Sanders pleads for Cisneros

The last time I saw Bernie Sanders in person, he was basking in one of the greatest triumphs of his political career.

It was Feb. 22, 2020. The Vermont senator, the spiritual godfather of that country’s democratic socialist movement, had just won Nevada’s presidential caucuses and emerged as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

A huge, jubilant crowd greeted Sanders at Cowboys Dancehall that night, full of confidence that a drastic historic change was imminent.

It was as good as it gets for Sanders.

Four days later, powerful South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn endorsed Joe Biden, setting up Biden for a life-saving primary victory in that state. Sanders’ last and best hope for the presidency has passed as quickly as it came.

On Friday night, Sanders was in San Antonio again for a big rally, but not for himself. He was in town to champion the cause of one of his followers, Laredo immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros, the insurgent challenger who has nine-term congressman Henry Cuellar on his back.

Hours before Cisneros and Sanders were to campaign on the east side of Second Baptist Church, they made a brief, low-key visit to a Schertz cafe to greet a small group of supporters and activists. .

Sanders was dressed in brown shoes and navy khakis, with a pen sticking out of the pocket of his crumpled light blue button-up shirt. As always, her hair was a white, tousled crown.

I spoke with Sanders about why he considers the U.S. District 28 battle between Cuellar and Cisneros to be so crucial.

“First, Congress desperately needs strong progressives who are willing to stand up and take on powerful special interests and fight for the working class of this country,” Sanders said.

“The very rich are getting richer, workers across the country are struggling. We need worker champions and Jessica certainly would be.

Sanders also cited the recent leak of a draft opinion indicating that the United States Supreme Court is considering removing federal abortion protections. Cuellar is the only House Democrat who opposes legalized abortion.

“In Mr. Cuellar, we have one of the few Democrats who doesn’t understand that it’s a woman’s right to control her own body, not the government,” Sanders said.

Cuellar’s case, which the congressman presented at a recent East Side rally, is that his penchant for bipartisan compromise, while unsatisfying for progressive purists, is enabling Democrats to achieve tangible results. .

Sanders dismissed that argument, pointing to Build Back Better, an ambitious human infrastructure bill that included major investments in health care, housing, child care, green energy and education. .

Cuellar eventually voted for the bill, but only after working behind the scenes to reduce his chances of success. House progressives have tried to gain leverage for the bill by tying it to a bipartisan infrastructure package backed by Senate moderates Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

Cuellar managed to tilt, however, to separate the two bills; to get a House vote on the bipartisan package before locking in Senate support for Build Back Better.

“The most important problem in modern history for working families was to build back better,” Sanders said. “(Cuellar) was on the wrong side of this issue.”

Assessing the first 16 months of the Biden administration, Sanders gave the president credit for passing the American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021, a $1.9 trillion stimulus package designed to reverse the damage economic conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But since then, because of people like Joe Manchin and Senator Sinema, we haven’t been able to come up with the kind of legislation that working families desperately need right now,” Sanders said. “And I think Biden suffered from it.”

Given the difficulty of pushing bold legislation through the Senate, it would be understandable for some progressives to wonder if a single election in South Texas for a U.S. House seat can really make a difference.

Sanders worries about apathy. He urges his progressive colleagues not to succumb to despair.

“You can’t give up,” he said. “There is a struggle going on right now. And the struggle is taking place right here in this neighborhood. Billionaires invest millions of dollars to beat this young woman. This is the struggle we see all over this country.

“If you say, ‘This is too hard, we can’t win,’ then you’re turning your back on history, on the progress we’ve made on civil rights and Latino rights and everything else in this country. People have to fight and struggle. Victory does not necessarily happen overnight.

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