The following is a transcript of Bernie Sanders’ meeting with the Los Angeles Times' editorial board on March 23, 2016.
Nicholas Goldberg (editor of the editorial pages): Thanks for doing this on such short notice. We’re excited because it means that the California primary, even though it comes so late in the cycle, is not meaningless.
Bernie Sanders: To me it is not meaningless.
Goldberg: Good. We have a lot of questions. We’re on the record. We are almost exclusively people from the opinion side of the paper. But we do have a person from the news pages as well. You are being recorded, so stuff could end up in the paper. If you want to go off the record, just tell us and that’s fine. We have a lot of people with a lot of questions, I think, so don’t let your answers go on too long just so we can get more of them in.
Nick Goldberg: I’ll start with a touchy-feely question. I’m sure people will have more specific programmatic questions. But I wanted to ask if you could talk about how your ideas on poverty and wealth and income inequality and economic fairness were formed. It seems to be such a deep and integral part of your being. I wonder whether if it came from books, something you lived, something you witnessed?
Sanders: I think, Nick, that’s a good question. I’ve thought about that a lot. I can’t give you a definitive answer. But I think, to a significant degree, it resulted from the family life I grew up in. My father came to this country at the age of 17. He had no money, couldn’t speak English. Never made a whole lot of money. He was a paint salesman. We lived, for the first part of my life, in a three-and-a-half-room rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y.
There was always a lot of tension in our house with regard to money. My mother, her dream was that she would own her own home. Not an apartment. She died young. She never achieved that dream. So there was always stress in the household over money. I learned that economics lesson at a very young age. I’ve studied economics since. But I would answer your question knowing what lack of money does to a family.
I’m not suggesting we were poor or hungry. That was not the case. But it had a major impact on my political thinking.
Goldberg: I want to open this up to other people for questions. Unlike our usual White House news-conference style, I’m actually going to call on people. So let me know if you have a question. Raise your hand if you have a question. I’m going to start with Jon.
Jon Healey (deputy editorial page editor): Can you talk about having been a senator through several presidencies? The last couple, George Bush and Barack Obama, have taken a certain amount of criticism for their use of executive power. Could you talk about your view of executive power, and how you see the limits or lack thereof on the office?
Sanders: I think what President Obama would tell you, and he’s a better lawyer than I am, is that using executive power is not the preferred approach. The preferred approach is legislation for all the reasons that you know. It’s more permanent. It cannot be changed by the next administration easily. But I think in terms of President Obama — and I am on the Senate floor, I’ve been there for as long as he has been president — what we have seen is an unprecedented level of obstructionism. I’m not telling you anything I think most of you don’t know.
Literally on the day Obama was sworn in, there was a meeting of Republicans who determined that their best course of action was to obstruct. And that’s what they did. Many people on the outside, you’ve gotta be in the Senate and on the floor to see what that means. It means that minor appointees — I’m not talking about Supreme Court justices, I’m talking about minor appointees — have had to get 60 votes. It was slow down, slow down, slow down. And the Senate was brought to almost a halt. And that was their plan. Their plan was to say to the American people, “See this guy Obama. He couldn’t do anything. Vote for us.”
I think the president finally caught on. I think that was unacceptable. And in immigration areas and in other areas, he used the powers that he had — and I strongly support that.
It’s not the best way. But I think it’s an appropriate response to that circumstance.
Goldberg: Follow-ups to that question?
Robert Greene (editorial writer): I do have one. Are you concerned about an abuse of power, which is a term that was often applied to the Bush presidency. And, if so, are we resigned to an ever-expanding use of presidential power? Or is there ever a time when it could be and should be rolled back to a more appropriate level?
Sanders: I hope so. What you’re really touching on is the dysfunctionality of the United States Congress. Especially now. The example I would give you is one that’s in the papers every day now. The last I heard, the president of the United States has the constitutional right to nominate somebody to the United States Supreme Court. Republicans apparently haven’t read the Constitution, and they’re refusing to allow a hearing on this. So what do you do under those circumstances?
Abstractly, you’re right. But the president has a job to do as well. And I think that if you cannot get cooperation from the opposition, then you use the powers that you have. Is it the way to go? Are there legitimate concerns about it? There are. But I think given the moment, the real thought is why are the Republicans playing such an obstructionist role? That raises a broader issue than everything else.
Healey: But it does put you in a position, as somebody who has a broad legislative agenda …
Healey: An ambitious one …
Healey: … of having an even worse problem.
Sanders: No. Well, yes and no. What I have been saying, we have laid out. I expect most of you are very familiar with our ambitious agenda. But what I have also said, if you listen to my speeches, is that no president, not Bernie Sanders, or anybody else, is going to implement that agenda, or literally do anything of significance for the American people, unless there is a political revolution. And that is not just rhetoric. I don’t think — well these are just nice-sounding words. It is not.
