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National Govt & Politics
Bernie Sanders zeros in on Joe Biden as his favorite foil
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Bernie Sanders zeros in on Joe Biden as his favorite foil

Bernie Sanders zeros in on Joe Biden as his favorite foil
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Michael Wyke, File
FILE - In this April 24, 2019, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., answers questions during a presidential forum held by She The People on the Texas State University campus in Houston. Sanders has a new foil for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary: former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden has been a declared candidate for fewer than three weeks and already Sanders has emerged as one of his most ardent critics.(AP Photo/Michael Wyke, File)

Bernie Sanders zeros in on Joe Biden as his favorite foil

Bernie Sanders is quick to slam Joe Biden's past support of free trade deals and the Iraq War. He is warning him against a "middle ground" approach to addressing climate change. His campaign sends fundraising appeals with a simple, foreboding subject line: "Joe Biden ."

In his nearly three weeks as a presidential candidate , Biden has become Sanders' favorite foil.

No one seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination has been as aggressive as the Vermont senator in highlighting episodes from the former vice president's past to sow skepticism in the party's progressive base.

The strategy is reminiscent of Sanders' approach to the 2016 Democratic primary, when he relentlessly slammed Hillary Clinton as an establishment pawn. And it's a reminder that, even when Sanders lags in the polls, he is often most comfortable when he's taking on top Democrats, hoping that such attacks will energize his most loyal supporters.

That was easy to do in 2016 when he was the sole outsider candidate taking on one of the most recognizable names in Democratic politics. It could be tougher now that he's a leading contender for the nomination who has spent the past several years building an organization to support his candidacy.

"Bernie is trying to rekindle the magic of 2016, where he was the outsider running against a longtime member of the establishment," said Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. "The challenge is that this year there are no candidates with a claim to outsider status."

A Sanders representative declined to comment. Mark Longabaugh, an adviser to Sanders' 2016 campaign, said the senator ran then by pitting himself against Wall Street, pharmaceutical drug companies and the billionaire Koch brothers, who funded conservative causes and campaigns.

Sanders' critiques of Biden come as the former vice president is taking the lead in many polls, displacing Sanders from the top.

For his part, Biden only nods at the tensions without mentioning Sanders by name.

Campaigning in New Hampshire this week, Biden defended his record as progressive, particularly on environmental and health care policies. He pushed back at a news report that he was considering a "middle ground" on climate policy that prompted stinging criticism from Sanders and Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

"I was in this area long before most anybody else was, and I have a record," he said, calling himself "a leader in climate change" and referring to a 1987 Senate floor speech during which he referred to a warming Earth as an "existential threat."

He said he'll deliver a major speech on climate issues later this month, and he called for an "environmental revolution." But he also doubled down on his overall pragmatic political brand, arguing that "we do need to finish this green revolution in a way that is rational" and in a way the nation "can afford."

For now at least, Biden is keeping his singular focus on President Donald Trump, a posture that also gives him the air of Democratic front-runner .

"You will never hear me speak ill of another Democratic candidate for president," Biden said Tuesday.

How long he can do that, though, is uncertain. With the first debates set for June, the race will soon move into another phase in which nearly two dozen candidates seeking the party's nomination will try to create breakout moments.

Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist who served as an adviser to Clinton's 2016 campaign, said Biden has the luxury of ignoring Sanders' attacks as the race right now appears to be "Joe Biden versus about 20 other candidates."

"It makes sense that he's trying to do it as long as he can, but we're in May of 2019. It's going to get rough, which is a good thing because we want a nominee to emerge battle tested," Petkanas said.

In New Hampshire, which Sanders captured by 22 percentage points in 2016 and his campaign views as vital this year, voters said they were wary of the campaign devolving into political mudslinging.

Lori Backman, 55, bemoaned the ideological tug-of-war, worrying that it will ensure Trump's reelection. "We can't have the splintering," she said, arguing that any Democrat is better on policy than the current administration. "We need a strong message of unity up front. That's how you win."

While Sanders benefited from running behind Clinton in 2016, 73-year-old Marilyn Learner said she didn't think Sanders would have that same advantage this time if Biden filled the Clinton role.

"Bernie's ideas were novel," the retired teacher said. "And they're not novel now."

Mike Ward, a 62-year-old retired postal worker, said Democrats should lay off one another for the time being but that he understands Sanders' approach.

"He's starting to slip in the polls," Ward said. "And it's due to Biden jumping in the race. That's obvious. So, he's just kind of scrambling to maintain his standing."

___

Associated Press writers Elana Schor in Washington and Bill Barrow and Hunter Woodall in Nashua, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.

