MONTCLAIR, N.J. (AP) — Former presidential contender Bernie Sanders on Wednesday blasted President Donald Trump’s decision to host a large rally in Oklahoma this weekend, accusing the Republican president of jeopardizing the health of thousands of people and defying science during a pandemic simply “to hear cheers from his supporters.”
Sanders, who is also known for drawing large crowds and has promised to help presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, said he would not be willing to host any large indoor events of his own until medical professionals deem it safe.
“I find it literally incomprehensible that the president, who is an extraordinary narcissist, is willing to sacrifice the health not only of the people who attend his indoor rally, but those people who come into contact with the people who attend the indoor rally,” Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“You have public officials in Oklahoma begging him not to do this rally. It is in defiance of what science is telling us is appropriate. And the leader of the United States government is defying science in order to hear cheers from his supporters,” Sanders added. “It is incredibly irresponsible.”
Trump is scheduled to host his first major campaign rally in months this Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is among the many states that have seen coronavirus infections rise since May when governors began loosening social-distancing orders. The four-day average number of new cases in Tulsa has doubled from the previous peak in April. The city’s own health department director, Dr. Bruce Dart, has said he hopes the rally will be postponed, noting that large indoor gatherings are partially to blame for the recent spread.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, said he’s asked the Trump campaign to consider a larger, outdoor venue to help accommodate a bigger crowd.
Trump spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that the rally would go on.
“As in any event you assume a personal risk. That is just what you do. When you go to a baseball game, you assume a risk. That’s part of life. It’s a personal decision of Americans as to whether to go to the rally or whether not to go to the rally,” McEnany said, noting that the campaign is taking precautions by providing masks and hand sanitizer to rally attendees.
The Trump campaign has attacked Biden for not hosting more public events as the pandemic continues. Trump’s Democratic opponent has hosted a handful of small events in recent weeks, but he has spent much of the pandemic speaking to supporters in virtual events from a make-shift studio in his Delaware home.
Sanders is eventually expected to participate in rallies to help energize skeptical progressives before the November election, but he’s not eager to do so yet.
“Right now at this moment we’re seeing an increase in cases in some 20-plus states around the country, so I would think you’d want to, before you did anything, you would be wanting to listen to the doctors and the scientists,” he said. “It’s hard for me to imagine anybody holding rallies indoors.”
AP writer Kevin Freking in Washington contributed.