FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
(Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday proposed expanding access to Medicare and forgiving some student debt in new overtures to supporters of onetime rival Bernie Sanders.
Biden, who became Democrats’ presumptive nominee when Sanders ended his campaign on Wednesday, is working to close ranks as his party prepares a campaign to unseat Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
Biden’s new proposals on Thursday include expanding Medicare, government insurance for Americans over 65, to those 60 and older. He also promises to forgive student debt for lower-income Americans who attended public colleges and some other higher-educational institutions.
“Senator Sanders and his supporters can take pride in their work in laying the groundwork for these ideas, and I’m proud to adopt them as part of my campaign at this critical moment in responding to the coronavirus crisis,” Biden said in a statement.
The Democratic presidential candidates battled for nearly a year about the practicality of Sanders’ signature plans to forgive all federal student debt and his Medicare for All proposal to give government healthcare insurance to all Americans. Biden opposed both, offering his own slate of policies on both education and healthcare.
Now, Democrats are trying to tailor a message that can attract both the left flank of their own party and more conservative voters who backed Trump.
As his lead in the Democratic primaries expanded, Biden pivoted to a message of unity and started to adopt some policies his rivals endorsed. Sanders on Wednesday called Biden “a very decent man, who I will work with to move our progressive ideas forward.”
But Biden’s outreach efforts are not likely to include broad adoption of Sanders’ signature programs like Medicare for All, according to several people familiar with his plans.
In the statement on Thursday, Biden said the new policies would help Americans hurt by the coronavirus outbreak to “find more secure footing in the long term once we have emerged from this crisis.”
Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis