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Independent Bernie Sanders was met with cheers in Miami Wednesday night as he called for transforming the Democratic Party into a grassroots force that will fight for the poor and middle class and push back against President Donald Trump.
“We are going to take on the billionaire class…” Sanders said. “Donald Trump did not win the election — the Democrats lost the election! That means rebuilding the Democratic Party, making it a grassroots party — a party from the bottom on up!”
Sanders spoke at the James L. Knight Center as part of a nationwide “Come Together and Fight Back” Tour largely in swing states and Republican states. Sanders spoke in Maine and Kentucky earlier this week and will later go to Texas, Nebraska, Utah, Arizona and Nevada. The goal is to rebuild the party after the major rift that developed between supporters of Sanders and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president. About 2,000 people were in the crowd, according to a Knight Center official.
Sanders was accompanied by Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez, a labor secretary under President Obama. Perez’s predecessor, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, had to step down from the chair position in July after WikiLeaks published thousands of emails showing that the DNC favored Clinton over Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont. (There was still some lingering evidence of tension between Sanders and the DNC: When Sanders thanked Perez, scattered boos could be heard.)
Sanders called on Floridians to rebuild their state by demanding growth in solar energy and combating climate change while calling for healthcare for all and comprehensive immigration reform.
“The Democratic Party is on the side of working people,” he said. “We will take on the billionaire class and Wall Street and drug companies and insurance companies, and I might I add in Florida the damn fossil fuel industry, as well.”
Sanders called out Republican Gov. Rick Scott for banning his staff from mentioning climate change and resisting Medicaid expansion. About 850,000 Floridians fall into the coverage gap because Scott and the Republican-led Legislature have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
“I can tell your governor it is wrong and immoral and bad economics not to expand Medicaid to many hundreds of thousands of people here in Florida,” Sanders said. “I can tell him that — you can un-elect him!”
Scott is term-limited but is expected to challenge Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.
Sanders gave a speech similar to his campaign rallies in 2016 peppered with facts about income inequality. He added a Miami flavor with attacks on Trump for his anti-immigrant rhetoric and told the crowd about his visit to Little Haiti.
“It’s a beautiful community which is under threat of incredible gentrification,” Sanders said. “You’ve got some billionaires coming in who think it is OK to push out tenants, to push out small business people who have been there decades in order to build fancy condominiums.”
During the 2016 primary, Sanders scarcely visited Florida and was crushed by Clinton, who garnered about two-thirds of the vote statewide, and an even larger share in Miami-Dade and Broward. But Sanders remains one of the few nationally well-known political figures on the left who can draw a crowd.
Democrats are hoping to fuel anti-Trump anger in Florida into success at the ballot box in 2018 when Nelson faces re-election. Democrats are also setting their sights on the governor’s mansion.
Sanders encouraged the crowd to run for local office. When members in the audience chanted “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” Sanders directed the crowd to see themselves as in the driver’s seat.
“No, it’s you and you and you,” he said, recounting how public outcry helped defeat the GOP heath care plan. “We are in this together.”