And this is where my candidacy is profoundly different than Secretary Clinton’s or obviously anyone else’s. And you will agree with me or not agree with me. I suspect most of you will not agree with me. But the truth is, that today, in my view, the powers of what I would call the ruling class — that is Wall Street, that is corporate America, that is the wealthy campaign contributors, that is corporate media, which has a lot of power — are so great that there is no way we are going to address the crises we face in this country unless millions of people become involved in the political process in a way that they don’t right now. That is, to mind, the only way that we are going to transform this country.
So if the question is, am I going to sit down with Mitch McConnell and say, “Hey, Mitch. You know, I think we need to make public colleges and universities tuition-free. We need to significantly lower student debt, and we’re going to do that with a tax on Wall Street speculation.”
And do I expect Mitch to say, “Gee, Bernie, why didn’t I think of that? That’s a fantastic idea. You’ve got my support.”
Or, “We’re going to raise the minimum wage, Mitch, to 15 bucks an hour. What do you think? And we’re going to get going on climate change. We are going to join the rest of the industrialized world and have a national healthcare program and Medicare for all.”
Do I think that Mitch is going to say, “Bernie, these are great ideas. Let’s get going on them.” No, no.
The way you implement that agenda is the way that change has always taken place in this country. And that is when people stand up and demand it. You know, Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. That was great. But he signed it because millions of people for years had demanded that we end segregation and that we provide voting rights to minorities in this country.
Women’s rights. The whole thing. Gay rights. Those always start on the bottom. That’s what this campaign is about. I have not the slightest doubt — the slightest doubt — after having given 100 speeches on this subject, that if the young people of this country — and their parents, by the way — become mobilized, of course we’re going to make public colleges and universities tuition-free. Because that is an idea whose time has come.
First grade through 12th grade for public education is no longer good enough. The world has changed. People need more education. That idea will pass. No question about it. The question is, is it now or some years from now? But it will pass, and it will pass faster if young people become mobilized.
Goldberg: So if you can’t sit down with Mitch McConnell and work this out easily, how do you envision the first 100 days of your presidential term? What’s going to go on to make this revolution occur?
Sanders: First of all, it’s not that I can’t work with Mitch McConnell. I have worked with Mitch McConnell. In fact, last session of Congress, before the Democrats were defeated, as you may or may not know, I was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. Working with people like John McCain, who is a friend of mine. Working with people like Jeff Miller, who is the Republican chair in the House. We passed the most comprehensive VA healthcare legislation in the modern history of this country. It was one of the major pieces of legislation passed.
If you check my record going back to the House, there were many years where I passed more amendments on the floor with Republican support than any other member. So I know how to work with the Republicans.
But what I am suggesting to you, is that at the end of the day, the powers that exist in Washington — Wall Street, who has endless supplies of money, the wealthy campaign contributors — every day, the legislation that comes down is not the legislation that the American people want. It is often the exact opposite. Every poll that’s out there [says] raise the minimum wage. Republicans, many of them now want to abolish the concept of the minimum wage. Rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. Republicans don’t want to spend any money on infrastructure. Expand Social Security. That’s what the American people want. What do Republicans want? Cut Social Security.
How do we win? How do we take them on? You take them on when you say, “Hey, Mitch, look out the window. There’s a million young people out there now. And they’re following politics in a way they didn’t before. If you want to vote against this legislation, go for it. But you and some of your friends will not have your seats next election.” That’s the way I do politics. And that is the way I believe we’re going to deal with our crises today.
Scott Martelle (editorial writer): But how do you mobilize that many people, given voter apathy, voter cynicism, the sense, even though you’re not, that all you guys are the same?
Sanders: Good. Very good question. And if I had the definitive answer, I would give it to you. But I’ll tell you something that has really gratified me in this campaign. And that’s an absolutely fair question. And it is not easy. What you’re really asking is, at a time when we have one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country on earth, at a time when many people don’t even know the name of the vice president of the United States … Do a poll. Ask people if they know which party controls the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. You’d be surprised at the results. Many people don’t even know the answer to that. All right.
So what you’re saying is how do you turn that around? And that is very, very difficult. And I don’t have a magical solution. But what I will tell you, which has been enormously gratifying to me, just yesterday — it’s not just what we won with 78% of the vote, or whatever it was, in Idaho and Utah. Voter turnout was at an all-time high. In Maine, we had people waiting in line for hours in order to participate in a Democratic caucus there. And that was an all-time high.
Now, Obama in 2008, rewrote the rules, the record book, in terms of running a good campaign. It was a brilliant campaign. Turnout was off the charts. The fact that in this campaign already — I’m no Barack Obama — but in this campaign already, in state after state after state, we have higher voter turnouts. And we have young people involved in a way that has not been seen. Go to some of my rallies. Go to the rally that we had last night in San Diego. We had 15,000 people out, two-thirds of them probably under 30 years of age. All right. So I think we’re making some progress. But how [do] you create a grass-roots democracy? I’m not going to bore you with all of the details. We have some ideas. There are great groups out there right now that are knocking on doors, that are talking to people, that are trying to mobilize people. We worked with them in Iowa. We’ve worked with them all over the country. But that is the challenge. And that is what has to be done.
