The board pressed him on how he plans to carry out his ambitious policy ideas if faced with the Republican and Mitch McConnell-led Senate that stymied so many of President Barack Obama’s proposals. He also answered questions on his history of support for left-wing Latin American political movements, given the corruption and even violence that have plagued some of them in recent years. And he spoke to concerns about his personal health, after his heart attack in October.
Bernie Sanders Wants to Change Your Mind
Why Bernie Sanders animates so many young people on the campaign trail is instantly recognizable: The senator from Vermont offers an agenda of transformational change, promising to be as grassroots as he is stubborn. On Dec. 2, he spent 90 minutes with the Times editorial board, sparring over issues from foreign policy and climate change to antitrust regulation and gun violence, and tackled questions on health policy that went beyond his well-known Medicare for All proposal.
The vision Sanders presented is one of ambitious progress. The editorial board challenged him to detail how that vision would be executed, especially given his age, his lukewarm record on bipartisan achievements and the deeply polarized state of the nation.
Here is a transcript, [annotated in bracketed italics], of the 90-minute discussion, which was filmed for a special episode of “The Weekly,” The Times’ TV show on FX and Hulu.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Sen. Sanders, thank you so much for coming. We all know your bio. We’ve watched the debates. Most of us have actually met you in the past, we’ve heard you talk a lot about health care [The Democratic candidates spent a total of about 90 minutes discussing health care during the first three debates, twice as much as they did on climate change and foreign policy.] and the Middle East and climate, so we’re hoping to focus on a few questions that we have not heard you answer on the campaign trail. I wanted to start with: The revolution, like the one you’re proposing, overhauls everything, but can you walk us —
BS: Not quite everything.
KK: Quite a few things. Can you walk us through what the first 100 days will look like, though? [Some of the Democratic contenders, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, have released plans for their first 100 days in office; Sanders has not, though he has made a number of commitments including one to legalize marijuana within that window.] What are your priorities? What do you want to do while you have the momentum of entering office?
BS: It’s going to be a busy hundred days. In fact, I’ve made enough promises that I think I’m going to be up all night on my first day. I’m going to go to bed at 5 in the morning. I think the most important point aside from the legislation, which I’ll get into, is to convince the American people that in fact we can have a government that represents working people and not just the 1%. And that will mean, by the way, that I suspect we’re going to use Air Force One quite a bit. We’re going to get around the country, we’re not just going to be in the Oval Office.
But obviously the legislation that we’re going to introduce will deal with climate change, which I consider to be an enormous threat, not only to this country, but to the planet. We’ll introduce Medicare for All legislation in the first week because I think it’s high time the United States join the rest of the industrialized world in guaranteeing health care to all people. We will be introducing legislation not dissimilar to what passed the House raising the minimum wage to a living wage. [In July, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by October 2025, raising the wages of as many as 27 million Americans. Though Sanders wrote a letter calling on Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, to bring the Raise the Wage Act for a vote, it has languished.] We’ll be introducing legislation to rebuild a crumbling infrastructure, making public colleges and universities tuition-free. In other words, what I believe is when you rally the American people around an agenda that works for working people, we can do more than one thing at a time. I’m asked every single day, “What’s your top priority?” There is no top priority. The top priority is to create a government that works for all of us, not just the people on top.
KK: That’s a really ambitious agenda. What of that legislation do you think could pass a Mitch McConnell Senate?
BS: I think, and thank you for asking that, I need a minute on this one, OK? Because I want to just convey to you that I look at the world maybe a little differently than you do, and I say that in due respect. When I talk about a political revolution, it means being an administration unprecedented, certainly in the modern history of this country, maybe going back to FDR. [“When I’m president I won’t just be commander in chief, I’ll also be organizer in chief,” Sanders has said. There’s some precedent for that sort of campaign pitch: During Obama’s 2008 run, a number of commentators noted his community organizing background and suggested that he might be America’s first organizer in chief, though some noted that he failed to provide a long-term engagement strategy for the movement of 2 million progressives he built during his campaign.] Maybe even beyond FDR. So to me, what my administration is about is not sitting with Mitch in the Oval Office or wherever it is, negotiating something. It is rallying the American people around an agenda that they already support. All right? This is, I think, what makes me a little bit different than other candidates, and that is not only will I be commander in chief, I will be organizer in chief.
And I think the agenda that we have brought out in almost every respect is supported by the American people. So one of my first stops, by the way, will be in Kentucky, a state that is struggling very hard. One of the poorest. I love the people in Kentucky. I’ve been there and we, you know, and I will be back, but I think, I’m sorry —
KK: I was just going to ask, how do you respond to studies that show that you have one of the worst records in terms of bipartisan deal-making in the legislature right now? [A 2019 study by the Lugar Center and Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy found that Sanders was the senator least likely to co-sponsor legislation across party lines.]
KK: Make the case for us that you’re a deal maker.
BS: Well, first of all, I’m not quite sure — I have not seen that study. You may want to go back to my role in the House where year after year after year, guess which member of Congress got more amendments passed on the floor of the House than any other in a bipartisan way. [From 1995 to 2007, Sanders, then a representative, passed 17 amendments by a recorded roll call vote, more than any other member of the Republican-controlled House. In 2005, Rolling Stone named him the “amendment king” of the House. This is not necessarily evidence of working across the aisle to sponsor legislation.] So I don’t accept that.
But, second of all, the point that I am making is that the way you bring about real change in this country, what the history of America is about is when millions of people stand up for justice. So again, when I say to you — in due respect, and I mean that — we look at the world differently. You’re saying, how do I negotiate with Mitch McConnell? And I’ll tell you how I negotiate. Because when the people of Kentucky are demanding to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour or health care for all or making their schools, public colleges and universities tuition-free, that’s the basis of negotiation. OK?
Four years ago when I was in this room, [All but three members of the current editorial board joined after Sanders’ endorsement interview in 2015. ] I suspect, talking about an agenda, many of the people in this room — I don’t know how many of you were here — thought that the ideas that I talked about, “What crazy ideas, right? Raise the minimum wage to $15? Oh, Bernie, don’t you know, federal minimum wage is seven and a quarter. Who are you going to negotiate with?” Seven states have passed that already, including New York state, and so has the House of Representatives. That’s how change comes about: You make an offer to Mitch McConnell that he cannot refuse, and that is that the American people want to move in a different direction.
KK: Well, we continuously see gun safety legislation die in the Senate.
KK: Legislation extremely popular with the American people. The vast majority of Americans believe in, for instance, expanded gun —
KK: — background checks. So I guess I’m curious how it will be different.
BS: Again, we do live in different worlds.
BS: You know, again, we do live in different worlds. OK? I’ve just given you an example. We four years ago, as a fairly unknown senator from a small state, we helped transform political discussion in America and made ideas which were thought to be radical and extreme kind of mainstream and adopted by many of my Democratic colleagues and opponents. All right? Think what you could do as president of the United States.
All right. Under my administration, the NRA will not determine gun policy. All right, so I’m asking you to imagine something that you haven’t seen in your lifetime, and I know — that’s fair enough, that’s difficult. I was mayor of the city of Burlington. You wrote an article — you know, as some of you may know, I’m not always pleased by what The New York Times writes about me, but you had a good article last week by Alexander Burns, [Read “Bernie Sanders vs. the Machine” by Alexander Burns from Nov. 27 here.] I think, talking about a little bit of what I did in Burlington.
When I became mayor, there were 13 members on the board [of aldermen]. Eleven of them were opposed to me. I never had a majority in eight years. We transformed the city. How did I do that? I did that because we went, in fact, to the people. We doubled voter turnout in a four-year period. Doubled voter turnout. I won working-class wards 2 to 1 or 3 to 1, all right? And we made the board of aldermen a kind of an offer that they couldn’t refuse. They were looking around them, and they were saying, “Oh my God, Bernie does have the support of the people. Am I going to give him everything he wants?” [In a recent interview, Sanders said that if elected president he hopes to replicate his mayoral strategy “on a somewhat larger scale.” Sanders won the 1983 Burlington, Vermont, mayoral election in a landslide by casting himself as a champion of the people against the establishment.] They didn’t, but we went a very long way. So the main point here is to change political consciousness in America. I think we have already gone some way in doing that. As president of the United States, I will go a lot further.
KK: I want to give my colleagues some opportunities to ask some questions as well.
Nick Fox: Can I just follow up on that one question? Given what we’ve gone through over the last three years when Democrats hear about the president flying around the country holding rallies, they might cringe. And I’m wondering how you flying around the country in 2021 rallying the people would be different than what Donald Trump has been doing?
BS: Well, I don’t know if I should be insulted by that question. I’ve spent my life fighting against everything that Donald Trump stands for. OK, but too — as I look at this country right now, what I see, and having been to virtually every state in this country, I think you have a people were very disillusioned with the political process, which is one of the reasons we have the demagogue in the White House right now. And I think the goal of a president who speaks for the American people, who believes in the American people is to rally them around ideas that they already believe in.
So, if I hold a rally, it’s not to attack undocumented people or African-American people, to try to divide the country up. It’s quite the contrary: to bring people together. Now you got in people like Mitch McConnell, somebody who, to his credit, believes that we should cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and give tax breaks to billionaires. If 10% of the people in Kentucky agree with that, I would be surprised. [Andy Beshear, a Democrat, was elected governor of Kentucky in November, defeating the incumbent, Matt Bevin, in a race that focused in part on Bevin’s unpopular cuts to health and social services including Medicaid.] And as president of the United States, I would make that clear to the people of Kentucky.
Jeneen Interlandi : Thank you so much for joining us, Senator. You know we’ve talked a lot about health care reform in the debates and throughout the season, and it’s obviously very important, but it’s not the only thing that determines health. So what I want to talk about is what are some of the other things that you’ll focus on as president to improve the nation’s health?
BS: Great point. In fact, medical care is maybe not the most important point in determining people’s health. We have to do a lot better in terms of disease prevention. We have to figure out a way to improve dietary habits in this country. To be honest with you, obesity is an awful problem leading to diabetes. We have to deal better with exercise. What we also have to do is deal with issues like pollution and environmental degradation. You go to a few miles away from here in the Bronx and a significant number of the children are dealing with asthma because of pollution. And pollution kills all over the world, just a whole lot of people. So that speaks through a strong approach toward environmental protection, cleaning up our air, cleaning up our water.
God, one of the most emotional and difficult meetings I ever went to in my life was in Flint, Michigan, a number of years ago. [As a candidate in 2016, Sanders visited Flint at the height of its water crisis and participated in a community forum where residents called on the government for national aid. The only Flint aid given so far by the Trump administration has been money that Obama approved in 2016. Sanders also returned to Flint and met with residents in 2018.] Talking to parents in terms of what happened to their kids because of lead in the water, all right? So it means creating an overall environment which is clean, which is healthy.
JI : How would you go about doing that? Are there specific policies or programs that — policies, for example — you would reverse that have been enacted in the past four years? Are there specific things that you would target?
BS: Well needless to say, I would reverse all of the executive orders that Trump — or virtually all of them. Trump has deregulated and weakened the EPA. I would strengthen it. You know, I don’t think it’s a radical idea. And by the way, I don’t know if you know it or not — I mean, I was surprised to learn — you know, believe me, it’s not just Flint, Michigan, that has a problem with drinking water. It exists — in California, you’ve got thousands and thousands of homes that cannot drink the water [More than 300 public water systems in California supply unsafe drinking water, according to data collected by the California State Resources Control Board. That means more than a million Californians are exposed to unsafe drinking water annually. Gov. Gavin Newsom allocated $168 million to water system improvements in 2018.] coming out of their tap. So you know, for me, a clean environment is a fairly fundamental right of the American people, and we will use all the resources we have to make that happen.
JI: Do you believe that flavored e-cigarettes should be banned? How would you tackle the vaping-related health crisis?
BS: Yeah I do. I think that they already seem to be causing serious health problems. [Campaign finance reports reveal that the Sanders campaign has accepted donations from Juul Labs employees. The campaign does not appear to have taken an official stance on a flavored e-cigarette ban, but when reports of the Trump administration’s ban surfaced, Sanders tweeted, “Now do AR-15s.” Whether a ban is a good idea has not been established.] But I think, you know, the answer is yes, but I think that above and beyond that, you know, we have to look at things like the tobacco industry again, who are selling a product that kills people. And by the way, and I hope we’ll get to this later, we will get to it because I’ll talk about it. And that is climate change. And you have an industry out there called the fossil fuel industry that makes billions of dollars every year, and their product is destroying the planet.
BS: What do we do about that in terms of health? Talking about health, the question is whether the planet survives in the indefinite future. So, I think you will find my administration very aggressive. And then you’ve got food manufacturers, who quite intentionally are putting a lot of sugar into their products, and you know, causing health problems with the kids. These are very important issues.
Health care is one thing. Making sure that people have access to doctors. Or doing a better job preventing disease, is something we have a long way to go. The last point I would make on that, as we reform health care, and I believe in Medicare for all. Primary health care. The ability to people to go to a doctor, when they need to go to a doctor in their community, is an enormously important issue. So, in the middle of a dysfunctional health care system, one of the worst problems is lack of access to primary health care.
JI : Just one final question, with respect to public health, on vaccine hesitancy and how you might combat that? [The Centers for Disease Control found that the vaccination rate for measles, mumps and rubella in kindergartners slipped in the 2017-2018 school year for the third year in a row. The World Health Organization recently cited vaccine hesitancy as a top threat to global health.] How you would address things that are impacted by waning public health infrastructure, and lack of —
BS: I’m sorry?
JI : With respect to public health, for example, vaccine hesitancy. How would you combat that? What would you do to fortify the CDC. for example?
BS: Well, I would — I mean, I think it is — we’re already seeing measles epidemics, or problems arising, and we will be very aggressive, in making certain that kids get the inoculations they need, to prevent diseases, which are contagious.
KK : What does that mean? Does that mean making vaccines required?
BS: I haven’t thought a whole lot about that particular issue, but it may well mean that. I mean, if it was your kid, if you decide, for whatever reason, not to vaccinate your kid, and that kid goes to the school, and gets my kid sick, I don’t grant you the right to get my kid sick.
KK : I agree with you.
JI : Do you think there’s any circumstance under which families should have the right to exempt their children from vaccines that have been deemed mandatory by the CDC now?
BS: Again, I haven’t thought a whole lot about that, but I think — I suppose if you want to live out in the desert by yourself, in an isolated way, and you’re not going to get anybody else sick, maybe. [The Sanders campaign hasn’t recently commented on vaccine hesitancy, but in 2015 Sanders said that he is “sensitive to the fact that there are some families who disagree” about efficacy of vaccines but thinks it is “wrong” for a child suffering from illness to threaten the health of their classmates.] But, generally speaking, if your child, or anybody else, has the potential to get other people sick, I think there is an overbearing public responsibility to make sure you don’t get other people sick.
Aisha Harris : Thank you for your time, Senator. Now I’d like to turn to your health for a moment. Do you know when you plan to release your complete health records to the public?
BS: We hope to — I want to make sure that it is complete. So we hope to do that, the goal is by the end of the year. [Sanders released letters from his doctors declaring him healthy Dec. 30.] I won’t swear to you. It may be a few days later, or a week or two later, but we will release them fully.
AH : And after the artery blockage that occurred earlier this fall, [Sanders, who is 78, had a heart attack in early October. It took his campaign three days to disclose the information, raising concerns about both his health and transparency.] there’s obviously some concern among voters about your health. What are you doing to take care of yourself now? [SANDERS LAUGHS]
BS: Thank you! My wife watches me very carefully. Don’t tell her we had spare ribs last night, please. Don’t let her know that. It was a good place.
Lauren Kelley : This is on record. [GROUP LAUGHS]
BS: I’m eating better. I’m exercising. Well, not as much as I should. It’s hard when you’re on the campaign trail, but I am trying to do better.
KK : How do you answer comments by Jimmy Carter, for instance, that he wouldn’t have been able to do the job of the presidency at age 80? [In September, Carter said that the presidency requires being “very flexible with your mind” and he does not think he would have been able to handle the duties of the office at age 80.] Should there be an age limit?
BS: No. There should not be an age limit. Look, this issue of age, it’s a fair question. But I think we look at the totality of the human beings, and some people say, “Well, he’s kind of 78. He’ll be 80 when he’s inaugurated.” That’s an issue. I got it. It is an issue. But some person who is 80 is different than other people who are 80. But it’s not just age. You have to look at what have you done with your lifetime? What’s your record? What do you stand for? What fights have you fought? What is your record? So, I think people will look at the totality of the candidates.
And I’ll tell you what the advantage — if there’s an advantage of being 78 — is that I have been doing what I do for a long time. So, if you want to get your researchers to take a look at my record, what you’ll find out is I have been on more picket lines than probably all of my opponents combined, because I believe in workers’ rights. In terms of Medicare for All, this is not a new idea for me. Trust me. I was talking about that, going up to Canada, getting Canadians to come to talk about it when I was mayor of the city of Burlington. Taking on the pharmaceutical industry: 20 years ago I took a bus load of Vermonters across the Canadian border to buy tamoxifen, a breast cancer drug, for one-tenth the price. So, the advantage in the sense of age, is that what I do today, is by and large what I’ve been doing my whole life. [Sanders has made his ideological consistency a focal point of his campaign. His calls to narrow the wealth gap have been long-standing, for example; in 1976 in a gubernatorial debate, he said that “the fundamental issue facing us in the state” is the excesses of the richest 1% After the interview, one board member noted, “I just found it interesting that he said, ‘I’m consistent. That’s my whole story.’ And then his answer on gun control is, ‘I haven’t said that recently.’ And his answer on immigrants is, ‘I’ve changed my mind.’ Sort of a conflict there between consistency and new ideas.” Gun safety and immigration are two issues Sanders has, in the past, been out of lockstep with many Democrats.] Now, you may like it. You may not like it. Ain’t going to change when I get to the White House. And I see that as an advantage. People know who I am. What I stand for. Some like it, some don’t. But the president I will be is not different than the guy I’ve been for the last 30, 40 years.
Mara Gay : Senator, do you have a workout routine? Are you a gym rat?
BS: I wish I did. My daughter thinks I should. I don’t. And I’ll tell you something. You asked me a personal question. The heart attack was a shock to me. Not physically as much as it was intellectually, because I have been blessed — this is not wood, I know, whatever it is — [The senator knocked on the conference table. Its exact material is unknown.] with good health my whole life.
I was a kid growing up in New York City. I was a long-distance runner, so I could run forever. I was a pretty good runner. [Sanders told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he was a top high school athlete. He played basketball and took third place in New York City’s indoor 1-mile race.] And the idea that my body malfunctioned on that day was shocking. I couldn’t believe it when the doctor told me. I really couldn’t believe it. So, to answer your question, I am going to do my best. I see it as a public responsibility. I don’t have — I should, and maybe my daughter is right. She’s into yoga. She’s a yoga instructor. She’s been trying to get me to do this. You agree? Right?
MG : Sounds like you should listen to your daughter.
BS: I think I should. I will do better, but the top problem is that on the campaign it’s just so hard.
Michelle Cottle : So, now you were talking about the totality of your experiences. Looking at the totality of the ticket, so to speak, who is on your short list for running mate? What factors are you —
BS: Do you want to be vice president? Is this what you’re asking me?
MC : You know, I don’t even — I can’t imagine that job.
BS: All right, let me just say this. I think it’s a little bit premature. It will not be an old white guy. [LAUGHTER] I think Joe [Biden] has had eight years as vice president: probably enough. I believe in diversity. I believe and know that my administration and my Cabinet will look like America looks like. I’m not going to tell you who it’s going to be. We haven’t considered that yet, but I think it is long — the country is long overdue for the kind of diversity that we’re going to bring to the White House.
MC : Now what about your campaign staff? What percentage is women at this point?
BS: I don’t know. I would tell you that to the best of my knowledge — my campaign manager is out there somewhere [GESTURES TO THE HALLWAY] — 40% of our campaign is minority. [As of May, the Sanders campaign staff was 71% female, according to The Wall Street Journal. The staff is majority nonwhite; 47% of members are white, and nearly 10% are black.] We have a whole lot of African Americans, and Latinos, and Asian Americans. It’s a very diverse campaign. I will tell you. Let me go through it right now: Campaign manager in Iowa is a woman. Campaign manager in Nevada is a woman. Campaign manager in New Hampshire’s not a woman. Campaign manager in South Carolina is African American guy. Campaign manager in California is a woman.
MC : Now, there were allegations in the 2016 campaign of sexual harassment. What steps have you taken so there’s not a —
BS: We’ve taken radical steps. I was humiliated. I heard about it, and I read the four articles that appeared in The New York Times on that issue. And it was personally humiliating to me. And embarrassing that — and we met with some of the people. It was disgusting, that some of the people on the staff. Various — you know we have hundreds of people on the staff, and some acted in totally inappropriate ways. What we did is we hired, we think, the best people in the country who are familiar with this issue.
They made recommendations. We implemented them. We instituted, what I believe was and may well be today, the strongest protocol in terms of sexual harassment. [Sanders released a 16-page document in May outlining his campaign’s new guidelines for ending sexual harassment that included an independent hotline to report harassment and a fixed pay scale. The Sanders campaign staff voted to unionize in March.] Which means that if anyone feels that they have been treated incorrectly, improperly, inappropriately, there was an independent channel that they go to. So, we have taken very strong action in response to what happened in 2016.
MG : Senator, why hasn’t your candidacy gained broad support among African Americans?
BS: Well, a couple of reasons, but check that out. I think sometimes — without going through the whole — what happened in 2016 is, we were running against a woman, who — she and her husband were very popular in the African American community. But even in 2016, we won the support of African Americans who were under the age of 40 and Latinos. And right now that is still the case. In fact, poll after poll has us winning the support of people under 49.
We’re not doing well with older people. I’ve got to work on that. But I don’t accept the fact that we’re — I mean, I’d like to do better. But we are not. And Joe Biden is doing well, and there are reasons for that. But I think behind Joe, we are in second place within the African American community. I suspect we’re winning among younger African Americans. [Sanders is a favorite among black millennials, but by a small margin. Biden is leading him in support among all black voters by nearly 20 percentage points.]
KK : Why is Biden doing so well?
BS: And I should also tell you that I just came back from South Carolina yesterday. We have more African Americans support in the state Legislature than any other candidate. We had nine members of the state Legislature who are supporting us. Actively supporting us. We have — I don’t know enough about other campaigns, but we have a whole lot of people like Cornel West, Nina Turner, Danny Glover, many others. Leading African American voices that are out there campaigning very, very hard for us. I think we will surprise people about how well we do in South Carolina, for example.
MG : So, you’ve declined to support reparations. What, if anything, should the federal government do —
MG: — to address the condition —
MG : — specifically of black Americans after centuries of discrimination, exclusion and plunder, frankly?
BS: Yes. You’re right. It’s not that I have rejected reparations. [While Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker said they supported some form of reparations, Sanders has been typically contrarian on the issue — he said that “there are better ways” to help black communities “than just writing out a check.”] I am on Cory Booker’s bill in the Senate, which looks at reparations. I’m a co-sponsor of that. Strong co-sponsor of that. What I believe is, you’re absolutely right. And that means I am sympathetic to what Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, was talking about. I don’t know if you’re familiar with what Clyburn is talking about. It’s called the 10-20-30 legislation and what it says is, the federal government must substantially increase funding for distressed communities that have long-term poverty rates. Often, not always, African American communities. And that means a significant increase in federal funding for housing, for education, for health care, for infrastructure, for job training.
You’re absolutely right. There is no argument. They’re all community, African American community. We don’t even have to go into all the horror that that community has experienced, and that has got to be addressed and we intend to address it, in an extremely bold way. That’s a promise I make to you.
MG : Thank you.
NF : You’ve announced proposals to, I guess, essentially freeze deportations, to decriminalize border crossings and to provide a pathway to citizenship.
NF : But, you’ve also said that guest workers and undocumented immigrants can lower wages for low-skilled American workers. I was wondering if you still felt that way, and what do you think —
BS: No, that’s what I said on the Lou Dobbs show 250 years ago, right? [Sanders made this argument multiple times during his 2016 run, including in an interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein and at a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event, where he argued that lower wages are tied to an influx of immigrants.] It gets repeated a little bit. But look, I think if you look at the proposal that we have, and I speak as the son of an immigrant. What we are going to do — you asked me what we do in the first hundred days — I’ll tell you what we do on Day 1. What we do on day one is end all of Trump’s racist immigration executive orders. We undo them. And on Day 1, we restore legal status to the 1.8 million young people and their parents eligible for the DACA program. OK?
No. 2, through executive order we are going to totally change our attitude on the border. Under my administration, federal agents will not be snatching babies from their mothers. Will not be throwing children into cages. And No. 3, and I believe we can do this, I can’t swear to you, because it is going to require bipartisan support, but I think the American people do want comprehensive immigration reform, and a path toward citizenship. And I will push that as strongly as I can. And I think there is bipartisan support for that.
But in terms of labor rights, I will tell you this, you may or may not know this, in — I don’t know, 2008 maybe? Somewhere around there. I went to Immokalee, Fla. Does that town mean anything to anybody? Immokalee, Florida? Immokalee is a small town near Naples, Florida. And it turns out to be the town where a whole lot of tomatoes are grown that go to McDonald’s and Burger King to be used on their sandwiches. And I stood with the workers, the undocumented workers, in Immokalee, to help them get better working conditions and better wages. And we held a hearing — when Ted Kennedy was alive, we held a hearing. And the result of that, is they got better wages.
So, I think you’re raising an issue, though, that we don’t talk about a whole lot when we talk about immigration, and that is the exploitation of undocumented workers. If you don’t have any documentation, I could hire you for five bucks an hour and what recourse do you have? Not much. And that is an issue that our labor law reform, by the way, does deal with. [Sen. Edward Kennedy died in 2009.]
Binyamin Appelbaum : But you don’t think that that exploitation results in lower wages for domestic workers?
BS: Sure it does. Right now, we have people who are being exploited. If you’re undocumented, and you’re being paid five bucks an hour, why am I going to pay her $12 an hour? [The prevailing view of economists is that immigration increases economic growth, so it is not tethered to lower wages or less employment for American workers.]
BA: I’m confused.
BS: And that’s why the labor law that I am proposing will make sure you pay that worker $15 an hour, as a matter of fact.
BA : What you said on the Lou Dobbs show was that that exploitation lowers wages, and you just said that again. [Sen. Sanders’ appearance on “Lou Dobbs Tonight” wasn’t exactly 250 years ago. It was 2007, when he said, “I don’t know why we need millions of people to be coming into this country as guest workers who will work for lower wages than American workers and drive wages down even lower than they are now.”] So, I’m confused about what has changed about your position.
BS: What did I just say again?
BA : You said that the exploitation of undocumented workers results in lower wages for domestic workers.
BS: Yeah, if you’re being paid $5 — If you’re being paid $5 an hour, now of course it’s going to lower wages. Why would I hire at a higher wage?
BA : But just a minute ago you said that was no longer your position. Is it your position that immigration, and exploitation ——
BS: I didn’t say “immigration.” I said that if you are paid, anybody is paid, exploited and illegally paid low wages, of course that’s going to lower wage standards in America.
BA : And that’s what’s happening right now?
BS: You said that. I didn’t say that. I don’t know how big a deal it is, but if people are being exploited by their employers, of course it lowers wages in America. Why do I — If I can get you for cheap labor, why do I pay her a living wage? Do you deny that? I mean, I don’t know. That’s —
BA : I just wanted to understand your position. Thank you.
BS: Do you disagree with that?
BA: I think that there’s a lot of research suggesting that that’s not actually the case, yes. [Even George Borjas, the Harvard economist cited by the Trump administration in efforts to argue that immigration drives down wages, has said there is no economic justification for restricting skilled immigration.]
BS: That if I pay you five bucks an hour, it doesn’t have an impact on her wages.
BA : That immigration —
BS: I didn’t say immigration.
BA : The immigration under current circumstances, which is substantially under —
BS: Buh-buh-buh-buh-buh. Hold on. You’re misstating me. All I am saying is that if for whatever reason, I’m paying you $5 an hour, OK? You don’t think that’s going to lower the wages that she gets?
BA : There’s a lot of economic research suggesting that it does not.
BS: Not that I have seen.
BA : OK.
BS: I mean I think that’s kind of common sense. It’s called a race to the bottom.
BA : Thank you.
NF : You’ve long supported movements in Latin America to oppose American intervention and oppressive regimes there. Why do you think it is that so many of the leftist governments that have taken power in the last few years, despite the hopes that many American leftists had that they would bring about change, have become anti-democratic, corrupt and even brutal?
BS: Well, for a start, compared to what? What I have opposed my whole life is U.S. interventionism and overthrowing governments. [Even as mayor of Burlington, Sanders was outspoken in his support for leftist movements in Latin America opposing United States intervention. He made an unusual trip to Nicaragua in 1985, where he praised that country as being “determined not to be a banana republic anymore” after years of foreign domination.] All right. As you are familiar with, the United States has a long history under the so-called Monroe Doctrine of overthrowing governments. I don’t think that that’s right.
All right. I think it was wrong to overthrow Salvador Allende in Chile, and it was wrong to overthrow the Brazilian government. Wrong to overthrow the government in Dominican Republic, wrong to overthrow the Grenadian government. You know, it’s just Big Brother thinking they have the right to intervene, whatever they wanted in Latin America. Now, you raise an interesting question. First of all, when we talk about recent governments — Lula [Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former president of Brazil], who I talked to a couple of weeks ago — we can argue it. Now I’m not telling you I’m the world’s greatest expert, but I suspect the case against them was an illegitimate case.
NF : Was legitimate or —
BS: Was illegitimate. All right. I think he was jailed. He was — before the election in which [Jair] Bolsonaro won, Lula, as I recall, was the most popular politician in Brazil. And he had a pretty good record. [A 2010 survey found that da Silva’s administration was supported by 80% of Brazilians. He was the country’s first working-class president. He faced and was convicted of criminal charges, including corruption and money laundering.] And there was a charge, which I suspect was trumped up to get him out of the election, which resulted in an extreme right-wing Trump ally winning.
In terms of Evo Morales [of Bolivia], his record was a pretty good record. He went a long way to limit or to cut back on extreme poverty in a very poor country. Give a voice to the indigenous people of that country. Should he have run for another term although they made it legal? Probably not. But you know, within the context of what? [The editorial board has written that in attempting to destroy term limits and otherwise abusing power, Morales shed his legitimacy as a leader.] In Mexico where you have drug cartels, massive amounts of corruption, in terms of other countries. So I’m not quite sure I accept the basic premises. Lula, I think, did a good job in Brazil. I think Morales probably should not have run again, but his record is not a bad record.
NF : Nicaragua?
BS: [Daniel] Ortega is a good exception to the rule, who came to power way back when in the ’80s and has since become a dictator, and I think that’s unfortunate. But don’t only look to leftist governments. [The editorial board has frequently written with concern about the rise of Bolsonaro and other populists around the world.] Our friend Mr. Bolsonaro in Brazil is now destroying the entire lungs of the world, if you like, and attacking gays. So you know, it’s not just left-wing governments that have misbehaved, I think, in Latin America.
KK : I assume that Venezuela would be one of the exceptions on that list as well?
BS: Yep. Yep. [In February, Sanders warned against intervention in Venezuela. He told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “It’s fair to say the last election was undemocratic, but there are still democratic operations taking place in that country.”]
KK : Can I ask you a question about a different part of the world? Are you comfortable with the United States having nuclear weapons in Turkey today? [In October, Trump appeared to acknowledge that the United States has nuclear weapons in southern Turkey, breaking with long-standing government protocol not to comment on where the country has such weapons stationed. Trump’s comments came after concerns over Turkey’s invasion of Syria. Obviously, Sanders is also breaking that protocol here, too.]
BS: I’m not comfortable about nuclear — no, I’m not. And I’m not comfortable about nuclear weapons, in general. I would say it’s one of the miracles — thank God. You know, back in 1945 after Hiroshima, I think, Nagasaki, I think people would not have believed that we would have gone this long without a nuclear war. Now what, we have 11 countries, 12 countries around the world with nuclear weapons? I mean, I think to answer your question, no. I think we have got to, once again, be very vigorous in trying to put forward nuclear bans and do everything we can to get those weapons out of the hands of countries all over the world.
KK : Are you specifically concerned about [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan having —
BS: Sure I am.
KK : control over or access to American —
BS: I’m not overly delighted to have Pakistan have nuclear weapons as well. You know? It’s a dangerous situation and I, you know, and God knows.
KK : Is Turkey still an American ally in your eyes?
BS: Well, I am not impressed, you know, by Trump’s policy with Turkey where he gets a phone call from Erdogan and the next day announces that we’re withdrawing U.S. troops. I think he is a distant — I understand he’s a member of NATO, but not one of our strongest allies.
Alex Kingsbury : Speaking of withdrawing troops, the Trump administration appears to be negotiating again with the Taliban —
BS: Is that what Mr. Trump said the other day?
AK : — to end the war in Afghanistan —
BS: And you take that on face value, right?
AK : The peace treaty that they appear to be moving toward would sort of cast the democratically elected Afghan government to its fate. Is that an appropriate way to end the war in Afghanistan? Would you have a different strategy?
BS: Two things, and I say this not to be facetious. I am asked every day about what I think about what Trump said and I don’t believe him. I mean, you mentioned that he is negotiating with the Taliban. I think that was a surprise to the Taliban, and it was a surprise to his advisers. So I don’t necessarily believe him. I think he’s a pathological liar and I hold in deep doubt virtually anything he says. What I do believe — as somebody who vigorously opposed the war in Iraq, opposed to the first Gulf War, when I was a young man opposed the Vietnam War, doing everything I can to get the U.S. out of Yemen right now — is I want to see an end to endless wars. [Sanders laid out his foreign policy vision and commitment to ending “endless wars” in a June article in the journal Foreign Affairs. The article did not include much detail on the particulars of the senator’s plans, while touching on climate change, terrorism, immigration and key alliances.] But it’s not done the way Trump does it, by tweets and by phone calls announcing a policy that nobody in his administration is even aware of. It has to be thought out.
AK : Mr. Trump has pardoned several men accused or convicted of war crimes. And I’m curious what sort of criteria you would —
BS: That was an outrage.
AK : — bring to the pardoning process.
BS: I think many of the military leaders, past and present, were disgusted by that action. The United States, as a nation, we have historically held certain values: that we don’t torture, we don’t humiliate. We fight wars when necessary, but we have a standard of conduct. And when Trump pardons people who’ve been convicted of crimes, he sends a message to the whole U.S. military and to the world, so that our troops get captured in a war, God forbid, and they’re going to be tortured. And our enemies say, “Hey, what’s the problem? It’s exactly what you do. You set the standard. If you could do it, we can do it.”
So we’ve got to be a little bit better than that. And I support those people in the military who themselves understand that that is not what this country should be about.
AK : What criteria would you look at if you were considering pardoning someone?
BS: Well, I think in terms of war crimes, in terms of behavior of troops, there are standards that we have held for a long time, which are I would support. I mean it’s not for me to be judging every case, that we have a process that does that. But there are international standards and standards that this country has upheld and when there are individuals in the military who violate those standards, they should be punished, not pardoned.
AK : The president shares a lot of your concerns about our economic relationship with China and the other —
BS: No, the president does not, not quite. I mean, I know his rhetoric. I look at the world very differently than Mr. Trump does, but go ahead.
AK : [LAUGHS] I’m wondering if you could explain how your approach to dealing with China would be different from the president and how it would elicit better outcomes.
BS: China is one of the most powerful and important countries in the world, and it’s a country that we have got to work with and live with. It is a country I voted against permanent normal trade relations with China, which was the right vote because between Nafta and PNTR [permanent normal trade relations] with China, this country has lost some four million decent paying jobs.
So I’ll get to your question, but in terms of trade, I believe in trade. But it’s got to be based on principles that are fair, not unfettered free trade. So if companies want to shut down in America to find cheap labor in China or Vietnam, I’m against that and that’s how I have voted.
But in terms of dealing with China, you have a country which is one of the important countries in the world. I think we want to have a positive relationship with them, but it has to be based on mutual respect and the rule of law. If China infringes on intellectual property rights, that has to be dealt with. If China puts a million Muslims into concentration camps, call it what you may, that has got to be dealt with. If China is doing what it is doing in Hong Kong, we have got to be on the support — on the side of the protesters in Hong Kong who are fighting for democracy.
So look, we’re not going to agree with China on everything. They are an increasingly authoritarian country and that concerns me. Our standards have got to be democracy and human rights, and I think we make that clear to the whole world. But to the degree that we can work with China, I want to see us work with China. I don’t want to see another Cold War.
James Dao: On Hong Kong, what would you see as a good outcome to these protests there?
BS: I would see the people of Hong Kong having more local control into their future. I think what they are standing up and saying they do not want to be dominated by China. They want to have political freedom and more independence from the mainland. And I support that. And I — you know, it’s disappointing that we have a president who has not spoken out on that issue.
KK: Do think President Xi [Jinping] is a dictator?
BS: Yeah, I do. I mean, look, China is — A, I’m not the world’s greatest authority on China, and B, it is a long and complicated issue to deal with a country the size of China. So what can we say about China? We can say about China, to their credit, that they have come a very long way. It wasn’t so many decades ago that there was mass starvation in China. All right? [When Sanders said, this summer, that China has done more to address extreme poverty “than any country in the history of civilization,” he prompted outrage from some who pointed to the abuses of the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward as evidence of the costs of China’s economic advances.] There is not mass starvation today and people have got — the government has got to take credit for the fact that there is now a middle class in China. No one denies that more people in China have a higher standard of living than use to be the case. All right? That’s the reality.
On the other hand, China is a dictatorship. It does not tolerate democracy, i.e., what they’re doing in Hong Kong. They do not tolerate independent trade unions and the Communist Party rules with a pretty iron fist. So, and by the way, in recent years, Xi has made the situation even worse. So, I mean, I’ll give, you give people credit where it is due. But you have to maintain values of democracy and human rights and certainly that does not exist in China.
Jesse Wegman : Senator, I’d like to ask you a few questions about guns and the Supreme Court. First on guns, to focus on a few policies, let’s look at universal background checks. You know, obviously one of the most, you talked about policies that are supported by large numbers of American people.
JW : This is one of the most, one of the most popular policies out there, even among gun owners. You voted against the Brady Bill about a quarter of a century ago, which included background checks. [Sanders has had a mixed record on gun control, receiving scores from the National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund that range from C-minus to F in terms of his support for gun issues. In 1993, Sanders fulfilled a campaign promise with his vote against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which established waiting periods and a federal background check system for people buying guns from licensed dealers.] You now back background checks. What has changed?
BS: Well, a couple of things have changed. When I voted — mostly the world has changed. OK. How many years ago are we talking about when I voted against this?
JW : Twenty-six.
BS: OK, so the world has changed a little bit. [The Sanders campaign has said his opposition to the Brady Bill in 1993 stemmed from its inclusion of an interim five-day national waiting period while an instant background check system was being installed; Sanders viewed the waiting period as federal overreach and felt he was voting in accordance with the wishes of his constituents. Sanders has also frequently said that his anti-assault weapon stance and the NRA’s endorsement of his opponents may have cost him the 1988 election.] I come from a state that until two years ago had no gun control at all. Zero. OK. People of Vermont have changed, and I certainly have changed on that issue. There is now in Vermont, and all over this country, disgust at the level of mass shootings and gun violence in general. And I will have an administration that will have a gun policy second to none. OK, and I’ll tell you one of the things and one of the advantages of being the candidate and going around the country, you see things that other people don’t see. In just two instances, where we don’t talk about it enough. We talk about the horror that we saw in El Paso, with Dayton, with Sandy Hook or wherever.
But we don’t talk about the fact that my grandchildren in school in New Hampshire undergo drills to keep them safe from some lunatic walking into a school. And what does that do to the children? I was in Iowa a number of months ago, I’ll never forget this, a guy about 6-foot-2, a high school kid, thought he was a football player, may well have been a football player, big kid. And he said, “I’ve got to tell you, Senator, that the kids at my school are scared. Scared to go to school.” And then I talked to another mother who said, “What do I say to my daughter who wanted one of those bulletproof backpacks?” That’s what her daughter wanted for Christmas or something.
So you’ve got a traumatized generation of kids and you know, as Barack Obama said, all that we can do on this issue is the best that we can do. No one can guarantee when there are hundreds of millions of guns floating all over this country that somebody today will not do something terrible. And I’d lie to you if I said that I can, but we have to do the best that we can. And that includes background checks. It includes ending the gun show loophole. It includes ending the so called straw-man provision, which allows you to legally buy guns and sell it to criminals.
For 30 years, you want to talk about my record going back, then talk about also — I lost an election, perhaps when I ran for Congress, because I supported a ban on assault weapons, way back when in 1988. I lost that election. That was not a popular position. So all I can tell you is I share with 98% of the American people the horror in what we’re seeing and we got to do everything we can to make sure that guns do not fall into the hands of people who should not have them.
JW : Well, let’s talk also about where the best place for gun policy to be made is. You’ve generally supported a state-based regime in which different states make laws, gun laws based on the needs of those states —
BS: Not recently, I have not. I think if you look at my policy, it’s a strong federal government acting. [Sanders, who comes from gun-friendly Vermont, weathered a steady stream of criticism from the left for his position on guns in 2016. He’s made a concerted effort to ensure that doesn’t repeat in 2020 by reiterating the need for background checks, and pointing to his own history of support for a ban on assault weapons. He had a particularly confounding exchange with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow at the June Democratic debate: She asked him about a statement he gave to a Burlington newspaper in 2013 that regarding guns, “everything being equal, states should make those decisions.” Sanders called the statement “a mischaracterization” of his thinking, to which Maddow responded, “It’s a quote of you.”]
JW : I was going to ask about your support of a federal red-flag law in particular and why you felt that was better accomplished at the federal level than the state level? [At least 17 states and the District of Columbia have red-flag laws on the books, many of them passed after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. Data from older red-flag laws, including Connecticut’s, which was passed in 1999, shows that they are often used for suicide prevention. At a federal level, the law would likely be a grant program to assist states in passing their own laws.]
BS: I think we have — look, you know, as the former mayor I love governments being innovative. I really do, but I think when you have a crisis, it is appropriate to stand up and do, in this case, what the American people want. And as you prefaced your remarks with, these are not radical ideas anymore. You know, 10 years ago they may have been, but you got gun owners, non-gun owners, you got urban people, you got rural people who understand that the status quo cannot continue. So red flag is one thing, but there are many, many other provisions. I’ve ticked off some, but we have got to be aggressive and do I think what the American people wants and not what the NRA wants. And you know what is the sad — what the sad story is, it is the NRA that has intimidated Trump and Mitch McConnell and all of these guys. I think everybody knows that. That’s not why — that’s why we’re not going forward.
JW : Are there gun policies that you would leave in the hands of the states?
BS: I don’t know. I mean, I can’t give you a definitive answer, depending, I suppose, on the policy.
JW : And I just want to ask you about the Supreme Court. Can you — I’m going to ask you a question and have you address it in two different scenarios. I’m curious who would be on your short list for a nominees to the court, both under a Democratic-led Senate and under a Republican Senate?
BS: Well, the promises that I’ve made so far is that I will never appoint anybody who was not 100% Roe v. Wade. I believe women have the right to control their bodies, not the government. And in general, I think, especially in recent years, the Supreme Court, despite what they may say — what [Chief] Justice [John] Roberts and others may say — they are a very political group of people and too often they are beholden to right-wing special interests and corporate interests. So the person that I would appoint would not only be 100% Roe v. Wade, would be somebody who understands plight of the working class in this country, who is prepared to stand up to the power of corporate interests.
JW: Can you give us any names?
JW: How would you get anyone with that sort of an ideology past a Republican-led Congress? [The Democratic contenders have given little response to the question of how their plans will survive in McConnell’s Senate, leading one source close to him to declare McConnell himself the winner of the first Democratic debate.]
BS: Well, again, that’s the same question we started off the discussion with.
JW : That’s an important question.
BS: Well, it is an important question and the answer is you fight for that person. And you make the case to the American people — not that I’ve appointed that person, not just because I like him or her, but these are the values that that person has and why we need that person on the Supreme Court. [Popular support has, of course, no direct influence on Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court. When Obama nominated the centrist Judge Merrick Garland to the court in 2016, 52% of Americans supported his confirmation but the Senate stonewalled.] And then I think you put it into a broad context and I will do, look again, what I think makes this discussion a little bit different is I tell you unabashedly whether you like it or not. I suspect many of you do not. I will be a different president. So don’t look at me within the context of history.
What I will do is tell the American people that we have by a 5-to-4 vote, this Supreme Court, or most of those members, gave us Citizens United. The American people think it’s a good idea that billionaires can buy elections? You know what, they don’t. The Janus decision. Wiping out the Voting Rights Act. So the day after you’ve got racist governors engaged in voter suppression. All right? So you’ve got to put it in a context. Now, Roberts: “Oh, we’re not political. We don’t know where the Democrats, where Republicans. We’re not liberals, conservative — we just interpret the constitution.” You know what? I don’t believe it. And I will take that case to the American people.
JW : Senator, I’m with you. You know, Donald Trump came out four years ago with a list of 18 or 20 names. [Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees, released in May 2016 when he was the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was criticized because it had only white people and just three women among 11 names. In September 2016 he released a more diverse list.] A lot of people believe that that was pretty important in helping push him over the top and certain places. Do you not see the value in —
BS: Maybe. I mean, it’s something, you know — it’s the same thing, who’s my vice president? Got to kind of win the nomination first. I’m kind of struggling to do that. And I want to do that. But you know, it’s not a bad idea. It’s a reasonable idea. My wife agrees with you. Yeah. I’ll take that into consideration. Nothing wrong with that. As to who I’ll potential nominees for the Supreme Court would be. Yep. All right. So if you see that in The New York Times, you know where it came from.
LK : Senator, I have a related question for you. Speaking of the Supreme Court, I’m wondering how closely you’re following the big abortion case that the court has agreed to take up in March and what your biggest concern is about how that case could be decided?
BS: Well, I think everybody who is pro-choice is worried that there is now a 5-to-4, with [Brett] Kavanaugh, majority who could eviscerate Roe v. Wade.
LK : Do you think that it’s a likely outcome for this case or —
BS: I hope to God it is not. I mean, I can’t, I’m not going to speculate, but I think there’s a reasonable chance that that could happen. [The abortion case focuses on a challenge to a Louisiana law that critics say would leave the state with just one doctor authorized to provide abortions. Reproductive-rights advocates worry that the court’s ruling in this case, June Medical Services v. Gee, will overturn the 2016 decision Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt and allow states to restrict abortion through regulation. It was unclear, in this exchange, whether Sanders knew which case was being discussed.]
LK : If something like that were to happen, what would you do executively to protect reproductive rights?
BS: Everything that we possibly could. I have been 100 — I think my record is 100% throughout a long lifetime of politics believing that a woman’s right to choose is a constitutional right of privacy. [Sanders does have a long record of support for reproductive rights, including casting an early vote against the Hyde Amendment, which blocked Medicaid funding for abortions and which his rival Joe Biden has supported in the past.] We will move to codify — as president I would move to codify Roe v. Wade. This is a tough — you know what I said — and it’s a tough issue. I would significantly increase funding for Planned Parenthood. I’d do everything humanly possible to — you know, and the difficulty here, the painful reality is that for women who have money, they will be able to get an abortion. If you don’t have money, you may not be able to. And that is so wrong. So all that I can tell you, it’s not from the top of my head, I will do everything I can, in every way that I can. Something I believe very strongly, it is women, not the government, who have a right to control their own bodies.
KK: I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a couple of more personal questions. Can you give us an example of one person who’s broken your heart?
BS: [AFTER A LONG PAUSE] What, on a personal level?
KK : Yeah.
BS: No. I won’t. Even candidates for president of the United States have a limited amount of privacy. [“It was really interesting the way he didn’t answer that question,” one board member said afterward in deliberations. “It was such a human response, and I think an older candidate will have the courage to do that, but it’ll be interesting to see if other candidates, particularly younger, ones feel like they’re forced to answer”]
KK : For millions of Americans, the church and religion are center of their communities. Do you believe in God? Who are your spiritual advisers?
BS: I am Jewish. I am proud to be Jewish. I was bar mitzvahed from the Kings Highway Jewish Center, a long time ago. I am not actively involved in organized religion. [Sanders is religiously an anomaly among the candidates, for several reasons — if elected, he would be the first Jewish president, and also one of few who have openly discussed a disconnect from organized religion. He attended Hebrew school as a boy and spent time in Israel on a kibbutz but has said he does not have a regular religious practice.] I believe in God. I believe in the universality of people. That what happens to you impacts me. And I certainly believe in the constitutional right of freedom of religion. And I will strongly defend that. And by the way, what that means is that we will end the Muslim ban in this country imposed by Donald Trump, because I think people in this country have the right to freely enjoy their religions and participate in religious life that interests them.
KK : Is there anyone that you turn to, to discuss faith or questions in spirituality?
BS: My wife was raised as a Catholic, holds some pretty strong feelings.
KK : Do you think that faith or spirituality will play any role in the leadership that you bring to the country?
BS: Well, it’s a bigger — I mean, what do we mean by faith? You know, we have some right-wing guys who think that God has told them that Muslims shouldn’t come into this country or that their religion says that women can’t have access to reproduction — reproductive rights, and they’re not going to fund that or they’re not going to serve a gay couple a wedding cake. Right? That’s a religious right, you know, so it’s a big, it’s a big question.
But I believe, you know, I was just actually in a church in South Carolina on Sunday, and what I said is that if you look at the Bible, what is the major provision that Christ and religious leaders all over the world talked about? Not that complicated. Do unto others as you would like them to do to you. All right? I believe that. And in many respects, that’s exactly what our campaign is based on. It is based on, on justice. I believe in justice. That is the core of what our campaign is about.
If I was sleeping out on the street tonight as 500,000 Americans are, I would like you to do something about it. OK? And why we’re making nine bucks an hour, and I just talked to a woman in South Carolina who makes $7.25 cents an hour. You know what? I’d like you to do something about it. I would like other people to treat me as I would treat them. And that is kind of what our campaign is about. So when you ask me about a spiritual, my spiritual, my religious views, that is what I believe. I believe that all human beings share a common humanity, no matter the color of our skin or where we were born. I think we have common dreams and aspirations for our kids.
And I believe that very, very strongly and I detest — of all the things that I hate about Trump, what I detest maybe most is, in an unprecedented way, certainly not like George Bush at all, very conservative guy. What Trump is trying to do is intentionally divide us up based on the color of our skin. This was the champion of the birther movement. You’re familiar with that in New York? All right. This is a guy who is demonizing the undocumented. This is the guy who has imposed the Muslim ban. This is a guy who is at war against the transgender community. He is trying to divide the American people up. I detest that because I believe exactly the opposite. I believe we have a common humanity and that we’ve got to come together around an agenda that works for all of us. [Sanders made clear the link between his own religious identity and his policy platform when he released a manifesto on fighting anti-Semitism in the left-wing publication Jewish Currents.]
Brent Staples : I think it’s — how about the fact that Trump has touched a chord in 40 to 44% of the people? I mean, what about that issue is that Trump is a symptom of a widespread problem. I mean, how do you address that? The problem exists whether Trump is president or not is what I’m saying.
BS: I wish I could give you a great answer, brilliant answer to that. But this is what I will tell you, because that’s, you’re right. What is the issue? How did Trump become president? OK. And I think it speaks to something that I talk about a lot and that is the fact that the — not everybody, but tens and tens of millions of Americans feel that the political establishment, Republican and Democrat, have failed them. Maybe The New York Times has failed them, too.
BStaples : That explains the appeal of racism?
BS: Yeah. OK. What you have is that people are, in many cases in this country, working longer hours for low wages. You are aware of the fact that in an unprecedented way life expectancy has actually gone down in America because of diseases of despair. People have lost hope and they are drinking. They’re doing drugs. They’re committing suicide. OK. They are worried about their kids. I have been to southern West Virginia where the level of hopelessness is very, very high. And when that condition arises, whether it was the 1930s in Germany, then people are susceptible to the blame game. [In August, Sanders said he is prepared to “go to war with nationalism and racism” and cited his family history, of relatives “wiped out by Hitler and his white nationalism.”]
To say that it is the undocumented people in this country who are the cause of all of our problems, and if we just throw 10 million people out of the country, you’re going to have a good job, and you’re going to have good health care, and you have good education, that’s all we got to do. So all over the world, Trump didn’t invent demagoguery. It’s an age-old weapon used by demagogues. And you take a minority and you demonize that minority and you blame that minority, whether it’s blacks, whether it’s Jews, whether it’s Latinos, whether it’s Muslims, you name the group — gays? Gays are going to destroy education in America, we all know, yeah. On and on it goes. And you take the despair and the anger and the frustration that people are feeling and you say, “That’s the cause of your problem.”
Now, I think, you raised the question, let me take it a step further. You haven’t asked me, I suppose it’s somewhere on your list, why I think I’m the strongest candidate to beat Trump. Is that on your list of there someplace? Page 2, all right. And that is that there is a hard-core support for Trump, which I’m not going to be able to get through. You’re right. It is racist. It is sexist. I run into that. It’s hard to believe the attitude toward women in some parts of the country. You really would have a hard time to believe it. We’re back into the 18th century in some these places. It is homophobic. It is anti-immigrant. Do I think I’m going to win those people over? Nah, no way. But do I think we can get a sliver? I can’t tell you how much, 3%, 5%, 8%, of people who voted for Trump because he said, “I am a different type of Republican. I’m not going to cut Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. I’m going to have trade policies that work for workers. We’re not going to be shutting down plants in America.”
Do I think we can win some of those people? Yeah, I do. And I think we’re going to win because we are going to run a campaign of energy and excitement, which speaks to truths in people’s lives, which the political establishment does not often talk about. Now, when I announced my candidacy in 2016, I was on page A19 of The New York Times. [When Sanders announced his 2016 campaign, the news appeared on A21. In 2019, it appeared on A1. ] You didn’t take me too seriously. I don’t know how serious —
KK : Not that you were counting.
BS: [LAUGHS] Not that I was counting. You should be pleased at how much attention I pay to The New York Times.
But after the election we ended up winning 22 states, 13 million votes, and more young people than Trump and [Hillary] Clinton combined. All right? We have a message that I believe uniquely speaks to the American people. I think we can win some Trump support. I think we can grow the voter turnout because we have a message. [In a polling analysis of how Sanders might fare against Trump, FiveThirtyEight noted that his primary performance in states in the upper Midwest, along with his performance with independents, indicate that he could draw in some of the Obama voters who flipped to Trump.] And I think a key to this coming election, by the way, is the behavior, the political participation of young people. I think that is key. It’s not talked about often enough.
Now, after I lost in 2016, I didn’t go home and lick my wounds. We started a group called Our Revolution. And the goal of Our Revolution, which is totally independent from me, to be clear, was to engage people, primarily young people, in the political process. [Our Revolution, founded by Sanders after his 2016 run, worked to support Democratic candidates in the midterms before mounting a brief “Draft Bernie” effort ahead of his official campaign launch. In 2018, Politico raised concerns about the organization’s structural “disarray” and fundraising dips, with the organization’s treasurer acknowledging it was going through “growing pains.”] Get them to run for school board and state legislature and city council. And that organization and other organizations have had pretty good luck. In 2018, the voter turnout for young people was much higher than it had been four years previously in the midterm election. We got to do a lot better. So if you have young people, who are generally speaking quite progressive, vote at the same rate as older people vote, we will transform this country, and without any doubt I will be the president of the United States.
KK : We have a few questions along this line actually, yeah.
BS: I knew I jumped the gun on you there.
AH : Speaking of young people, recently President Obama made remarks around cancel culture and this idea —
BS: Around what?
AH : Cancel culture. Cancel culture.
BS: Cancel culture.
AH : Are you aware of that phrase?
BS: Help me out a little bit. Give me a hint.
AH : So cancel culture essentially is often attributed to younger people, millennials, and this idea that if you put out a critique of a public figure and call for either their resignation or for their cancellation, that sort of thing.
BS: Oh, I see.
AH : And so President Obama said that he considers that “not activism.” [Obama set off a lively debate in the fall when he made a rare public statement that “call-out culture,” in which young people rush to “be as judgmental as possible about other people,” is “not activism.”] Where do you stand on this? Is that something you’re concerned about in terms of the way it’s kind of energized a certain segment of the mainstream?
BS: I think you got a Twitter world out there. And the critique has been made, which I think has truth to it, that the Twitter world does not necessarily reflect what the American people are or even where most Democrats are. [Conversation about how much “the Twitter world” reflects the views of the broader population has been prevalent in the 2020 race. Data from the Hidden Tribes Project found that outspoken Democratic-leaning voters on social media are outnumbered, about 2 to 1, by Democrats who don’t typically post about their political views online and are less educated, more moderate and more diverse.] The appeal that I make to young people is twofold. First of all, the good news is, and it is very good news, is that our younger generation today is the most progressive young generation, I suspect, in the history of this country. It is anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-xenophobic, anti-religious bigotry. It is very, very, very concerned about climate change. It has led the effort in terms of gun safety legislation. And we’re seeing a lot of activity. I mean, you’re seeing young people not only in this country, but all over the world, lead the effort on climate change. And I hope we’ll talk about that issue of climate change.
So you’ve got a great generation of young people out there. Problem is that many of them do not vote or get actively involved in the political process. And the appeal that I make in virtually every speech that I give is to say, it’s not good enough for you to be here at a rally. What you’ve got to do is tell your friends who can’t afford to go to college, “We’re going to leave school in $50,000 of debt. We’re worried about climate change. We’re worried about racism. You know what? Don’t moan and groan, you’ve got to get involved in the political process.”
So I suspect the president is right. That’s not enough to send out an email or a tweet or whatever it may be. It’s we need a level of political consciousness and political participation in this country that we have never seen before. That’s how we defeat Trump. But we also need that especially among the young people. And the reason for the young people, it’s not just that they’re idealistic, because everything being equal, unless we turn this around, young people are going to be on a lower standard of living than their parents. That means they are leaving school deeply in debt. The jobs they’re getting may not necessarily in real dollars be equivalent to what their parents had. They can’t afford housing. This is a generation that is struggling, and we have to address that. And I think by participating in the political process, they can bring about some change.
Charlie Warzel : Senator, since we live in a Twitter world, I’d love to ask a couple of lightning-round questions about your use of technology.
BS: Oh, God!
CW : I know. I’m the geek squad. Do you personally use any social media?
BS: Yeah, I have. Most of the stuff that comes out — let me answer — I’m sorry, it’s not going to be in 12 characters. It’ll be a longer answer.
I am not a geek, but I understood way back when the power of social media. And that is why my Senate office, you could check it out, I can’t remember exactly, I think we have more followers on my Senate office than probably almost all the Democratic senators combined. And while I worry very much that Trump has 60 million followers on Twitter, we, I think, have reached the 10 million level. [Sanders’ campaign account has more followers, 10 million, than that of any of his primary rivals. A FiveThirtyEight analysis found that his following is also especially loyal, second only to that of Marianne Williamson — meaning those who follow him are more likely to do so exclusively, and not follow other candidates.] So I take it very seriously. Have I tweeted? I sure have.
CW : What about you personally?
BS: Yeah, I have, absolutely, every now and then. Not so much lately, but when I had the time I did. Yes, I did.
CW : Do you have a Mitt Romney-esque sort of secondary account [Sen. Mitt Romney used an account under the pseudonym Pierre Delecto to “like” tweets critical of Trump, and occasionally to defend himself against online attacks. ] that you —
CW : No lurker accounts?
CW : What’s an —
BS: As a senator, and as the candidate, I could use my own official place.
CW : Fair enough, fair enough. What’s an app on your phone that you have that might surprise people?
CW : Do you have any apps on your phone?
BS: I look at — No, I was asked by your Instagram people when I walked in here. I read a lot, including The New York Times and The Washington Post and The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and some progressive publications. So I go to them in my own way.
CW : I ask because these products play massive roles in people’s lives, as well as the devices. I mean, one issue that we’re all thinking about all the time is security, especially as a candidate. I mean, do you have two-factor authentication set up on your phone?
BS: There is a woman in my office whose name is Melissa who drives me crazy and gets angry at me all the time. Again, we take that issue very seriously, and she works on my phone and my iPad, my computer, as she does for the whole office. [In June, The Washington Post asked the 23 Democratic contenders whether they had taken basic cybersecurity measures to prevent their campaigns from hacking; almost all declined to say, with the exceptions of Biden, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg. Sanders’ campaign said responding might make the campaign vulnerable to hackers. ] In fact, I was briefed maybe a month ago by the FBI on the dangers there. So we take those —
CW : Do you feel like you have the same relationship to technology as most Americans of your age, or do you feel that you’ve been sort of isolated by that —
BS: Given the fact that I have more social media followers than maybe all of my opponents combined, I guess we’re doing something right on that. What I have recognized is the importance of it. I’ve recognize the importance of being able to communicate directly with 10 million people every single day, which is what we do. Not as much as Trump does, but we do it. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I am a geek, I’m not.
CW : Are you an Amazon Prime member?
BS: Pardon me?
CW : Are you an Amazon Prime member?
CW : No. I’m curious: We’re seeing a lot of people, especially of a younger age, spending so much time on their screens. Do you think smartphones are addictive? Do you think that we have a problem?
BS: I worry about it. Yeah, I do. I’m not the psychologist here, and I know there’ve been a number of studies on the issue, but I know that my grandchildren come over to the house, my wife gets angry at them because they’re looking at their damn machines rather than talking to anybody else. And I do worry about the long-term implications. This is a fairly new development in human history, and I don’t know what it’s going to mean to a generation that’s grown up on these machines.
So yeah, I’m old fashioned maybe, and I think that sometimes it’s a good idea to look people in the eye and communicate face to face. It’s kind of what makes us human beings. And I’ll tell you what I do worry about. I do worry about having to communicate in short sentences. I was just told by my staff the other day, the press releases, which I grew up on in politics, are now obsolete. [Judging by its website, the Sanders campaign has, in fact, put out very few news releases. Here, though, Sanders appears troubled by Trump’s governing-by-Twitter approach.] You don’t read them anymore because you get so many of them. The only thing that you will respond to is a tweet, especially if it’s new. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I heard that just from my campaign staff yesterday. We don’t send out any more press releases. It’s too long, too many paragraphs. So I think that’s not a good thing.
CW : I want to talk a little bit about big tech. You’ve pushed publicly on Amazon to raise the minimum wage. You were successful in that. And then the company turned around, and it cut monthly bonuses and stock awards for —
BS: Not as much as people — I know that was the story the next day. [In October 2018, Amazon announced that it would raise pay for the majority of its blue-collar work force. Sanders shared a video of the announcement. But some workers fumed as the company then said it would no longer give out new stock grants and monthly bonuses.]
CW : The question, though, is given the size and scope of a company like Amazon, Google, Facebook, how do you make sure that they’re not going to use loopholes if you do try to rein in big tech to just sort of undercut you?
BS: It is much bigger than what they pay. In terms of Amazon — by the way, thank you for raising it. You see we talk about — when I talk about being a different type of president, we were able to bring one of the major companies in this country to justice in a certain sense. They were paying their workers 10, 11 bucks an hour, and we put enough pressure on them to get them to pay $15 an hour. And the truth is, by the way, we talked to the — what you’re saying is not quite accurate. At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of people that work at Amazon are better off today than they were before we got them to raise the wage. We did the same at Disney. I had to go to California, Disneyland, where you have people walking around as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. They’re being paid 11 bucks an hour. But to answer your question, the issue is not just the wages. The bigger issue, of course, is the concentration of power that Amazon has on our economy, which is, I think, something that we should be deeply concerned about. [Last year, Sanders introduced a bill named — not subtly — Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (Stop BEZOS), targeting large companies like Amazon for underpaying workers. In 2019 he suggested that The Washington Post’s coverage of his campaign was influenced by Jeff Bezos, owner of the paper and of Amazon. This is a technique of the Trump administration as well.]
CW : How is your plan for reining in big tech different than Sen. Warren’s? It seems like you’ve sort of said that you agree with a lot of that, but how are you going to differentiate yourself on that?
BS: Look, all I can tell you is that, and I don’t have the numbers in my head right now, but Amazon — what do they control? Fifty percent of the internet economy. Is that what it is? [Amazon had net sales of more than $232 billion in 2018. While researchers predicted that Amazon would capture 49% of United States online sales in 2018, more recent reports have put that number closer to 38%.]
MG : That’s about right.
CW : Well, it depends what you’re looking at. Through Amazon Web Services, you have a large amount of internet companies route their traffic to them. I mean, it’s massive.
BS: You have Facebook and Twitter, Google, enormous amount of the advertising that is done online. These are very, very serious problems. And I think one of the things whereas a nation — and this is tough stuff. I’ll be the first to admit it, but we have been derelict in that we have antitrust legislation that has not been enforced by Republican or Democratic administrations, and I intend to do that. And it is not just the big tech companies. It is Wall Street, where you have six companies that have assets equivalent to half of the GDP in this country, and many of them are bigger today than they were before we bailed them out. It is agribusiness where you’re seeing massive mergers to make it very difficult for family farmers to survive. So we’re looking at an economy where in sector after sector — and media — where you have a small number of media conglomerates, and I think we have to take a look at antitrust legislation to bring more competition to the market.
BA : Senator, the federal government currently applies a fairly simple standard in antitrust cases. If it’s good for consumers, it’s good. If it’s bad for consumers, it’s bad. You seem to be suggesting that’s not broad enough. How specifically would you define a new antitrust standard? What should be the measure for deciding that a corporation is causing harm?
BS: When you have six financial institutions in this country having assets of over $10 trillion, when we were forced to bail them out because their illegal behavior nearly destroyed the economy in 2008, I think we should break them up. When you have Amazon controlling 50%, or whatever it is, of online business, yeah, I think we should be breaking them up. So I can’t give you a formula here. I’m not sitting around the table with antitrust lawyers.
But I think right now we have a very serious problem in terms of concentration of ownership in industry after industry, not just big tech, but in many other industries as well. So if you’re telling me that if there’s one company out there or two companies that are providing low prices to consumers that that’s good enough, I don’t accept that. I truly do not accept that.
BA: But this sounds like “I know it when I see it.” [“I know it when I see it” was first memorably used by Justice Potter Stewart in reference to pornography in the 1964 Supreme Court case Jacobellis v. Ohio.]
BS: No. It sounds like small businesses are not going to be able to compete. It sounds like low prices are not the only criteria for what we want in a society. You may be producing products at a low price and destroying the environment. You could make an argument that the fossil fuel industry — you fill up your gas tank, prices have been fairly stable in recent years, pretty good deal, right? Got a good fossil fuel industry. Oh, there’s a slight problem, they’re destroying the planet. Walmart is — go into Walmart, I guess you can get prices that are pretty reasonable, but they’re paying their workers starvation wages, and as taxpayers we are bailing them out because workers have to go on Medicaid and food stamps that I have to pay for and you have to pay for. That’s owned by the wealthiest family in the country. So no, the criteria for me is not just low wages by any means. You got to look at the broad impact of what that concentration of ownership means for the industry as well.
BA: Senator, for many Americans, large public housing projects are sort of the emblem of the failure of government to provide services. People think of them as terrible places. [The editorial board has written on the derelict state of many public housing projects, especially in New York; a federal monitor has reported widespread problems in city projects including rats, cockroaches and lead paint. The board has also criticized the Trump administration’s vague plans on tackling the housing crisis. ] You’ve suggested that new public housing construction would be part of your approach to increasing affordable housing.
BA : Why would it work better this time around?
BS: Well, we’re not going to build these huge units that we’ve seen in Chicago where you’re segregating poor people by income and race. That public housing has got to be decentralized. But let me just be clear here, one of the issues that I learned — you know, when you run around the country, you actually learn something. And there is a major, major, major housing crisis in this country. That’s the fact.
And it is not just “affordable housing” of which there is a crisis, because 18 million people are paying half of their income for housing. It is not just gentrification, which is driving housing costs up, which we have to deal with. It is the fact that you got a half a million people tonight who are going to be sleeping out on the street or in emergency shelters. You know why? Because we have not built low-income housing. That’s why. That’s the simple truth. So do you want to build segregated housing? No. Do you want to build low-income housing so that every American, regardless of the income of the family has a place to live in safety? You damn well do. I do. [Sanders’ Housing for All plan would impose a national cap on annual rent increases, which some argue would reduce incentives for developers to provide new housing.]
KK : But the United States has had public housing for decades, most of which has fallen into disrepair. How would your plan be different? How would you —
BS: Well, among other things, why has it fallen into disrepair? Because nobody was putting in money. Here in your city, I talked to [Mayor Bill] de Blasio, I think, what is it? Some huge amount of money, $15 billion in backlog.
MG : Seventeen billion.
BS: Seventeen? Who’s counting?
MG : I’m counting. [LAUGHTER]
BS: Good, somebody’s counting. All right. Why is that? Because you build a housing and then we do not maintain the housing. Now I introduced, by the way, just a month ago or so, with one of my favorite members of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, legislation just to deal with this. And it’s not just building new affordable and low-income housing, it is to repair that housing, and not only make it livable.
I’ve been around with members of the City Council here to projects where elevators are broken, old people can’t leave their house, rats, vermin are in the house. We’ve got to repair those homes. But when we repair them, we also want to make them energy-efficient. We also want to provide sustainable energy to them. We also want to create a system where the tenants have more impact over the decision-making than they currently have.
So look, we have a major housing crisis. It is a crisis that impacts low-income people severely. Everybody in this room and every American should be humiliated that we have a half a million people sleeping out on the street. That is a failure of public policy. And if somebody doesn’t have any money, I don’t know how you give them housing unless it is heavily subsidized housing. You’ve got a better idea? I’d love to hear it.
But if somebody is living on $10,000 a year, or $15,000 a year, they ain’t going to pay for affordable housing. It has to be built, and I intend to build that housing. We have a housing program which would build 10 million units of housing in this country, which would put a hell of a lot of people to work. When I talk about a crumbling infrastructure, I am talking about the housing crisis in America and the need to rebuild it.
KK : We’re running out of time, and I want to get to climate.
John Broder : Let’s talk about climate for a minute. I think we all agree in here, in this room, that it’s a crisis. It’s both a chronic crisis and an acute crisis, and you see by the growing numbers of very expensive natural disasters. The Green New Deal sets long-term goals, but what would you do in the short term? What would be the first priority? What policy would you establish right away to begin to cut emissions?
BS: I’m not comfortable answering the first thing as opposed to the second thing. Let me just tell you. This is what I say in every speech that I give. I was criticized, not that I read The New York Times and get sensitive to criticism, but you had an article, I don’t know if you saw it, that Bernie Sanders’ idea is supported by people, but not the experts, and half of your experts ended up working for the fossil fuel industry. I know that you don’t write those articles. [The Times’ news gathering operation and Opinion pages have completely separate missions. In November, a Times reporter, Lisa Friedman, spoke to Sanders supporters and climate experts about Sanders’ $16 trillion climate change plan. Experts including the Princeton professor Jesse Jenkins and Paul Hawken, author of “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” criticized the proposal’s political viability and rejection of nuclear energy.] Look, the first thing that we have to recognize, and I’m reading a couple of books right now on this issue, is this is a major, major, major crisis. And what the scientists are now telling us is they underestimated the severity and the degree to which climate change is ravaging this world. And if you’re looking at a four degree increase centigrade in degrees in temperature by the end of the century, where we’re on track to doing it, you’re not looking at the world that you know today. You’re looking at major cities in this country and all over the world. You know all that stuff.
JB : Right, so what do we do?
BS: You do everything humanly possible. That’s what you do. You do it and you understand that climate change is the equivalent of a major attack. If we were attacked by a country today, the president would say we’re in a state of war. Well, we are in a state of war against climate change. And instead of denying the reality like Trump does or making it worse by encouraging more fossil fuel, I will lead the world. Because what makes the problem more complicated, it’s not just an American issue, is it? It’s an issue of China and India, Brazil, and we have got to lead the world to radically transform our energy system.
So what I say, to answer your question, the most fundamental thing that we do is say to the fossil fuel industry, “Sorry, your short-term profits are not more important than the future of this planet. We’re going to phase you out as quickly as we possibly can.” That means massive investments in wind, solar, energy efficiency, transportation. It means leading the world and helping those countries move in —
John Broder: Would you rejoin the Paris accord?
BS: Yeah, that’s nickel and dime. Let me just say this, would I rejoin the Paris agreement? Yeah. So what? That doesn’t mean anything. You got to go far, far, far beyond where the Paris agreement was. We are talking about the likelihood that your grandchildren or children may be living in an increasingly unhealthy and dangerous world, OK?
Paris agreement is fine. That doesn’t mean anything. The world has got to understand that we need bold and aggressive action now if we’re going to save this planet. That’s what I believe. And it’s not what I believe, this is what the scientific community is telling us. And by the way, I’ve been talking about this issue, not to the degree — I’m reading the science, and they’re telling me that they underestimated the problem.
Check my record, and I was there before a lot of other people were there. I was there demanding that the television stations start talking about climate change, meeting with the presidents of the networks, when they weren’t, or arguing that we weren’t sure about the reality of climate change. This is a severe crisis, and we have got to act in as aggressive a way as humanly possible.
MC : So now politics is about priorities. Sounds like this would be —
BS: This is a major priority. How could it not be a priority?
MC : — if not your signature issue, at least one of the ones.
BS: I reject the signature issue. I mean, I believe that members of Congress and the American people can chew bubble gum and walk at the same time. Saving the planet, yeah, I guess that’s a signature issue.
MC : I’ve seen no evidence of that, that they can chew gum and walk at the same.
BS: Well, I’m asking you to look — look, I’m not going to make you false promises. What I am saying here is I intend to do things differently than has been done in the past. And in terms of climate change, there is no choice. I was criticized by everybody in the world. I came up with a $16 trillion program, and your writer here said, “Oh, the experts don’t agree with Bernie.” You tell me the alternative. What’s the alternative to spending as much as humanly possible to save the planet? [The bulk of Friedman’s reporting on criticism of the Green New Deal did not, in fact, focus on its cost.] You got a better idea than I do? So we work with the scientific community. We work with the engineers. I don’t have all the answers, but all I am telling you, you tell me, what is a higher priority than saving the planet?
MC : Well, that’s what I’m asking is that going to be your highest priority?
BS: Right, but it’s not my only major priority.
MC : Well, no, but —
JW : Senator, working with the scientific communities is one thing —
BS: Working with?
JW : Working with the scientific community is one thing, working with the Senate is another. Assuming that you were elected president and the Democrats took leadership of the Senate, they’re going to have at best 51 seats. Do you support ending the filibuster in order to pass your legislation?
BS: Well, look, I think the Senate should function differently than now. I was in the House, you get one-vote majority, you got it. I like the idea of in the Senate, people having the opposition to stand up for — I was on the floor of the Senate, some of you may know, for eight-and-a-half hours voicing objection to a particular proposal. [Sanders’ filibuster on Bush-era tax cuts in 2010 lasted eight hours and 37 minutes. Some Democratic contenders, like Warren and Tom Steyer, have said they would abolish the filibuster. Sanders has said he is open to changes in the filibuster, but not to its elimination.] I think that’s OK. But if anybody here thinks that I will not use the rules of the Senate to make sure that we will pass the legislation that needs to be passed with 51 votes. When you are the president, the vice president, your vice president, is the presiding officer, and we can do what other presidents have done, and make sure that majority rule will reign when it comes to the major issues. So I like the idea of members of the minority having the freedom to voice their objections, but we will not require 60 votes to save the planet or to pass Medicare for All, or to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, that’s for sure.
KK : Senator, we’re running out of time. We have —
BS: I’m just getting warmed up. [LAUGHTER]
KK : Just for a couple more questions. The first of which is, if you are not the nominee, will you support whoever is the Democratic nominee?
BS: I’ve said that 5 million times.
KK : OK. And my colleague Brent will end.
BStaples: So it may come to a point where your agenda clashes with the goal of defeating Trump. OK. I mean, are you willing to sort of part with your agenda if it turns out that way to defeat Trump?
BS: I don’t agree with your basic assertion.
BStaples : No.
BS: I think my agenda is —
BStaples : Just think a hypothetical.
BS: I think, look, I’ve been doing this thing for a few years.
BStaples : So have I. [Brent Staples has been on the Times editorial board since 1990.]
BS: I know. I think my agenda is what the American people want. I think it is precisely — you want to lose to Trump? Do politics as usual. That’s the way you lose to Trump. That’s what he wants. You rally the American people around an agenda that works for working people, you defeat him. That’s the only way that I know how to defeat him.
BStaples : One last thing from me, what is it — this calls for you to be a little self-critical. What are you likely to fail at or to do poorly as president?
BS: Talk to The New York Times. [LAUGHTER] Look, I don’t tolerate [expletive] terribly well, and I come from a different background than a lot of other people who run the country. I’m not good at backslapping. I’m not good at pleasantries. If you have your birthday, I’m not going to call you up to congratulate you, so you’ll love me and you’ll write nice things about me. [Sanders played to his curmudgeonly reputation in a cameo in the 1988 film “Sweet Hearts Dance,” where he briefly appeared as himself being egged.] That’s not what I do. Never have. I take that as a little bit of a criticism, self-criticism. I have been amazed at how many people respond to, “Happy Birthday!” “Oh Bernie, thanks so much for calling.” It works. It’s just not my style. I try to stay focused on the important issues facing working families in this country, and I fight for them.
KK : So, we’ve run out of time. Thank you very much for coming.
BS: Thank you very much.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .
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