The announcements came after private conversations between Biden’s team and aides to Sanders (I-Vt.), who announced Wednesday that he was suspending his campaign. While they do not put Biden in line with Sanders on two pillars of the democratic socialist’s sweeping agenda, they represent concessions that bring the two sides closer together.
“Senator Sanders and his supporters can take pride in their work in laying the groundwork for these ideas, and I’m proud to adopt them as part of my campaign at this critical moment in responding to the coronavirus crisis,” Biden said in a post on the website Medium. He said he would release more details in the future.
The moves marked the latest olive branch that Biden, more centrist than Sanders, has offered to the party’s left wing. It remains to be seen whether the gestures will be enough to overcome skepticism many liberals have about his candidacy — or how much further left Biden would feel comfortable moving if they are not.
Sanders lauded Biden’s shifts, calling his new posture on health care a “step in the right direction” during an interview on MSNBC.
“I think what you will see is the vice president beginning to move in a more progressive direction,” he added.
The senator has long advocated enacting a Medicare-for-all system in which the government is the sole provider of health insurance. He has suggested phasing in the plan by gradually lowering the age at which Americans can enroll in the program.
In contrast, Biden supports expanding the Affordable Care Act with an optional public insurance program similar to Medicare. Disputes between Biden and Sanders over health-care policy made for heated exchanges during televised debates over the past nine months.
Sanders has promoted his own plan as a means of providing universal health coverage, including for the many younger people who lack insurance. A majority of uninsured adults between the ages of 19 and 64 were younger than 50, according to a 2018 study by Commonwealth Fund, a health-care research group.
Biden said his new health-care plan was based in part on the tough consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It reflects the reality that, even after the current crisis ends, older Americans are likely to find it difficult to secure jobs,” he wrote.
On student loans, Sanders presented a plan last year to erase all existing debt, going well beyond what Biden and other Democratic candidates embraced. Biden said Thursday that his new proposal would apply not just to public university attendees but also to people who attended private historically black colleges and universities as well as underfunded minority-serving institutions.
“The federal government would pay the monthly payment in lieu of the borrower until the forgivable portion of the loan was paid off,” Biden wrote. He said there would be “appropriate phase-outs” in the program based on income, “to avoid a cliff.”
In another peace offering to liberals, Biden proposed paying for his student debt plan by repealing a provision in the recent coronavirus legislation that Congress passed and President Trump enacted.
“That tax cut overwhelmingly benefits the richest Americans and is unnecessary for addressing the current COVID-19 economic relief efforts,” he wrote, referencing the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Last month, Biden nodded to Sanders by endorsing a plan to make public colleges tuition-free for families making less than $125,000 a year. At the time, Sanders responded with a tepid statement.
“It’s great that Joe Biden is now supporting a position that was in the Democratic platform four years ago,” said the senator, who favors making public colleges and universities tuition-free for everyone. “Now we have to go much further.”
That same day, Biden endorsed a bankruptcy plan put forth by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another rival who ran to his left.
In announcing Wednesday that he was suspending his campaign, Sanders ended a push for the White House that started five years ago when he announced a run against Hillary Clinton. His decision removed the last barrier standing between Biden and the nomination to run against Trump.
The senator from Vermont pledged to support the former vice president if he became the nominee and has hinted that a formal endorsement may be in the offing. At the same time, he said he will stay on the remaining primary ballots in an effort to collect enough delegates to influence the party’s platform in negotiations this summer.
In an interview Wednesday on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” Sanders was asked if he was making a “full-throated endorsement.” He replied that his team was in touch with Biden’s to work on “how we can best go forward together.”
In the conversations between the two camps, Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn and Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver have been the main points of contact, and they have interacted fairly regularly, according to a person familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy. The two sides engaged on a range of topics, with the goal of incorporating some of Sanders’s policy ideas into Biden’s existing proposals.
Many Sanders backers feel the senator deserves recognition for changing the national political conversation, even as the party shifts into general election mode and rallies behind Biden.
“When we do see the dawn of a new progressive era that allows America to become a multiracial democracy with dignity for all, people will ask what led to this period. Historians will answer simply: It all began with Bernie Sanders and the movement he built,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a national co-chair of the Sanders campaign.
At the same time, some Sanders supporters — including at least one member of his campaign’s senior staff — have continued to be critical of Biden.
“Bernie was too kind to go after Biden, but it’s coming,” Briahna Joy Gray tweeted early Thursday morning. The national press secretary on the Sanders campaign, she added: “Either Dem leadership cares more abt maintaining a corporate status quo than getting rid of Trump, or they’re planning to replace Joe — adopting a pretty fast and loose relationship w/ representative Democracy. Lose lose.”
Matt Viser contributed to this report.