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Watch or Listen: 2020 Candidate Forum with Bernie Sanders

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will be live on The Exchange Candidate Forum on Sunday, Jan. 19, at 11 a.m.
Dan Tuohy / NHPR
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will be live on The Exchange Candidate Forum on Sunday, Jan. 19, at 11 a.m.

The Exchange sat down with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on Sunday, Jan. 19, before a live audience to discuss the Senator's views on Medicare for All, gun policy, foreign policy and other issues on voters' minds this election cycle. 

Sanders, who won the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary by a large margin, finds himself in a close race for the 2020 contest. He was recently endorsed again by the SEA SEIU Local 1984, one of the largest labor unions in the Granite State. 

The Exchange Candidate Forum is a collaboration between New Hampshire Public Radio and New Hampshire PBS. 

Air date: Jan. 19, 2020

Listen to the conversation.

WATCH THE FORUM: (The video broadcast will begin at 10:59 EST on Sunday, Jan 19.)

[Sign up for Primarily Politics, NHPR's weekly newsletter on the first-in-the-nation primary]

This is a computer-generated transcript and may contain errors.

Peter Biello:

From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Peter Biello and this is the Exchange.Peter Biello:

Today, we continue our series of presidential primary 2020 candidate forums and for this show on Sunday, January 19th, we're speaking with Democratic presidential candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. He's with us before a live audience in NHPR's Studio D.Peter Biello:

We've been hearing from listeners throughout this campaign season and we'll bring some of their questions into the conversation today. So thank you to everyone who has written to us in advance. Also, I'll be joined by NHPR's Casey McDermott, who covers politics and policy for NHPR.Peter Biello:

Senator Sanders, welcome. Thank you very much for being here.Senator Sanders:

Great to be with you.Peter Biello:

So let's begin. On Thursday, you and your fellow senators took an oath administered by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to uphold impartial justice in the upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate. You've been extremely critical of the president on the campaign trail and you are running against him. How can you assure voters that you're going into this process with an open mind?Senator Sanders:

Well, you're absolutely right. I have been critical of Trump. I happen to believe that Trump is perhaps the most dangerous president in the history of the United States. I think he is. And I say this with no joy in my heart. I think he is a pathological liar. I think his administration is corrupt. I think he's a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe, a homophobe, and a religious bigot. But those charges do not necessarily, are not necessarily impeachable offenses. You could be a terrible president and not have committed impeachable offenses. What I will say, if I were a member of the House, and I was for 16 years, I would have voted to impeach him. But my job now is as a juror to hear the evidence. And I will do my best. I am disturbed. I must say, Peter, that Mitch McConnell, at least up to this point, has not allowed witnesses. There are several witnesses, John Bolton, among others, who want to come forward. And it seems to me that when you have a trial, what American jurisprudence is about is listening to those people who are prosecuting, listening to those people who are defending, and you reach a conclusion. It concerns me that McConnell has not allowed for witnesses. I should also say with a caucus coming up in Iowa in two weeks and a primary here in New Hampshire and three weeks, between you and me, I'd rather be here. But I did swear an oath to do my job as a United States senator. That's what I'll do. And I'll listen to all of the evidence and come to the best conclusion that I can.Peter Biello:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he would be working in total coordination with the White House when it comes to the impeachment trial. Some Democrats have said that this amounts to prejudging the outcome of the trial. To what extent do you think Democrats have made up their minds on the outcome of the trial?Senator Sanders:

I mean, if McConnell. What a trial is supposed to be about is hearing the evidence and reaching a conclusion. If McConnell is saying he's working hand in glove with the person who has been indicted, who has been charged with impeachable offenses, that kind of tells you something. Look, we are living in a very political moment. I mean, and it would be very naive to suggest that Republicans there have not reached their views or Democrats have not reached their views. What I would hope, again, McConnell allows witnesses,that we have a serious trial, and that people come up with the conclusions that they come up with. But within this political climate, I think, you know, Republicans have their views. Democrats have their views.Peter Biello:

You've said that you would prefer to be in New Hampshire instead of having to deal with the impeachment trial. I think your New Hampshire supporters and other voters here would appreciate that sentiment.Senator Sanders:

Absolutely, I just want to say a word on that. And I think I speak for the other senators. I'm not the only senator who's going to be stuck in the impeachment trial. You know, we plan on schedules. You know, we had a couple of great rallies here. I'm heading out to Conway right after the show. You know, that's what we had planned for. And then suddenly that has been disrupted. And again, it's for other senators as well. And not only has it been disrupted. I can't tell you how long I'm going to be in Washington. Is it a week? Is it two weeks. Is it three weeks? And then on top of that, I can't tell you that McConnell may not be playing politics as well with this whole thing. So it creates a difficult political situation. But I swore an oath to do my job, and I will do my job. We have great supporters and volunteers here in New Hampshire and Iowa who are going to go out knocking on doors and doing their work and we'll just do the best that we can.Casey McDermott:

So let's talk about Medicare for All. You have been calling for this for a long time.Senator Sanders:

Yes.Casey McDermott:

Your campaign Web site talks about how this would improve access to coverage. It doesn't go quite into as much detail about how to transition to the system. But you did sponsor a Medicare for all bill earlier this year that outlines several different options to finance that move. Among them, a 7.5 percent premium paid by employers, a 4 percent Income-Based Premium paid by households, among others. Of the options you outlined in that legislation, which to you seemed the most viable.Senator Sanders:

Casey, let me start that off, if I could. You could interrupt me if you think I'm going on too long. But this is an issue that is very close to my heart. This is an issue that I talk about at every town meeting we do in New Hampshire and in Iowa. It's an issue that moves me because I hear stories from people all over this country about the dysfunctionality and cruelty of the current system. So here is just a few points that I want to make. In America today, we are spending twice as much per person on health care as do the people of any other country. We're spending a fortune, $11,000 per person. You would think that when you spend so much money, we would have a system where every single American would have quality health care. Not quite the case. Today, Eighty seven million Americans are either uninsured or underinsured. Thirty thousand people die each year because they don't get to a doctor on time. We pay by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, in some cases 10 times more than our Canadian neighbors pay for the same exact product, and five hundred thousand people go bankrupt because of medically related debt. In other words, they're going bankrupt because they have been diagnosed with cancer. That is a disgusting and dysfunctional system. So what Medicare for All is about, is changing the way we pay for health care. Right now, the way you pay for it is you pay a premium, your employer pays a premium, you pay a deductible, you pay out-of-pocket expenses. We do away with all of that. And as you've indicated, we've come up with a number of options. I think most relevant for the middle class is that we would pay for it with a 4 percent tax on income, exempting the first twenty nine thousand dollars. The median family income in America is about sixty thousand a year. That means if you exempt the first twenty nine thousand, you'd be paying four percent of thirty one thousand, which is about twelve hundred dollars a year for comprehensive health care, because we also include dental care, eyeglasses, hearing aids, and we expand Medicare to cover home health care capital for all. We have other options as well, progressive options -- taxes on employer, a payroll tax is one option. At the end of the day, we are able to provide comprehensive health care to all at a far lower cost for the American people because we're ending the profiteering, hundred billion a year from the health care industry. And furthermore, the incredible complexity of administering thousands of separate plans, which are wasting some five hundred billion dollars a year.Casey McDermott:

So just to follow up on that, your home state, Vermont, as you well know, spent years trying to launch its own single payer health care system, but abandoned that effort in recent years after failing to come up with a way to make the system work. What lessons do you draw from that experience and how would you avoid running into the same challenges if you rolled it out nationally?Senator Sanders:

If Vermont had a better governor at the time, it might have been different? Look, I think Medicare for All is supported by the National Nurses Union, which has endorsed me, by many, many doctors, primarily primary care physicians who are themselves sick and tired of arguing with insurance companies about whether they can prescribe this drug or do this type of therapy. This is not a radical idea. The point that I want to make is this is not a radical idea. In one form or another it exists all over the world. It exists in Canada. We'd do better than the Canadians do with my plan. But in Canada, if you end up with a serious illness, you're in the hospital for a month. Anybody here know what the bill is when you get out? It's zero. And yet they are spending half as much per capita on health care as we do. Let's be clear, the function of the current health care system in America is not to provide quality care to all. It is to make huge profits for the insurance companies and the drug companies. And that is exactly what it is doing. And I intend to take on forcefully the insurance companies and the drug companies and make it clear that health care is a human right, not a privilege.Casey McDermott:

Senator, if I might just follow up on your response. So do you view that mainly as a failure in leadership in Vermont?Senator Sanders:

