Q&A: Bernie Sanders says Trump will be hard to beat, but he knows how to do it
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stopped by the L.A. Times office to talk with our editorial board about his run for the Democratic nomination for president.
Warming up for a giant campaign rally in Venice on Dec. 21, Bernie Sanders, the three-term U.S. senator from Vermont making his second run for the Democratic presidential nomination, sat down for an hour with the Los Angeles Times editorial board to talk about the economy, healthcare, immigration, homelessness and other top issues. The following is a partial transcript, edited for clarity and brevity.
Sanders: So this is a major improvement over the old building. God, the traffic, I don’t have to tell you. It wasn’t bad today. We went, it must have been a mile, and it took us what, 45 minutes or something.
Nick Goldberg, editor of the editorial pages: You complain about that at the rally later, you’ll make some…
Sanders: That’ll win me some votes. (Laughter)
Goldberg: So let’s get started. Welcome. This is the editorial board only. The meeting is for the purpose of helping us make decisions about who we’re going to endorse in the race. We’re on the record. You’re being videoed. You’re welcome, if you want, to make a very short, one minute or so intro.
Sanders: I’m used to 60-second remarks.
Goldberg: And we have a couple of our [editorial board] members on the phone.
Sanders: We are at an unprecedented and dangerous moment in American history. We have a president who is a pathological liar, who is running, in my view, one of the most corrupt administrations in American history, who rightfully was impeached, was a racist and a sexist and a homophobe and a xenophobe and a religious bigot. And it gives me no pleasure to say that. But that is who the president of the United States is.
I will do everything in my power to defeat him. And in fact, I believe I am the strongest Democratic candidate to do that. We could discuss that later. But the crisis that we’re facing as a nation, as a world, is not just Donald Trump. And we’d be wrong to think that just defeating Trump will solve all of our issues. We’re dealing with massive levels of income and wealth inequality. I’m deeply concerned about big money controlling the political process and undermining American democracy, not to mention all the voter suppression that’s going on among Republican governors.
The more I study the issue, the more frightened I become about climate change. And the scientists now are telling us that they have underestimated the severity and the degree to which climate change is ravaging this country and the world. And there is no middle ground in terms of dealing with climate change. I wish that it was. But right now we’ll need to throw all of the resources and intelligence that we can in leading the world, because this is not just an American issue, to literally save the planet for our kids and future generations. This is a major, major, major crisis.
So, I mean there are many, many other issues out there, obviously, but I just wanted to lay out some of the concerns that I have.
Goldberg: Let me kick it off then by asking you, do you think that the U.S. can repair the damage that Donald Trump has done? Can it be done quickly and easily? And how would you go about it?
Sanders: The answer is I think it will be difficult. I really do think it will require extraordinary leadership. I think what Trump did in the 2016 campaign is rather intelligently pick up on the fact that there are, what, tens and tens of millions of people in this country who are suffering, who are in pain, who are going nowhere in a hurry, are seeing decline in their standard of living, seeing a decline, literally, in their life expectancy, worried about their kids. And they’re looking around them and they’re saying, ‘Who is concerned about me? Is the Democratic establishment worried about my kids? [Are they] worried that I’m working for nine bucks an hour, that I don’t have any healthcare? That my kid can’t go to college?” And he played on that.
Now he turned out to be a fraud and a liar, but he certainly exposed, I think, the weakness of the Democratic and the political establishment in general, including the Republican establishment. So what we are going to need is leadership in this country that brings people together around the issues that are of concern to all of us. So if you’re a conservative Republican, you want healthcare, if you are a conservative Republican, you want to be able to send your kid to college.
And I think the issues that we have been talking about in this campaign, that I talked about four years ago when I was here, those issues have resonated with the American people. And in fact, as I think you all know, they have become kind of mainstream now in at least in the Democratic Party, when they were seen as pretty out there four years ago.
So I think when you talk about raising the minimum wage, when I think you talk about making educational opportunity available to all regardless of income, where you’re talking about canceling student debt, when you talk about healthcare for all as a human right, Medicare for all, when you talk about climate change, criminal justice reform, immigration reform, sensible gun policy in this country, a woman’s right to control her own body and many other issues, those issues in fact do resonate with a whole lot of Americans and we bring those people together around those issues.
Goldberg: Before we move around the table, let me exercise my prerogative and ask you one other question. What do you say to voters who worry that in a general election a candidate as far to the left as you are is gonna alienate swing voters and moderates and independents?
Sanders: Excellent question, I’ve heard it once or twice. (Laughter) I want you to think about this. In my view, and I’ve thought about this a whole lot, anyone who underestimates Donald Trump as a candidate, for a variety of reasons, will be very mistaken.
He is going to be a very, very strong candidate. He certainly has a very strong base. He will have unlimited amounts of money to campaign on. He is a pathological liar. He will merge in an unprecedented way agencies of government with his campaign, because he doesn’t particularly believe in the rule of law. So he is going to be a very, very tough opponent.
The only way that you beat Trump is by having an unprecedented campaign, an unprecedentedly large voter turnout. And we’ll have to combat every single day the voter suppression which you’ve recently seen manifest itself in Wisconsin and Georgia. And we can expect that to take place all over the country. We are living in perilous times, and Republicans understand that if they can keep poor people and people of color and young people from voting, they’ve got a better shot to do it. And I have zero doubt that they will do it. They’ve appointed right-wing judges who will sustain their efforts. So we have to combat that in every way we can.
But the reason I believe that I am the strongest candidate, and the reason I believe our approach is right is if you want a large voter turnout, if we understand that there are tens of millions of people in this country who don’t vote, who’ve kind of given up on the political process, that young people — although we’re seeing some real gains there and we’re working really hard on this thing — young people, who are by and large progressive — my guess is roughly speaking for every three people under 30 who vote, two of them are going to vote progressive, okay, but many of them don’t vote — I think I am by far the strongest candidate to reach out to those people. I think I’m the strongest candidate to bring together a multiracial coalition of African Americans, of Latinos, of Asians.
So to answer your question, I don’t believe that the [way to win] this election is to just speak to Republican women in the suburbs. That’s one theory. And I think many of those women will vote for me because they are appalled, correctly so, about Trump’s personal behavior and his temperament. I think we can win many of them. Not all of them. But on the other hand, the key to this election is can we get millions of young people who have never voted before into the political process, many working people who understand that Trump is a fraud, can we get them voting? That is the key to this election. So I’ve heard that hypothesis, I just don’t agree with it.
And let me add to that if I might, [there are] people who run the same old, same old type of campaign. And you know, [former Vice President] Joe Biden is a personal friend of mine, so I’m not here to, you know, to attack him. But my God, if you are, if you’re a Donald Trump and you got Biden having voted for the war in Iraq, Biden having voted for these terrible, in my view, trade agreements, Biden having voted for the bankruptcy bill. Trump will eat his lunch.
Jon Healey, deputy editorial page editor: So you’ve noted the widening income inequality. [But] when you look at the consumer confidence indices, they suggest that most people are feeling better about where we are, and their expectations for the future are better and better. If you look the trend lines since the [last recession], it’s gone steadily up. And in fact, the numbers now in both consumer confidence and expectations for the future are where they were in ‘99, 2000. So how do you reconcile those two things, where you’ve got a campaign which is trying to reach out to people who feel that they’ve been left behind, but much of the country thinks things are going pretty well right now?
Sanders: I read statistics ‘til I’m blue in the face, and I’ve got to tell you, I read polls ‘til I’m blue in the face. Today there’s a poll that says this, and yesterday there’s a poll that says that. Half of the people in this country are living paycheck to paycheck. Agreed? That’s a fact. All right?
I don’t know the exact number, but there’s a hell of a lot of people in this country who if their car broke down and they needed $500 to fix that car, don’t have that 500 bucks. They’ll have to go to some payday lender to get to come up with the money. We got 45 million people who are dealing with student debt, and some of it is outrageous levels of student debt. In this city, you got 50,000 people who are sleeping out on the streets.
So I don’t accept the premise. I mean, I think what people say is, you know what? If I want to go out and get a job today, I can get a job. That’s true. But on the other hand, and I do this all over the [country], you know, I’ve held a whole lot of town meetings and you talk to people. Yeah, I can go out and get a job, but I can’t find a job that pays me a wage that allows me to deal with healthcare and pay my rent or put gas in the car. So the economic crisis that we’re facing now is not unemployment, which is low. It is wages. And last year in the midst of the so-called booming economy — the media talks about it, Trump talks about it — you know what real inflation [adjusted] wages went up last year? Anyone happen to know?
Healey: Less than a percent?
Sanders: Yeah, one point exactly. 1.1%. What we are looking at is a continuation of a trend in which the very, very wealthy do phenomenally well. I mean, it’s a fact I keep mentioning — I don’t know if anyone pays any attention — at all of my rallies, that in the last 30 years, the top 1% have seen a $21-trillion increase in their wealth; [the] bottom half of America has seen a decline in their wealth.
So to answer your question, unemployment is low. You want to go out, you can get a job. But by the way, what’s also frightening is according to the studies, most of the new jobs being created are low-wage jobs.
And, you know, when we’re on the campaign trail, we go to restaurants all the time. That’s what we do. And invariably the kids, the young people who will come up to me, who are waiters and waitresses, you know, these are people who often have a college degree, and they’re waiting tables today. And I’ll never forget this, I was in New Hampshire a month ago talking to teachers. And a teacher said, “You know, my son just graduated college, wanted to be a music teacher. He ended up being a salesman at a liquor store in New Hampshire. He made more money doing that than being a teacher.”
So to answer your question, unemployment is low but wages are terribly low in this country, and many people are struggling to get the healthcare they need to take care of their basic needs.
Kerry Cavanaugh, editorial writer: There’s been a lot of focus on a $15 minimum wage. But how does the federal government create more $30-an-hour jobs, $45-an-hour jobs?
Sanders: That’s right. If I’m allowed to toot my own horn here, when I was here four years ago and I talked ... about a $15 minimum wage, everyone thought that I was kind of extreme. Since then, seven states, including this state, have passed a $15 minimum wage, as has the U.S. House of Representatives. So your point is well taken.
Nobody should think for one moment that, “Ahh! We got a $15 an hour minimum wage. We’ve solved our economic problems.” It is a minimum. It is a minimum. And I have been to this state, I’ve been to Iowa, needless to say, New Hampshire. I’ll never forget a woman in Des Moines, Iowa, making $10.25 an hour trying to raise three kids. She can’t. Alright, so I’m not here to tout that a $15-an-hour minimum wage is the end of the world. It’s not, but it is the minimum. We have to do that.
The question of how we create good paying jobs, $25-, $30-an-hour jobs, is the more important question. I think one way we do that, and obviously it’s going to be a combination of federal policy and the private sector, as president of the United States, what I will do is demand and do everything that I can to end the kind of corporate greed and irresponsibility that we see right now. We were just over in San Bernardino. We had a rally there yesterday, where Amazon apparently has a lot of influence. There’s a lot of pollution, and kids come down with asthma and all that stuff. And people in the warehouses are making $11 or $12 an hour while Amazon is, as you know, an enormously profitable corporation that paid $0 in federal income taxes last year.
So I think what a progressive president has got to do is say to these corporations, “You know what? Make money. That’s great. Create jobs. We want you to do that. But it cannot just go to CEO compensation or your stockholders.” We’ve got to break this mentality, which has been prevalent for so many decades, that the only thing that a corporation has to do is make as much money as possible for its stockholders and pay it CEOs outlandish levels of compensation. And we have to do it culturally, and we have to do it legislatively to say, “You know what? Make money. That’s fine. You want to be rich, that’s fine. But you cannot have it all. You can’t break unions or deny workers the right to join a union. You can’t continue to harass women on the job. You can’t pay abysmally low wages and expect, you know, to be treated respectfully by the federal government.”
“You’re going to have to be good corporate citizens. You can’t shut down plants in America and move to low-wage countries. You have a certain responsibility.” So that’s the bottom line. That’s the role I think leadership plays with the private sector.
We also want to stimulate small-business growth in America. But then the role that the federal government can play is enormous. I happen to believe in a federal job-guarantee program, and I’ll tell you why. Because there is an enormous amount of work to be done in this country, and I think about it differently than maybe others do. But I look at our childcare system, which is completely dysfunctional, which is so unfair to working families, and more importantly to the children. I don’t know the exact number, but hundreds of thousands of good jobs with well-trained, well-paid childcare workers.
I look at our infrastructure, which there is no argument is crumbling, whether it’s roads, bridges, highways. God, I’ve been driving around in L.A. in the last few days. What a traffic disaster you have here. You know, water systems. Everyone knows about Flint, Mich., and we were there. My wife and I were there and it was one of the most emotional and difficult meetings we’ve ever had, you know, behind closed doors, dealing with parents whose kids were poisoned. But it is not just Flint, Mich., it is all over this country. It is California. I don’t know if you know this — of course you know this, you live here — but there are tens of thousands of homes where we turn on the water, you can’t drink the water. So we have major infrastructural crisis. And, last but not least, if we are going to combat climate change, we need to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. And in doing that, we can create up to 20 million good-paying jobs. So the federal government can be very aggressive.
Teachers. What a pathetic state of affairs when you have good teachers who are leaving the profession because they’ve got to work two or three jobs. So we pay teachers. I mean, when we rebuild our country — infrastructure, education, climate, environmental protection — we create a whole lot of good-paying jobs. That’s the role of the federal government.
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, executive chairman, Los Angeles Times: Well, first of all, thank you. I was upstairs because I’m with the most inspiring 15 kids from a Jesuit high school in Compton. Senator, listen, first of all, thank you for coming. I want to talk about healthcare. Just so you know, background: I came from South Africa, apartheid. Grew up in South Africa, was the first Chinese doctor, came to this country. It’s the greatest country in the world.
So — During the debate, we held a focus group at the L.A. Times, with 25 undecided voters. The concern that they related to us was that your “Medicare for all” plan, as communicated, would not win in the swing states. Question is, what do you mean by Medicare for all?
Sanders: Look, healthcare, as everybody knows, and even the president of the United States recognizes, is a complicated issue. And we have got to do better [explaining Medicare for all]. And sometimes it is difficult, because you’re on a debate when you have 75 seconds. I’m not so sure as a doctor you can explain healthcare in 75 seconds. Correct? Maybe you can.
Soon-Shiong: If you give me two minutes, maybe.
Sanders: Okay. All right. Well, you don’t get two minutes when you’re up on the stage, by the way. That’s too much. Unless you cheat and go beyond the red light.
Soon-Shiong: But that’s a problem, right?
Sanders: It is a problem.
Soon-Shiong: Because you really should have enough time to [explain it], and maybe in your rallies where you do have time.
Sanders: I do have time. And come to the rally this afternoon. As soon as we leave here we’re going to a good rally, and I will talk about [healthcare]. But that is one of the problems. On a complicated issue, you are often asked to explain it in 10 or 20 seconds, or 75 seconds. But we have more than that now, so let me explain what I mean. First of all, we go all over the country and we say, OK, tell me about healthcare. And the stories that you hear — and we have them on tape, we video these things, we put them out there — are just unbelievable. So I start off, Patrick, with the strong belief that there is something fundamentally wrong when we are spending twice as much per capita on healthcare as the people of any other country.
I live 50 miles away from Canada. Is the Canadian healthcare system perfect? No, it is not. But they guarantee healthcare to all of the people spending half as much. We spend about $11,000, they’re something around $5,000 or $6,000 a year. Meanwhile, you got 87 million people in this country who are uninsured or underinsured, and the keyword here is underinsured. Everybody’s “Ah, well, you don’t have any health insurance, that’s a problem.” But you know what? You may have health insurance, but if you have a $10,000 deductible then your health insurance doesn’t mean a damn thing to you because you can’t go to the doctor when you need to. OK? You don’t have the money to do that. You have 30,000 people who [will] die this year because they don’t get to a doctor on time.
And here’s what is unbelievable, and I’ve been talking about this more, and this resonates with people, by the way: Some half a million people go bankrupt in this country for medically related reasons. Now, that might be the only reason. Now you’re struggling financially, you’re diagnosed with cancer. Just think about it. You tell me. You make $50,000 or $60,000 a year, you’re diagnosed with cancer, you run up a bill for $50,000, $100,000. How do you pay that bill? I mean, it’s insane. So we are living in a country which says that you can suffer financial ruin for the rest of your life, for what crime did you commit? You were diagnosed with cancer or heart disease. How disgusting is that? It really is. I use that word advisedly. So this system I think is dysfunctional and it’s really quite indefensible. And we can argue about where we go from here.
But I think on top of everything else, I mean we don’t have five hours to discuss it, is the complexity of the system. OK? And I think it’s not only healthcare, it’s everything else. People are sick and tired of filling out a million forms for every thing. My wife has a PhD, all right, and she goes crazy trying to fill out the healthcare things, choosing what healthcare program you want, you know, when you’re fighting for the coverage that you think you are entitled to. We need a simple system. And the beauty of a simple system and the advantage of single payer over a system which has thousands of separate policies is that it is easier to administer.
You’re asking me what Medicare for all is. It is no more premiums, not for you as an employer. You must spend a fortune, I imagine, right now on healthcare. All right, no more premiums for the worker, for the employer. No more co-payments, no more deductibles, no more out-of-pocket expenses. All gone. Medicare for all expands Medicare to cover dental care, which last I heard is healthcare, hearing aids, eyeglasses and home healthcare. And we do that.
How we do fund it? We fund it through a progressive tax system such that, I suspect your company, by the way, will save money. You’ll be paying more in taxes but less in your overall healthcare costs, and the savings will go to the workers. You’ll be better off on the Medicare for all. And one of the things that we have not succeeded at, I think, is getting large corporations to understand that. Because we are the only major country on earth not to guarantee healthcare, they’re competing against international concerns who don’t have to worry about paying their workers healthcare. Because it’s government sponsored.
Goldberg: Do you think there’s a problem with the way [Medicare for all] is being sold?
Sanders: Yep. The answer is yes. I think there is enormous ignorance about the nature of healthcare, why we spend so much, why our outcomes are not particularly good. Yes. Life expectancy, childbirth, infant mortality. So I’m not arguing. I think you’re right. But please understand, which I think you do know, that there are people who are benefiting big time from this dysfunctional healthcare system.
Robert Greene, editorial writer: Senator, you’ve made your position on President Trump quite clear. I want to ask you, is there anything that he’s done, any policy that he has, any actions he’s taken that you think are worthy and worth building on?
Sanders: I have such contempt for somebody who is trying intentionally to divide this country up based on the color of people’s skins or where they came from or their religion or their sexual orientation. That disgusts me so much. So we’re in the midst of that. And somebody who was a, you know, is a pathological liar. And a corrupt person.
I mean, he has talked about the need for infrastructure repair. Yes, that’s true. Has he done anything? No. He’s talked about the need to lower the cost of the prescription drugs. Has he taken on the pharmaceutical industry? No, he has not.
He has talked about trade policy and, in fairness, probably what has recently happened is probably modestly better than the previous NAFTA. So you want to give him credit and, and the Democrats in the House credit for that? Fine. But I think the overwhelming result of his administration is contemptible.
Mariel Garza, editorial writer: So there’s been a lot of talk about electability in this race — what is electability, who’s electable. There are a fair amount of women who believe that when we talk about electability, when we use that word, it’s really code for, “a woman can’t beat Trump.” And I wonder if you, if you believe that that’s true.
Sanders: I surely do not. I mean, it 100% has to do with the candidate. But I will say that whether you’re a man or a woman, Trump is going to be harder to beat than many people think. They think, this guy is a buffoon, of course he’s going to be beaten. Not so easy. But it gets back to the question, the original question is, it’s not a woman or a man or whatever. It’s a question of the kind of campaign that you run. And I think in this unprecedented moment in American history, you need an unprecedented campaign. And I think you need ideas that are going to excite and energize millions of people who right now are not particularly active in politics, and who may not vote at all. So I think the question that we want to ask is, which candidate out there is capable of growing voter turnout? That’s the real question. And if you’re not dealing with that, I think Trump is going to be hard to defeat, that’s true whether you’re a man or a woman. But if the question is can a woman beat Trump? Of course.
