Democrats who have served with Sanders say his presidential agenda won’t be as dramatic as the policies he’s pushing on the campaign trail, particularly if Pelosi is speaker.
“I don’t think he’s, during the midst of a campaign where he’s stirred a whole movement, going to be talking about compromise,” said Connecticut Rep. John Larson, who served in Democratic leadership when Sanders was in the House. “But ultimately, he’s been here a while. He knows what he’s going to be up against.”
Sanders has drawn heat recently from former Vice President Joe Biden for encouraging a primary challenge to Obama, and he launched an infamous filibuster against Obama’s deal to extend Bush-era tax cuts. He’s also been relatively scarce around the Senate Democratic Caucus since his 2016 performance as he built his 2020 machine, according to senators.
But when the Democratic Party needs Sanders, he’s generally been there. And his signature accomplishment may be cutting a 2014 deal with the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) on reforming the VA Department in the middle of a health care crisis, a development that belies Sanders’ reputation as a liberal hard-liner.
“He’s been a solid vote with the majority of the caucus most of the time,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, who has been Democrats’ chief vote counter during Sanders’ entire time in the Senate. “There have been a few [defections], you know. But it really is a limited number.”
If Sanders’ inside game in the Senate is lacking, it’s his outside game that earns the respect of his colleagues. With the Affordable Care Act on the ropes, Schumer and Sanders held a rally in Michigan that set the tone for Democrats from the center all the way to the left.
“Republicans, you’re not going to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” said Sanders, who is now criticized for wanting to tear the law down with Medicare for All. “If you want to improve the ACA, then let’s work together.”
Two years later, Sanders and Schumer wrote a joint op-ed about stifling stock buybacks that enraged conservatives, then held a Facebook Live event to promote it. In a statement Schumer praised the insurgent-turned-frontrunner: “Bernie is a valuable voice in our caucus and an asset to our leadership team. He brings a very important perspective.”
Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.