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California Democrats

In San Francisco, Bernie Sanders plays two roles: Obamacare defender and single-payer advocate

Sen. Bernie Sanders headed west to drum up support for his recently unveiled "Medicare for All" proposal Friday, but first trained his sights on the Obamacare repeal bill currently gripping Congress.

Sanders (I-Vt.), whose speech was the cornerstone of a California Nurses Assn. gathering in San Francisco, blasted the Republican plan led by Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as "horrific legislation."

"How cruel, how immoral it is, to say to those millions of Americans, we are going to take away that health insurance that keeps you alive," Sanders said.

Sen. John McCain announced on Friday he could not support the measure, dealing the GOP plan a blow. Sanders thanked McCain for his stance, prompting the liberal crowd to cheer the Arizona Republican.

Some Democrats had worried that Sanders' push for his single-payer plan could distract from efforts to oppose the repeal bill. But the senator was explicit in his appeal to the approximately 2,000 supporters in attendance to focus their energy on defeating the repeal measure.

"Our job is to continue to make sure the Republicans do not get the 50 votes they need ... I beg of you, please, do everything you can to stop the bill," he said.

Still, the crux of Sanders' speech focused on his single-payer bill, which he sold as an improvement over the status quo.

"The Affordable Care Act, as we all know, made significant improvements to our healthcare system," Sanders said, citing the expansion of the number of Americans with health insurance and the ban on insurance companies' ability to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions.

"But we must be honest and acknowledge that with all the gains of the Affordable Care Act, it does not go far enough," he added.

The bill expands the Medicare program to cover the healthcare costs of all Americans with no out-of-pocket payments for patients. The measure does not include a plan to finance such a system, but Sanders has released a report laying out various ways to cover the costs, including a progressive income tax.

During his pitch, Sanders said the implications extended beyond health policy.

"It is a struggle about what this great nation stands for," Sanders said. "It is a struggle about whether or not every working person in this country has healthcare as a right or whether we allow insurance companies and drug companies to continue to rip us off."

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