Carla Hall, editorial writer: You mentioned the thousands of people sleeping on the streets here in the city, and in the county. President Trump’s approach to homelessness has been pretty much to scapegoat homeless people and vaguely hint that he would move them all into a big empty federal building somewhere. How would you address homelessness?
Sanders: You know, we started talking about the economy, and what I suggested is that there is so much work to be done in this country. I mean starting with childcare, starting with healthcare. We need more doctors, we need more nurses, we need people who are not pushing paper but providing care to older people. We have a proposal that would build 10 million units of housing. In terms of low-income housing, I’m proud to tell you that I co-sponsored successfully with Barbara Lee of Oakland what was called low-income, I think, I forget the name, the low income housing trust fund or something, which Obama’s people put, I think, several hundred million dollars into. Nowhere near enough. But it was the first piece of legislation to actually address low-income housing.
But to answer your question, and I’ve learned as you travel around the country, boy you do learn this, the housing crisis is not just in L.A.. It’s not just in San Francisco or Seattle. It is virtually in almost every part of the country. And it has to do not only with homelessness, which is a disgrace — a half a million people homeless in America. It has to do with the fact that 18 million families are spending 50% of their income on housing. It has to do with gentrification all over this country, which is driving rents up to levels that, that working families just cannot afford. We have a proposal that would build some 10 million units of housing and put a hell of a lot of people back to work at good wages, union wages, and it would, in fact, end homelessness as we know it.
We were down in, what do you call it here?
Greene: Skid row.
Sanders: Skid row — not a highly technical term (laughter), I thought you had a more sophisticated name for it — where, for example, instead of arresting people, you bring them into a shelter, which seemed to me a pretty sensible thing. But the problem with homelessness is not just providing a home. Often, you’ve got to deal with addiction. You’ve got to deal with counseling, you need wraparound services, etc.
Soon-Shiong: Correct. Can I follow up on that? And two, maybe three different topics. Really, the homelessness issue here is really mental health issues.
Soon-Shiong: So the mental health issue is really —
Sanders: And addiction is part of it.
Soon-Shiong: And being thrown out of the jails — there’s a real issue.
The other question I really want to ask you about, and it relates to privacy, it relates to tech, it relates to Facebook, Google, etc. It relates actually to our democracy because it leads now to local news. Newspapers completely being destroyed. In California we have, it’s a largest incidence of small, local town newspapers being destroyed because frankly the [concept of] fair use is not being fairly used, where these platforms can take this data, say they’re not media, and use them. What’s your feeling about that? How do we save, across this nation, local newspapers that can speak truth to power?
Sanders: It’s a huge issue. And you’re absolutely right. I can tell you from personal experience, when I was mayor of Burlington, which was a larger city in Vermont of 40,000 people, I can’t remember how many radio stations we had. We had newspapers, we had small weekly newspapers all over, right?
Newspapers are in trouble. I would say that what we want to do — and by the way, this is not just media, this is many other sectors of our society — is have an attorney general who understands antitrust law. And that’s true in agribusiness. It’s true in many parts of our economy. Start breaking up these huge conglomerates, which have just an unbelievable influence over our general economy.
Media is something different. Because without a free media, you don’t have a democracy. So it raises another issue, and we have some ideas out there about — and it’s a tricky thing. You don’t want government control over media. You don’t want a handful of giant conglomerates to control the media. But we’re going to have to sit down and have a conversation about how we support local independent media. I don’t have a magical answer —
Soon-Shiong: But Facebook and Google hide behind the fact that they can give fake news because they’re not media.
Sanders: And also I may add in terms of, you tell me if I’m wrong, you know more about this than I do. They gobble up a huge amount of the advertising revenue.
Soon-Shiong: They gobble up everything, in fact, that’s exactly why papers are being destroyed.
Sanders: That’s right.
Soon-Shiong: So one of the ideas is, data’s now the next oil, basically equal to a utility. Why is there not a data tax on these organizations? That is where that should actually be.
Sanders: Well, I think the idea is that a handful, what have we got, Google, Facebook, who else is out there? Twitter, right? Twitter controlling what percentage of the advertising revenue?
Healey: Google and Facebook together are north of 80%, I think. [Editor’s note: Analysts put the figure at close to 60%.]
Sanders: Wow, is that right? This is an issue that cannot be ignored, I agree with you.
Michael McGough, senior editorial writer: Senator, when you were here last time, four years ago, we had a discussion about whether you were maybe too averse to military intervention. You thought Hillary Clinton was the opposite. And one of the things you said when we were talking was, as proof that you weren’t pacifist, was that you had voted for the war in Afghanistan after 9/11. You had some second thoughts about that in the debate. And I’m wondering, are you more averse to intervention now than you were when you were running in 2016, and what sort of standards would guide you as president in deciding whether to send U.S. forces abroad?
Sanders: Well, it’s not a question of more or less. Obviously you have to look at the particular circumstances. No. 1, I think unlike Trump, who has exploded military spending while cutting back on diplomacy and our State Department, I would do exactly the opposite. I think you need — and I’ve been around the world and met with some of our diplomats. You’ve got some really strong and good people who know the language, who know the culture. So we had got, I mean the bottom line is that war has got to be the last response, not the first response. It is very easy for politicians, because it’s almost always very popular to say, “You know what? The only thing that fill-in-the-blank understands is force and we’re going to go to war.”
It’s a good speech. It polls very well but it ends up in some cases with horrible circumstances, i.e. the war in Iraq. So I voted against the first war in the gulf. Literally, it’s one of the first votes that I cast that I thought I would be unelected two years later because that war was popular. I voted against it, led the effort against the war in Iraq. God, I wish — check out what I said then, it turned out to be a pretty prescient, and I wish that wasn’t the case, but it was. I helped lead the effort to end U.S. intervention in Yemen following the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia’s lead. So No. 1, you’ve got to do everything you can to bring people together diplomatically without the use of military force.
Are there some circumstances where genocide is going to be committed where you may have to use military force or other reasons? Yeah, I suspect there will be. But also you want to be mindful that you need, to the degree you can get it, to use international support. Strengthen the United Nations. People say the U.N. is ineffective. Yeah. Compared to what? Nuclear war? You know, so we’ve got to strengthen the United Nations, and see where we can resolve international conflict.
The other thing that I would say on this is that, in issues like Israel-Palestine, issues like, Saudi Arabia-Iran, the United States for many years has had a kind of one-sided policy. We have loved the brutal dictatorship in Saudi Arabia. We have been very 100% pro-Israel. And I say this as somebody who’s proudly Jewish who spent time as a kid, on a kibbutz in Israel. But we need to have an evenhanded foreign policy which brings people together.
And I won’t deny for one second, this is complicated stuff. It is not easily resolved. But we throw all of the resources that we can to bring people together. And you gotta do things like rethinking this war on terror, which has cost us some $5 trillion. And I guess people can argue the situation is worse than it was before we got into it. So there’s a lot of rethinking. Got to deal with authoritarianism all over the world.
Scott Martelle, editorial writer: Hi, good morning. Thank you. Senator, you call for comprehensive immigration reform, and that’s been tried multiple times before and it’s been failing for decades. As president, what can you do to get a comprehensive immigration reform package through Congress?
Sanders: Yeah, I don’t want to tell you I’ve been one of the leaders of that in terms of the discussions or the negotiations in Congress, but I have been involved in it. And the truth is, I do believe it can be done. I absolutely do believe it. Trump, of course, because of his xenophobia and his obsession with building a wall, has exacerbated the situation. I think despite Trump’s xenophobia, the American people do want comprehensive immigration reform. And I think when you have a president who can speak — and I’m the son of an immigrant, as a matter of fact, who came to this country with nothing — when you can speak to the contributions of the immigrant community, the fact that so many immigrants are working so hard, raising their families, abiding by the law, are so important to our economy, when you can explain that to the American people rather than demonize immigrants, I think we could strengthen the support that exists at the grass-roots level for immigration reform.
Now as you also know, a president has certain authority regarding executive orders. So on day one, what I have promised and will fulfill, is to reinstate the legal status of the 1.8 million young people and their parents in the DACA program. That we can do. And we can stop the very ugly practices at the border in which, you know, babies are literally snatched from the arms of their mothers or children thrown into cages. We can do that as well. But to answer your question, I think there is broad support among the American people. I think there’s more Republican support, which I think would be able to play out without having a xenophobe as president of the United States.
Garza: I have a pretty quick question. And that is, normally I wouldn’t ask somebody about their health, because you know, we all know that 80 is the new 60 —
Sanders: 50! 40! 30! (Laughter)
Garza: But the truth is you have had a heart attack fairly recently. And I wonder, you know, convince us that, that you are hale and hearty enough for what’s going to be a brutal campaign and probably a pretty, well, we know it’s a tough job.
Sanders: Yes, it’s a tough job. Look, all I can say is you’re quite right. I did have a heart attack two and a half months ago in Las Vegas. I had two stents put in. I was in the hospital for 2 ½ days and got quite good healthcare. Thank God. I had an artery that was blocked and I think that was dealt with. As I understand it, and (to Soon-Shiong) doctor, you can tell me if I’m wrong, but I think that procedure’s done about a million times a year, roughly speaking in the United States. It’s not an unusual procedure. I have been blessed with good health my entire life. I think you can ask my staff the last time other than the heart attack, that I missed work. I’m in just, I was a kid, a long-distance runner, so I have a lot of endurance. Since the heart attack we have been running a pretty vigorous campaign.
These guys had me working, what did we do, four rallies in the last couple of — you know, I work hard. And you’re right. I mean it is, needless to say, president of the United States might be slightly stressful job (laughter) and a difficult job. But I suspect I’ll be on the golf course a lot less than Donald Trump is. I don’t play golf. But, I mean, that’s a fair question. All that I can say is, in some respects, I feel better than I did before the heart attack. I guess having three arteries that work is better than having two, right?
Soon-Shiong: Especially the most important one.
Goldberg: I was going to give Patrick the last three minutes. Now we can give you the last one minute.
Soon-Shiong: First of all, I want to thank you so much for coming. I would like, again, to revisit the question of what do you believe [people mean] when they say “electability,” especially in the swing states.
Do you believe that the electability issue is this concept of Medicare for all — it scares people that you take away your insurance, which is going to be the buzzword. Versus you will have your choice, your [preexisting] conditions [will be covered]. And the program currently exists, called Medicare Advantage. If in fact you just repositioned the same plan, it comes to the same point, as “concierge medicine” for the poor, an absence of bankruptcy, which is exactly the program. Do you believe that is your electability issue?
Sanders: I think we’ve got to do better in messaging. But I believe that the program that we are talking about — I believe this, not only is it right, morally right, I believe that it works politically. Let me tell you something else which you didn’t talk about. If I were to tell you that if you’re an average worker today, let’s say you’re making, your family’s making $60,000 a year, you are paying about $12,000 a year for healthcare. That’s 20% of your income. That is a hell of a lot of money.
Healey: That’s not even including your employer’s contribution.
Sanders: That’s right. That’s right. Correct. Just the worker. Okay, and I can make sure that you pay substantially less. That’s a point we have not made as well as [we could have].
Soon-Shiong: The point is, it’s not about the money. We’re spending more money than anybody in world, right?
Sanders: Exactly. Exactly.
Soon-Shiong: And the point is, now we can actually have better outcomes at lower costs, better outcomes at lower costs. But the key is this fee for service.
Sanders: Yes. Right. And, and the challenge — it’s a longer discussion — is ending the enormous administrative complexity.
Soon-Shiong: Which is the fee for service [system].
Sanders: OK. And the [savings], what, you said $200 billion? I’ve heard more than that, frankly.
Soon-Shiong: $200 to $500 billion.
Sanders: That’s right.
Soon-Shiong: Per year.
Sanders: To administer thousands of separate programs. All right. And that has nothing to do with healthcare, that’s all bureaucracy. OK. All right. Good. Let’s maybe continue that discussion.
Goldberg: Thank you so much, senator.
Sanders: Thank you very much.
Goldberg: We appreciate it.
Sanders: You know, it’s interesting. We got an hour and we barely touched the surface on so many issues.
Garza: We gave you more than 30 seconds to respond.
Sanders: You did, and I appreciate that. OK. Well, thank you so much.
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