The Eight-Hour Speech That Made Bernie Sanders A Household Name
He there it's the NPR politics podcast. I must must call it. I'm covering the twenty twenty campaign. I'm Scott detro- I'm also covering the campaign and Timur Keith. I covered the White House. And this week we're going to take a close look. At the top four leading Democratic presidential candidates. We each took a candidate dove into the rises as a politician and focused on a moment in their life that was a turning point for them professionally or personally which is why. We're calling this series turning points pretty clever in today's Scott we're going to dive into Vermont. Senator Bernie Sanders Life. You did that piece so talk to us about how you actually decided on the moment that you chose. Yeah yeah one of the big things about Bernie Sanders is how consistent. He's been over the decades and you can. You can look at speeches. He gave as Burlington mayor or a congressman or a senator or presidential central candidate and they're like almost identical and there's been a lot of stories written about the early points of his political career so I was thinking differently and I was wondering during like what is the moment where Bernie Sanders went from Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders national iconic progressive figure. And the interesting answer is that. There's a very specific moment. You know an exact time of day because it was this filibuster that he delivered on the Senate floor on December tenth twenty ten protesting. Oh testing a bipartisan tax. Deal and it went viral. It was big online social media moment at a period of time where those were a little more rare And it really elevated him to this leading progressive sometimes critic of the Obama Administration and really according to his top staffers set the clear path to the eventual wall. Twenty sixteen run for the presidency. I'm thinking back like this was before these long talk a thon on the Senate floor became kind of a regular thing. This was unique. Take Yeah that's right In the year since this is something that a lot of Republicans in particular have done. I'm thinking Ted Cruz. Reading Green Eggs and Ham at one point among other things things but this is not something that had been done in a long time when Bernie Sanders did it and it got a ton of attention and force the White House to respond to him and actually really interesting interesting ways all right. We're going to do something a little different than what we normally do in the podcast Scott. You've actually reported this story out as a profile so we want to take a seat back back and listen to it you already go on December tenth twenty ten president. Barack Obama was facing a lot of pressure. Democrats had just lost the House of Representatives tentatives and here was Obama about a month later asking his party for a major tax deal that would extend the Bush administration's tax cuts for the wealthy something. Democrats had ray-ban L. Bond for years. The issue here is not whether I think that the tax cuts for the wealthy are a good or smart thing to do that morning. Obama was on. NPR's morning edition defending the deal. The problem is that this is the single issue that the Republicans are willing to Scotch the entire deal for Obama had tapped vice president. Joe Biden to figure out a deal with Mitch McConnell. They reached one relatively quickly and several phone calls over the course of a single weekend. Republicans got the tax cuts. The Bush extensions plus cut in a state taxes. Paid by the mega wealthy Democrats. Got An extension of unemployment limit benefits and a range of other broader tax cuts a few hours. After Obama's interview aired Bernie Sanders walked onto the Senate floor. I think we can do better. Uh and I am here today to take a strong stand against this bill. At this point sanders had been in Congress for nearly two decades. He he had a long inconsistent track record but he hadn't emerged as a national figure that would start to change over the course of the next eight hours. You can call what I'm doing today. Whatever you want you can call it a filibuster? You can call a very long speech. I'm not here to set any records. I was sitting with him for the entire carried hours. That Bernie was doing his filibuster. Warren gunnels has been on sander staff for decades that damn the Senate floor. He was running point sanders needed notes. Gunwales handed them to him. There was a sign or chart that would help sanders point. Gunwales would send another staffer to fetch it. Gunnell says Sanders speech notes were relatively minimal animal. I would call it a refrain of about three four pages of how he wanted to set it up sanders kept returning to two points Over and over I that public opinion was on his side. The polls show us. The American people do not believe millionaires and billionaires need more tax breaks Sanders Sanders also made a point to talk past the other lawmakers who he likely realized. We're mostly going to vote for the bipartisan deal. He kept urging people to call Congress to complain if they make make their voices heard and said enough is enough the rich of guided all right now. The clock kept ticking and Sanders kept speaking. I started trending on twitter craft surged on the Senate website points the full mind to Senate offices jammed up. The speech was clearly hitting a nerve with progressives says it was something else though that made them realize they were breaking through in. The White House responded with a dramatic move the other guy. I don't even know if they had a topic in mind but they just rolled out bill. Clinton while Bernie was speaking Obama had brought the former former president into the White House briefing room to make his pitch for the compromise. The agreement taken as a whole is I believe the best back partisan agreement we can reach help. The largest number of Americans meanwhile on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue Sanders kept going. This is a transfer of wealth. It's Robin Hooding. Reverse standards wrapped after eight hours and thirty minutes he could finally take a break so could gunwales. I was exhausted. I was mentally exhausted. Did I can't say I was physically exhausted because I was sitting down the whole time but the filibuster failed. The Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve the tax bill. Sander under speech