Despite overcast skies and a few moments of minor drizzle, more than 400 people patiently waited in line to be checked by security at Sen. Bernie Sanders’ late Sunday afternoon rally on the Pentacrest. It was his second campaign stop of the day on the senator’s 2020 College Campus Tailgate Tour. The tour is making stops at each of Iowa’s three public universities, with the University of Iowa falling between Iowa State University (earlier Sunday) and the University of Northern Iowa (Monday).
Sanders received an enthusiastic welcome as he took the stage — including a few shouts of “happy birthday,” since Sunday was Sanders’ 78th birthday — 30 minutes after the scheduled start of the event. At first, the senator sounded hoarse, but as he spoke, his voice took on its familiar booming quality.
The tour was meant to highlight Sanders’ plans to make public colleges and universities tuition-free and to cancel student loan debt as college students are settling into the fall semester.
“It is totally absurd that hundreds of thousands of bright, young people in America today do not go to college, do not go to technical schools because they come from low-income or working-class families,” Sanders said. “It is equally insane that 45 million Americans are struggling with student debt today. And that is why we are going cancel all student debt in America.”
Sanders’ plans have been criticized for their projected cost, a point he acknowledged on Sunday.
“Now, my critics say, ‘Bernie, you want to make public colleges and universities tuition-free, you want to cancel all student debt, that’s an expensive proposition.’ And they’re right, it is,” Sanders said. “It will cost us $2.2 trillion over a 10-year period. But I will tell you this, if we could bail out the crooks on Wall Street 11 years ago, if we could give well over a $1 trillion in tax breaks under Trump to the top 1 percent and large, profitable corporations, we can damn well cancel all student debt in this country.”
Sanders said his plans for tuition-free college and debt elimination would be paid for with a tax on the sale of stocks and bonds. The rates would 0.5 percent for stocks and 0.1 percent for bonds. In addition to generating revenue, the taxes might help discourage “unproductive trading” done primarily to generate broker fees, Len Burman, co-director of the Tax Policy Center, told NPR.
Sanders’ speech included all the elements familiar from previous campaign appearances, including health care as a human right, and ending the influence of big corporations in politics. The candidate also discussed gun control, a topic he has addressed before but didn’t mention at his last Johnson County event, even though that West Branch rally took place just two weeks after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.
“I will not be intimidated by the NRA,” Sanders said on Sunday. “We will pass gun safety legislation, which greatly expands background checks, which does away with the so-called ‘gun-show loophole,’ which ends the so-called ‘straw-man provision’ that allows people to legally buy guns and then sell to criminal elements, and that also will finally put an end to sale and distribution of assault weapons in this country.”
If the content of the Vermont senator’s speech was familiar, so was the timing of its applause breaks, and some of the cheering from the crowd sounded more like a matter of well-practiced routine than the result of enthusiasm. The loudest, and most clearly enthusiastic, response came when Sanders promised to defend a woman’s right to make reproductive health choices.
That promise also elicited the biggest response at Sanders’ second event in Iowa City on Sunday, LULAC’s Loteria Night at The Mill.
Founded in 1929, the League of United Latin American Citizens is the largest and oldest Latino civil rights organization in the United States. It has grown from a single chapter in Texas to chapters in 37 states and Puerto Rico. The Iowa City-based chapter often holds fundraisers featuring Loteria, a Bingo-like game with rows of pictures on its game cards instead of Bingo’s rows of numbers.
The Mill event on Sunday raised money to support victims of the mass shooting in El Paso.
LULAC is a nonpartisan organization, but has been inviting political candidates to address its members, state director Nick Salazar explained as he introduced Sanders. Salazar said that LULAC Iowa has a goal of registering 25,000 new voters in time for the 2020 election.
“There is nothing more powerful than your constitutional right to vote,” he told the audience.
“My father came to the United States at the age of 17,” Sanders said near the beginning of his remarks. Although Sanders has talked about growing up in a working-class family, it was the first time he’s spoken in Iowa City about his father being an immigrant this campaign season.
Eli Sanders came to the United States from Poland in 1921. He had almost no money and spoke almost no English. He settled in Brooklyn, and became a paint salesman.
“So, I am not unsympathetic to the needs of immigrants — that’s the family I grew up in,” Sanders said at The Mill. “And together we will end the demonization of the immigrant community in this country.”
He then laid out some specifics.
“On [the] first day, restore the legal status through executive order of the 1.8 million young people eligible for the DACA program,” Sanders said. “Number two, we are going to have what is long, long, long overdue — comprehensive immigration reform and a path towards citizenship for 11 million undocumented people. And we will end the ICE raids that are terrorizing so many people in this country.”
He promised to create “a border policy based on humane, international asylum principles.”
“And that means that the United States government will never be tearing little children out the arms of their mothers. And will not be putting children into cages.”
Sanders told the members of LULAC and others gathered at The Mill that working together, they could create a campaign which can win both the Democratic nomination and the general election.
“It will give all of us an enormous amount of joy to defeat the most dangerous president in American history,” he said.
But in his speech on the Pentacrest, Sanders acknowledged winning Iowa in the general election would be a challenge.
“I am more than aware that Iowa voted for Trump. I’ve got that,” he said. “But I happen to believe that many of the people in Iowa, no matter what their point of view is, understand that the president of the United States should not be a pathological liar.”
At The Mill, Sanders concluded by emphasizing the opposition his campaign — and any effort to effect political change — faces from the wealthiest 1 percent of the country.
“They are powerful, they have unlimited amounts of money — that’s the fact,” Sanders said. “They control to a large degree the economic and political life of our nation — that’s the fact. But at the end of the day, you know what? One percent is 1 percent.”
“If we allow our people to come together and not be divided up, we can take on and defeat this 1 percent, and we can create the kind of nation that the working people of this country deserve.”