Sen. Bernard Sanders said Thursday he can see himself working with President-elect Donald Trump on issues like infrastructure and trade, but said Mr. Trump needs to wise up on climate change and called on him to rescind his appointment of former Breitbart News executive Stephen K. Bannon as a top strategist.
“If Donald Trump comes up with an idea or a program which he campaigned on that says that our infrastructure is crumbling, that we can create millions of jobs rebuilding our infrastructure, that we’re going to put people back to work at decent wages, yeah, I will work with him,” Mr. Sanders told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.
Mr. Sanders, an independent who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination this year, also said he intends to stay an independent even though he’s part of the Senate party leadership now. Mr. Sanders caucuses with the Democrats.
In addition to infrastructure, Mr. Sanders said he could work with Mr. Trump on trade — an issue that was central to both of their respective campaigns.
The Vermont senator did say that he sharply disagrees with Mr. Trump on climate change. The president-elect has said in the past that the concept of global warming was created by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
“Donald Trump is nobody’s fool — he is a smart guy,” Mr. Sanders said. “And I would hope very much that he recognizes that that point of view that he has is way out of touch with what the scientific community believes.”
Mr. Sanders also said there is “extraordinary fear” in the country given Mr. Trump’s ties to the so-called “birther” movement that questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States, and said there is fear among the immigrant community and Muslim community given Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
“I would hope very much that President-elect Trump understands the fear and anxiety of his attitudes on race, on his attitude toward women, and would try to make the American people feel comfortable, more comfortable, and I hope that he would do it by rescinding the nomination of Mr. Bannon,” he said.
Mr. Trump has officially announced two top-level appointments thus far: Mr. Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as chief of staff.
Critics have pointed to statements from Mr. Bannon’s ex-wife, for example, that he was wary about sending their daughters to attend school with Jewish children — a charge Mr. Bannon’s team denied when such reports surfaced during the campaign.
Mr. Bannon has also called Breitbart a “platform” for the ethnonationalist “alt-right” movement.
“I will not compromise with racism, and I will not compromise with sexism, and I will not compromise with homophobia, and I will not compromise with Islamophobia,” Mr. Sanders said.
As for his own political future and that of the Democratic Party, Mr. Sanders said he intends to officially remain an independent for the time being.
“I was elected last election as an independent. I will finish this term as an independent,” he said.
For Democrats, he said a message of increasing the minimum wage, equal pay for women, and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure could have broad appeal — including among white working class voters who broke heavily for Mr. Trump.
“I think we can create a platform which appeals to white workers, to black workers, to Latino workers, to women, and that is a platform that brings a vast majority of the American people together,” he said.
Asked whether he could have beaten Mr. Trump in a general election contest, Mr. Sanders said it doesn’t matter now.
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t know if I could have won. Who knows?” he said.