Bernie Sanders endorses Levin, Tlaib in their Democratic primaries

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Progressive powerhouse Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday endorsed U.S. Rep. Andy Levin in his closely watched Democratic primary against a colleague, Rep. Haley Stevens, in Michigan's new 11th District in Oakland County.

Sanders also endorsed U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, who is facing a primary in the 12th District that covers Dearborn, Southfield and part of Detroit, as well as Livonia, Inkster, Westland, Garden City and Redford Charter Township.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders shakes hands with attendees after speaking at a rally for striking Kellogg's workers at Farmers Market Square in Battle Creek, Michigan on December 17, 2021.

The Vermont senator's endorsement followed Levin's backing this month by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and the environmental groups Sunrise Movement and Clean Water Action.

Sanders cited attacks on Levin by the pro-Israel lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in his statement about the Bloomfield Township congressman, a vocal critic of Israeli policy.

“The right wing-funded SuperPac run by AIPAC has found its newest progressive target in Congressman Andy Levin. Once again, these extremists are pouring millions of dollars into a congressional race to try to ensure the Democratic Party advances the agenda of powerful corporations and the billionaire class," Sanders said.

“Andy Levin is a strong pro-labor voice in Congress, and he is the only Democrat in the race who understands that we have to be a party of the working class. He is not afraid of taking on powerful special interests, and I am proud to stand with him," Sanders added.

Sanders' backing comes a day after The Detroit News reported that the United Democracy Project, the super political action committee started by AIPAC, reserved at least $1.5 million in air time on broadcast and cable TV outlets in the Detroit market through July.

Levin's campaign estimates that at least $820,000 of that total is for an ad supporting Stevens, who has been endorsed by AIPAC. 

Levin called Sanders' endorsement a "major development," noting that Sanders "shocked" the political class with his upset primary victory in Michigan in 2016.

“With their help, we will send a strong message that Republican billionaires cannot buy a Democratic primary, especially not here in Oakland County," Levin said. 

He was referring to donations last month by two GOP megadonors, Paul Singer and Bernie Marcus, who each gave $1 million to United Democracy Project ahead of several Democratic primary contests in other states. UDP has also received $1 million from Democratic donor Haim Saban, according to federal disclosure reports.

Stevens' endorsements include U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield; Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus; the chairwoman of the House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Texas U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson; and Florida Rep. Lois Frankel, co-chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus.

Tlaib, who is seeking a third term, is facing a Democratic primary challenge from Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey, former state  Rep. Shanelle Jackson of Detroit and Lathrop Village Mayor Kelly Garrett in the 12th.

Sanders cited Tlaib's commitment to target corporate greed and the "corrupt political system that sustains that greed." He urged his supporters to donate to and volunteer for her campaign and vote.

"Over and over again she has taken on powerful special interests and fought for the working people in Michigan and across the country," Sanders said. 

“It is no surprise, therefore, that a billionaire-funded super PAC is planning to spend $1 million to try and defeat Rashida in her re-election campaign. When members of Congress like Rashida take on special interests, the billionaires and their super PACs want them out. We cannot let that happen."

Sanders was referring to Urban Empowerment Action PAC, which has pledged to spend at least $1 million on TV, digital, mail, radio and print advertising to defeat Tlaib.

The PAC says it's made up of a coalition of Black and Jewish business and civic leaders. The group is supporting one of Tlaib's challengers, Winfrey, among several other pro-Israel candidates.

Tlaib is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants and a strident critic of Israel who backs the controversial movement to boycott, divest and impose sanctions on Israel. 

Urban Empowerment Action PAC, created in October, said on its website it's dedicated to "empowering urban communities to narrow the wealth gap between Black and white Americans." A major donor to the PAC is hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb, who gave it $75,000.

PAC spokesman Henry Greenidge said the group's goal is to help elect Black candidates to office who will champion "common-sense solutions that uplift Black people," saying Winfrey is the candidate best positioned to do so by focusing on stopping inflation, restoring infrastructure and delivering educational opportunities.