Jane Sanders, the wife of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), appeared Thursday on CNN to defend her husband’s anti-Republican rhetoric and challenge how the media reports on politics.
The man who shot House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) and four others at a Republican congressional baseball team practice on Wednesday had supported Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and identified with the resistance against President Donald Trump. The shooting has spurred discussion about heated political discourse.
Host Wolf Blitzer asked Jane Sanders if her husband went too far calling Trump “perhaps the worst and most dangerous president in the history of our country” last weekend.
“I don’t think so, Wolf,” she said. “What’s interesting is, that was at the People’s Summit, and what I noticed on the weekend was that without any prior discussion, RoseAnn DeMoro, Nina Turner, Van Jones, and I all spoke about being careful and being involved with our policies and with our facts, but not engaging in the politics of personal destruction, that we believed in civil discourse.”
She characterized Republicans’ health care reform plan as “dangerous” and then directed her criticism at the media.
“The media, it characterizes every conversation as an adversarial one,” Sanders said. “Your job, the media’s job, I think, is to illuminate the facts, not fan the flames.”
Blitzer pushed back, asking if Sanders wants the media to censure certain items from its reporting.
“With all due respect, if a president or a senator or someone of authority is making very, very strong statements, do you want us to simply ignore those statements?” Blitzer asked. “Do you want us to censor [Bernie Sanders’] words as part of the news media? What are you suggesting?”
“I’m suggesting that just like the Democrats and the Republicans and the independents and the progressives are all thinking about what happened in this presidential race, that the media needs to do some self-reflection as well,” Jane Sanders responded.
“We certainly aren’t going to censor very strong statements of people of responsibility,” Blitzer said.
Sanders agreed but continued to critique how the media handled the presidential election.
“During the presidential election, if I were a Republican running, I would have had a fit,” Sanders said. “I would have been so upset because every day was covered with the latest terrible thing that candidate Trump said.”
“And when Marco Rubio said some silly things,” Sanders continued, “he got attention for a couple of times. He backed off and said, ‘This is not the attention I want.’ I just think that we need to focus on the issues and recognize that, yes, we’re going to have spirited debates.”
She also said the goal of the Sanders Institute and her political activity as a whole is to promote “real discussion and bold thinking” focused on issues.
“What we need to do is to focus more on the issues, and you know, I’ve been telling you that forever, since every time we talk I’m saying, let’s focus on the matter at hand rather than who said what,” she said.
Blitzer did not seem to agree that the media should stop focusing on what politicians say.
“We saw the words from former State Sen. Nina Turner working at your institute: ‘Both sides need to look in the mirror. We have to decide what kind of language we’re going to use in our political discourse,'” Blitzer said. “The only reason I point that out is because the language that Sen. Bernie Sanders said about this president, ‘the worst and most dangerous president in the history of our country,’ has generated some reaction, you understand that, when a sitting senator makes that kind of accusation against the sitting president of the United States.”
Sanders replied, “But he didn’t—it wasn’t just a soundbite, Wolf.”
“These were very strong words. What he’s saying, basically—” Blitzer said before Sanders cut him off.
“It is strong words but back them up with the rest of the paragraph and recognize that we need to deal with this,” she interjected.
Blitzer asked if Trump is really worse than Richard Nixon.
“We’re at a political crossroads,” Sanders said. “I think we’re very concerned—a lot of people are very concerned about us becoming an oligarchy.”
She also voiced concerns about Trump’s “authoritarianism,” but then decried demonizing rhetoric.
“We have veterans who have fought and died for our democracy,” she said. “If we can’t call attention to undemocratic attention, that’s not good. We need to have free discussion; we need not to make it personal or demonize people.”
She added, “One of the concerns that I have, again, with the media, is that members of Congress of all stripes are caricatured as fools or demagogues or terrible people, and they pay a price for that. I don’t think you understand what it takes to be a public servant today.”
“A robust democracy needs a free media, needs a robust media,” Blitzer responded. “That’s what we’re doing responsibly, accurately. There are elements out there that aren’t doing that, but we certainly are.”