So when you ask me about my first 100 days, it’s not just proposing a list of legislation, which we will do. And I’m happy to talk about it. It is, in fact, answering your question, and beginning to redefine what American politics is: and that is not a handful of people sitting in Capitol Hill, you know, compromising and making all these things. That’s fine. You’ve got to do that too. I’ve done it. But it is mobilizing the American people that represents all of us and not just the 1%.
Mariel Garza (editorial writer): Can I follow up to that real quickly? You mention the higher voter turnout. A lot of people have attributed that to Donald Trump. So I wanted to ask you something that is on the minds of a lot of concerned Democrats — and that is, how could you, how would you beat Donald Trump?
Sanders: OK. Well, let me give you two answers. My first comment is, you know, if there’s a high voter turnout in the Democratic caucus, that has nothing to do with Donald Trump. You’re right that Donald Trump has brought out a whole lot of people. Period. You’re right. But I’m just suggesting to you that in caucus after caucus after caucus, we have had, primary after primary — I believe yesterday, and the Arizona primary was so screwed up I don’t even know what the results of it are. By the way, an absolute disgrace. We’ve gotten communications from people who waited five hours to vote in Arizona. Five hours waiting in lines. So I don’t even know how many thousands of people didn’t vote. But my understanding is that we had very large turnouts just yesterday in three states in the Democratic caucuses.
Garza: Well, that could be defensive, could it not?
Sanders: No, no, I don’t think so. I think this is a vote that, you know, people want to participate in. A lot of those votes go to us, some go to Clinton. But to answer your second question — and this is one of the things that does bother me — uh, is that, you know, people want to vote for Hillary Clinton, that’s fine. But it is not fine when people say Hillary Clinton is the one who is going to beat Donald Trump. I would urge you, go to your website, look up virtually all of the current polls. Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump. Just so happens, what do I have in front of me, by complete coincidence, a poll that took place just a few days ago [from] CNN. And this is just one of many. All the same thing.
Donald Trump — Clinton beats Trump, 53-41, 12 points. I beat him 58-38, 20 points. John Kasich beats Hillary Clinton, 51-45. She loses by 6; I beat him by 6. Ted Cruz is tied 48-48 with Clinton. I beat him by 13 points. And that is absolutely consistent with virtually every poll that’s out there. Why? Well, we obviously are going to get all the Democrats. But we get a lot of the independents that Trump will get if Clinton is in the race.
So one of the arguments that I have been making — I made it this morning, we had a press conference in San Diego — if Democrats want to defeat a Republican candidate, Trump or anybody else, I think the evidence is overwhelming: I am that candidate. And it’s not just polls. The truth is also Democrats will do well when the voter turnout is high, Republicans do well when the voter turnout is low. I don’t think anybody imagines that Hillary Clinton will be able to bring out more people than I can. We have the excitement. We have the energy. We have the non-traditional voters. So that is one of the arguments that I have been making.
Carla Hall (editorial writer): Why do you think you haven’t done so well with black voters, and how would you fix that?
Sanders: Well, two reasons. Look, we started off with — we were 3% in the polls, we weren’t doing well with anybody. But if you look at, if you look at what’s happening with both the African American vote and the Latino vote, we have done very, very well. Now, when you’re looking at Hillary Clinton, her husband was president for eight years [and] the African American community rallied around him. He was very, very popular. He remains popular today. Hillary Clinton remains popular. If you go to the South — and also, by the way, check this out — we are doing much better with the African American vote in the North than we do in the South.
In the South, frankly, we’re getting decimated. No question about it. Older, African American women: I think we found two in the country who voted for us in the South. We’re really getting decimated. But here are the facts, and check ’em out: All over the country among younger people — African American younger people, 30 or under, Latino younger people — we’re doing much better. Latino younger people, we’re now winning, I believe. So I would attribute this to number one, the popularity of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton with, you know, it’s a brand name. They’ve been known by the African American community for 25 years, uh, and they are popular. Number two, he was, Clinton was the governor of Arkansas in the South, right? They have roots in the South. But I think once you get out of the South, you will find we are doing better with the African American community and much better with the Latino community.
Goldberg: Mike, do you have questions you want to ask? Because I can’t see your hand if it’s raised.
Mike McGough: (senior editorial writer, on telephone): No, it is raised, actually. Hi, Senator. It’s Mike McGough in D.C.
Sanders: Hi, Mike.
McGough: I have a foreign-policy question that has a little thematic side to it and a little programmatic side to it. The programmatic side is, I know you’ve talked about, in your Georgetown speech and other places, that, you know, you’re with the idea that we’ve really got to make a sustained effort against ISIS [Islamic State], but you also don’t want it to be unilateral.
McGough: What we have going on now is actually, according to the president, not unilateral; we’re in an alliance. But we are sending special forces into Syria and Iraq. We’re doing bombing raids; we are droning a lot. The president has asked Congress for an authorization for use of military force. Are you consistently with him on all of that? This might come up even in your role as a senator: Would you vote for an authorization for use of military force against ISIS? Would you limit it to particular countries? Would you time limit it? Would you keep the drone program going?
Sanders: OK, Mike, here’s the answer. Of course I’m prepared to vote for an authorization for use of military force, but it depends what is in the language — how open-ended it is, how closed it is. Bottom line is, one of the differences between Secretary Clinton and myself, she and I hear the same evidence about the war in Iraq. I didn’t believe Bush for one second. I led the opposition to that war, voted against it. She supported it. I think that what I will definitely attempt to do as president is to make sure we do not get sucked into perpetual warfare in the Middle East, which is what I think a number of my Republican colleagues are really looking at. I agree very strongly with King Abdullah of Jordan, who said a number of months ago that this essentially is a war for the soul of Islam, and it is going to have to be won by the Muslim counties. … I essentially do agree with much of what the president is trying to do.
And I understand that that allows Republicans to try to attack him. “He’s too weak, he hasn’t wiped out all of ISIS” and all that other stuff. But, you know, I think the president has tried to destroy ISIS without getting Americans sucked into perpetual war, so that overall in that general approach, I certainly do agree with him. Where we probably do have a disagreement is, I would be a little bit harder on some of our quote-unquote “allies” in the region, the Gulf region. That is, you may or may not know that Saudi Arabia has the fourth largest military budget in the world. Fourth largest. This is a very, very wealthy country. They are doing very, very little to help us in the war against ISIS. They’re busy fighting the war in Yemen, which they should not be fighting. And then you have countries like Qatar. Qatar is now spending $200 billion in preparation for the World Cup they they’ll be hosting in 2022. Two-hundred billion for the World Cup. How much are they putting into the fight against ISIS?
All of you remember that the first Gulf War, I happened to have voted against that one. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, right? The United States and several hundred of our troops lost their lives putting the royal family back into power. What role are they paying in fighting against ISIS? Very wealthy family. So it is not easy stuff. I am more than aware of the somewhat-grievous tensions that exist between countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, etc., and the geo-politics of the Middle East. But I would be stronger in telling Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the UAE, they’re going to have to get involved in this fight, and it’s not going to be American troops on the ground who are doing it.
McGough: Right, assuming that, and you get this reallocation of burden, would you still be doing droning to the same extent? Would you want that authorization to allow special forces — maybe not ground troops, but —
Sanders: Sure. Yeah, I do believe —
McGough: — all over the word, anywhere ISIS happens to show up?
Sanders: I think, you know, what I said is I don’t want to see men and women in the armed forces involved in perpetual warfare. Now, do I think that air attacks have been helpful in, uh, creating a situation where ISIS has lost, as I understand it, about 20% of the territory it has held in the last year? Of course. The Iraqi Army is beginning, God willing, to show a little bit of gumption and capabilities in taking back Ramadi, which is no small thing. And hopefully they will continue to be aggressive, and we’ve got to use, you know, kind of coordinate with the Kurds and everybody else. So the answer to your question, yes, I think [the U.S. should be] using special forces in the appropriate way.
Drones are a big issue. And drones have done some good things. They’ve been selective; they’ve taken out people who should be taken out. They’ve done some terrible things, which have been counterproductive to the United States. So I would suspect, you know, probably what you need to do is have some kind of commission of sorts to really refine what is a new weaponry: the appropriate use of drones. But would I rule them out completely? No, I would not. But am I aware that they have in some cases, you know, you use a drone and you end up killing 40 people in a wedding in Afghanistan; that is not a terribly humane thing to do or productive thing to do.
McGough: One last thing. You mentioned Secretary Clinton, and your disagreements with her about the war in Iraq in 2003. She also says she is not in favor of ground combat forces in the Middle East. But would you argue that you are actually sort of a truer heir to President Obama’s approach to intervention than she is?
McGough: Do you think that she is, despite what she says about no ground troops, is she more of a risk of getting us into that kind of conflict than you are?
Sanders: I think the answer to that is obviously yes. Look, she has her views. I was really quite amazed that at one of the recent debates that we had — so many I can’t remember where it was — that she brought up the name of Henry Kissinger as somebody she was very happy to have praise her for her work as Secretary of State. Trust me, I will not be looking for praise from Henry Kissinger. I think he was one of the most destructive secretaries of State in modern American history. But that should tell you in a sense what her views are.
In terms of Libya, the New York Times had a series of articles which pointed out that she was the driving force for regime change against Khadafi. And Obama was a little bit more wary about it, and now I think in retrospect, was not so sure it was a great idea.
Look, Khadafi, Saddam Hussein, these are disgusting bullies and murderers and tyrants. There’s no argument about that. But what I think Secretary Clinton does not have a good habit about is looking what happens the day after you get rid of one of these guys, and then the kind of political vacuum.
All I would ask you is, go back, find in my website, go to YouTube, any place you want. Find out what I said in 2002 on the floor of the House. And it wasn’t just, you know, “Don’t go to war.” It was, “This is what I fear will happen.” And I must confess, without any joy in my heart, that I was pretty prescient, that much of what I feared would happen did happen.
So to answer your question, I think that Secretary Clinton is much more into regime change, much more into U.S. use of troops than I am. I think the evidence is pretty clear that she is.
I’ve studied regime change for a long time. And you know what? It looks good on Day One. Often it does not work. Whether you want to go to South America, Latin America, Central America, whether you want to go to Cuba in ’61, Bay of Pigs, overthrowing in 1954 [Jacobo] Arbenz, who was head of Guatemala, overthrowing Salvador Allende in 1973 in Chile — democratically elected — overthrowing Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran. Think about it, the U.S., the CIA working with the British intelligence people overthrew a democratically elected prime minister. You had the Shah come in, and then you had the, um, you had the um, Islamic revolution coming in. And to some degree, that is why we are where we are with Iran today. So I think it is important to think through the unintended consequences of these things, which are a little bit more complicated than an eight-second sound bite and saying, “Assad is a terrible dictator.” Assad is a terrible dictator.
Goldberg: I understand that you have a predisposition against intervention, against reckless foreign adventures, but sometimes presidents have to use force.
Goldberg: What are the criteria that would have to be met before you would be willing to put boots on the ground?
Sanders: Let me be very clear: Sometimes presidents do have to use force. And I’m absolutely prepared to use force. And you use force when the security of the United States is in danger, the safety of our people is in danger, the safety of our allies is in danger. That’s when you use force. But you don’t use force just because there are some awful people out there who we hate. You try to bring democracy to countries. There are ways to try to do it, but overthrowing people who are ugly and awful sometimes leads to even worse consequences.
To answer your question though, please, I know sometimes it’s been thrown at me: “Bernie Sanders is a pacifist, he will not use force.” Absolutely not true. I voted, for better or worse, for the support of President Clinton in the Kosovo situation. I voted for the war in Afghanistan because I thought that bin Laden should be brought to justice. So I’m prepared to use force.
Christina Bellantoni (assistant managing editor, politics): So you mentioned when you sat down, the contest here in California. We’re two months away. Could you walk us through how you see taking your campaign through California? How often will you be here? What is your message to California voters who are the last to participate in this contest, and how you see that we could win and ultimately get the nomination?
Sanders: You want a job as campaign manager? We can use some help. Look, I come from a state which has 630,000 people. And I know half the people in my state. California is not Vermont; it’s an entirely different world for us, and it is a little bit intimidating.
But number one, California is one of the most progressive states in the United States of America. Whether it’s more progressive than Vermont, we can argue about it, and I can argue with activists here. But it is certainly one of the most progressive states. So we start off with an advantage that we are not in Mississippi or Alabama. We are in California. And I think that bodes well for us. But the challenge that we face is this state is so big — is so big — and the media is so expensive. I mean, we could go through zillions of dollars by running a handful of 30-second ads.
I think what our strategy will be is to mobilize our friends on the ground, our labor support, our environmental support, our women’s support, our agricultural support, and bring together a strong and progressive coalition and wage a very strong ground game. We have many, many, many — I can’t tell you exactly how many, but many — probably tens of thousands of volunteers here. Our volunteers have done a great job for us in other states.
The other thing that we will do is I think in this state, we will do something probably that you’ve never seen before. We have brought out over 800,000 people to our meetings so far. …Throughout this country from day one, we have had rallies and town meetings. Some of them have had 200 people; some of them had 30,000 people. We have brought out over 800,00 people. You are going to see a lot of people coming out to rallies.
Last time in San Diego, what did we have? Fourteen — 13,000. We didn’t have the time really to mobilize people. You will see very large rallies in city after city after city, and that will be an important part of our campaign.
Bellantoni: We reported here actually not that long ago that some of your campaign supporters through your website are organizing a May Day rally just outside this building on May 1. How much are we going to see you here doing that?
Sanders: You’re going to see me here more than you feel comfortable with. [Laughter] In case you didn’t know it, this is the largest state in the United States of America. There are more delegates that are going to be at stake here in California than in any other state in the country. It is absolutely imperative to us that we do well here. We think we have a path toward victory, and that path absolutely must go through California. We’ve got to do well here. We’ve got to do well in New York state; we have to do well in New Jersey. We have to do well in Oregon, and I think we will.
What we have to think of, you know, you know, is just, it’s just a tough state. It is so, so big. And I can’t give you a definitive comprehensive analysis of what we’re gonna do, but we are here, we’re gonna do everything we can to win the state of California, to win it big. We can do it. Bottom line is, it’s not gonna be pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into television ads. Those resources we don’t have. It will be essentially a ground game.
Davan Maharaj (editor and publisher of the Los Angeles Times): There was a report last week that President Obama told a private group that it’s time people fall in line with Sen. Clinton, behind the nomination. The numbers are, while you’re doing great in almost every contest, the numbers are generally not in your favor with delegates and super delegates coming. Can you take us through that path ... because before long, the argument is going to be, what does Bernie want? A good place on the platform? All issues of income inequality addressed? How do you get past that, and if you don’t get past her, what are you going to demand?
Sanders: That’s a fair question, but it’s a bit speculative. I would fully concede that we have a narrow path to victory. Your point is well taken. But it is a path. And the only thing that I would add to the arithmetic that we could all agree: Arithmetic is arithmetic, is momentum. And it is also the fact that many super delegates have not yet declared, that’s number one. Number two, for the super delegates and others who have declared, as I said long ago, the key issue, you know, people like Hillary Clinton more than me. That’s fine. But what people are most concerned of in the world that I live in is that a Republican not get into the White House. I think we can demonstrably make the case, and I say this without one second of hesitation, that I am the stronger candidate.
I am not saying that Hillary Clinton can’t beat Donald Trump. I am not saying that at all. I think she absolutely can. I think it is more likely that I will defeat him than she will. I think, poll after poll, we’re 15 to 20 points ahead of them, we can get to some of the voters who are now, for a variety of sad reasons, supporting him. So I think we make that point, we continue to do well, we have a shot and that’s what our focus is. Narrow path, but you know, again, let me repeat: You don’t know me very well. When I ran for mayor of Burlington, when I first met my wife, there was zero persons in the city of Burlington, our largest city, who thought I had a chance to become mayor. I won by 10 votes. When I began this campaign, nobody, nobody, nobody thought it would be a serious campaign.
Anybody in this room would have won a lot of money if they had bet that in mid-March, Bernie Sanders would be getting 80% of the vote in Idaho and Utah. You could have been very rich if you made that bet. I myself should have made that bet.
We’ve already accomplished a lot, and we have a lot of very fervent supporters out there. We’re not gonna give up until the last vote is counted.
Healey: Could you talk a little bit about the challenge facing whoever is in the next several presidencies with the aging population and slowing economic growth. We’re looking at a new normal that it’s more like 2%, at best, instead of 4.
Sanders: Here’s the way I see it. And again, in this sense, I’m outside the media establishment and outside the political establishment. This is the wealthiest country in the history of the world. True? Can we agree on that? It’s true, it’s what we are today. Most Americans don’t know that because almost all the income and wealth is going to the top 1%. A grotesque level of wealth and income inequality is beyond belief. You know the statistics probably as well as I do.
But here’s what people do not appreciate. In the last 30 years alone, there’s been a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1%. The top one-tenth of the 1% has doubled its percentage of wealth. So when I start off to answer your question and we look at the challenges that we face, I start off with the assumption that in the last 30 years, the people on top have done phenomenally well, and I think it’s time for the middle class to get a fair shake and working people to get a fair shake. So that’s my starting point.
So in terms of an aging population, what do we do? And again, boy, I gotta tell you something. …I am not a great fan of media, I gotta tell you. The longer I run, the less of a fan I am because there are enormous issues out there, and I know the L.A. Times is a great newspaper and I know you do good stuff, but let me give you an example, just on this issue. You’ve got millions of seniors and disabled vets today in this country, in my state of Vermont I talk to ’em all the time, trying to get by on $11- or $12,000 a year. That’s a fact.
You do the arithmetic. With the prescription drugs and heating your home, and food, healthcare, [do you] think you can get by on $12,000 a year? You can’t. And then you’ve got Republicans talking about cutting Social Security. People don’t know that we were this close — half an inch away — from passing a so-called chained CPI, which would have cut COLAs [cost-of-living adjustments] for seniors. I helped lead the effort against that.
The American people are prepared to support an increase in Social Security benefits. We do that by lifting the cap on taxable incomes. All right, you make $5 million a year, he makes $118,000, you’re both contributing the same amount into Social Security, the Social Security trust fund. You lift that cap, starting at $250,000. By the way, that was Obama’s idea in 2008. He never carried through on it. I will.
And if you do that, you extend the life of Social Security for 58 years and increase benefits $1,300 a year for people making less than $16,000. Is that going to solve all of the problems for the elderly? No. But it’s at least a step forward. We’re going to take a hard look at pensions, which is a long story, but obviously most corporations no longer have defined pensions. They’ve gone into 401(k)s — not a good deal for the average American worker.
You’re right, it is a very serious problem, and one of the ways, by the way, that real immigration reform helps us: You get more workers coming into this country, paying into the Social Security trust fund, but it is a solvable issue. I start with everything, based on the fact that, look, if we were a poor country, if this were Haiti, and I said to you, you know, wouldn’t it be great if every person regardless of income could get a college education, [you’d say,] yeah that would be great, but this is Haiti, we’re a poor country, we can’t afford that. The whole thrust of my campaign is to ask, why not? Why in the wealthiest country in the history of the world do we have 47 million people living in poverty, do you have situations like Flint, Mich., where a major American city is in the process of disintegrating and poisoning their children? Why? Why?
And the answer is that people on top are extraordinarily greedy. They care about themselves. Apparently for the Koch brothers, whatever it is, $30- or 40 billion is not enough. They need more? Fine. I will take them on.
Sanders: In a dozen different ways. Number one, they’re going to start paying their fair share of taxes. All right? In terms of making public colleges’ and universities’ tuition free, we’re going to fund that by a tax on Wall Street speculation. Not a radical idea; it’s done in other countries around the world. It’ll bring in more money not only to provide free tuition. And by the way — and this is important, a point I make almost every day — you in this state should know, the idea of free tuition in public colleges and universities is not a radical idea. I would be surprised if there weren’t people in this room who went to the University of California when it was virtually tuition free, right? Yes?
Healey: Sadly, no.
Sanders: Then the question to ask is if 50 years ago, a great university, like the University of California, one of our great public universities, was virtually tuition-free, why can’t we do it now? Are we allowed to think about that? How come we could do it 50 years ago? City College of New York, one of the great universities there, virtually tuition-free. In my state, state colleges, virtually tuition-free. And now, people can’t afford it? Why?
Healey: Well, a much larger student base, that’s usually the answer.
Sanders: Yeah, well, usually the answer is states don’t have the money or they choose not to put money into it because they have other needs, or they don’t have a tax base. But all that I’m saying is, we’ve got to start thinking outside of the box. If 50 years ago you can have free tuition at the great University of California, why, why, why can’t you do it today? Oh, because wealthy people don’t want to pay their fair share of taxes? So, to answer, public colleges and universities and lowering student debt, a tax on Wall Street population, what else do you got?
You’ve got an infrastructure in the country which is collapsing. I’m not all that familiar with what is going on here in California, but I can tell you.
Garza: It’s lousy here, too.
Sanders: It’s bad here too? I can tell you that in my state, we’ve got many, many, many bridges which are in massive need of repair, roads that are in terrible shape. Flint, Mich., is not the only city in America where the water system is unhealthy. Why? We used to have the best infrastructure in the world. We no longer do. Why? We’re not investing in it. I’m a mayor; you don’t rebuild streets without putting money into it. So what we proposed is to do away with a loophole that currently exists, where large profitable corporations — in some cases making billions a year — stash their money in the Cayman Islands or Bermuda. They don’t pay a nickel in federal taxes. General Electric, Verizon.
Goldberg: Why is it a good expenditure of public money to give free tuition to everybody in the country when hundreds of thousands of those people can pay all or a portion of that? Why not save that money for something else?
Sanders: I’ll tell you why. First of all, we’re going to raise substantially more revenue, and second of all, it’s a question of principle.
[You’re making] Hillary Clinton’s argument. And here’s the answer. She says, well, why would we want to pay for Donald Trump’s kids — he’s a billionaire — [to] go to the University of California tuition-free? And the answer is, Donald Trump, under my plan, will be paying a hell of a lot more in taxes than he is right now, and second of all, it is a concept. Donald Trump’s kids can go to free public schools now in America. There is a principle that was established in this country, I don’t know how long it was, 100 years ago? Free tuition, free public colleges, free public education. That is, it’s open to everybody, the poor, Donald Trump’s kids.
And by the way, one of the great things in our American history is that public education did bring the rich and the poor together; it did create an understanding of different people, and I’d like to see that expanded. But what I’m talking about is what is simple and I think common sense: Fifty years ago, a high school degree would likely get you a decent job. Today, that is no longer the case. The nature of the economy and technology requires more education. Why would we not extend that concept?
What is God-given about 12th grade? Oh, we’re going to send you to school, for first grade to 12th grade. Yeah, really? Well, to get a decent job, I need to go to college. Why not extend that? Of course you extend that.
Goldberg: The only reason not to extend it is because you have limited resources and you have to put it here, you have to put it there.
Sanders: Well, I don’t accept this, that’s the point that I made a moment ago. I don’t agree. This is the richest country in the world. Why do we have limited resources? Why is it that when the top one-tenth of 1% now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%? Why do we have limited resources? I don’t think we have limited resources. I think we can rebuild our communities. I think we can make public colleges and universities tuition-free. I don’t think we have to have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country. But it does require changes in public policy, which do demand that the Donald Trumps of this world and the Koch brothers start paying their fair share of taxes, and corporations start paying their fair share of taxes.
