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Sanders says a shift in campaign focus would be a ‘disservice’ to millions of working people

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at an event sponsored by Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago recently. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said Monday that it would be “a real disservice to many millions of people” for him to shift his campaign focus away from issues impacting the “disappearing middle class,” despite intense media interest in terrorism and foreign policy.

The Vermont senator offered his thoughts in an impromptu gathering with reporters outside a campaign office in Washington, where he met Monday afternoon with a half-dozen immigrants to hear their stories and talk about his immigration reform proposals.

After aides initially suggested Sanders would not take questions, the Democratic hopeful approached lingering reporters after the event and said he wanted to comment on a story that appeared Monday in The Washington Post. In the piece, analysts and even some Sanders supporters questioned why his message on the campaign trail has not changed more in the wake of the attacks in Paris and the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.

[Sanders’s focus on inequality overshadowed as guns, terror grab headlines]

“I am more than aware of the threat of [the Islamic State] and the importance of this issue, and I am more than aware that we have got to do everything we can not only to crush ISIS, but to defend the American people,” Sanders said. “Not easy stuff, to be honest with you, but we’ve got to do everything we can.

“But this is what I also believe,” he said. “I also believe it would be extremely unfair to tens of millions of Americans who working longer hours for lower wages, it  would be terribly unfair to middle-class families who today cannot afford to send their kids to college, it would be terribly unfair to 29 million Americans who have no health insurance, to simply say we’re not going to talk about the decline of the American middle class, we’re not going to talk about the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality.

“I will continue to talk about Wall Street, and what their greed and recklessness is about,” Sanders said. “I will continue to talk about a disastrous trade policy, which has cost of millions of jobs, the need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, the need to create millions of jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. Media can not report it or report it, that’s their decision."

[Sanders promises broader protections against deportation for undocumented immigrants]

Sanders also reiterated his view that the United States needs to have a “smart” approach to fighting terrorism and not just be “tough,” as he said many of his Republican colleagues are advocating.

“I hope very, very, very much that this country, the people of our country and the United States Congress does not forget the lesson of Iraq,” Sanders said. “And the lesson of Iraq is that President Bush decided that he would go into Iraq virtually unilaterally, overthrow Saddam Hussein and not understand the long-term consequences of that action, which ended up making a bad situation much worse in terms of the destabilization of the region.”

As he has in recent days, Sanders said the United States needs to play a supporting role in defeating ISIS but that argued that  the “boots on the ground” needed to be provided by Muslim nations in the Middle East.

“These people take their religion seriously,and they’re seeing it hijacked by a bunch of lunatics,” Sanders said.