MILWAUKEE (CN) — Hundreds of Democratic delegates, mostly in support of Senator Bernie Sanders, have pledged to boycott the party’s national platform if it does not include single-payer health care, setting up a likely showdown between the party’s progressive and moderate branches just three weeks before the convention.
As of Monday, it was reported that more than 360 delegates have signed a petition to vote against a Democratic platform that “does not include a plank supporting universal, single-payer Medicare for All,” according to the petition, which originated with Nevada delegates in support of Sanders and began circulating last Thursday.
This latest surge in support includes left-wing groups Progressive Democrats of America and RootsAction.org, which both announced their backing of the petition on Monday, indicating the Democratic Party’s left-wing faction is taking the pledge seriously and throwing their support behind its momentum.
The petition asserts that the need for access to universal, single-payer health care has been made clear by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in millions of unemployed Americans losing insurance benefits directly tied to their job at a time when that health care is needed the most, exposing a bedrock fault in a for-profit health care system the petition refers to as “racist and discriminatory.”
Norman Solomon, national director with RootsAction.org and a Sanders delegate from California, said in an interview Monday that “when I saw the launch of this petition pledge, RootsAction immediately said we would support it and conveyed that to the Nevada delegation.”
Solomon said that given the upheaval brought about by the spread of the novel coronavirus, “tying healthcare to employment has become transparently absurd and cruel.”
“There was tremendous support for Medicare for All even before the pandemic hit,” he said. “There’s no question that not only a strong majority of Democrats but a majority of registered voters period supports Medicare for All,” which has contributed to groups quickly coming together as they “recognized the historic moment.”
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s opposition to Medicare for All is well established, so that leaves little question that there will be a clash between Sanders supporters in the party’s progressive wing and more centrist delegates over single-payer health care ahead of the Democratic National Convention set to kick off on Aug. 17.
Due to the current public health crisis, the convention in downtown Milwaukee will largely be a virtual one, although Biden is still expected to speak and accept the party’s nomination in person.
While the petition has already done the work of forcing the single-payer health care conversation back near the forefront 21 days out from the national convention, progressives may be hard-pressed to get Medicare for All written into the Democratic national platform at this point.
Tom Holbrook, a distinguished political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, offered in an interview Monday he does not personally see Sanders himself supporting this petition, as so much has been made in the 2020 election cycle out of Democrats from disparate ideologies coming together to ensure President Donald Trump does not get re-elected.
Holbrook added that Sanders has made it clear that ousting Trump is “his number one job” this time around, and he suspects the Vermont senator “will either himself or through intermediaries try to put this out.”
Giving credence to Sanders’ commitment to party coalescence, the senator has recently joined Biden in a unity task force on issues central to the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, including climate change, immigration and criminal justice reform.
Recommendations from the task force published earlier this month indicate that it is finding middle ground or even seeing a leftward push on some of those issues — including eventually achieving quality universal health care with a public option — but a firm commitment to a single-payer system was not among them.
Nevertheless, the petition has the potential to stir déjà vu from liberals who remember revolts from Sanders supporters at the Democrats’ 2016 national convention over the party establishment’s treatment of Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton — something Holbrook said is understandable and altogether expected.
“There was a lot of resentment on the left over Hillary Clinton last time,” the professor said, while qualifying that “this is exactly the type of thing that pops up before conventions,” a time when “any whiff of dissent or potential disaster is going to get attention.”