hadn't seemed to change any minds still very soon. Gunnell saw things differently when you look back at that. I think that that might have been the spark that began to set things things off. The speech was quickly turned into a book which was a bestseller and Bernie. Sanders was suddenly a much more prominent figure another longtime sanders advisor. Jeff Weaver agrees that Brought Bernie Sanders to the notice of millions of Americans who didn't know who he was and I think it laid the groundwork for the success that he would see in the twenty fifteen in two thousand sixteen eighteen election cycle the next year. Joe Biden stood next to Mitch McConnell on a stage and defended the deal which we both believe has spurred the economic growth. We've got a long way to go but it actually not only was a compromise because it's a compromise that was useful for the economy. Obama did get those top tier. Bush tax cuts eliminated down the line. Still in the immediate wake of the Filibuster Bernie Sanders told. NPR HE was tired compromises. Might we have to compromise. Yeah maybe we do but you gotta wage the fight fight before you compromise. You gotta take the case to the American people and we didn't do that compromise or fight nearly a decade later. Sanderson Biden are battling attling for the Democratic presidential nomination contest that largely revolves around that same key question. All right. We're GONNA take a quick break and when we get back. We'll talk about how this moment. Event has rippled through Bernie Sanders career support for this podcast. And the following message come from K.. Buxbaum in support of the David Gilkey and Zaba ULITSA Demonic Memorial Fund established to strengthen. NPR's commitment to training and protecting journalists in high risk environments NPR's life. Kit Wants to help if you make changes that actually stick this New Year for how to do dry January to how to start a creative habit. We've got new episodes all month to help you start the year off right new episodes every Tuesday and Thursday. Listen and subscribe to life Kit. And we're back so Scott. Douglas about what you feel has actually changed in democratic politics since this moment since twenty ten. Yeah I think. The Democratic Party has gotten a lot more outwardly. Populist obviously populism has always been a threat and the Democratic Party but Bernie Sanders was really an outlier and the steel. A lot of Democrats were mad but he was really the only one taking taking this forceful stand. Only two other Democratic senators joined him in this filibuster to give him a little bit of a break and there's one moment that really just crystallizes all of this to me me. And that's when Bill Clinton is talking in the White House early on one of the first things he says I should say I'm really wealthy and that I'm going to benefit from this tax break and I just WanNa put it out there now. There's no world where you would see somebody saying something like that. Now you know another thing that struck me about it is like that speech. Yes yes it was about this tax deal but it was really about Bernie Sanders worldview. It was him laying out all of these ideas and themes that we've heard repeatedly on the campaign trail and there was obviously not room to touch on all of the points he made in the eight and a half hour speech but there are so many refrains that just like are central themes names that he talks about every single day and has been for years and it just all came together in this one moment. One thing that I didn't really get a clear answer on with a lot of people I talked to was I asked. Do you think this deal would happen today. Do you think it would get the votes. Had got in the Senate today and a lot of sanders supporters had absolutely not. There's IT's no way I talked to Harry Reid a lot reporting the story. He was the former longtime top senate. Democrat Minority Leader Majority leader at different points and I asked him. Do you think this still happens happens. And he says I don't think that the Bush tax cut extensions do end up in that final package if it happens today though I will say that last week Congress voted Oded on a number of deals that include tax extenders and other tax breaks and basically there have been some deals made that Ed. I'm not convinced that are all that different than what sanders gave an eight and a half hour speech about so Scott at the end of this piece. You outline a kind of central question in that I think we not only heard Bernie Sanders but we have already heard a lot about in this twenty twenty campaign cycle and that's this question about compromising or fighting. What is the right tactic? What's the right strategy for Democrats to take? How do you think that is playing out now? I think it's a defining argument in this presidential campaign. I hadn't fully realized until I started reporting this how central a role Joe Biden played in putting together this deal that Bernie Sanders opposed. But it's something that Biden is really at awed with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders on in this campaign. The idea of cutting deals of incremental progress. It of course plays out mostly on the healthcare front. Do you totally Redo obamacare or do you build on it and Joe Biden's like a central argument of his campaign. Is that the Democrats who just want to fight. Who Don't want to compromise? Cut Deals are very vocal are very public but they might not be the majority of the democratic electorate and that's something that we are going to quickly get some receipts on when people start loading next month as much as for Bernie Sanders fighting is the answer and and not compromising. Values is the answer for Vice President Biden who I've worked on a profile of that sort of ability to compromise or the ability to bring people together her that's like fundamental to his pitch. It really is as you say. It's just a major contrast between the two camps in the campaign. All right. We're I'M GONNA leave it there. Make sure to listen to the rest of this candidate series. We will have new profiles in your podcast feed everyday this week and you can chat about them in our facebook group at in dot com slash politics podcast. I must much all it covered. Twenty twenty campaign. I'm Scott Troy also the campaign and I'm Tamra Keith. I covered the White House House and thank you for listening to. NPR politics podcast.