CEDAR RAPIDS — It was like déjà vu all over again.
It was billed as a rally to repeal the 2017 Trump tax cuts, but it sounded like one of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Iowa caucus campaign speeches.
Sanders, who came within a hair’s breadth of winning those first-in-the-nation caucuses, sounded the same themes of economic and social justice, health care for all, a $15-an-hour minimum wage and overturning Citizens United — all in a 37-minute speech in Cedar Rapids on Friday evening.
What was new was an appeal for more gun control. Shortly before wrapping up his speech to about 500 people at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Sanders said he “absolutely” supports gun ownership, but “the time is now, we’ve got to ban assault weapons.”
He called on the NRA to work with lawmakers to end gun violence.
“I say to the NRA, you cannot continue to defend a process that endangers the children and the people of this country,” he said.
Many in the crowd hoped that Sanders, who is touring the country with the Not One Penny campaign to repeal Trump tax cuts, is laying the groundwork for a 2020 campaign.
Anneke Johnson of West Branch, a “longtime Sanders’ supporter,” says she goes to Sanders’ events whenever she can. This was the first time she’s seen him since the 2016 caucus campaign. She hopes it won’t be the last.
“I hope he runs,” she said.
Sanders isn’t saying anything about 2020 other than it’s “a very long way off ... right now is much, much too early to have that discussion.”
For the time being, Sanders is concentrating on helping progressive candidates win in 2018.
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His speech was loaded with attacks on President Donald Trump — a “pathological liar” and “perhaps the least qualified person to assume this office.”
Trump told the people of Iowa he was going to take on the establishment and stand with working families.
“Well, he lied, and I think many people now understand that,” Sanders said.
But he didn’t blame Iowans.
“You did not vote for a candidate who after he was elected and told you he would provide health care to everybody and then turn around and try to throw 32 million off health care,” he said. “You did not vote for that candidate.”
Trump’s promise to pass tax reform for working families was still another lie, Sanders said. After 10 years, 83 percent of the benefit of the Trump tax cuts will go to the top 1 percent.
Trump is giving “massive tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations at a time of massive levels of income inequality,” he continued.
Those tax cuts drive up the deficit, and Sanders predicted that Trump and his allies in Congress and the corporate community will call for cuts to social programs to bring down the deficit.
Despite Sanders’ objections to the tax cuts, Americans appear to be warming up to them. Just over half, 51 percent, approve of the tax law changes while 46 percent oppose them, according to a SurveyMonkey poll conducted Feb. 5-11 for the New York Times. Approval is up from 46 percent in January and 37 percent in December.
A Monmouth University poll in late January found support for the GOP tax cuts had risen from 26 percent to 44 percent the previous month.
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And the Republican Party of Iowa responded, saying that while Sanders, who had a rally in Des Moines earlier Friday, was “entertaining his base with attacks on Republicans, at the end of the day, middle-class Iowans are seeing bigger paychecks because of conservative leadership.”
But Sanders said Trump — unlike previous presidents who understood that once the campaign was over and they were in the Oval Office, their job was to unite the nation — “is trying to divide us for cheap political points.” Trump, he said, is trying to divide Americans by race, gender, religion and sexual orientation “for cheap political gain.”
Despite Trump, despite the tax cut and despite what he called the nation’s “drift toward oligarchy,” doing nothing is not an option, Sanders concluded.
“Now is not the time for despair. You do not have the luxury of throwing up your hands and saying I’m not going to get involved,” Sanders said. “Now is the time for us to come together ... to fight for the country we know we can become.”
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