Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet says he is considering a run for Democratic presidential nomination

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent
Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: David Zalubowski/AP, Getty Images)

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., confirmed in an interview Tuesday that he is considering a run for president.

“I am thinking about it,” Bennet said in an interview for the Yahoo News podcast “The Long Game.”

Bennet has reportedly been talking to staff in Iowa ahead of the first-in-the-nation caucus there and would join the enormous field of Democrats likely to seek the nomination in 2020, which is more than 30 names long.

Bennet, 54, carries himself in a low-key manner but has impressive credentials, and has been considered a rising Democratic star. Former President Obama mentioned him among a handful of young Democrats he believed could be national stars, along with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and South Bend, Ind.,  Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

He gained prominence in Colorado as the superintendent of Denver schools. Before that, he worked as chief of staff to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who would go on to become governor of the state.

When the New Yorker profiled Bennet’s attempts to turn around failing schools in 2007, writer Katherine Boo noted that Bennet was the kind of leader who “liked to announce improbable goals, then defy expectations of failure.”

True to that description, Bennet said a presidential campaign would be one way to rally the nation around a call to restore the nation’s democratic institutions, such as the U.S. Senate, which are crucial to public faith in the legitimacy of government.

“In this moment, what we have is carnage of our institutions. I think this is the fundamental challenge that we face as a country is whether we’re going to preserve them or not,” Bennet said.

“The founders … created an architecture for us to resolve our disagreements,” he said. “It had to come from a process of disagreement and debate, exercising our freedom of speech and our freedom of religion and our freedom to assemble and petition the government.”

The recent controversy over the Supreme Court confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh was widely acknowledged by senators as a low point in the Senate’s history. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., called it “rock bottom.”

But Bennet said the chamber’s decline may have further to go. “Just when I think we’re at rock bottom, we find a way of going even lower,” he said.

He does not believe the Senate can save itself.  “What I’ve learned over time is that you can’t fix [the Senate] from the inside. I mean, you can accomplish bipartisan things. I have spent a career here working with Democrats and Republicans to do stuff, from immigration to reforming the FDA. I’m not saying that it’s not impossible to do it, but I also think that it is important to build a constituency for change outside of the Capitol.”

Bennet made the case that any national agenda would have to match the politics of his state, “which is a third Democratic, a third Independent and a third Republican.”

“On climate, for instance, which is a pressing challenge that we need to face, I think, ultimately, Democrats themselves are not going to able to create a durable enough solution to deal with climate in a meaningful way,” Bennet said, citing conversations he had all summer with conservative Republican farmers who are worried about the impact of global warming on their livelihood.

“They are not being invited by the national political conversation to have a discussion about climate,” Bennet said. “They need to be engaged … They need to be heard, and they need to be part of it. I think that what we will find is we can build a constituency of Republicans and Democrats that say, ‘Yeah, we need to do something about climate.’”

Bennet has advocated against a win-at-all-costs attitude in the past, to a point. When President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in 2017, Bennet spoke out on the Senate floor against the move by Democrats to filibuster the nomination.

He understood that Democrats were angry by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to allow a vote in 2016 on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court. Bennet said Tuesday that “when folks say that McConnell stole the Supreme Court seat, they’re selling him short. He stole the presidency in my view.”

Bennet recalled being shocked there were no public protests against what the Senate had done. “I truly believe that the Merrick Garland episode will go down in history as one of the most unforgivable episodes that we have ever had here. That’s not a reason for us to act without a strategy,” he said.

Bennet, however, did vote against Gorsuch, and the editorial page of his home state paper, the Denver Post, said it was “deeply disappointed” that Bennet had not spoken out against the Senate’s descent into hyper-partisanship earlier and more loudly. “Bennet played this one too close to his vest too long,” the paper wrote.

On the issue of a potential government shutdown, Bennet said that Trump is using the issue of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to hurt Democrats, but “he doesn’t actually want the trouble of building the wall.”

“He wants the issue of the wall,” Bennet said “The problem is that the idea of the wall is a fiction of his imagination. It is not the way to secure the border.”

Nonetheless, Bennet said Democrats won’t agree to give Trump the $5 billion he’s seeking to construct a physical barrier. “Fulfilling his campaign pledge that had nothing to do with the reality of how our border needs to be secured is not something Democrats are going to want to do,” Bennet said.

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