcindor, April 28

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