Nancy Pelosi Heaps Praise on Bernie Sanders After Knocking Health Care Plan

PHOTO: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks at a news conference on the second day of the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference on Jan. 21, 2016 in Cambridge, Md. PlayTom Williams/Getty Images
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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi repeatedly praised Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and his campaign Friday, days after dismissing his proposal to raise taxes to pay for a single-payer health care plan.

"I think Bernie Sanders has a very positive message," Pelosi, D-California, told reporters at a news conference wrapping up House Democrats' annual policy retreat. "It's about fairness, it's about opportunity, and we are united for opportunity."

Earlier in the week, Pelosi, who muscled the Affordable Care Act through Congress as House speaker, complimented Sanders but suggested his health care proposal was unrealistic.

"We're not running on a platform of raising taxes," she said Wednesday. "It's not use having a conversation about something that's not going to happen."

As they continue to reference the tumultuous GOP presidential primary and current Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, top House Democrats -- most of whom publicly and privately back Hillary Clinton -- are grappling with how to respond to Sanders' insurgent presidential campaign ahead of early state voting.

Asked how the self-described democratic socialist from Vermont winning the nomination could impact House Democrats' chances in November, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, insisted Republicans have more to worry about.

"If the premise is that Mr. Sanders is going to be the nominee, who is he going to be running against? Trump or [Sen. Ted] Cruz?" he asked, adding that he had to watch "two different television sets" to watch the GOP field Thursday night. Trump skipped the final Republican debate before the Iowa Caucuses, instead holding an event of his own while his rivals took the stage.

Pelosi followed up on Lujan's comments with more praise for Sanders.

"I'm very proud of the way Senator Sanders has expanded the universe of young people especially interested in the political process," she said. "His suggestions are excellent."

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-New York, a Clinton backer, quickly chimed in.

"Sen. Clinton has already as well recognized the value that Bernie Sanders has brought to the campaign in energizing those young people," he said. "At the end, those folks will come to her."

Pelosi -- who joked that her morning coffee gave her energy -- had the final word.

"I think history will record that Bernie Sanders' candidacy had a very wholesome effect on our political process, and we're very proud of him," she said.

The anxiety over the state of the Democratic presidential primary was palpable in Baltimore over the course of the three-day retreat, especially among Clinton's supporters, who were quick to question Sanders' credentials and downplay expectations for Iowa.

"We are in a political environment where problem solving is important," said Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York, a Clinton surrogate. Members, he said, "see Clinton as a problem solver and less of an ideologue."