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Michael Bennet: America doesn't know what the national Democratic Party stands for right now

Bennet discusses 2020 presidential run

Colorado Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Michael Bennet sees the Democratic primary process as a competition of ideas that will help to define the party in need of direction. 

"America doesn't know what the national Democratic Party stands for right now," he said in an interview Friday on CBSN. He cautioned his fellow Democrats to run the primary "in a way that doesn't make us vulnerable to losing to Donald Trump."

"It's important that Democrats not disqualify ourselves running against Donald Trump, or make it easy for him to disqualify us," Bennet said. "We lost to the guy once, we can't lose to him again."

Bennet, who has represented Colorado in the Senate for a decade, is running as a moderate in the 2020 primary. He has taken particular aim at Bernie Sanders and the Medicare for All proposal backed my most of the Democratic contenders. He said it's critically important for Democrats to campaign for universal health care that builds on the Affordable Care Act and adds a public option. "We want universal health care coverage. But  we don't want a plan that takes away insurance."

He also disagreed with his colleagues calling for the decriminalization of illegal border crossings. "We should not be saying there is no criminal liability for coming across the border ilegally," he said. "We shouldn't get rid of those criminal liabilities because every country in world [should have] a secure border." 

Bennet was a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that wrote a comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013. It was not taken up by the House. Decriminalizing illegal immigration would hand Trump an opening on rhetoric, he said. "Donald Trump is already saying Democrats are for open borders," he said, arguing that the president is the one "turning our border into a symbol of anti immigrant hatred around the world."

But Bennet insisted the party is not moving too far to the left, and that there was a difference between the party base and activists on social media. "The day to day stuff on social media whatever it is one day...most of the base of the Democratic Party doesn't have time to follow that stuff...The base of the Democratic Party deeply wants to make sure Donald Trump is a one term president." 

Bennet appeared on the debate stage in Miami last month, but did not see a significant bump afterwards and hasn't gained much traction in the field. Still, he said, "I think we're going to make it to the next debate...it's just one foot in front of the other."