‘I guess you heard’: Jane Sanders recalls Bernie’s reaction to Va. shooter’s ties to campaign

Lisa Belkin
Chief National Correspondent

As soon as Jane Sanders heard news reports that the gunman in Wednesday’s congressional baseball shooting might have once been a Bernie Sanders volunteer, she picked up the phone to call her husband.

It rang in her hand before she could dial.

“I guess you heard,” Bernie Sanders said. “We have to speak out about this right away.”

The horror of an attack on elected officials who were prepping for a bipartisan game of ball carries extra weight for Sanders, the firebrand populist who spearheaded a movement apparently embraced by the shooter, James Hodgkinson. Some who knew Hodgkinson before he shot five people, including GOP House Whip Steve Scalise, describe him as outraged by the election of Donald Trump and the failure of Sanders to win the Democratic nomination.

Sen. Sanders issued a strong statement soon after his call to his wife, declaring that he was “sickened” by the “despicable act.” In an interview with Yahoo News, Jane described her own view of the shooting as a direct result of the “kind of negative politics that reached a feverish point over this election period.”

She stressed that her husband had tried to run an issue-based campaign, and not resort to the name-calling and personal attacks that were rampant all year. “But if I were a Republican, I would have been upended by the way the issues were ignored in favor of ‘all Trump, all the time,’ the more vulgar and outrageous the better.”

Jane Sanders recently announced the creation of the Sanders Institute, a progressive think tank of which she is co-founder and president. She said in the interview that the institute was born of a desire to focus on policy in response to “the way the only focus during the campaign was on the latest scandal or hypothetical scandal, rather than the issues of people’s lives.” That constant spewing of accusation, she said, makes it more likely that someone might act out as Hodgkinson did.

While campaigning with her husband, she admits to moments of fear that he could be a target of someone who felt the anger too deeply. “The politics over the last year have gotten very ugly and it has given me pause at times,” she said, choosing her words carefully. “I have been worried at times.”

She says neither she nor her husband feel responsible for the shooting, but rather a “deep sadness.”

It has left her more certain than before, she says, “that we cannot be caricaturing every public official of a different stripe from us as a fool or a demon. It’s not helpful to having a vital democracy or a strong foundation of electoral politics, and it isn’t safe.”

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