Garza: How do you get that to happen when those very folks are the ones who are essentially buying politicians?
Sanders: Very good question. You know, I don’t have a magical answer here. But all that I can tell you is, and the first thing in my speeches, I talk about a corrupt campaign finance system which does exactly that. And what I have said to some criticisms, I do have a litmus test for the Supreme Court nominee. You know, I’m not into litmus tests, but I will not appoint somebody unless that person will clearly overturn Citizens United, because it is undermining the whole fabric of American democracy.
So, look, all I can tell you is if we were sitting here 60 or 70 or 80 years ago and someone said you know, I’ve got a really radical idea, guys, maybe women should have the right to vote. Right to vote for women? What a radical idea! Blah blah blah blah. Oh, you know what, maybe we should pass a Voting Rights Act so black people in the South could vote. Oh, my God, you must be a Communist! We can’t do that. What about gay marriage? Twenty years ago in this room, who would have believed that gay marriage would have been possible?
Not one person in this room would have said that gay marriage would exist in 50 states of America. It happens, and it happens at the grass-roots level. Not because the editorial board of the L.A. Times dictates it, with all due respect. It happens when people start moving, and at the essence of everything that I’m saying, every answer that I’m giving to you, is that no president, not Bernie Sanders, can do these things alone. Nothing. But I do believe we can create, and I’m seeing it with my own eyes, a movement which is prepared to take on the greed of the big money interests.
Martelle: I’d like to pivot beyond the reach of grass-roots organizing to climate change. What would your approach be, given that we’re a big part of the polluters, but we don’t control India, for example?
Sanders: It is absolutely an international crisis, and the United States can’t do it alone. But we can lead the world by example and by influence. I happen to believe, I was asked in one debate, what’s the major foreign policy crisis that we face — is it North Korea? And I said, climate change. And obviously terrorism is an enormous crisis as well. But I am on both the environmental committee — with Barbara Boxer, by the way, who does a very good job — and the energy committee. I talk to these scientists all over the world. We are in a major, major crisis. And I look at it almost like an attack against our country, an attack against the planet. We have got to be extremely aggressive in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel. I have comprehensive legislation that does that. It is the most comprehensive anti-climate change legislation in the history of the United States Senate. It calls for, among other things, a tax on carbon.
But your point is that we have to work with China. We have to work with Russia. We’ve gotta work with India; we’ve got to work with the whole world. Again, not an easy [task], but the future of the planet is very much at stake. What the scientists were telling us about how drastic the situation is? They now tell us that they have underestimated the crisis.
Martelle: Yeah, decades rather than centuries.
Sanders: Exactly. I’ll give you one tiny example. I don’t know if any of you have been to Burlington, Vt. We live on a beautiful lake, Lake Champlain, always was frozen over, always was frozen. People would ice skate. Hasn’t happened for a number of years. People in Minnesota used to go ice fishing, you know? They don’t ice fish anymore; no ice. People are seeing this thing now with their own eyes. And you’re right: This is in decades not in thousands of years. So very close to the top of my list of my priorities is telling the fossil fuel industry that their short-term profits are not more important than the future.
Martelle: How do you get the developing world to change?
Sanders: You’ve got to work on it in a number of ways. I think, to be honest with you, we have a lot of technology and knowledge that can be of help. China is making some efforts in terms of solar, but they are trying. You know, the president, in fairness to President Obama, he is trying to put together 91 countries for a conference. But you know, I’ve got seven grandchildren, and they have a right to live in a country that is healthy and inhabitable. I can’t tell you anything you don’t know. It means bringing the world together, making sure everybody understands the nature of the catastrophe and investing, investing heavily in solar. We know what to do. There are, right here, in the Mojave Desert, you have now utility-scaled solar, which is providing electricity for hundreds of thousands of people. I go to Arizona [and] I see very little solar. How could you not have solar in a state like Arizona where you have enormous amounts of sunshine? This is political stuff. How do you have not one bloody Republican candidate for president not even acknowledging the reality of climate change?
So, you know, again, like everything else, this is not easy, but it is a major crisis that I will take head on and deal with.
Susan Brenneman (deputy Op-Ed editor): If in mid-June you’re not the nominee of the Democratic party, what happens to the revolution? Is the revolution over?
Sanders: No. It certainly is not. We have mobilized people in state after state after state, and the ideas that are out there, the people who have come forward. One of the things that has been so extraordinary is, you know, our campaign, you know, we do what we can do, but at the grass-roots level, every day we see things — inspiring things — that people do on their own, independent of us. So no, obviously this is not a one-man show. There are great people all over this country who’ve had to work hard in their states. There are already candidates coming forward, running for Congress, running for whatever. Somehow this is the beginning, not the end.
This transcript has been very lightly edited for purposes of clarity.
MORE FROM OPINION
MORE FROM POLITICS