Within hours, Sanders and Harris were exchanging compliments on Twitter, celebrating the unexpected kick-off of a bill that is still being finished.
Harris’s endorsement was not an enormous surprise. Elected by a landslide last November — the collapse of California’s GOP put her in a runoff with former Democratic congresswoman Loretta Sanchez — Harris had advocated for universal health care during the seven-month Affordable Care Act repeal fight.
But the gusto with which Harris endorsed the bill — “I’m going to break some news,” she said in Oakland — demonstrated Sanders’s inside-outside strategy for legislation that has no chance of passage unless Democrats win back Congress. Privately, Sanders and his circle expect a single-digit number of endorsements for the Medicare for All bill. Several senators, like Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), had previously endorsed similar bills as members of Congress. Others, facing tough reelection races, may dodge the Sanders bill but endorse some expansion of health-care coverage, under pressure from constituents and activists.
The support of potential 2020 candidates will be most telling. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have previously endorsed the idea of single-payer health care; it would be difficult, Sanders said in an interview, for any Democrat to win the 2020 presidential nomination without backing some form of Medicare for All.