Sanders speaking to reporters Thursday in Burlington
The coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe is "on the scale of a major war," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Thursday, calling for swift action aimed at protecting the vulnerable from the fallout.
"If there ever was a time in the modern history of our country when we are all in this together, this is that moment," Sanders told reporters at Hotel Vermont in Burlington. "Now is the time to come together with love and compassion for all, including the most vulnerable people in our society who will face this pandemic from a health perspective or face it from an economic perspective."
Sanders and former vice president Joe Biden both heavily criticized President Donald Trump's handling of the epidemic following his prime time address Wednesday night in which he announced a ban on travelers from Europe. Each spoke as lawmakers on Capitol Hill scrambled to put together a broad aid package and canceled a scheduled U.S. Senate recess.
Sanders said the White House's "incompetence" and "recklessness" have endangered "many, many" lives. All told, Sanders said, the coronavirus "casualties could be higher than World War II," when more than 400,000 Americans died.
The Vermont senator's presidential prospects have dimmed in recent weeks as moderate Democrats began coalescing around Biden as their preferred challenger to Trump. Sanders has vowed to stay in the race for a one-on-one debate with Biden that will take place Sunday in Washington, D.C., without a live audience.
The epidemic offered Sanders a chance to argue how the expanded social safety net and health care systems he supports might prepare the country for such a crisis. His list of proposals to respond to it focused heavily on help for the elderly and the working class.
"We cannot live in a nation where if you have the money you get the treatment you need to survive, but if you’re working class or poor you get to the end of the line," he said. "That would be morally unacceptable."
Sanders called for emergency funding for paid family and medical leave, bolstering unemployment insurance, small business loans, a moratorium on evictions and utility shutoffs, construction of manufacturing facilities to produce medical supplies, and the creation of homeless shelters that would be open to displaced college students.
His list continued: health care information hotlines, more community health centers, quicker lab testing and processing, and expanded food programs such as Meals on Wheels and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Sanders did not take questions from reporters after his 15-minute remarks. His wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, said they plan to remain in Washington, D.C., next week following the debate.