Progressive US Senator Bernie Sanders to run for re-election

Sanders says he will run for another term as country faces ‘difficult political moment’ amid schisms over Gaza.

Bernie Sanders speaks behind a White House podium in Washington, DC, in April 2024.
US Senator Bernie Sanders has championed lowering healthcare costs during his tenure [File: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

United States Senator Bernie Sanders, the 82-year-old leftist and two-time presidential candidate from Vermont, has announced that he will run for re-election amid rumours of possible retirement.

Sanders, whose presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020 galvanised young people and progressives, announced on Monday that he would run for a fourth six-year term in the US Senate.

“Let me thank the people of Vermont, from the bottom of my heart, for giving me the opportunity to serve them in the United States Senate. It has been the honour of my life,” Sanders, an independent, said in a video recording.

“Today, I am announcing my intention to seek another term.”

The announcement comes during a tumultuous time for the Democratic Party, which is facing intense backlash from key constituencies, especially young voters, over President Joe Biden’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza.

While initially rejecting calls for a ceasefire, Sanders has emerged as one of Congress’s most outspoken critics of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

The war has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, and reports have emerged of Israeli forces committing rights abuses, such as the torture and indiscriminate bombing of civilians.

In January, Sanders spearheaded a bill that would have halted security aid to Israel until the US Department of State completed a report evaluating claims of human rights abuses in Gaza.

The measure was ultimately defeated after Sanders forced it to a vote. Sanders, who identifies as Jewish himself, has also voiced support for the antiwar encampments that began on college campuses in April to show solidarity for the Palestinians under Israel’s siege.

The wave of protests engulfed university life in the US and highlighted generational divides within the Democratic Party over support for Israel. But Sanders likened the campus activism to his own experiences protesting for civil rights in the 1960s.

“In 1962, we organized sit-ins to end racist policies at the University of Chicago. In ’63, I was arrested protesting segregated schools. But we were right,” Sanders said in a recent social media post.

“I’m proud to see students protesting the war in Gaza. Stay peaceful and focused. You’re on the right side of history.”

He also slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for attacking the campus protests as “anti-Semitic”.

“Anti-Semitism is a vile and disgusting form of bigotry that has done unspeakable harm to many millions of people. But, please, do not insult the intelligence of the American people by attempting to distract us from the immoral and illegal war policies of your extremist and racist government,” Sanders wrote in a statement on April 25.

“It is not anti-Semitic to hold you accountable for your actions.”

Sanders has gained a devoted following for championing progressive causes, including a universal healthcare system that guarantees access as a human right.

He ran against Biden in the 2020 Democratic primaries, making strong showings in early-voting states. In the 2020 Iowa caucuses, for instance, he placed second. In the New Hampshire primary, he notched first.

But Biden’s dominant performance in South Carolina augured a shift in the race, and Sanders ultimately suspended his campaign in April 2020.

Nevertheless, he has since appeared with Biden to champion initiatives to lower healthcare costs. In April, for instance, he and Biden held a joint news conference to tout improvements in the costs of inhalers, used to treat asthma.

“You and I have been fighting this for 25 years,” Biden told Sanders from the podium. “Finally we beat Big Pharma.”

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders rub elbows on stage at a CNN debate.
In March 2020, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate in Washington, DC [File: Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

Still, Sanders’s decision to run for re-election in the US Senate underscores an ongoing debate over age in the Democratic Party.

While he is all but guaranteed to win his race in the Democratic stronghold of Vermont, Sanders would be in his late 80s by the end of another term.

Voters, for instance, have consistently expressed concern that President Biden, 81, is too old to run for a second term. A February poll from ABC News and Ipsos found 86 percent of all Americans believe Biden’s age is too advanced for the job.

In his announcement video, Sanders said that he was motivated to run again partly due to the possibility that former President Donald Trump could return to the White House for a second term in office.

Trump is the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party, set to face Biden in a rematch of the 2020 presidential race.

“Will the United States continue to even function as a democracy?” Sanders asked. “Or will we move to an authoritarian form of government?”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies