US Sen. Michael Bennet

Presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., visited The Sentinel for an interview with its editorial board Saturday morning.

Ahead of a visit to Dublin’s Friendly Farm the next day, presidential hopeful Michael Bennet illustrated his ideas Saturday on how to fix what he considers a broken America.

The Democratic U.S. senator from Colorado sat with The Sentinel’s editorial board for just over an hour, discussing topics ranging from the United States’ recent killing of a top Iranian military leader and China’s abuse of intellectual property rights to climate change and immigration laws.

Bennet, 55, was appointed to the Senate in 2009 by then-Gov. Bill Ritter. He also worked as the superintendent of Denver Public Schools, served as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and was a managing director of the Anschutz Investment Co. in Denver.

Bennet hasn’t qualified for any of the Democratic debates since July, but he expressed confidence Saturday in his abilities to serve on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Starting with Donald Trump’s ordered airstrike last week in Baghdad, which killed Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani, Bennet said the attack was another “reckless, non-strategic step” by the president.

Bennet, a member of the Senate committee on intelligence, added no one should have sympathy for Soleimani, but it doesn’t mean he should’ve been killed in that fashion.

“... [Trump] killed this guy, who George Bush and Barack Obama both could’ve killed, but didn’t kill, because they were worried if they did this, it might spiral out of control, and that’s what I’m deeply worried about,” he said.

Bennet added the focus needs to be on restoring the nation’s alliances, which will be “very, very hard to do,” after Trump pulled the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

This sense of a need for restoration dovetails with Bennet’s recent plan, released Thursday, called The Real Deal.

The $6 trillion plan includes universal pre-kindergarten, a $1 trillion housing plan and an option for consumers to buy into an expanded form of Medicare.

Bennet touted the agenda as more realistic than that of his opponents, noting that it’s one-fifth of the cost of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare For All” plan alone.

According to Bennet’s campaign website, the plan would be completely paid for by repealing much of Trump’s tax cuts, introducing what Bennet calls a “smart wealth tax” and heightening IRS enforcement.

The new tax, he explained, would cover about $2 trillion of The Real Deal. It would tax income from wealth — at the same rates and on an annual basis, just like income from work — while also ending the “trust fund loophole” that allows vast amounts of wealth to escape taxation.

“That is a huge preferential benefit to rich people in this country, and I don’t think there’s any reason we should have that,” he said.

Bennet’s Real Deal includes “Medicare X,” which he deems a more modest approach to public health insurance than those of other presidential contenders.

“I’ve had the same position on health care for the past 10 years. Not because I’m stubborn, but because I think I’m right,” he said. “I always believed the Affordable Care Act should have a public option ... there are millions of people in America who are making too much money to be on Medicaid and not enough to be on private insurance.”

The plan, which would be administered by Medicare, would be available on the exchange for people to buy into if they have no insurance or don’t like their current private insurance.

Those enrolled in Medicare X would have the same benefits required under the Affordable Cart Act, such as mental health services and maternity leave. It would also require the federal government to negotiate drug prices, he noted.

“I think in three years, you could cover everybody in America,” he said.

Another aspect of The Real Deal is climate change policy.

Bennet’s plan includes conserving 30 percent of America’s lands and ocean waters by 2030, requiring power providers to offer zero-emission energy to every household and business and allocating payments to agriculture workers to sequester carbon.

With the limited support behind climate change initiatives in the Trump administration, Bennet said any progress has been a struggle.

“Every single candidate is going to come in here, and they’re gonna say, ‘We need to act urgently on climate,’ and I agree with that. We have to. But it’s hard to act urgently when we have a climate denier in the White House,” he said. “We need a solution that actually will endure on climate, and I think, ultimately, we need something that looks like American climate policy.”

As the conversation wrapped Saturday, Bennet acknowledged he’s not a “celebrity candidate,” but said he believes he has a shot at being a top contender in the Granite State.

Without the funds to compete with the likes of Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, he said he just wants “to be here” before New Hampshire voters make up their minds.

“I’m a long-shot, I realize that, but I really think that if I do my job, I can get to the top three in New Hampshire,” he said.

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.