ATLANTA—In front of a crowd of black Christian millennials on Saturday, a pair of leading 2020 Democratic candidates asked the faithful to put their trust in the government.
Left-wing darlings Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) appeared back-to-back at a presidential forum put on by Black Church PAC, a day after three other Democratic hopefuls attended the same Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta.
Addressing an audience sporting t-shirts with phrases like "Saved But Not Soft" and "God Made Me, Jesus Saved Me," they discussed their plans to cancel student debt, enact gun control, battle white nationalism, and expand health care coverage—both candidates want to eliminate private insurance in favor of a single-payer system—at times invoking their own religious backgrounds.
Sanders, who is Jewish but doesn't consider himself religious, said "Hitler and his white nationalism" killed his Polish father's family in Europe. Warren, a United Methodist, quoted the Gospel of Matthew's verse about the importance of doing good works: "For I was hungry, and you gave me meat … I was a stranger and you took me in."
The two longtime allies are now viewing each other warily as they battle for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Sanders and Warren are proposing trillions of dollars in new spending to fund a variety of programs combatting society's ills.
The response was polite but largely tepid from the audience, although they received huge cheers when they discussed their student debt cancellation plans. Sanders has a proposal to eliminate all of it, while Warren only wants to wipe out a mere 95 percent.
"In the richest country in the history of the world, your generation should not have a lower standard of living than your parents," Sanders said, adding later, "The Bible, if it is about anything, is about justice. It is about reaching out to people in need. It is about standing up to the wealthy and the powerful."
Warren's $1.25 trillion education plan also calls for free public college, and the crowd roared when she mentioned it included a $50 billion investment in HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).
Sanders appealed to African-American disgust with President Donald Trump, leading a call-and-response referring to him as racist, sexist, and xenophobic. Sanders was crushed by Hillary Clinton among black voters in the 2016 Democratic primary, helping lead to his defeat.
"Our job is to fight racism at every level," Sanders said. "Too many people have died against racism to allow it to resurface and flourish in America. We will go to war against white nationalism and racism in every aspect of our lives."
Warren frequently mentioned her media-praised "plans" and called them a way to be held accountable.
"These plans show my values. But it's also partly to say that you can hold me accountable. In a democracy, I think that's how it should work, and we've had way too little of that," she said.
Warren pitched her 2 percent "wealth tax," which would levy a two-cent tax on every dollar above the $50 million fortunes of what Warren derisively calls the "bazillionaires."
"I say to those folks, good for you, you made it big, but I guarantee you didn't build a fortune in America without using workers that all of us helped pay to educate," Warren said. "You built a fortune in America getting your goods to market on roads and bridges all of us helped pay to build."
The implementation of such a tax, whose constitutionality is questionable, would be a heavy lift for a Warren administration, experts have told the Washington Free Beacon. The wealth tax, which Warren often compares to a property tax, is the key to many of her big-government ideas, among them canceling student debt and providing free universal pre-kindergarten and child care.
Warren spoke the same week she stood by a false tweet that black teenager Michael Brown was "murdered" by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. The Washington Post rated it a "Four-Pinocchio" falsehood.
Left unsaid on the stage but still hanging in the air was the importance of Sanders and Warren in catching up to Joe Biden in black voter support. The three are firmly in the top tier of 2020 polling, but Biden has held a consistent lead thanks to an enormous advantage among African-American voters.
A former political activist who would only call herself "Tie V" told the Free Beacon Biden's vast support smacked of nostalgia for Barack Obama.
"What they know about Biden is Barack, versus the older people who have a different perception of him," she said. "They're so young. If you think about it, if you were 18 when Barack was first elected, you didn't know anything except that."
John Sanders, visiting from Houston, Texas, said he didn't have a preference yet in the 2020 field but said he came away more impressed with Sanders.
"A man has a better chance of leading this country as opposed to a woman's view," he said. "Not that a woman's point of view is not important, but he seems to have more knowledge of everything, drugs to communities to health care."
A young Warren supporter, Jabby Stevens, disagreed.
"Coming from her, the way she was brought up and her story, I feel we can relate a little bit more to her, and she seems more down-to-earth," she said.
After the event, Warren headed east to South Carolina, where Biden leads his rivals by 24 points.
"It does have something to do with that she is a woman, because you keep hearing the electability," Warren supporter Somega Finney told the Free Beacon. "I'm not quite sure what to do with that, other than to say that in the last election in 2016, Hillary Clinton got 3 million more votes … A woman can win. Electability is not an issue for a woman."
Dr. LaDena Bolton, from neighboring DeKalb County, said Warren and Sanders were her ideal ticket, with Warren at the top. While she said she supported some of Biden's agenda, she praised Warren's "fresh blood and new ideas," dismissing Sanders supporter complaints that she's co-opted his agenda.
After hearing the fresh-blooded Warren was 70 years old, she laughed.
"You know what? She is a PYT," she said, referencing Michael Jackson. "A pretty young thing."