Sen. Michael Bennet makes Iowa his first presidential campaign stops

The state is his first campaign stop since announcing his 2020 presidential bid.

May 5, 2019, 10:59 AM

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., hit the campaign trail in Iowa over the weekend for the first time since announcing his 2020 presidential bid.

During his campaign swing, voters expressed concern over the growing cost of education and increasing student loan interest rates.

"There's a large conversation happening right now about the affordability of college and higher education and I'm all in favor of reducing the cost or eliminating the cost for people who want to receive an education," Elizabeth Leo, whose husband's student loans have ballooned over $40,000 while paying a 9% interest rate, told ABC News.

"What I don't hear in the conversation a lot -- although there are a few candidates who have recently come out with a plan -- are solutions for those of us who are stricken with so much debt from their education we received that it becomes an economic barrier to our future."

Fellow presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has already proposed canceling student loans for 42 million Americans, as well as, increasing Pell grants and providing free tuition for public colleges and universities. However, Bennet said he's not entirely open to the idea of universal college as a long-term solution.

At a small house party in Manning, Iowa this weekend, Leo asked Bennet about his plans to help Americans saddled with student loan debt.

"Getting to free college for everybody is not a very progressive way to approach this because a lot of wealthy kids will benefit from that, but let's see if we can get you out debt free." Bennet told Leo, without offering any specifics.

PHOTO: JOHNSTOWN, IA - FEBRUARY 22: Democratic Senator Michael Bennet speaks to the Polk County Democrats at Doc's Lounge February 22, 2019, in Johnston, Iowa. (Photo by Joe Amon/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Democratic Senator Michael Bennet speaks to the Polk County Democrats at Doc's Lounge, Feb. 22, 2019, in Johnston, Iowa.
Joe Amon/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Bennet declared his candidacy on Thursday, becoming the 21st candidate to join a crowded field of Democrats hoping to take on President Donald Trump in 2020.

Bennet has long been considered a rising star within the party, but held out on announcing his run following a prostate cancer diagnosis. He said he would only run if he was cancer-free. Doctors said the 54-year-old underwent "a completely successful" surgery in late April, "requiring no further treatment," according to a statement released by a spokesperson for the campaign.

Nearly in tandem with making his diagnosis public, Bennet and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., reintroduced their Medicare-X legislation, which would create a new public option for health insurance. The public option was something that was originally part of the Affordable Care Act, but was rejected as an idea for being too far to the left. Now, the push for a public option is a top issue on Bennet's campaign agenda.

"What I think we need to do is provide universal healthcare for this country. It is long overdue and whatever path we chose needs to be, not just an idea, but something we can implement across the country because the majority of people support it," Bennet said at a campaign house party in Ankeny, Iowa over the weekend. "The experience I just had going through prostate cancer, and then a week later having my kid having to go through an appendectomy, has made me think a lot of whether or not we want to leave the choice for what kind of healthcare we have."

With progressive issues now pushed to the forefront in the current Congress, Medicare-X, which would not eliminate all private insurance, appears to be more moderate compared to Sen. Bernie Sanders' Medicare-for-all plan.

Bennet spent the first few days as a presidential candidate defending his voting record after Demand Justice, a progressive super PAC, gave the presidential candidate an "F" rating for helping to advance Trump's Judicial nominees, specifically for voting against filibustering the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch. Bennet responded to that criticism Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" and leveled more criticism on his Democratic colleagues, who voted to change the 60-vote threshold to confirm lower-level nominees.

"The reason I said we shouldn't filibuster Gorsuch was very simple. Gorsuch was a trade of Scalia for Gorsuch. And we allowed Mitch McConnell to invoke not only allowed him, gave him every opportunity to use the nuclear option on Gorsuch, instead of waiting for it-- forcing him to wait, for Kavanaugh. And my argument was, that's going to be when Roe versus Wade is at stake. That's going to be when the president's going to be even more popular," said Bennet

"We didn't have the discipline, unlike Mitch McConnell. We didn't have the discipline to play it strategically. We were non-strategic. And as a result, when Kavanaugh got there, Democrats could do nothing except pretend to our base that we were fighting," he continued.

The senator from Colorado also said Demand Justice deserves an "F" as well "because they helped conceive that strategy. And they continue to conceive it."

ABC News' Sasha Pezenik and John Verhovek contributed to this report.