Our guest this morning is three-term Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders has a long record of charting his own unique course in politics. He was elected mayor of Burlington as an independent in 1981, then served 16 years as an independent in the House of Representatives before being elected as an independent to the Senate. In fact, he is the longest-serving independent in congressional history.
Along the way, Senator Sanders has succeeded in making his priorities part of our national conversation, ranging from Medicare-for-all to regulatory reform of Wall Street.
Since launching his 2016 bid for the presidency, the Senator's message has encouraged new voters, particularly younger generations of voters, to participate in the electoral process, changing the nature of our political debate.
This morning we'll hear more from Senator Sanders about his domestic policy goals, his approach to the problems posed by Iran and North Korea, and his strategy for winning the Democratic nomination. We're looking forward to a lively discussion.
Before we begin the program, I would like to thank our presenting sponsor, Bank of America.
Now please join me in welcoming Senator Bernie Sanders and The Washington Post's Robert Costa.
MR. COSTA: Senator Sanders, thanks so much for being here.
SEN. SANDERS: Is Bank of America really sponsoring this?
MR. COSTA: Well, let's just get into the interview.
Good morning. I'm Bob Costa, national political reporter here at The Washington Post. So glad you could all join us here inside our Washington Post Headquarters, and to everybody who's watching online, really appreciate you tuning in.
Senator Sanders, I've covered you for a long time. I really appreciate you taking the time off of the campaign trail. As Fred said, a U.S. Senator, former House Member, former mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Thanks so much for being here.
SEN. SANDERS: My pleasure, Bob.
MR. COSTA: President Trump continues to attack four minority congresswomen. This morning the attacks continued. What do you want Democrats to do in response?
SEN. SANDERS: Well, I think, first of all, we've got to be very clear about what's going on, and honestly, it gives me no pleasure to say this: We have a President of the United States who is a racist, who is a bigot, who unlike any other President, including conservative Presidents, I think back about George W. Bush, and I disagree with Bush on almost everything. Can anyone imagine a conservative President like Bush bringing forth these racist comments? This is disgusting. This is the most racist outbreak of statements from a President that I have heard in my lifetime, and it must be universally condemned.
Apparently, Trump may be crazy, but he is not stupid. And I think what he believes, it is a good political strategy to try to divide the American people up. Remember this was a President who before he was involved in electoral politics was part of the effort to delegitimize President Obama and claiming that he was not born in the United States of America.
So I think we have got to be very clear, and what our campaign about is trying to do exactly the opposite of what Trump is doing. Trump wants to divide us up. I think the future of America is bringing us together around an agenda that works for all of us.
MR. COSTA: Is condemnation enough? Is the House resolution Speaker Pelosi is proposing enough?
SEN. SANDERS: No. What is enough is to make sure that this President is not reelected, and that we move this country in a very different direction. That is what we have got to do.
MR. COSTA: Does this give any urgency to the impeachment movement?
SEN. SANDERS: Well, it does and it does not. I believe and have believed for a while that we have to go forward with an impeachment inquiry, but on the other hand, what is more important to me is to make sure that we do not play into Trump's hands.
So we do an impeachment inquiry and see if there are grounds for impeachment, but I am not certain that Trump, in fact, does not want the Congress to go forward with impeachment where there may not be the votes to, in fact, impeach him, go to the United States Senate where there will almost certainly not be the votes to render a guilty verdict. And then you'll have a situation where after months, after months, after months, Trump will tell the American people, "See? They found me not guilty. Vote for me to be President." So that's the kind of tightrope that I know that Nancy Pelosi is walking, and I think we all have to--
MR. COSTA: Put aside the strategy and what President Trump may want. Some Democrats say it's the duty of the party to move forward. If not now, when?
SEN. SANDERS: Well, that's a fair point. We have got to hold a President accountable, period, and an impeachment inquiry begins that.
But, on the other hand, as an American citizen, not alone a candidate for President, I've got to do everything I can to make sure that Trump is not reelected.
MR. COSTA: Is there anything besides a resolution that Democrats can do now on Capitol Hill?
SEN. SANDERS: Look, I think we have got to expose him from coast to coast to the liar and the fraud and the racist that he is.
He went before the American people when he ran for President, and he said, "I'm going to stand with the working class of this country. We're going to provide health care to everybody." Remember that? Is that a fair quote, "health care to everybody"? And then he attempted to throw 32 million people off the health care that he had.
He said, "I'm going to bring forth a tax plan. It's not going to benefit the wealthy. It's going to benefit the middle class." Eighty-three percent of the benefits went to the top 1 percent.
He said, "I am"--tell me if I'm wrong here--"I am a different type of Republican."
MR. COSTA: No, really. He actually told The Washington Post that health care quote.
SEN. SANDERS: There you go. All right.
He said, "I am a different type of Republican. I'm not Mitch McConnell, and I will not cut Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security." Take a look at his budget. Massive cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and billions in cuts to Social Security. That is what we have got to explain to the American people. This guy is a liar. He said he was going to drain the swamp. He brought in more billionaires to his administration than any president in American history.
I'm quite proud that poll after poll has me running pretty strongly ahead of Trump. I'm not alone in that. Biden is doing well as well. We can beat him, but we have to make sure we are talking to the American people and explaining to them, as carefully as we can, the fraud, the phony, and the racist that he is.
MR. COSTA: If he's all that in your view, then why are his poll numbers pretty strong?
