Two weeks after suffering a heart attack, Sen. Bernie Sanders made his formal return to the race during Tuesday’s 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.
And Sanders tried to cut off CNN’s Erin Burnett, one of the debate’s moderators, as she tried to ask him about his health.
“I’m healthy, I’m feeling great,” he said, before pivoting briefly to a question about opioids that was asked just before.
Sen. Cory Booker noted that Sanders is also in favor of medical marijuana.
“I’m not on it tonight,” Sanders quipped.
At 78, Sanders is the oldest candidate running for the Democratic nomination. Former Vice President Joe Biden is 76 and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the third-oldest candidate, is 70. If any of them win the White House, they would be the oldest president ever inaugurated. (Donald Trump is 73.)
“You are 78 and just had a heart attack,” Burnett persisted. “How can you reassure voters that you are up to being president?”
Sanders responded by inviting Burnett and viewers to a rally in Queens, N.Y., on Saturday, promising a surprise guest and vowing to continue his “vigorous campaign.” (According to multiple reports, the surprise guest is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who will endorse him for president at the event.)
Sen. Bernie Sanders thanks those who wished him well, including his rivals, "for their love, for their prayers" during his recovery from a heart attack, and says he's "healthy" and "feeling great." #DemDebate https://t.co/r4XqxLbfaP pic.twitter.com/6cf3unOFDY— CNN (@CNN) October 16, 2019
The Vermont senator, who has been reluctant to put a spotlight on his personal life, then took the opportunity to give thanks for the outpouring of support he’s received.
“Let me take this moment, if I might, to thank so many people from all over this country, including many of my colleagues up here, for their love, for their prayers, for their well wishes,” Sanders said. “And I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. And I’m so happy to be back here with you this evening.”
On Oct. 1, Sanders underwent a heart procedure after experiencing chest pains at a campaign event in Las Vegas. He was transferred to Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center, where doctors inserted two stents to alleviate an artery blockage. He was discharged from the hospital three days later. His doctors said he had suffered a myocardial infarction, or heart attack, before he was hospitalized.
After consulting with a cardiologist upon returning to his Burlington, Vt., home, Sanders initially told reporters that he would likely scale back his campaign schedule.
“We were doing [in] some cases five or six meetings today, three or four rallies and town meetings and meeting with groups of people. I don’t think I’m going to do that,” Sanders said. “But I certainly intend to be actively campaigning. I think we can change the nature of the campaign a bit. Make sure I have the strength to do what needs to be done.”
But in an interview with “NBC Nightly News” the next day, Sanders said he “misspoke” when he suggested he’d scale back his campaign.
“I misspoke the other day. I said a word I should not have said and media drives me a little bit nuts to make a big deal about it,” Sanders said. “We’re going to get back into the groove of a very vigorous campaign. I love doing rallies and I love doing town meetings.”
The Sanders campaign has scheduled three public events in the next two weeks: the Queens rally, a forum on criminal justice in Columbia, S.C., on Oct. 26 and a March to End Corporate Greed in Des Moines, Iowa, on Nov. 1.
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