Over the past week, the news cycle has shifted completely from the race for President to the global impact of the coronavirus. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had a laser focus on his presidential campaign, has had to make a sudden shift to the coronavirus pandemic as a member of congress working to create relief and aid packages for those most in need.
During the crisis, Sanders has pulled his digital campaign ads and slowed down his fundraising efforts leading many to believe he will publicly step out of the race soon. Statistically it may be impossible for him to go on without the number of delegates needed to sway things back in his favor.
Nina Turner, former Ohio state senator and his campaign’s co-chair, is fully aware that Sanders is currently trailing former Vice President Joe Biden 885 to 1,186 delegates (a candidate needs 1,991 pledged delegates to win) but says his focus is on helping others through the coronavirus outbreak ravaging the country.
Turner spoke with BET.com and said that bolstering the country against the growing uncertainty is his team’s priority and everything else, including the election, comes second.
BET.com: What is the path to the Democratic nomination for Sen. Sanders now, given that Joe Biden has had so many wins over the last few weeks of state primaries?
Sen. Nina Turner: The senator has really shown great leadership and also a feel for the people since, over the last week, he has really been focusing on the pandemic more than anything about the campaign. He wants people to know that their suffering is bigger than the campaign. So for now, he’s really using his positioning in the United States Senate to really leverage for people in this country, which I think is vitally important.
He is the only one who is still running right now who can do that; somebody who is serving in congress on the senate side and being very responsive. He delivered comments about the crisis, and he called this an unprecedented moment in our nation’s history and the world’s and it really is. Both the campaign and the senator are focused on doing what he really can do in his capacity as a United States Senator.
BET.com: How does Sen. Sanders’ plan to address coronavirus and specifically how it is impacting the Black community?
Sen. Nina Turner: He wants the [federal government] to invest $2 trillion worth of funding and part of that would be a direct cash payment of $2,000 a month to every household in America. What we know about African Americans is that, in terms of our economics, there is a huge income and wealth gap in this country. Even beyond the income gap, there is a keen understanding that we suffer disproportionately negatively. Sometimes people say when America has a cold, Black America has the flu. Well, when America has a pandemic, Black people catch just flat out more hell.
So that $2000 a month will go a long way toward helping African Americans, and in particular, all hurting people. Another reason why that is so important is because we are in that gig economy. We’re working those types of jobs that may or may not have benefits, or if they close down, we have nothing to lean on. This is why having a direct emergency cash payment to every household in America is so important.
Also, he has taled about an expansion of the Meals on Wheels program. Our elderly people and disabled people really depend on that. The African American community again is disproportionately negative on that kind of thing. And an expansion of WIC and food assistance programs, and waiving all student loan payments. Black women hold the largest amount of student debt in the country. And if we as a nation cancel student debt, we will close the Black to white wealth gap from 12-1, to 5-1.
BET.com: How does his healthcare plan play into all of this?
Sen. Nina Turner: This is why Medicare For All is so vitally important in this country, that nobody should be left behind. If we have Medicare For All, that would cause so many people who would pause on going to the doctor because they can’t afford the bill to go without hesitation. And that not only keeps that individual safe, it keeps all of us safe as well.
We know that Congress is not going to deal with that right now, but he proposed that Medicare cover all the medical benefits during the coronavirus crisis. It’s a temporary solution, but it’s better than what we have right now and the African American community certainly needs for that to happen.
BET.com: A lot of the points Sen. Sanders makes seem to have similarities to the proposal announced by Rep. Maxine Waters. Have the senator and Congresswoman Waters met and talked about this yet?
Sen. Nina Turner: I’m not sure, but what I will say is great minds think alike. I know that the senator and the congresswoman have worked on things in the past, but I’m not sure if they’ve talked about these particular items because a lot of them are pulled from the senator’s policy plans while he’s running for president. I’m glad to hear they’re on the same page.
BET.com: There’s talk about Great Depression-level unemployment around the corner, not to mention this pandemic having no end in sight. Is a $2 trillion package going to be enough?
Sen. Nina Turner: It probably is not enough, but thank God for his bold leadership to at least put a number on it. You’re absolutely right, we could need more money. There is no end in sight and this is a global crisis, but the thing the senator is concentrating on is to make sure the corporate community does not take advantage of this situation and prey on the poor. Part of his plan is to investigate price gougers and corrupt billing because know that when crises like this happen there are always those people who try to find a way to make a buck or two and they’re not really trying to help the people who are hurting. So the senator wants to make sure that we protect the people’s interests.
BET.com: If it turns out that Sen. Sanders does not win the Democratic nomination, would he be open to a cabinet position and if so, which one?
Sen. Nina Turner: The Senator has not been looking into that. He is laser focused on what he is doing right now. We’ll see what happens, but that is so far from his mind right now.
BET.com: If he does wind up getting the nomination, how does he mobilize to defeat Donald Trump?
Sen. Nina Turner: The very people who sat it out in 2016 in the general election are the people who the senator and this movement can pull out. Young people, disaffected voters, the very people who need these changes to come. It is the multicultural coalition the senator’s been building this entire time. they will come out in the general election. .
BET.com: There have been op-eds and editorials that call for Sen. Sanders to step aside. If that does happen, what are your plans in particular?
Sen. Nina Turner: I really don’t know. I’m really focused on my mission at hand right now, but I’m not going to close the door for any eventualities for me as a Black woman who is helping to lead a progressive movement. I will continue to use what God has blessed me to have to give voice to people who sometimes may feel they are voiceless. In terms of running for something again, I’m not sure, but I’ll definitely leave all options open. Whatever I decide to do, it will be in service to the people. The sky's the limit.
Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images