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Why Bennet thinks Biden isn’t Democrats’ candidate of the future

Democratic presidential candidate and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet said Wednesday that former Vice President Joe Biden, who has a double-digit lead over the rest of the 2020 field in primary polls, does not represent the future of the Democratic Party.

“I think it’s time for a new generation of leadership,” Bennet said in an interview with PBS NewsHour managing editor and anchor Judy Woodruff, adding that he attributed Biden’s polling advantage to his name recognition.

While many of the more than 20 Democratic candidates are moving to the left on issues from health care to climate change, Bennet, like Biden, is carving out a space as a moderate in the crowded field.

Bennet said most voters in the middle of the country don’t understand what the Democratic Party stands for.

“I don’t think the base of the Democratic Party is anywhere near where the Twitter base of the Democratic Party is,” Bennet said. He also argued that Democrats should work to appeal to a “broad swath of Americans” in order to beat a “vulnerable” President Donald Trump in next year’s general election.

Other highlights from the interview:

  • On health care: Bennet said all the Democratic candidates agree on the need for “universal coverage.” But the Colorado Democrat noted that he is also the only candidate serving in the Senate who did not sponsor the “Medicare for All” bill introduced earlier this year. Bennet, who delayed getting into the presidential race after a cancer diagnosis, is proposing instead a public option that would allow individuals to buy into Medicare or keep their private insurance.
  • On Trump’s European trip: Bennet criticized Trump’s behavior during his visit to the United Kingdom this week, and said if he was president he wouldn’t be “cheering for Brexit” as Trump has done by touting several pro-Brexit candidates vying to replace outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May. “Any president who replaces Donald Trump is going to have to rebuild those alliances as one of the first things he does,” Bennet said.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    With the first Democratic presidential debate just three weeks from tonight, we hear now from Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. He's one of 23 candidates vying to be his party's pick to take on President Trump in 2020.

    He's also the author of a new book, "The Land of Flickering Lights: Restoring America in an Age of Broken Politics."

    Senator Michael Bennet, welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    Thank you. It's nice to see you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Maybe not the most optimistic title for a book.

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    No.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But what I want to ask you, is why Michael Bennet, out of all the other candidates who are running?

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    Well, by the way, it is, in the end, an optimistic book. It is, I think, a love letter to this democracy.

    And I think that we're in incredible jeopardy. I think the country has reached a breaking point. And during the last government shutdown, I reached a breaking point and realized just how far away we were from the priorities of the families that I used to work for when I was superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, who have real concerns for their kids and real concerns for the world in which they're going to grow up.

    And we're not addressing it. And we haven't been addressing it for the last 10 years, which is what "The Land of Flickering Lights" is about.

    I believe a big reason why we haven't been able to deal with it has been the tyranny of the Freedom Caucus over the last decade and the way Mitch McConnell has used that to stop progress on anything he can, from health care, to guns, to climate change.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what I want to ask you about is right now about the Democratic field.

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because what you have is, Joe Biden has surged into the lead. We know a lot of that is name identification.

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But unseating an incumbent president, taking the presidency away from another party, usually is about the future, who represents the future.

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    I agree. I agree.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Does Joe Biden represent the future?

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    No, I don't think so.

    I think we — it's time for a new generation of leadership. And I'm not surprised that he's leading in the polls, because he has more name recognition certainly than I do.

    But we are going to have a vigorous competition of ideas in this Democratic primary. And I think we need to do that, because I don't think the country, especially the part of the country I come from, Colorado, I don't think we have any idea what the national Democratic Party stands for.

    And that has to be understood by the voters, so that we can take on Donald Trump and beat him. Donald Trump is vulnerable. He's gotten to the White House by dividing Americans.

    Our job is to speak with an agenda to the broad swathe of Americans that are out there and overcome, not just him, but also these other forces that have made it impossible for us to get our work done. Beating him is essential, but it's not enough. We have to govern the country again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, given what we see right now in this Democratic race, do you have concerns that the left in your party may pull whoever is the nominee, whether it's Joe Biden, you or anybody else, too far to the left on issues, whether it's health care, college tuition, whatever?

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    From point of view, I thought there was room to get in this race because I thought the American people needed somebody who would tell them the truth. And that is — that's not a campaign book. That's a book about what I believe about America.

    It's not a book about me either. And I think the successful candidate in the Democratic Party — and I expect that it will be me — will be somebody who levels with the American people through the primary into a general election.

    That may sound naive, but I think the American people know — are tired of this game of pandering at the beginning and then finding your way later. I think they're going to nominate somebody who tells them how hard this is going to be and what we need to do together to get there.

    So — and I will finally say, having spent a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire, and now a little bit of time in South Carolina, I don't think the base of the Democratic Party is anywhere near where the Twitter base of the Democratic Party is. And I think those are two different things.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me ask you about a piece of that.

    I mentioned health care. You're not in agreement with many of your peers running for president on this question of Medicare for all.

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're for something called Medicare X.

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why is that better?

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    Right. It is better.

    I think it's better because we all agree that we want universal coverage. And I think it is — it is absolutely shameful that, in this country, we don't have universal coverage, and shameful that Mitch McConnell has prevented us from being able to do it, and that Donald Trump has taken insurance away from millions of people.

    I believe giving people an option so that, if they want public insurance, they can get it — mine is called Medicare X — it's administered by Medicare — that that's great. And if they don't want to switch to a public option, they can keep their private insurance.

    I don't think it's plausible that we're going to take insurance away from 180 million people in America, some of whom like their employer-owned health insurance. And it's so easy for McConnell and Trump to demonize, to say, here come the Democrats with their Bolshevik plan.

    And, sometimes, people say, well, they're going to say that anyway.

    No, we need to be strategic about what we're proposing. And I think Medicare X, I think my climate plan and others meet what I call a living room test, which is, when you're away from the cameras, and when you're away from the craziness in Washington, is this something people in their living room would agree with?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me ask you something about the U.S. economy and foreign policy.

    And that is the president's threat right now to impose tariffs on Mexico over their failure, he says, to rein in immigration. You and others in the Democratic Party and Republican Party may be against tariffs, but what do you say to those Americans who feel they have lost their jobs, their livelihood is worse off because of jobs that have gone to places like Mexico?

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    Well, I don't think it's an either/or proposition.

    I think you say to people whose jobs went to Mexico that we have to do a much better job negotiating trade agreements to make sure we're preserving the jobs that are here, the support — we have let much too — much too much of our supply chain, manufacturing supply chain, go overseas.

    And I actually think the president was right to call China out. I think he was totally wrong in the way that he did it.

    But the American people need to know that we are fighting on their behalf. So, I think that's all really important. I think the way he's tied the tariffs to the crisis at the border, some of which he provoked, is really unfortunate.

    Farmers and ranchers all over this country have been hammered as a result of the tariffs that he's put on other countries. It is a tax on our farmers. It is a tax on our workers, a tax, not — it is also an attack, but it's a tax.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last question, something in the news.

    And that is President Trump's visit this week to Great Britain and to Ireland. Assess this trip. What would you be doing differently if you were there as a U.S. president?

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    I think that I wouldn't be cheering for Brexit, which is what he's doing.

    I think that we — that European alliance has been so important to this country since the end of World War II. Tomorrow is — marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day. That alliance has been critical to us. It is critical to us now from an economic and national security perspective.

    And any president — I hope it will be me — but any president who replaces Donald Trump is going to have to rebuild those alliances as one of the first things he does.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Michael Bennet, running for the Democratic nomination for president, thank you.

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    Thanks. Thanks for having me.

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