Former Vice President Joe Biden's close relationship with Sen. Bernie Sanders and willingness to engage with progressives could spell a difference between the 2020 presidential contest and former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's failed 2016 bid, Sanders said in an interview in The New Yorker magazine published on Tuesday.
"I think the difference now is that, between you and me, I have a better relationship with Joe Biden than I had with Hillary Clinton, and that Biden has been much more receptive to sitting down and talking with me and other progressives than we have seen in the past," the Vermont lawmaker said.
Sanders competed against Clinton in 2016, and was the last Democrat standing against Biden during the 2020 primary contest. Democrats loyal to Clinton, with whom Sanders had an icy rapport, have criticized Sanders for what they saw as his insufficient effort to get his progressive backers behind her in 2016 after she defeated him in the primary.
Pressed to address that criticism, Sanders told The New Yorker that he did everything he could to get Clinton elected. But he said there was a misconception about how much influence candidates, on their own, can have on their supporters' votes.
"There is a myth out there that all a candidate has to say, whether it's Bernie Sanders or anybody else, to millions of people who voted for him or her, is, 'I want you to do this,' and every single person is going to fall in line," Sanders said. "That's just not the way it works in a democracy."
This time around, Sanders again lost to a candidate located ideologically to his right. But, Sanders said, Biden's apparent willingness to shift to the left on some issues could move the needle.
"I think you're going to see him being rather strong on the need for a new economy in America that does a lot better job in representing working families than we currently have," Sanders said. "He has told me that he wants to be as strong as possible in terms of climate change, and I look forward to hearing his proposals."
A spokesperson for Clinton did not respond to a request for comment.
Sanders endorsed Biden in April shortly after he dropped out of the race. The endorsement, which came far earlier in the cycle than his 2016 endorsement of Clinton, was seen as a major boost to Biden's campaign.
The two candidates announced at the time of Sanders' endorsement that their campaigns would form joint task forces to work out compromises on policy in six major areas: The economy, education, climate change, criminal justice, immigration reform and health care.
Sanders didn't say how much progress the task forces had made in the intervening months, though he said the two men were talking by phone. On the issue that most animated Sanders' political rise — making health care free at the point of use — Biden has not publicly budged, even as Covid-19 has swept through the country and led to unprecedented job losses.
Addressing the task forces, Sanders said, "We'll see what the fruits of those discussions are." He said he didn't want to sugarcoat the differences between the two men ideologically.
"He has been open and personable and friendly, but his views and my views are very different, in some areas more than others," Sanders said. He added: "But Joe has been open to having his people sit down with some of the most progressive folks in America, and that's a good sign."
In a statement, Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said that "Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are friends and share a steadfast belief that we need a government that will deliver for working families."
"Senator Sanders and his team have been extraordinary partners in offering advice and support on the biggest challenges of our day, such as overcoming climate change and rebuilding the American middle class — especially after the COVID-19 outbreak," Bates said.
Also in the interview, Sanders, a self-avowed democratic socialist, held out hope that a future candidate with his beliefs will be more successful than he was.
"Biden just mopped us up with older people," Sanders said. "On the other hand, even in states where we did poorly, and lost, we won a majority of young people, forty or younger. That's the future of America."
A spokesperson for Sanders didn't respond to an inquiry about whether he wanted to elaborate on his remarks.
Biden is currently leading President Donald Trump in national surveys by about 8 percentage points, according to an average of recent polls collected by RealClearPolitics.