SEN. SANDERS: Well, he is not stupid, and unfortunately, what ends up happening and what demagogues always do--what do demagogues do? What's the history of demagoguery? Trump is not smart enough to have invented this himself, all right?
SEN. SANDERS: This has gone on. What you do is you--and I want to get to this in a moment. You've asked a good question. If people are struggling today, they can't afford health care. People are working for 9, 10 bucks an hour. People are worried that their kids are going to have a lower standard of living than they do. People look around them, and their local rural hospital has been shut down.
Well, Trump has the solution. It is the undocumented person from Mexico who is the cause of all of that. Well, in Europe, it has been Jews. It has been gypsies. It has been immigrants. In this country, it has been blacks. It has been gay people. You name the minority that you want to pick on, and demagogues, unfortunately, around the world today are doing pretty well, and Trump in that sense is doing pretty well. But I think it can be--that mentality can be defeated, and what we need is leadership in this country to say, "We stand together, not in opposition, around a common agenda, all of you, whether you're black, you're white, you're Latino, Asian American, Native American. We need health care as a human right."
We need decent-paying jobs, and I hope this week, by the way, the House will finally do something that I've been fighting for: Raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour.
We can talk about all those issues, but the anecdote to racism and divisiveness is an agenda that works for all of the people and, by the way, a willingness to stand up to a corporate power elite, which whose greed has, in fact, done enormous harm to the working class and the middle class of this country. And that's an issue I want to talk about. I do talk about it in the campaign. I hope we can talk about it, Bob, in this discussion.
MR. COSTA: We will. One final thing on this issue, what do you make of the Republican response, the scattered Republican response? Senator Lindsey Graham, your colleague, said he hopes the President would knock it down a notch, and he called--he was highly critical--
SEN. SANDERS: After referring to these women as "communists."
Look, if there's anything sadder than having a racist, bigoted President, it is seeing the collapse of the Republican Party in terms of suddenly becoming the Trump Party and living in fear of Trump.
No secret, I am not a conservative Republican.
SEN. SANDERS: But I know conservative Republicans, and most of them, I think in their heart of hearts, they're not racist. They're not sexist. They're not homophobes. We disagree on issues. But they have not stood up as a party and said, "We cannot be the party of racism and divisiveness."
MR. COSTA: What explains that?
SEN. SANDERS: Fear. Fear of Trump. If you're a conservative congressman, you stand up to Trump; he will announce his opposition to you in a primary. And in all likelihood, in a primary, you may lose.
MR. COSTA: Republicans are reacting how they're reacting. How should the business community respond? You've talked about Corporate America. Should they walk away from President Trump?
SEN. SANDERS: Yeah, they should. Will they? No, they won't because, unfortunately, their bottom line is more important in many respects than the future of this country, and I say this not happily. But I think that is the reality.
It would be a very positive thing if the business leadership of this country will say, "You know what? We cannot support a President who is racist," but mark my words, President Trump will end up getting a whole lot of money from these very same people who will say in quiet rooms, "Oh, Trump is a joke. We're really disgusted. We believe in a woman's right to choose, and of course, we have great friends who are black," and all that stuff. But, publicly, they won't say that, and that is a sad state of affairs.
MR. COSTA: On the issue of Representative Ocasio-Cortez, she has a chief of staff, pretty disruptive. You've heard about Saikat Chakrabarti. He has said Democrat leaders in the House have "enabled a racist system." Should that kind of critique be tolerated?
SEN. SANDERS: Well, look, you're getting into inside, inside, inside the Beltway.
MR. COSTA: I am a reporter.
SEN. SANDERS: Yeah, I know.
SEN. SANDERS: But if you're a reporter--and the answer is no. Do I think Nancy Pelosi is a racist? Of course not.
But this is what I do think, and let's get to what really is going on. What is going on in America today? We are the wealthiest country in the history of the world. In the last 30 years, we have seen an explosion in technology and productivity, and yet today the average American worker is earning, in real inflation accounted for dollars, not one penny more than he or she earned 45 years ago.
Over the last 30 years--this is quite unbelievable. Over the last 30 years, the top 1 percent has seen a $21 trillion increase in their wealth. Anyone here know what the bottom 50 percent has seen? Decline in their wealth by $900 billion. Three people, including the guy who owns The Washington Post--three people own more wealth than the bottom half of America. You have a corporate elite where the fossil fuel industry today makes billions of dollars a year in profits while they are destroying this planet. Top 10 drug companies made $69 billion in profit last year. Average American cannot afford to buy the medicine they need because we are charged, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. We are the only major country in the world not to provide health care to all people as a right.
Our younger generation, everything being equal, will have a lower standard of living than their parents. Those are the reasons why Trump gets elected.
MR. COSTA: All right. You brought it up. Let's take it on. Jeff Bezos, he owns The Washington Post, also the founder of Amazon. Is Amazon is a monopoly?
SEN. SANDERS: It is moving very rapidly to be a monopoly, and it's not just Amazon. I think we need vigorous antitrust legislation in this country because you are seeing--you name the area, whether it's pharmaceuticals, whether it is Wall Street, whether it is high tech--fewer and fewer gigantic corporations owning those sectors, and we need an Attorney General who I would appoint, who understands antitrust law, who believes in competition, who would break up these huge corporations.
MR. COSTA: So a Sanders administration would have DOJ that would try to break up Amazon, break up Facebook, break up Google?
SEN. SANDERS: Absolutely. Facebook has unbelievable--I mean, we deal with it every day. They determine who we can communicate with. They have incredible power over the economy, over the political life of this country in a very dangerous sense.
MR. COSTA: Was the FTC settlement with Facebook enough?
SEN. SANDERS: No. Obviously, it was not.
SEN. SANDERS: All right. Anyway, my point, Bob, is these are the issues that--
MR. COSTA: We're talking about them.
SEN. SANDERS: All right. Good. Let me talk about them a little bit more.
SEN. SANDERS: All right. So here's an example. The United States is the only major country on earth to not guarantee health care to all people, okay? I live 60 miles away from Canada. Burlington, Vermont. You've got heart surgery in Canada. You walk out of that hospital without owing a nickel--without owing a nickel--and the care in Canada in quite as good as in the United States.
In our country, we spend almost twice as much per capita as do the people of any other country, including Canada. We have 80 million people who are uninsured or underinsured. We pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. 30,000 people a year die because they don't get to the doctor when they should.
Now, some of us are trying to fight for a Medicare-for-all. Nothing more radical than expanding a popular program developed in 1965 by Lyndon Baines Johnson and a Democratic Congress over a four-year period to guarantee health care to every man, woman, and child in this country. And we are running into opposition from the pharmaceutical industry, from the insurance industry, from the private hospitals--
MR. COSTA: And from your own party.
SEN. SANDERS: --and some in my own party, absolutely, who will spend together probably hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat us because they think the current system is great.
MR. COSTA: Let's specify "they." Vice President Biden gave a speech this week. He said Medicare-for-all would tear up part of President Obama's legacy. Is he wrong?
SEN. SANDERS: Of course, he's wrong. Look, you are looking at a United States Senator who probably not only was on the--is on Health, Education, Labor Committee, which helped write the Affordable Care Act, but when Trump and his friends tried to repeal it, you're looking at a guy who traveled all over this country, led large rallies and worked with Democratic Senators and Members of Congress to oppose what Trump was doing. We ended up winning by one vote. The late John McCain came through.
I have defended--I have helped write and defended the Affordable Care Act, but you know what? Times change, and we have got to go further. We have to ask ourselves why do we spend twice as much per person in health care as do the people of any other country. Is the function of health care to make huge profits for the drug companies and the insurance companies, or is it to provide quality care to all people?
Let me give you an example of the dysfunctionality of the current system. It was just yesterday at Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia. You grew up in Philadelphia. You know the hospital. Here, you have a major hospital in downtown Philadelphia, which primarily serves people of color and low-income people. It is a for-profit hospital owned by a real estate speculator who now wants to shut the hospital down to build condos, luxury condos, or big hotels. Does anybody in a million years think that is sane?
So the function of health care in America is not to provide quality care to all. It is to make huge profits for the insurance companies, the drug companies, and in this case--
MR. COSTA: Should the federal government run the hospitals in this country?
SEN. SANDERS: No. Federal government doesn't have to run the hospitals, but the federal government should expand Medicare so that we have--everybody in this country has a card which allows them to go to any doctor they want, any hospital they want, and which will end up costing us far less than the current dysfunctional system.
The key question that we as a people have got to ask ourselves, do we think that we should continue a health care system designed to make huge profits for the insurance companies, drug companies, and others, or do we have a system which is universal, every man, woman, and child that is in it, and it is run in a much more cost-effective way?
MR. COSTA: Vice President Biden says, his words, your program would be too risky, that people would be transitioned over to Medicare-for-all, and they'd lose coverage.
SEN. SANDERS: I like Joe, and I hope we will have this debate. But when Joe says something to the effect that Medicare for seniors--what did he say?--will end? That is just an obviously absurd situation.
Let's think back for a moment. Let's think back. In 1965, LBJ and a Democratic Congress began Medicare. Today Medicare is an extremely popular program, far more popular than any private health insurance program.
They began that back in 1965, before we had any other kind of technology we have today. It started out of nowhere, and then people say somehow or another, with all the technology we have today, all the experience we have with running a Medicare program over the last 50 years that somehow we can't over a 4-year period go from 65, which is eligibility right now, down to 55.
Bob, do you know how many millions of people who are 60, 62 years of age would give--how do I say this--their left arm to get into a Medicare program? They're hanging in. They're waiting for Medicare. If we can lower that age from 65 to 55 down to 45, down to 35, and then cover everybody, this is exactly, I think, what the American people want.
MR. COSTA: So, if that's what they want, if you're elected President of the United States, you're going to have to go to Capitol Hill and sell this. Vice President Biden said his plan would cost $750 billion over 10 years. If you're talking to a lawmaker, January 2021, and they say, "Senator, give me a number. Medicare-for-all, an approximately number," how much would it cost?
SEN. SANDERS: Somewhere between 30- and $40 trillion over a 10-year period, which is much less expensive.
Good. Let's talk about cost. What the most serious economists tell us, that if we do nothing to fundamentally change the health care system, which is what Joe was talking about keeping it as it is, we will be spending something like $50 trillion over a 10-year period.
I don't think there's a study out there, Bob, that does not suggest that Medicare-for-all is far less expensive than continuation of the current system.
MR. COSTA: President Obama had to make concessions on the ACA. Would you be willing to make concessions as President on Medicare-for-all?
SEN. SANDERS: Well, I think one of the points that I want to make is the Bernie Sanders presidency would be a different type of presidency. In other words, I hold the radical vision that maybe, just maybe, a President and a Congress should do what the American people want them to do. I know that's a radical idea.
MR. COSTA: In reality, Leader McConnell doesn't seem to pay a political price.
SEN. SANDERS: All right. Let me talk about reality.
MR. COSTA: He doesn't seem to pay a political price for not taking up the House Democrats' bills.
SEN. SANDERS: Let me talk about reality, all right? Again, what we are trying to do is something a bit different than other Presidents. That's my history, politically.
And what I believe is that right now, you have a Congress that is heavily--especially the Republican Party. You tell me. Maybe The Washington Post might want to do a poll on this, and that is to ask the American people whether they think we should give huge tax breaks to billionaires, greatly expand military spending, and then cut back on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and education. Now, if you did that poll, what percentage of the American people would think that's a good idea? But that's exactly what Mitch McConnell believes, way out of touch with the people of Kentucky, with the people of America.
What we need is presidential leadership that goes to Kentucky, by the way, a very poor state, and says, "Stand up and tell your Senators that health care is a human right, that you will save money by moving to a Medicare program."
Right now in my campaign for President, the thing I'm most proud of is that we have over 1 million volunteers. The reason I believe we're going to win the Democratic nomination and defeat Trump is because of our grassroots movement, and as President, what I will do is expand that movement and create a process where people all over this country become engaged in the political process, working-class people, young people in a way that we have never seen before, and put pressure on Republicans. I will do everything I can to make sure, by the way, that the Republicans do not continue to control the Senate. I will put pressure on Republicans and Democrats to move this country forward in a way that reflects the needs of the working class of this country.
What does that mean? It means raising the minimum wage to a living wage. It means rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and creating many millions of decent-paying jobs. It means expanding the trade union movement, making it easier for workers to join unions. It means demanding that the wealthiest people in this country start paying their fair share of taxes.
Now, I know we're in Jeff Bezos' building, but Amazon last year made over $10 billion in profit. What do they pay in taxes? Not a nickel in federal income taxes. Does anyone think that that is vaguely sane?
You have corporations and the wealthy stashing trillions in tax havens in Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and all over the world. I intend to change that. The American people want us to change that. They want us to address the issue of climate change, which is, in fact, an existential threat to this planet.
MR. COSTA: So the Jeff Bezoses of the world would help pay for Medicare-for-all higher, taxes on them.
SEN. SANDERS: Yes.
MR. COSTA: Should the middle class at all have a stake increasing a system like Medicare-for-all through a bit of a higher tax rate?
SEN. SANDERS: Well, health care is not free. Right now we pay for health care in a variety of ways. Pretty complicated. About half of health care dollars, more or less, comes from taxes. That's what Medicare is about, what Medicaid is about, what the CHIP program is about, what the Veterans Administration is about. We've already spent a lot of money on that.
The other way we pay for it, we don't call it "taxes"; we call it "premiums." We call it "out-of-pocket expenses." Increasingly in this country, people have higher and higher deductibles and higher and higher copayments. That's how they are paying for health care.
So what we're saying is when you walk into a doctor and a hospital, there is not going to be any premium, no copayment, no deductible. You get long-term healthcare as well. We're going to expand Medicare to cover dental care, hearing aids, and eyeglasses. You're not going to have to pay out of your pocket. You're not going to have to pay premiums.
What are you going to have to pay? Yes, you're going to have to pay more in taxes, but at the end of the day, just hypothetically, if I say to you, Bob, that instead of paying $15,000 a year for your family in premiums and out-of-pocket expenses and I'm asking you to pay $10,000 more in taxes, you're $5,000 for the good. You'll say, "Thank you very much, Bernie." And I think a lot of people in this country will.
MR. COSTA: Well, is there anything specific you could say about how middle-class taxes would be affected?
SEN. SANDERS: I can't because you're talking about over $3 trillion a year, and we have intentionally not gone there because I want that discussion to be taking place. If I write a $3.5 trillion tax bill, it will be picked apart by every group in the world.
But, obviously, we say to an employer right now--The Washington Post spends a fortune, I am sure, in providing health care to its employees. Under our plan, they will probably end up paying a payroll tax, not premiums and not having to spend half their lives with 15 people trying to determine what kind of health insurance you'll have next year.
So it's a simpler plan. It will be based out of public funding, as is the case in virtually every major country on earth, but if you're a small- and medium-size businessman, you are not going to have to pay the premiums that you are currently paying.
For the vast majority of the people--maybe not Jeff Bezos, but for the vast majority of the people in this country, at the end of the day, under a Medicare-for-all single-payer program, they will be paying less than they are currently paying.
MR. COSTA: The debt ceiling is coming up. Secretary Mnuchin said it could expire in September. What price should Republicans and Democrats come up with to extend that debt ceiling?
SEN. SANDERS: Well, I think there's got to be some serious negotiations regarding the future priorities facing this country. I think we have got to be rethinking this huge tax break that we gave to the wealthiest people in this country as we go forward, and I think we have got to make sure that we adequately fund the needs of working families in this country.
One of the areas, by the way, that we don't talk about terribly much as a nation is the crisis in affordable housing, and Trump, as you know, is trying to cut back in that area.
I mean, it's astounding to me. I didn't fully appreciate it. It's not just Seattle. It's not just California. It's Burlington, Vermont. You're seeing millions of people today being forced to pay 45, 50 percent or more of their limited incomes in housing. You are seeing gentrification in community after community, forcing working-class people out of the communities which they grew up.
Tonight you are going to have over half a million people, including 30,000 veterans, sleeping out on the streets of America.
So one of the areas that we have got to demand Republicans move forward on is addressing the crisis in affordable housing and starting to build the millions of units of housing that we need.
MR. COSTA: President Trump continues to tout the economy. Are you encouraged or weary by the stock market's recent gains?
SEN. SANDERS: Well, the stock market is doing very, very well. Unemployment is relatively low.
But here is the issue. If you turn on TV today, you see the President say the economy is doing great. Well, what does the average person really think? If you're a mom out there trying to find childcare for your kid, you can't find virtually any--somebody worked for me, a person on my staff worked here in my Senate office. $30,000 for good-quality child care in the City of Washington. It's less than Burlington, Vermont, but it is outrageously high.
If you're looking at public education in America, you send your kids to a public school. Are teachers being treated with the respect and getting the remuneration that they deserve? Are people all over this country, especially in lower-income families, communities, happy with public education?
If you're a young person in this country, you're scared to death about even going to college because you're worried about coming out of school 50-, $70,000 in debt, which is why I believe we should cancel all student debt in this country.
If you're an ordinary human being, if you're a farmer in Iowa and you're looking at the climate out there and you're seeing what's going on in Europe and India and Australia, you know that despite what Trump believes, climate change is not a hoax, but it is, in fact, a very, very serious reality for the planet. And I want this country to lead the world, not to deny the reality of climate change.
My vision as President--I know this is a radical vision, and it may not succeed, but right now what the scientists are telling us is that we have less than 12 years to radically transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy or else there will be irreparable damage to our country and the world.
So, as President of the United States, what I would do, I don't know that I would succeed, is go to Russia, go to China, go to Brazil, go to India and say, "You know, maybe instead of spending a trillion and a half dollars every year on weapons of destruction designed to kill each other, maybe we should use those resources to fight our common enemy, which is climate change." Now, I don't know that that succeeds, but that has got to be the goal.
And, by the way, as somebody who supports the Green New Deal, when we move to the transformation of our energy system, we create millions and millions of good-paying jobs, leading the world in wind and solar and other sustainable technologies.
MR. COSTA: You brought up China. If you were elected, would you keep the tariffs on China?
SEN. SANDERS: No. If I were elected, we'd sit down and try to develop trade policies that work for the working people of this country and poor people around the world.
It is no secret--and I say this as somebody who helped lead the effort against NAFTA, PNTR with China, and other trade agreements--that these trade agreements were most often written behind closed doors by corporate leaders. And these corporate leaders were making money in this country, prepared to throw workers in this country out on the street because they make more money going to China or go to Mexico. Those are not the trade agreements that I support.
Tariffs is one tool, but overall, you need a trade--series of trade agreements that work for working people in this country.
If there are corporations out there who are making money and they shut down in this country and they want to go abroad for cheap labor and then they line up at the trough for federal contracts, I would say, "You know what? Before you want the taxpayers to give you a contract, why don't you treat your workers with respect?" And, by the way, that has to do with health care benefits. That has to do with treating workers with dignity in this country, something that Corporate America in many instances is not doing.
We have a situation today where the CEOs of large corporations make 300 times more than their workers. We have to deal with that. We need to change the corporate culture in America, which is designed for short-term gains, and they are doing very well. Stock market is doing well. Dividends are very high. But maybe start paying attention to the working people of this country and not just the stock market or dividends.
MR. COSTA: Should Vice President Biden's support for NAFTA years ago give Democrats pause?
SEN. SANDERS: Well, look--
MR. COSTA: Yes or no.
SEN. SANDERS: I'll give you a yes or no. Give me two sentences, all right?
MR. COSTA: I think it will be more than two sentences.
SEN. SANDERS: And it will be. All right.
SEN. SANDERS: He's a good reporter. He got it.
All right. Look, is Joe's record something that should be discussed? Is Bernie Sanders' record something that should be discussed? That is what a campaign is about.
Should we engage in mudslinging and opposition--
MR. COSTA: It's a policy question.
SEN. SANDERS: Of course, it's a policy question. So the answer is yes, but it's not only that. Joe was a strong supporter of a NAFTA and PNTR with China. How is that going to play in the Midwest which was decimated, in Michigan, Wisconsin, other states which were decimated by these terrible trade agreements? Do I think that the workers in those states are going to feel very kindly to a guy who supported those agreements?
But it's not just trade. Let me just briefly talk about some of the differences between Joe and myself. Joe voted for the war in Iraq. I did everything that I could--I not only voted against that war, I did everything that I could to see that we did not get into that war, which turned out to be the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country.
Joe voted for the deregulation of Wall Street. I helped lead the effort against that. That led, in my view, to the Wall Street collapse of 2008 and the incredible pain that that caused for the American people. I voted against that bailout. If there was going to be a bailout, I wanted the billionaire class that helped cause the problem to pay for it, not working families.
So the differences between Joe and me on foreign policy, on domestic policy is pretty significant. More importantly, our vision for the future of this country is very different, and voters will end up taking a look at our records, taking a look at our ideas for the future. They'll make their decision.
MR. COSTA: What does that tell us about his judgment, especially that Iraq vote?
SEN. SANDERS: Look, I don't want to psychoanalyze Joe and determine about his judgment. He was wrong. He was wrong, big time, and go back to what I said on the floor of the House--I was a Member of Congress--about the destabilization that would occur in the Mideast as a result of that war.
And, by the way, right now I am doing everything that I humanly can--I think I'll be in a press conference in a couple of hours--to do everything that we can to make sure the United States doesn't get involved in a war with Iran, which in my view--you can see how this stacks up five years from now--would be an even worse disaster than the war in Iraq.
And I want to say something. I know I've been saying a lot.
SEN. SANDERS: All right. But I did want to mention one of the positive things that I'm seeing happening in the last half year, last six months, in a bipartisan way is that there is a beginning of the United States Congress reasserting its constitutional responsibility over issues of war. You know, I know that the Constitution is pretty clear that it's the Congress, not the President, who determines whether this country is going to war.
And I'm proud of have led the effort in the Senate to get the United States out of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. First time in 45 years, we successfully used the War Powers Act to do that, passed in the House. Trump, of course, vetoed it, but I think you're beginning to see that Congress reasserts its constitutional responsibility.
MR. COSTA: To avoid war in Iran, should the sanctions be eased?
SEN. SANDERS: To avoid war in Iran, what I think presidential leadership is about is demanding that Saudi Arabia sit down with Iran and other key players in the region around the conference table, and that the President of the United States says, "Hey, Saudi Arabia, you are a murdering dictatorship." You probably don't phrase it right in those terms.
SEN. SANDERS: But they are. All right.
MR. COSTA: Our reporting shows they're responsible for Jamal Khashoggi--
SEN. SANDERS: Absolutely. Not to mention--
MR. COSTA: --our colleague here at The Washington Post.
SEN. SANDERS: --they killed dissidents. I mean, they're bad-news guys, but that is the reality. And I hope that over the period of years, we have a President who helps lead this world to a democracy and human rights, stop support, as Trump does, for authoritarian regimes.
But, having said that, what we cannot continue to do is spend trillions of dollars on the War on Terror. We have got to play a leadership role in bringing the countries who have been hating each other for years around the table.
MR. COSTA: Why not directly engage with Iran if you're President?
SEN. SANDERS: Good. Do that too.
MR. COSTA: Would you do that?
SEN. SANDERS: Sure, I would. I've been critical of Trump for virtually everything that he does, but I was not critical of him sitting down with Kim Jong-un. I think it's easy to talk to your friends in Canada. Of course, with Trump, they're no longer our friends, I guess--or our longtime allies, but they're no longer our longtime allies.
But I think that it is absolutely appropriate to sit down with Iran. If you talk to experts in that area, they will tell you that especially among the young Iranian people, there's more pro-American support than you would expect. So I think it is an opportunity to sit down with them, explain to them our concerns about their support for this or that terrorist group, their missile program, but also to tell Saudi Arabia and Iran that we are sick and tired of losing young men and women in the War on Terror and spending trillions of dollars. That's what presidential leadership is about.
And it's a whole other area that concerns me is Trump's respect and affection for authoritarian leaders all over the world, whether it's Kim Jong-un. Should we sit down and negotiate with them? Absolutely. Should we praise them as a great leader? I don't think so. Putin, the same. We need to be the country that, once again, when poor people around the world look at the United States, they say, "That is the country that believes in human freedom, believes in Democracy, believes in human rights."
MR. COSTA: Would you move the embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv?
SEN. SANDERS: Probably not, but it would be part of--I think it would be part of a broader discussion of how we bring peace to the region, and that means, in the same sense, bringing Israel and the Palestinians together.
Israel, 100 percent, must have the right to exist in peace and security and not be subjected to terrorist attacks. Palestinian people also have the right to live in peace and security.
To answer your question, we need to be aggressive in bringing people together and working out a solution that works for both sides. It won't be easy. I know people have been working on this for many, many decades now, but that is what we have got to try to do.
MR. COSTA: One other thing on the foreign policy front--I've never got to ask you this question--you went to the Soviet Union in your forties. What did you learn from that experience, that trip?
SEN. SANDERS: I went to the Soviet Union. I know that the internet thinks I went there to celebrate my honeymoon. My wife would respectfully disagree. We ended up going with about 10 other people from Burlington, Vermont, not quite a romantic honeymoon. And the purpose of that trip was to establish a sister city relationship with a city called Yaroslavl, a very old city in Russia.
And I believe--and, actually, that trip started the Sister Cities program, which to the best of my knowledge exists, continues to exist today, has been a great program, bringing citizens from Yaroslavl to Burlington and back and forth.
What I learned is that you had an economy back then that was in a lot of trouble. I remember in the middle of the night going down there and talking to people who were kind of looking around them, worried that somebody was overhearing them, but you lived in an authoritarian society.
But on the issue, by then way--what Trump does, getting back to your very first question, Trump thrives on fear, and fear very often is based on just not knowing people who are a little bit different than we are. And I think one of the antidotes to fear internationally at least is to develop these cultural exchange programs.
I would love to see American kids going out to countries all over the world, and I'd like to see young people from other countries coming into the United States. I think the way we beat fear and xenophobia is by understanding, at the end of the day, that people, no matter what the color of their skin is, no matter what their religion is, end up having the same dreams and the same aspirations.
And, by the way, that's what I learned from that Sister City program. That was then under communism, and you saw the young people work really well with young people from Burlington.
MR. COSTA: Let's stick with that race point you just brought up. In 1974, you said that bussing policies were well meaning in theory but sometimes result in "racial hostility."
SEN. SANDERS: What else did I say in that?
MR. COSTA: Tell me.
SEN. SANDERS: No, you got it there. Read it. Read the whole quote.
MR. COSTA: I don't have the whole quote.
SEN. SANDERS: The whole quote is the federal government doesn't give a shit about African Americans.
MR. COSTA: Well, that is true. That's why I didn't include it.
SEN. SANDERS: All right. Okay.
MR. COSTA: [Unclear] now.
SEN. SANDERS: And my point was--and I don't think anybody thinks that bussing is the solution. What is the solution and what I meant by that quote is that we need to enforce fair housing legislation. I think everybody, whether you're black or you're white, you want your kids to go to a great community school, not to be bussed an hour away. That is the goal that we should be striving for.
And, by the way, we have introduced education, what we call the Thurgood Marshall educational plan, which would significantly improve public education in America and deal with a very serious issue of the growing segregation of schools in American society, something that we have to address very boldly.
MR. COSTA: Was Senator Harris' critique of Vice President Biden fair?
SEN. SANDERS: I don't want to--you know, Senator Harris will tell you what she wants, and I'm not here to talk about Joe Biden or Senator Harris within that context.
All that I know is that we have massive amounts of racial disparity in this country today. Today. And that means that in a country which has enormous income and wealth and equality, we're looking at a nation where the average white family owns 10 times more wealth than the average black family, where infant mortality rates in the black community are two and a half times higher than the white community. Unbelievable. If you're a black woman having a baby today, the likelihood is three times greater that you will die than if you are a white woman, where we still have redlining in terms of financial--our financial system. Housing segregation.
So when I talk about creating an America that works for all people, it means doing away with the systematic--the systemic racism that exists from coast to coast.
MR. COSTA: Do you feel like if you go into the Democratic National Convention with the lead in delegates that this system is fair, or is it still aligned against you in the way you felt it may have been last time?
SEN. SANDERS: I don't say that it's aligned against me in a paranoid way.
We are taking on the establishment. So we're taking on Wall Street. We're taking on the insurance companies. We're taking on the drug companies. We're taking on the fossil fuel industry. We're taking on the prison industrial complex because I want to do away with private prisons and detention centers in this country.
MR. COSTA: But if the DNC had their way--
SEN. SANDERS: We are taking on--well, we are taking on the 1 percent, and it is no great secret that within the Democratic Party, there is a corporate wing of the Democratic Party.
You will recall--I think it was last month--that a group called the Third Way--you know what the Third Way is. Third way is the--
MR. COSTA: They're moderates.
SEN. SANDERS: Well, that's one way to describe them.
SEN. SANDERS: The other way to describe them is they are the Wall Street arm of the Democratic Party, historically very powerful. That's the fact. They receive their money from financial institutions. They have traditionally played a very big role in the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party for the last 40 years has been dependent on big-money interests.
The leadership of the Third Way said that Bernie Sanders is an existential threat to the Democratic Party. Does that suggest that I may be taking on some opposition in the Democratic Party? I think maybe.
So what I am trying to do in this campaign is to do something that I must tell you I don't think has been done at least since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and that is bring amount a political revolution.
I want to see the voter turnout substantially increase through working people who have given up on the political process because they don't believe anybody in Congress cares about the pain that they are experiencing.
I want to bring young people into the political process. We are having some success in doing that. I want more.
MR. COSTA: So what's more important? The revolution or beating President Trump? How far do you take this? If you're not in the delegate lead, do you still go all the way to the convention?
SEN. SANDERS: Well, I don't want to speculate as to what will happen.
MR. COSTA: Well, if you're a revolutionary, right, you carry on. You go all the way, regardless of--
SEN. SANDERS: Look, you're talking two things. Number one, to beat Trump, we need a candidate who is going to run a campaign of energy and excitement, where there's going to be the largest voter turnout in American history, where working class people who said, "I'm not going to vote because they're all full of shit. I don't give a damn." We get those people involved because you're going to have a candidate who is prepared to take on the big-money interest.
By the way, in case you didn't get it, that's Bernie Sanders.
SEN. SANDERS: And, second of all, we say to the young people, that instead of disparaging them, "You are the future of this country," and I believe that the young generation today is the most progressive generation in the history of this country. They're beautiful people, but they are hurting. They're going to have a lower standard of living than their parents, which is why again I want to cancel student debt. I want to create jobs which pay these people a living wage, bring those people in.
You know what? When you do those things, you are going to not only beat Trump, will beat Trump badly. Poll after poll has many of us, including me, beating Trump right now. We can beat him in Michigan, beat him in Wisconsin, beat him in Pennsylvania, if we get working people and young people involved in the political process, and the only way you do that is when you talk to the issues that are life and death for those constituencies.
MR. COSTA: Vice President Biden said in terms of fighting President Trump, beating President Trump, on "Morning Joe" this morning, he may challenge the President to pushups.
SEN. SANDERS: I have no comment on that.
MR. COSTA: Do you sometimes feel like you're dealing with ageism in this campaign?
SEN. SANDERS: I think I used to more so than now. I think some of the reporters who have followed me around say, "Slow it up, Bernie. No more parades, please."
Look, age is a factor, but it is one of a dozen factors that people have to look at when they're selecting a President."
MR. COSTA: How much of a factor should it be?
SEN. SANDERS: I think you look at the totality of the person. I mean, it is no great secret there are people in this country who are 50 or 60 who have less energy than somebody who is 80 or 90. It really depends on the individual.
I am blessed--I don't know if this is wood or not, but I'll knock on it--to have been in good health my entire life. I honestly can't remember the last time I missed work because of illness. When I was a kid, I was a pretty good long-distance runner, cross-country runner, came in third place in public school's mile race. So I have good endurance, and that has maintained.
But I think when you look at--but I'm not going to run the mile against Donald Trump. I don't--
MR. COSTA: Why not?
SEN. SANDERS: All right. I will. There you go. The media would like that one, right?
MR. COSTA: You tell me. So you are challenging President Trump to run the mile?
SEN. SANDERS: No. See?
SEN. SANDERS: This is how the media operates.
MR. COSTA: Oh, here we go.
SEN. SANDERS: All right. But--
MR. COSTA: You brought it up.
SEN. SANDERS: But I think you look at the totality. You look at the record of the person. You look at the vision of the person. You look at the accomplishments of a person. To simply say that "I am young, and yeah, I want to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and give tax breaks to--but I'm young. Vote for me." I don't think so.
MR. COSTA: We have one minute left, two minutes left. Do you think if you're the nominee, you would ask Democratic Super PACs to disband?
SEN. SANDERS: Look, I am very proud of the fact that up to now, I think--I think we have broken the all-time world's record in terms of the number of individual contributions that we have received.
MR. COSTA: You're going to have to make decisions if you're the nominee.
SEN. SANDERS: Well, we'll make those decisions when we have to make those decisions, but right now, we have received 2 million individual contributions from more people than any other candidate that's out there.
Our problem is--and, in a sense, it's a problem that humbles me, to be honest with you. Our major source of funding from individuals comes from teachers. We also receive a whole lot of funding, way up there in the top, from Walmart employees, from people who work in Target, from people, by the way, who work at Amazon. And people appreciate the struggle that we have engaged with them to raise the minimum wage at Amazon, at Disney, and we are getting contributions that average $19 apiece. We are getting people who are making $12 an hour contributing 15 bucks, and that humbles me. And that's why I think we're going to win.
MR. COSTA: So how do you turn it around, though? You look at the latest New Hampshire poll. I was with you four years ago in New Hampshire. You were riding high. You're now 50 percent.
SEN. SANDERS: Oh, that poll, I saw that poll. You know where that poll has me among young people? At 3.4 percent. That poll is a bad poll.
On the other hand, there were two polls that just came out, national polls, which have us strongly in second place.
We are going to win this nomin--by the way, other recent polls in New Hampshire have us either winning or in second place. We're going to win this selection, I think, at the end of the day because the American people want somebody who is going to defeat the most dangerous President in American history, and for a variety of reasons, I think I am the candidate.
I think we're going to win in the Midwest. I think we're certainly going to win in New Hampshire. I think we stand a chance to win in Florida, and I think we are going to win because the issues that we are talking about are the issues that working-class people feel strongly about.
A lot of working-class people out there voted for Trump, in a sense, because they gave up on the political establishment. Well, I, long time ago, gave up on the political establishment, and I think the agenda that we are offering people is an agenda that is going to resonate with them. They want a Congress, they want a government, they want an economy that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent.
MR. COSTA: And there's a real choice.
SEN. SANDERS: If they want leadership that is going to take on the 1 percent.
SEN. SANDERS: And there's a real choice, as you outlined today, between Vice President Biden's view of the world and your view of the world, but you have a crowded lane this time. A lot of people are echoing your views, stuff you talked about in 2016. How do you persuade voters that they should side with you? It's crowded this time around.
SEN. SANDERS: I think I would ask people to look at the record. You're right.
MR. COSTA: Beyond the record. Beyond--
SEN. SANDERS: No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
MR. COSTA: --that getting in the trenches.
SEN. SANDERS: No, no, no. I think it is fair to look at the record. I mean, anybody can come up with any position today. They can do a poll and say, "Oh boy, I want Medicare-for-all." It's popular among Democrats.
MR. COSTA: Do you think some Democrats have the ability to win?
SEN. SANDERS: I'm not--you can make that determination.
All that I'm saying is find out. You talked about other people saying what I'm saying. Four years ago, it was not so easy because I got condemned by The Washington Post and everybody else by talking about raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour, talk about Medicare-for-all single-payer system, talking about making public colleges and universities tuition-free and dealing with student debt, talked about a trillion-dollar investment to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, talked about criminal justice reform and comprehensive immigration reform. I was there. I did it, and it wasn't--
MR. COSTA: Is being first enough this time?
SEN. SANDERS: No, it's not enough, but it should tell the average voter that I am prepared to lead in a different type of way, that I am prepared to take on the political establishment, to take on the corporate establishment, and stand up for the working class of this country.
MR. COSTA: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, thank you very much.
SEN. SANDERS: You're very welcome.
MR. COSTA: Appreciate it. And thank you for all coming. Appreciate it.
[End recorded session]