Sanders lambastes Biden over trade, gay rights as new Democratic contests loom

(Reuters) – Bernie Sanders launched a full-throated attack against Joe Biden on Friday, assailing his Democratic presidential rival over his record on trade, abortion, gay rights and Social Security, as the pair faced a slew of crucial nominating contests next week.

Sanders, until recently the front-runner in the party’s race to face President Donald Trump in November, now trails in delegates and is desperate to regain momentum after Biden’s strong Super Tuesday showing.

At a hastily arranged press conference in Phoenix, Sanders, a U.S. Senator from Vermont, dug deep into Biden’s 40-year record. He criticized Biden for having opposed the rights of gay people to serve in the U.S. military and for voting against federal funding for abortions, stances Biden has since rejected.

“I was there on the right side of history, and my friend Joe Biden was not,” Sanders said.

Sanders lambasted Biden for supporting trade deals he said had been “a disaster for Michigan” and accused Biden of trying in the past to cut Social Security, the government-run pension and disability program.

Biden, who denies ever advocating cuts to social security, snapped back in a Tweet on Friday: “Get real, Bernie. The only person who’s going to cut Social Security if he’s elected is Donald Trump. Maybe you should spend your time attacking him.”

The exchange reflects mounting tension between the two White House hopefuls in what has become a tight two-way race since U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ended their White House bids after the March 3 primaries.

Sanders said he would support Biden if he becomes the Democratic nominee but insisted that only he, and not Biden, could “energize the American people” enough to beat Trump.

Warren’s exit meant that what had been hailed as the most diverse field of candidates in U.S. history narrowed to a race for the nomination between two white, septuagenarian men. Tulsi Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii with virtually no chance to win, is the only other remaining Democratic candidate.

Biden’s Super Tuesday turnaround benefited as the Democratic party establishment mobilized to try and stop Sanders, with former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota dropping out of the race and endorsing Biden.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin are both expected to announce soon they endorse Biden, according to as source familiar with the matter.

A big win for Biden in delegate-rich Michigan on Tuesday would deal another major blow to Sanders’s hopes of becoming the Democratic nominee. Five other states are deciding on Tuesday, including Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington.

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