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Tukeh’s command.” The torture Warfaa was subjected to as a 17-year-old farmer stemmed from a missing water tanker.  “Over the course of a three-day trial, the jury heard evidence that early one morning in 1987, Mr. Warfaa was rounded up with other men from his village and taken to the military headquarters of the Fifth Brigade of the Somali National Army, where Col. Tukeh held command,” CJA attorneys said in a news release. “Mr. Warfaa testified that Col. Tukeh’s soldiers tortured and interrogated him, and that Col. Tukeh himself shot Mr. Warfaa multiple times at point blank range, leaving him for dead.  “Miraculously, he survived.” See a 2016 Canadian Broadcasting Corp. report about Yusuf Abdi Ali below. 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It was CNN that sent undercover reporters earlier this month to find Ali, who was working full-time as an Uber driver even as his civil trial for Warfaa’s torture and shooting was set to begin. At the time the reporters caught a ride with Ali, he was listed as an “Uber Pro Diamond” driver who had been working for the company for 18 months.  “I do this full-time,” Ali, who worked in suburban Virginia, told the reporters, saying he preferred working weekends because “that’s where the money is.” During the car ride, which the reporters surreptitiously caught on video, Ali said applying for the job had been easy.  “They just want your background check, that's it,” Ali said. “If you apply tonight, maybe after two days, it will come, you know, everything.” Ali passed the background check despite his name turning up in documents and news accounts of his alleged war crimes that are easily found in a Google search, CNN reported. The alleged atrocities under his command have also been detailed in a documentary by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Witnesses who participated in the CBC documentary recounted murders they allege Ali committed during his command. During the civil trial in the federal courtroom in Alexandria, former soldiers who served under Ali and witnesses in Warfaa’s village testified on the plaintiff’s behalf. Ali has denied the claims against him, the Post reported.  Watch the entire 1992 CBC documentary about Ali, Crimes Against Humanity, below. “I did nothing to anybody,” he said in a deposition, according to the newspaper. “They’re just lying.” CNN reported that, following its questions about Ali, Uber suspended his access to the app. Lyft, which he had stopped working for in September, permanently banned him from working for the company.  Uber permanently removed Ali’s access following Tuesday’s verdict, CNN said.  The news network said that background checks for both Uber and Lyft are mainly done by a third party company called Checkr, which checks for red flags in sex offender databases, federal and local court records, as well as databases used to flag suspected terrorists.  A Checkr spokesperson told CNN its background checks “rely on public criminal records that have been adjudicated in a court of law rather than unverified sources like Google search results.” “Similarly, most employers don’t request background checks that include pending civil litigation due to its subjective nature,” the spokesperson said.  The lawsuit against Ali was first filed in 2005, when Warfaa learned the former military commander was living in the area of Alexandria, Virginia. According to the complaint, Ali served as commander of the Somali army’s Fifth Brigade from 1984 to 1989 before seeking asylum in Canada in 1990, as the tide turned against dictator Siad Barre. Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, plunging the country into decades of civil war.  “Col. Tukeh fled to Canada after the Barre regime was overthrown and eventually became a permanent resident of the United States, where he has been living since 1996,” the CJA said in its background of the case.  Warfaa’s civil suit says Ali was deported from Canada in 1992 for “having committed gross human rights abuses in Somalia,” at which time he came to the U.S. When deportation proceedings were initiated against him here, he voluntarily left the country.  He returned in 1996, reportedly on a visa obtained through his Somali wife, who had become a U.S. citizen, CNN reported. Ali’s wife was found guilty in 2006 of naturalization fraud for claiming she was a refugee from the country’s Isaaq clan -- the same clan that Ali has been accused of brutalizing during the civil war.  Warfaa’s lawsuit claims he was targeted because he is a member of the Isaaq clan, members of which established an opposition force called the Somali National Movement during the war.  “The Somali National Army committed widespread human rights abuses in its violent campaign to eliminate the SNM and any perceived supporters,” the civil complaint states. “It killed and looted livestock, blew up water reservoirs, burned homes, and tortured and detained alleged SNM supporters.” Read the entire amended complaint against Yusuf Abdi Ali below. Warning: The details of the alleged acts against Farhan Warfaa may be disturbing to some readers. The court document states that when the water tanker, which had been used to provide water to Ethiopian refugees, was stolen, Ali went to Warfaa’s village, Jifo Uray, with his men and threatened to execute everyone there unless the tanker was returned.  It was a few nights later that Warfaa and others from the village were rounded up and imprisoned by Ali’s men, the lawsuit states.  CNN’s report earlier this month was not the first time the network tracked Ali down in the United States. Reporters found him in 2016 working as a security guard at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. He was fired from that job a short time after the story aired, the network said. 

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