Election 2020 Joe Biden

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden talks with supporters at a campaign event in Reno, Nev., on Monday, Feb. 17, 2020.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said Monday night at a fundraiser in Denver that voters are seeking a president with "authenticity," arguing that if Democrats want to defeat President Donald Trump, they have to "level with the American people" about the cost of their proposals.

“The last thing we need to be running against the president — this president, this charlatan, this guy who is a serial liar — is to be in a position where we’re not absolutely able to completely level with the American people (about) what things are going to cost and what it’s going to cover," he said, according to a pool report.

Biden was taking a swipe at U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Vermont senator's Medicare for All proposal, which would establish a single-payer health care system. Biden said his plan to create a public option in the health insurance market would cost only a fraction of Sanders' plan.

White House hopefuls set sights on Colorado as primary looms

“It doesn’t cost $35 trillion over 10 years," Biden said, citing an estimate Sanders floated last year for his proposal. "Even Bernie’s a good guy and he used to say it’s going to require a significant increase in middle class taxes. When asked how much it was going to cost (more recently), he said, ‘Who knows? We’ll all find out.’ ”

Biden said his primary rival's proposal doesn't stand a chance of getting past Congress. He also argued that the Democratic ticket will have to help win majorities in the House and Senate.

“It’s not enough to be able to beat Trump," he said. "You’ve got to be able to bring along the Senate and keep the House in order to get things done.”

Biden, who served two terms as President Barack Obama's second-in-command, spoke to about 175 donors at the northwest Denver home of former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and his wife, Hope Hernandez-Salazar.

“There is no time in our entire history, for many of us, where we have faced such a crisis in our country — and no time when the United States of America needs Joe Biden more than right this second,” said Salazar, who served in the Senate with Biden before joining the Obama cabinet.

After spending most of last year as the Democratic primary's front-runner, Biden ceded the position to Sanders this month on the heels of poor showings in Iowa's caucus and New Hampshire's primary, where Biden finished last week in fifth place.

Biden is looking to voters in Nevada and South Carolina to revive his campaign in coming weeks before 14 states, including Colorado, vote on March 3, known as Super Tuesday.

Colorado is turning into a crossroads for presidential candidates as voters begin to return mail ballots. Sanders held a massive rally in Denver on Sunday, and two of the other leading candidates, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts are holding town halls in the metro area this weekend. Trump is holding a rally in Colorado Springs on Thursday.

Instead of talking about the horse race or his prospects, however, Biden spent much of Monday night's event telling stories from the Obama years, including the role he played helping pass the Affordable Care Act and implementing the stimulus package signed by Obama in Denver 11 years ago to the day.

He took a brief shot at Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire and former New York mayor who is pouring a fortune into advertising and campaign organizations in states that start voting next month, after skipping the four early states.

“By the way, Mayor Bloomberg says the health care bill was a disaster, it’s a lousy bill," Biden aid. "But he has $60 billion to explain that.”

Biden reserved the vast majority of his criticism for Trump.

“What he is doing to this country is absolutely appalling,” Biden said. “In the lifetime of anyone in this room, and those of our parents as well, we’ve never seen a president like this. We’ve never seen a president who’s weaponized the Justice Department, denigrated the armed forces, paid up to our allies in a way that creates distance with them, and embraces thugs and autocrats from Putin to Kim Jong-Un."

Added Biden: "So folks, there is a whole lot to do. But I’m optimistic.”

At another point, Biden charged that Trump "has squandered everything he’s inherited," from the millions his father gave him to the economy Obama passed on to Trump.

"But the generic point is, he’s squandering the ability we gave him to keep this economy going. What’s happening now is that an awful lot of middle class folks are being left behind — really left behind.” He added that the middle class is "getting clobbered now. We’re no longer the wealthiest middle class in the world.”

Biden said he wants to “rebuild the backbone of the country, the middle class, and this time bring along all brown and black folks all across the board.”

It was Biden's first appearance in Colorado since September, when he attended a private fundraiser at the Denver home of philanthropist Tim Gill. Biden hasn't held any public events in the state since launching his presidential campaign.

Others at Monday's event were former state Rep. Joe Salazar, the host's brother, former Denver Mayor and Clinton-era cabinet secretary Federico Peña, and University of Denver professor Christopher Hill, a former ambassador to Iraq and assistant secretary of state. Elected officials on hand included Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, State Treasurer Dave Young, Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, and Denver District Attorney Beth McCann.

Biden referred several times to Hill when discussing foreign policy and national security, at times raising his voice when he talked about Trump's approach.

“It made me so damn angry," Biden said, referring to Trump's offhand remarks about traumatic brain injuries suffered by American soldiers in an attack on a U.S. base in Iraq after Trump ordered the killing of an Iraqi general.

Ken Salazar noted that his brother John lost his seat in Congress in 2010 in large part because he voted for the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

“By the way, that was a courageous vote you took,” Biden said.

“I’d do it again!” John Salazar yelled from the back of the room.

Tickets to the fundraiser ranged from $500 to $2,800, with a photo with the former vice president included with the priciest option, according to an invitation to the event.

Through Dec. 31, Biden had raised $606,560 from Colorado residents, according to the Federal Election Commission, trailing only Sanders among the Democrats still in the race. The Vermont senator reported $854,753 in donations from Coloradans through the most recent reporting period.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who ended his presidential campaign and jumped to the state's U.S. Senate primary last summer, raised $1,581,528 for his presidential bid from his home state. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who withdrew from the race last week, brought in $972,620 from Colorado contributors through the most recent quarter.

The Denver Post's Jon Murray provided pool coverage of the fundraiser.

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