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While Impeachment Roils Washington, Sanders And Warren Prefer To Focus On Issues06:39
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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pauses while speaking at a campaign event Sunday at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. (Cheryl Senter/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pauses while speaking at a campaign event Sunday at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. (Cheryl Senter/AP)

As House Democrats push forward with their impeachment inquiry of President Trump, the Democratic presidential candidates continue to make their case on the campaign trail — often ignoring the drama in Washington.

A case in point came Monday, in Manchester, New Hampshire, where Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders held a town hall to push his signature Medicare For All plan.

"Despite spending $11,000 for every man, woman and child woman in this country, we have 87 million people who are uninsured or under-insured," Sanders said.

Sanders made just one passing reference to the latest scandal engulfing the president, saying, "I don't want to get into the whole Trump thing." Instead, he stayed focused on his signature proposal, which would do away with private insurance, premiums and co-pays — replacing them with a government-run system.

"Five hundred thousand people go bankrupt because of medical bills," he said. "That is disgraceful, that is so cruel, and it tells me that we have to change the system and do what every other major country on earth does and guarantee health care to all people."

According to polls, health care is a top issue for voters, and that appeared to be the case among the crowd of people who came to hear Sanders at Boards & Brews in Manchester.

Among attendees was Lisa Call, of Boylston, Massachusetts, who survived cancer and now drives for Uber. "Everybody's better off with [Medicare For All]," she said. "[But] I think like many voters, the bottom line is that I want someone who can beat Donald Trump."

Activists rally for the impeachment of President Trump at the Capitol on Sept. 26. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Activists rally for the impeachment of President Trump at the Capitol on Sept. 26. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The push by House Democrats to pursue an impeachment inquiry was also on the minds of some voters. But when he was asked about it at a separate campaign event in Hooksett, New Hampshire, earlier on Monday, Sanders said, "I don't want to spend a lot of time talking about it," before offering his assessment of President Trump's July phone call with the president of Ukraine.

"It seems that he used his office to try to get dirt on a political opponent," Sanders said. "That means that you're involving a foreign country very blatantly in a U.S. election, which is obviously against the law."

Trump has described his conversation call with President Zelensky as a "perfect call," and insists that he did nothing wrong.

Sanders' progressive rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, was the first Democratic presidential candidate to call for impeachment. Warren is also trying to stay focused on the issues central to her campaign. When she does talk about impeachment, it is usually in response to questions from journalists, rather than part of her stump speech.

"There are some things that are bigger than politics," She told reporters in New Hampshire last week. "I took an oath of office, and so did everybody in Congress. And that oath is to follow the Constitution of the United States. No one is above the law, not even the president of the United States."

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asks the audience a question while speaking at a campaign event Friday in Hollis, N.H. (Cheryl Senter/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asks the audience a question while speaking at a campaign event Friday in Hollis, N.H. (Cheryl Senter/AP)

Democrats may be energized to run against Trump, but they know they have to run for something if they hope to prevail in 2020. That was the message delivered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Friday night to a conference of New Jersey Democrats in Atlantic City.

“The election is about all of the issues and policies that we have a difference of opinion with the Republicans on, and they are very drastic," Pelosi said. "They have nothing to do with impeachment.”

The impeachment of Bill Clinton, who was the last president to go through the process, offers Democrats a cautionary tale of how an all-consuming political process can backfire, said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

"Before this latest Ukraine controversy, a majority of Americans — 55% to 60% — opposed impeaching President Trump," Ayres told NPR. "That's almost exactly the same percentage that opposed impeaching President Clinton in 1998. When the Republicans impeached him anyway, the only number to move was the negative rating of the Republican Party. The Democrats went on to win five more seats in the fall."

On the other hand, Ayres points out that Trump faces much more serious allegations than lying about a consensual sexual affair between two adults. The latest NPR-Marist poll, which was conducted last Wednesday, found Americans slightly in favor of impeachment 49% to 46%.

And while Trump may be able to exploit the moment to excite his base, that could also backfire, according to Peter Ubertaccio, a political scientist and dean at Stonehill College.

"The deeper the president goes [in appealing to] his base, the greater the risk he faces of losing the more independent, moderate, suburban voters that he needs to win," Ubertaccio said.

It seems fair to conclude that impeachment poses risks to both sides.

This segment aired on October 1, 2019.

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Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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