Sanders promises to legalize marijuana, repeal immigration policies at Austin rally

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Austin (KXAN) — Following Senator Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Nevada caucus this weekend, the presidential hopeful held a rally in Austin Sunday. The rally featured promises from the Vermont senator to issue executive orders at if elected which would make sweeping changes such as legalizing marijuana and restoring the legal status of DACA recipients.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to a crowd in Austin. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

The Austin rally also featured a surprise guest: former 2020 presidential candidate Marianne Williamson who offered her endorsement for Sanders. Williamson dropped out of the race in January.

Lots of people were in attendance packed onto the lawn at Auditorium Shores for this Austin rally, the Sanders campaign says they worked with Cerberus Security who counted 12,718 people in the crowd Sunday evening.

The rally was at Vic Matthias Shores, the same site where Senator Elizabeth Warren held a campaign rally in September and where then-Texas Senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke held a rally a year prior.

Sanders’ success in Nevada has had many in the business of political forecasting suggesting that he may be the party nominee. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver wrote that “Sanders is easily the most likely Democrat to win the nomination.”

But there is still more political work to be done before that determination can be made. Fourteen states including Texas will vote on Super Tuesday, March 3, offering a chance for the candidates to add to their delegate totals.

Sanders has focused considerable energy on Texas this week, launching a set of rallies across the state. Saturday, Sanders held a rally in El Paso at the Abraham Chavez Theatre. Before speaking in front of about 1500 supporters, he visited a memorial for the victims of the Aug. 3 shooting that left 22 dead.

Next, he went to San Antonio at the Cowboys Dance Hall on Saturday evening.

On Sunday, Sanders traveled to Houston for a rally at the University of Houston Fertitta Center and wrapped up his in Texas with a rally in Austin.

By Sunday evening, Sanders seemed very confident in his odds to capture votes, both in the Lone Star State and across the country.

“This is the most consequential election in the modern history of our country, here we are not only going to win in Texas on Super Tuesday, we are going to beat ‘em in November,” he told the Austin crowd.

At the Austin rally, Sanders informed the crowd that the average donation to his campaign is $18.50. He also told the crowd that the most common occupation among his donors are teachers.

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar is the co-chair for the Bernie For Texas campaign and was at the rally Sunday. In a video posted to social media, Casar said, “not only are we going to beat Donald Trump, we are gonna win Texas and transform this country for racial justice and for the benefit of working families.”

Casar introduced Sanders at the rally and told the crowd, “it is not extreme to believe no person is expendable.”

Criminal justice changes

Sanders told rallygoers in Austin, “on my first day in office, through an executive order, we will legalize marijuana in every state in this country, and we will expunge the records of those arrested for it.”

The crowd in Austin applauded this promise. Sanders explained that his intent is to move the country toward “equal justice under the law. “

Sanders said that if elected, his administration would eliminate cash bail and end private prisons/detention centers.

“When we talk about what we have got to do as a people, we have got to end a broken and racist criminal justice system,” Sanders said.

Immigration

“As the son of an immigrant, I will on day one [as president] end the demonization of the immigrant community in this country,” Sanders told the crowd. “On day one through an executive order, we will repeal all of Trump’s racist immigration executive orders.”

President Trump has implemented many changes to U.S. immigration policy, including executive orders related to so-called sanctuary cities, refugees, and immigration enforcement.

“On day one, we will continue to make fundamental changes on border policy, under our administration, federal agents will not be yanking babies away from the arms of their mothers,” Sanders said, referencing the instances of instances under President Trump’s administration of children being separated from parents accused of illegally crossing the U.S. -Mexico border.

Sanders also said he plans to curb federal, immigration-related enforcement raids, saying, “under our administration, we will end the ICE raids that are terrorizing communities all across America.”

He vowed, if elected, to restore the legal status of the young people and their parents who are eligible for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program).

The DACA program was implemented in 2012 and grants temporary protection from deportation for people who came to the U.S. as children. President Trump announced that he would be phasing out the policy in 2017, but the fate of the program has been in limbo since then. In November of 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about the status of the DACA program but the high court has not yet released its decision.

Gun Policy

Sanders noted his experience over the weekend visiting the memorial for the victims of the 2019 El Paso shooting impacted him personally. He acknowledged the prevalence of that kind of gun violence across the country.

Sanders said that under his administration, “our gun safety legislation will be written by and for the American people, not the NRA.”

He added that his administration will implement universal background checks, ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons, and end the “gun show loophole” (which absolves private sellers at gun shows from conducting federal background checks before allowing a buyer to purchase.)

Polling in 2019 from the Texas Politics Project showed that while Texans are generally not in favor of banning guns, they have shown increased support for certain restrictions to gun access. In recent years, the Texas Politics Project numbers have indicated a growing number of Texans who are open to certain restrictions like red flag laws and background checks.   These numbers also show that Democrats, women, and people in urban areas are more likely to feel that gun control laws should be more strict.

Women’s healthcare

Sanders also made it clear to the crowd he intends to protect a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

“My promise to you is I will never nominate anybody to the Supreme Court or the federal bench who is not 100 percent pro-Roe. v Wade,” Sanders said, referring to the court case that affirmed access to abortion without government restriction as a constitutional right.

Beyond action in the courtroom, Sanders said his administration would, “codify and put into law Roe v. Wade.”

“And we will expand funding for Planned Parenthood,” Sanders added.

There are plenty of policymakers in Texas who are not looking to expand Planned Parenthood, in fact, many have made efforts to cut funding to and place restrictions on the organization. In 2011, the Texas Legislature removed state funding from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Policy changes in the following years led to the closure of many of these clinics in Texas.

Sanders in Texas

Marianne Williamson appears as a surprise guest at a Bernie Sanders rally in Austin to offer her endorsement for Sanders. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

Sanders jumped up to first place in the Lone Star State in a recent poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, with support from 24% of registered Texas voters in the upcoming Democratic primary, which is up from 12% in October.

Marianne Williamson, who ended her run for the party nomination in January, showed up at the rally to endorse Sanders.

She endorsed Sanders in his first presidential run in 2015.

“What happened in Nevada on Saturday was extraordinary and the energy is unquestionably with Bernie,” she said in a statement on Twitter.

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