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Hickenlooper rails against socialism in speech targeting Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders pitches democratic socialism

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper laid into Sen. Bernie Sanders, a rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, while speaking at a National Press Club event in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. 

Hickenlooper's criticism of Sanders comes a day after the Vermont senator gave a speech at George Washington University defending what he calls "democratic socialism." Hickenlooper has been a vocal critic of socialism on the trail, an approach that has irked some left-leaning audiences

"I have great respect for Sen. Sanders. He's provided clarity and urgency around the major issues for working families in America," said Hickenlooper on Thursday. "But I fundamentally disagree that we should do away with the democratic, regulated capitalism that has guided this country for over 200 years."

Hickenlooper then turned his attention to the rest of crowded 2020 field.

"This position is shared by many of my Democratic colleagues, but for some reason, our party has been reluctant to express its opposition to democratic socialism," Hickenlooper said. "In fact, the Democratic field has not only failed to oppose Sen. Sanders' agenda, they've actually rushed to embrace it."   

Sanders, a former mayor of Burlington, has long identified as a democratic socialist. In his speech Thursday, Sanders attempted to link his views to those of President Franklin Roosevelt, saying that "we must take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion."

"We must recognize that in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, economic rights are human rights," he said. "That is what I mean by democratic socialism."

Sanders routinely polls toward the top of the Democratic primary field. A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found him in second place behind former Vice President Joe Biden, with 19 percent support to Biden's 30 percent. 

Hickenlooper, meanwhile, tends to trail well behind the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination. When asked Thursday about his anemic polling, Hickenlooper answered that voters are not yet playing close attention to the race. 

Many of Sanders' proposals have been embraced by other Democratic candidates. For example, his signature Medicare for All legislation, which would expand government-funded health care to all Americans, is cosponsored in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker. 

Hickenlooper, however, says that many of the proposals championed by Sanders and other Democratic candidates, including Medicare for All and the "Green New Deal," are not realistic. Instead, Hickenlooper says he believes in partnerships between the public and private sectors to implement progressive goals, such as how Colorado increased access to long-acting reversible contraception with the help of nonprofits and private philanthropy. 

"Medicare for All does not take on fee for service, the major driver of healthcare costs," Hickenlooper said Thursday. 

"The Green New Deal guarantees every American a federal job – virtually guaranteeing it will never make it through Congress.  Free college proposals massively raise taxes — while doing nothing to address economic opportunity for the two-thirds of Americans who will never graduate with a four-year degree."    

Hickenlooper, however, did say that "American capitalism" should be "reformed as it has many times over our country's history — from Teddy Roosevelt's trust-busting to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal." 

"American capitalism must be reformed, but we will not solve our problems by endlessly expanding government or by demonizing the private sector," he said later in the speech. 

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