WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., argued Sunday that his candidacy has the potential to energize and transform the Democratic Party on issues like climate change, saying that it's “not good enough” for the party to nominate a candidate just to defeat President Donald Trump in 2020.
Appearing on "Meet the Press," Sanders hit back at former Vice President Joe Biden’s argument, delivered Saturday during a campaign rally in Philadelphia, that the “most important plank” of his environmental policy is to “beat Trump.”
“Beating Trump is not good enough. You have to beat the fossil fuel industry, you have to take on all the forces of the status quo who do not want to move this country to energy efficiency and sustainable energy,” he said.
“Taking on Trump? Of course you’ve got to do that. But you need a real plan to transform our energy system.”
Calling Trump "the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country," Sanders said that he brings a different coalition to the ballot box around his progressive agenda on issues like health care, education and wages.
"We're going to create the kind of excitement that we need to bring out the large voter turnout," Sanders said. "The truth is that our campaign, I think, can generate that excitement."
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It's a debate that underscores the differences in approach between Sanders and Biden. The former vice president recently told reporters in New Hampshire that he expects bipartisanship to return to Washington once Trump leaves office.
"You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends," Biden said.
"If we can't change it, we're in trouble. This nation cannot function without generating consensus."
When he addressed climate change during his Saturday rally, he argued that the solution to the "existential crisis" is cooperation.
"We need to set the most aggressive goals as soon as possible. But we have to work together to get it done," Biden said.
Sanders on Sunday made the case for more sweeping changes.
“Our campaign has a different goal — to transform this country," Sanders. "And we are taking on the entire establishment when we do that.”
Sanders and his allies have sought to draw a contrast to the former vice president as they take on the political establishment. The two men have topped virtually every poll of the Democratic presidential field.
But while Sanders blasts establishment Democrats for thinking too small, embedded in Biden's argument about the need to defeat Trump is the idea that some in the party have that Sanders' progressive platform is too far to the left to win in a general election.
Sanders dismissed that notion during his interview, as well as the question of whether his defeat in 2016 to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton shows he can’t capture the party’s nomination.
“We took on the entire Democratic establishment — we took on the Democratic National Committee, we took on every Democratic governor, we took on every Democratic mayor, and we ended up winning 22 states and 13 million votes, and in fact bringing forth an agenda that transformed the Democratic party,” he said.