Look, Vermont is a small state and it's going to take tough leadership to move forward. But I think at the national level and you know, this, primarily, I think, significantly can be done at the national level. At the end of the day, here's an interesting point: we have been talking about universal health care in America for well over 100 years. Teddy Roosevelt talked about it. Franklin Delano Roosevelt talked about it. Truman talked about it. Kennedy talked about it. Carter talked about it. Obama talked about it. Lyndon Johnson did something about it. But at the end of the day, we have a very, very powerful industry who spends huge amounts of money on lobbying and campaign contributions. That's why we are where we are right now. At the end of the day, we're going to have to take these people on and make it clear that all Americans, regardless of income, are entitled to quality, comprehensive health care as a human right.Casey McDermott:

I just want to talk a little bit more about how you get there. When we had your colleague, Senator Warren here, we asked her this question and we also got this question from audience members, New Hampshire voters who were curious about this. Regardless of how it's paid for Medicare for all would result in a pretty serious shift I think you would agree on how we do health care in this country. Even supporters of Medicare for All have said that it could cost a lot of jobs somewhere in the range of 2 million jobs lost, many of those in administrative positions in insurers and doctors' offices. An expert that talked to Kaiser Health News about this earlier this year said that proponents of Medicare for all have to think about what a, quote, just transition or in other words, a fair transition, might look like. What does a fair transition look like for you.Senator Sanders:

I do agree with that. Because if at the heart of what we are trying to do is create a simple, non complicated system, which is what you've got right now. You know, millions of people are being driven crazy by trying to deal with the insurance companies -- are you covered or are you not covered and arguing with everybody. You've got a lot of people out there in administration. And when you have a simple system and not thousands of separate systems, you save a lot of money on administration. But your point is fair. Some of those people will lose their jobs. And there must be a just transition. And that is why in our Medicare for All program, we put in billions of dollars to protect those people in kind of an unprecedented way. And by the way, it's exactly the same issue when we deal about climate change. All right. Maybe we'll talk about that in a minute. But I intend to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and move this country and do my best to move the world away from fossil fuel into energy efficiency and sustainable energy. And I can't sit here and honestly tell you that that's not going to cost jobs. It will. But the goal is to protect the planet. The goal in health care is to provide health care to all people. But I would also say with regard to Medicare for All, when you've got 87 million people who are uninsured or underinsured, when our primary health care system is very, very weak, when so many people are not going to the dentist when they should. The truth is, I believe, we will end up creating more jobs by allowing more people to access health care, than we will lose. Will we lose some jobs? We will. And we have to build a just transition in to protect those people.Peter Biello:

Here's a question that came in from our survey of voters in the state, Misa Marks of Henniker asks: Our government is designed for incremental change except in extraordinary circumstances. Yet our country today faces huge challenges that demand big vision and fundamental changes. What in your leadership style or experience prepares you to reconcile big vision and outside the system change with incremental change?Senator Sanders:

Lisa raises a very interesting question. I would phrase it a bit differently, but I think her question is right on point. This country today faces enormous challenges, as does the world. I wish I could tell you, look, I think we just need a little bit of an adjustment over here, a little tinkering over there and things will be OK. That is not where we are at this moment. For a start, we have a president who is, in my view, the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country. And that begins the discussion of the necessity to defeat him, how we can defeat him. Second of all, when you look at issues like a corrupt political system. You know, we pride ourselves in terms of being one of the longstanding democracies in the world. And yet democracy in America is very much on the defensive, not just because of Trump, who considers the media to be enemies of the people or fake news, not just because of the voter suppression, when you have Republican governors trying to make it harder for people of color or for young people or lower income people to vote. But we have a political system today which allows billionaires to buy elections. If you guys were billionaires, and I'm sure that on your salaries, you are probably not billionaires, you could contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates that you wanted. Is that really what democracy is about? That's why I believe we must overturn Citizens United, move to public funding of elections. So that is a huge crisis. The very existence of American democracy is a huge crisis. And then you have income and wealth inequality. You got three people in America owning more wealth than the bottom half of America. Over the last 30 years, the top 1 percent have seen a 21 trillion dollar increase in their wealth, while the bottom half have seen a decline in their wealth. Is that a crisis? I think that is a crisis from an economic point of view, as well as, if you like, a morality point. We are the richest country in the history of the world and half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck. And then on top of all of that, you got the existential crisis of climate change. What the scientists are now telling us is if we do not act boldly, let me underline boldly, boldly, boldly and aggressively, the planet that we're leaving, our children and grandchildren will be increasingly uninhabitable, unhealthy and unhealthy. This is a crisis that has got to be dealt with. I wish I could tell you, look, you know, we have 50, 100 years to deal with climate change. And we're going to get some more solar panels up here in New Hampshire, get a little bit of wind up in Vermont. We're going to be in great shape. I wish I could tell you that; it would be a lot easier. And then I got to tell you that it's not just an American issue. This is a global issue. America can do everything right. And if you got China and Russia and India doing it wrong, this planet is in very serious shape. So how do we not appreciate that this is a pivotal moment for America and the world. We need bold solutions. And at the end of the day, and I know people don't like talking about it, I know people get nervous when I talk about it, but at the end of the day, we have to recognize that we have a corporate elite in this country as part of the 1 percent who are not only extremely greedy, but in many senses they are corrupt. And that if you want real change in America, we have got to summon up the courage to take them on. If you think you could do that by not having a political movement prepared to take on the wealthy and the powerful and their greed and heir corruption, I would disagree.Peter Biello:

And Senator Sanders, so you're describing a lot of big changes to a very big system. Do these proposed changes require, in your view, taking control of the Senate, perhaps in a super majority, keeping the House and also winning the presidency, or can you do it as president without having full control?Senator Sanders:

That's a great question, and I'll just give you my best answer. Obviously, if I am the Democratic nominee, I will do everything I possibly can to see that the Democrats gain control of the Senate and expand their position in the House. But this is what I believe, and it's kind of what's motivated me throughout my whole political life. I have always believed that real change, real change always takes place from the bottom on up, not from the top on down. What does that mean? It means that if you look at the history of America, you look at the struggles of working people and their ability to form unions over a hundred years ago, you look at the women's movement, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, the environmental movement today, it is millions of people standing up and fighting for justice. That is the way real change takes place. And as president, I will not only be commander in chief of the military, I will be organizer in chief rallying the American people around a justice agenda.This is NHPR. You're listening to the Exchange. We're speaking with Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. When we come back, we'll talk about more policy positions, including Senator Sanders's position on guns. This is The Exchange on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. We'll be right back.

Peter Biello:

This is the Exchange on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. And today, it's the latest in our presidential primary 2020 candidate forums. I'm here with an NHPR's Casey McDermott, and we're speaking with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. And we wanted to ask you, Senator Sanders, a few questions about your position on guns. When it comes to guns, you've been at odds at times with many in the Democratic Party, which has long promoted gun control. You opposed the 1993 Brady Bill, which established federal background checks on firearm purchasers and a five day waiting period for checks. In 2003 and 2005, you supported legislation that protects gun manufacturers and sellers from lawsuits over misuse of a firearm, with some exceptions. You've recently taken more aggressive positions in favor of gun control. So what is your view on those earlier votes now?Senator Sanders:

Thank you. Well, my view is, as you know, I'm from Vermont, which is a neighbor of New Hampshire. But in Vermont, there was virtually no gun control legislation literally until a couple of years ago. And that is the state that I represented. When I ran for Congress in 1988 and lost by three points in a three-way race, my position was that we should ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons. Gun groups opposed me, and that may have been one of the factors, there were other factors why I lost that election. But to answer your question, I think the people of Vermont, I suspect the people of New Hampshire, the people of America have moved in a different direction with regard to guns as a result of the horrific, unbelievably, I don't know what the word is, terrible, frightening gun violence that we have seen over the last many, many years. And my view now is that we cannot have gun policy in America, as is currently the case, dictated by the NRA. The NRA has intimidated Trump, has intimidated the Republican leadership. That's why we're doing nothing on guns. So my view is that gun policy -- and here's some really good news -- I mean, Vermont's views have changed on guns. I suspect New Hampshire's have as well. Right now as we speak in Virginia, there is quite a dispute going on with regard to guns. Their views have changed as well. But the people of this country want us to do everything that we can to end horrendous violence, gun violence that exists. And to me, I'll tell you what that means. It means universal background checks. It means eliminating the gun-show loophole. It means doing away with so-called straw man provision, which allows people to legally buy guns and then perhaps sell them to criminal elements. It means something that I've supported for decades, ending the sale and distribution of assault weapons. It means dealing with this manufacturing liability issue. And my view has changed on that issue?Peter Biello:

How did it change?Senator Sanders:

Well, it changed because I mean, it became clear to me that if I'm a gun manufacturer and I'm selling guns in a small town and suddenly I'm selling 10 times more guns than normally you would expect people to be buying. You got to add two and two together that maybe those guns are not for that community, but they're going to people who should not have them. And there were some gun manufacturers who refused to acknowledge it. That's why my view changed on that. I'll tell your story right here from New Hampshire. I was at a town meeting and a woman stands up, asked me a question. She said, Senator, what am I supposed to tell my 11 year old daughter who tells me that she wants a bulletproof backpack for Christmas? How tragic is that? I've got grandchildren here in the Hampshire, kids who were on these drills, which means that kids all over this state, all over this country, are frightened to death about what should be a joyful experience, you go to school, you learn, you socialize, and now they're scared. So this is a serious, serious problem and we have to be aggressive in dealing with it. There will be differences of opinion. But the good news is, I think the American people, urban, rural, gun owners, non gun owners, have really more or less come together around a pretty good agenda on how to deal with gun violence. And that means that the NRA cannot be the determining factor. It's the American people's views that must carry.Peter Biello:

And what is your view on licensing and permitting requirements for firearms?Senator Sanders:

Be a little bit more explicit.Peter Biello:

Some have argued that in order to get a handgun, you would have to get a license in the same way that people have to get a license to drive.Peter Biello:

At this moment at least, I'm comfortable with the.. it's something that, you know, that we can explore, but I'm comfortable with the idea of very strong background checks for a start.Peter Biello:

What about the buyback plan for assault style weapons? Is that something you would support and how would you convince gun owners to give up their weapons given strong feelings about the Second Amendment.Senator Sanders:

It's something that I would support but not making it compulsory. I think making it compulsory would be unconstitutional.Peter Biello:

So if it's not mandatory, then then how would you convince gun owners that it's a good idea?Senator Sanders:

Well, you know, you would make the general argument that we have seen so much violence that all of us have got to do everything that we can to get those types of guns off the streets. And I got to tell you, where this becomes a very difficult problem is there are hundreds of millions of guns and millions of assault weapons or semi-assault weapons out on the street. This is not easy, but we have to do everything that we can.Peter Biello:

And final question on that, on the gun issue, national studies have shown that the cause of most gun deaths is suicide. How would the reforms you support help address the problem of suicide?Senator Sanders:

Suicide is a fearful issue in this country? As I'm sure most people know, ahistorically we are actually seeing a decline in life expectancy in the United States. We've seen that for the last three years, which is rather unbelievable given the advances that we see in medicine and it's not true for the rest of the world. They're seeing, you know, modest increases in life expectancy. Why is that? Doctors call that diseases of despair. So this ties in. This gets beyond guns. This gets to a very serious problem facing lower income and working people all across this country, often in rural areas and agricultural areas, people who are feeling so depressed about their own futures. People were working longer hours for low wages. People who worry about their children even being worse off than they do, seeing no future at all. And then what happens is, what the doctors are telling us who study this issue, is you're seeing a growth in alcoholism. You're seeing a growth in drug addiction and you're seeing a growth in suicide. So to answer your question, obviously the answer is to give hope to people in rural America. That means to rebuild our rural communities, which all over this country, in Vermont, our most rural communities are seeing a decline in population. Young people are leaving. There aren't any decent jobs there in many cases. Education is not adequate. Schools are being shut down. Downtowns are being boarded up all over this country in rural America. Many urban communities are doing just fine. And one of the things that I would do as president is focus on the needs of rural America, something that has been ignored for too many years, give hope to people, and I think that is one way that we address the crisis. But the other way, obviously, is a failure of our health care system. You go into rural areas, you go into areas all over America. You don't have the money. We get calls in my office and I'm sure other senators get the same call. Somebody calls up, I remember a call came to my office: I am worried to death about what my brother is going to do to himself or to somebody else. And we can't find the kind of counseling that we need. We can't afford it. That's going on all over this country. So you people today all over America who are suicidal, some of them have guns. They may become homicidal. Do we have the kind of mental health capacity to address those issues? The answer is absolutely we don't. And that is something, by the way, that a Medicare for All system would be a significant improvement over where we are today.Casey McDermott:

Senator, I just want to move on to a different issue here. Your campaign's earned the backing of a number of people who are leaders within the state's refugee communities here in New Hampshire. What kind of conversations have you had with those individuals and what would you do as president to specifically help refugees?Senator Sanders:

You know, one of the uglier aspects of the Trump administration is his effort to try to divide us up, divide us up based on the color of our skin, our sexuality, where we were born, our religion, our gender. So the first thing that a I think a president who is not a xenophobe or a bigot does is say that we are all in this together and we're going to stop the division, that we try to run an administration not based on hatred and divisiveness, but on compassion and love. My father was an immigrant. He came to this country from Poland at the age of 17 without a nickel in his pocket, couldn't speak English, never made any money. But he was the proudest American you ever saw. And that's kind of the history of America. So we need to stop the demonization. We need to develop policies that address the needs of the immigrant community. As president of the United States, I believe absolutely that there is support in the Congress right now, bipartisan support, for comprehensive immigration reform and a path towards citizenship. On my first day as president, through executive order, I would end all of Trump's racist immigration executive orders and reestablish the legal status of the 1.8 million young people and their parents for the DACA program and very much change our border policy so that federal agents are not snatching babies from the arms of their mother. So, you know, basically what Trump tries to do for political purposes, like demagogues all over the world do, divide people up. And one of the groups he attacks virtually every day are the undocumented and immigrants. I will absolutely on day one, put an end to that.Peter Biello:

We have this question from a listener, Elizabeth in Concord, writes, explain your evolution on a national issue, a long held belief you changed your mind on after being presented evidence to the contrary.Senator Sanders:

Well, guns is one.Peter Biello:

Do you have another?Senator Sanders:

I mean, I think you change your views. You know, if you go back to what I believe. Read the things that I talked about in the early 80s when I was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, I talked about income and wealth inequality. I talked about a government's needs and I tried to do that as mayor of Burlington and as a congressman, as a senator to try to represent the working people and not just the wealthy and powerful. I have always believed that health care is a human right. There are issues where I have learned more. I mean, anybody who wants to go on a really good educational experience, run for president. I mean, you learn a lot. You learn about the diversity of America. You really do. I mean, I didn't know this. I'm a United States Senator from a small, mostly white state. And suddenly you go to Nevada and you go to California and you go to Native American reservations. You know what? A lot of things happening in this country. You go to Latino communities. You go to the African-American community. A lot of stuff. Criminal justice. Well, talk about an issue, you know, I learned a lot about criminal justice. If I were on this program 20 years ago, I would not have said that today we have a broken racist criminal justice system. That is what I have learned. And this is something I talk about every day on the campaign trail -- the need to end the disgrace of having more people in jail than any other country on Earth, disproportionately African-American and Latino and Native American. So 20 years ago, that's not an issue I would have talked about. Immigration is not an issue that I was as fluent on as I am right now, because, you know, as the mayor of a city in Burlington, Vermont, a senator from a mostly white state, those are not the issues that came across my desk. But as a presidential candidate, those are the issues that I can and must and will deal with.Casey McDermott:

Senator, you've already talked about campaign finance a little bit in this conversation. You have been very critical of the role of undisclosed money, big money in politics. The Associated Press recently reported, though, that you are benefiting from the support of a large political action organization that you helped to launch. You were at the kickoff, called Our Revolution. The AP reported that that group has taken in nearly one million dollars from donors that gave more than the limits and whose identities are not fully disclosed, according to recent tax filings. How do you square your statements on that with the existence of this large corporation?Senator Sanders:

I mean, we have a broken campaign finance system. And as I mentioned a moment ago, if you guys are billionaires and you wanted to put hundreds of millions of dollars in somebody's campaign, you can do that. If you want to run for president and spend a couple of hundred million dollars on TV ads, you can do that. It's a broken system. This is what I will say. Number one, I do not have a super PAC. Bernie Sanders's campaign does not have a super PAC. We don't want a super PAC. We don't need a super PAC. And what I'm extremely proud of is that our campaign today has raised more money from more individuals, I think 1.4 million, over five million contributions averaging $18 apiece, than any camp campaign in the history of American politics. And I'm enormously proud of that. Now, you've got groups all over the country that legally can do what they want. And I would be very happy to say and to urge an end to all that if other candidates do the same. So I am not in favor of these things. That is the way it is. And if other candidates wanted to say, you know, if Mike Bloomberg wanted to run for president without spending a few hundred million dollars, and you want to register as a plain citizen, that's fine, too. But that's the world that we live in. But I will tell you, that as president, I will move aggressively to campaign finance reform, which entails not only overturning Citizens United, that disastrous Supreme Court decision, but also moves to public funding of elections. I believe that very strongly.Casey McDermott:

Senator, so just to clarify, what is your relationship to that group.Right now legally, and in fact, you're quite right in saying that after the campaign we launched that. I did. No apologies for that. The function of Our Revolution was to generate grassroots political activity to get people involved in the political process. And I think they've done a very good job at it. Legally, and in fact, I have nothing to do with them. They operate absolutely independently of our campaign.

Casey McDermott:

Should the group disclose more information about its fundraising? Given, you know, your own positions on that issue,.Senator Sanders:

I would have no problem with that. But again, legally if I got on the phone and I told them what to do, that would be a violation of campaign finance law. But again, this system is broken. You have people who are literally spending hundreds of millions of their own dollars. You have other candidates who have super PACs. I don't have a super PAC. You have other candidates who spend a lot of their time -- there are at least two of my opponents who have raised money from more than 40 billionaires each. I mean, it is a broken system. So I would hope that we can change it.Casey McDermott:

I guess just using the bully pulpit that is available to you as a presidential candidate, would you call on the group to..Senator Sanders:

I think that every group should do it. I think we should end superPACs right now. So I would tell my opponents who have a superPAC, why don't you end it? And certainly that's applicable to the groups that are supporting me.Peter Biello:

Senator Sanders, we're up against a break. But I did want to get a listener question into you before we break for a moment, and the question comes from Sheila, who works in New Hampshire. She says, How the how would you select your support staff and advisers? I ask this question because I judge all leaders in business or politics by the quality of the people who support and work for them.Senator Sanders:

Sheila is absolutely right. I mean, sometimes there is an illusion that a president does it all by himself or herself. But any serious leader, whether you're a president, whether you're a United States senator, whether you're a congressperson. Whatever you may be. You are made or broken by the kind of staff you have. No president can do it all alone. There are so many issues and they are so complex. You need a great staff. And I think, again, one of the weaknesses of Trump, and, you know, it's who his personality is,the world revolves around him, he thinks he knows everything about everything. We don't even have adequate representation in the State Department right now. We have very poor level of advice out there. He changes leadership every other day if he gets angry at somebody. But to answer Sheila's question, she is absolutely right. We are going to need in this world, you're going to need the scientific community, engineers to help us with climate change. You're going to need the best and most knowledgeable people on health care to help us move forward on Medicare for All. We're gonna need the best economists in the country to help us to develop an economy that works for working people, not just the 1 percent. Immigration reform, criminal justice reform, educational reform. You need the best out there and we will bring them into our administration.Peter Biello:

We're speaking with Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as part of the Exchange forum with presidential candidates. When we come back, we'll be talking more with Senator Sanders about a variety of issues, including foreign policy, the DNC. And we will bring in more listener questions as well. This is the Exchange on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. We'll be right back.Peter Biello:

This is the Exchange on an NHPR. I'm Peter Biello and today it's the latest in our presidential primary 2020 candidate forums. I'm here with NHPR's Casey McDermott, and we're speaking with Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. And Senator Sanders, I wanted to start this part of the program by talking a little bit about the DNC. The DNC has made changes to the nominating process since your last run for president. It has put more emphasis on small dollar donors, among other reforms. And that's partly in response to calls from your supporters. But now some say that the new set of rules has unfairly winnowed the field of candidates. It's become less diverse. Have the DNC's reforms, in your view, created a new set of problems?Senator Sanders:

Look, in fairness to Tom Perez and the DNC, it's tough,no matter what you do, somebody is going to criticize you. Last time around in terms of need for reform, we went into our campaign with our opponent already having 500 superdelegates lined up before the first ballot was cast. Is that fair? I don't think it's fair. I don't think anyone thinks that's fair. So maybe the most significant reform, I would have gone further, is to say that on the first ballot, our view is superdelegates should not be voting at all at the convention. But on the first ballot, superdelegates will not have a vote. That is a very significant step forward. There were reforms that were needed in New York state where it was very hard for people who were not Democrats or Republicans,a lot of people are independents or what they call nonpolitical party or whatever it may be. They literally could not vote if they didn't register in the party I think six months before. Really pretty crazy rules. California had its own set of rules. So I think what you have seen over the last couple of years is an attempt, a good faith attempt, not as far as I would like, but an attempt to democratize the Democratic Party. And we have worked with the DNC on some of those rule changes. We're making some progress.Peter Biello:

What further progress would you like to see specifically to make it, in your view, more democratic?Senator Sanders:

Look, I think that the Democratic nominee should be determined by the people of this country, not by superdelegates. It is no secret -- maybe I say this from a self-interested point of view -- I don't have a whole lot of superdelegates who support me. That's the political establishment. And last time around and this time around, we're taking on the whole Democratic, or mostly, the whole Democratic establishment. We have some great members of Congress, Mark McCann, who's the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, just came on board. We have a number of members, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Talib, Ilhan Omar and others are on board our campaign. But, you know, we're not the establishment candidate. So if you have a ballot where the establishment has the right to select the nominee, we probably, you know, we'll be at a disadvantage. So I would hope that in the future it should be the American people and Democrats and independents voting in the Democratic primaries who select the candidate, not superdelegates.Casey McDermott:

Senator, I don't need to tell you that there's been a lot of back and forth over the last week about a conversation that took place between you and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in 2018. She says that you indicated that you did not think a woman could win the presidency. You have strongly denied that. But I want to get at a few questions here that I don't think have been addressed thus far, because this issue of gender and electability has been on the minds of lots of voters. Understanding that it's possible for two people to walk away from the same conversation with vastly different interpretations of what happened,did you talk at all with Senator Warren in that conversation about whether gender would be an obstacle for someone?Senator Sanders:

I really don't want to get into what was a private conversation. But to answer your question, let me just say this. It is hard for me to imagine, or anybody, in the year 2020, could not believe that a woman could become president of the United States. And if you check my record, I've been saying that for 30 years. In fact, as I mentioned the other day during the debate, there was a movement that are were well aware of because it took place here in New Hampshire significantly to draft Senator Warren to be president in 2016. You know what? I deferred. I did not announce my candidacy until after Senator Warren indicated she did not want to run. And anybody who looks at 2016, Hillary Clinton won the presidential popular vote by 3 million votes, a few hundred thousand votes in three states, she would have been president today. So you know all that I will know, the media has blown this thing up and I really don't want to get into it anymore other than to say, of course, I believe,always believed, and believe today that a woman can be elected president of the United States. And trust me, if I am not the nominee and a woman is, I will do everything I can to make sure that she is electedCasey McDermott:

Well, again, just to kind of take it from a bigger picture view. For example, there was a poll last year that found that 74 percent of Democrats and independents would themselves be comfortable with a woman president, but only 33 percent of them believe that their neighbors would be. So this is an anxiety that exists.Senator Sanders:

Right it does. And I think, look, as a country, we have come a long way. I think if you and I were here 25 years ago, and somebody said, well, you know, I don't know that an African-American could be elected president of the United States, I think 25 years ago that would've been the general... And then you've got Barack Obama coming along. He wins the election. He wins a sweeping re-election. You have a candidate today Mayor Buttigieg who is openly gay. Right. Twenty five years ago, do you think anybody in America would have said we could have a serious candidate for president of the United States who is openly gay, married? You know, the world has changed. And to those people who think that a woman cannot be elected, you're dead wrong. If you think a gay American cannot be elected, you are dead wrong. You think an African-American can't be elected, you're dead wrong. I think the American people have moved very significantly in trying to look at candidates based on what they stand for, not on their agenda, not on their sexuality, not on their race.Casey McDermott:

I guess just just one more question on this. Do you think that female candidates have a different experience running for president than you? And do you think that gender is still an obstacle for a female politician?Senator Sanders:

Look, the answer is yes. But I think everybody has their own sets of problems. I'm 78 years of age. That's a problem. There are a lot of people say, well, you know, I like Bernie, he's a nice guy, but he's 78 years of age. And so we have to argue, please look at the totality of who I am. If you're looking at Buttigieg, he's a young guy and people will say, well, he's too young to be president. So everybody, you know, brings some negatives, if you like. I would just hope very much that the American people look at the totality of a candidate, not at their gender, not at their sexuality, not at their age, but at everything. You know, nobody is perfect. there ain't no perfect candidate out there. And all of us have got to do the best. What does that candidate stand for? What is the life record of that campaign? One of the advantages of kind of being old, if I may say so, is I have a long record. I've been doing this stuff for decades. I've been, you know, making my fight. Some of you agree with me. Some of you don't. But, you know, my record has taken on virtually every special interest out there. I've been doing that for like 30 years, standing up for working people; I've probably been on more picket lines than, you know, all of my opponents combined. That's what I do. You talked about Medicare for All, I've been doing this for 25, 30 years or more. So everybody has their advantages. Everybody has their disadvantages. All I would ask of voters is take a look at the totality of the candidacy, of the person.Peter Biello:

Let's talk a little bit about foreign policy. You've been reluctant to send American troops into combat. Over the years, presidents have escalated conflicts overseas, both with U.S. troops on the ground and with drone warfare, sometimes without express permission from Congress. Would a President Sanders always consult Congress first, or are there circumstances where you would act, as some past presidents have, unilaterally?Senator Sanders:

The rule is that you always consult Congress. Because that's what the Constitution is about, and I have to tell you, Peter, I'm very proud that one of my signature accomplishments in recent years was to work with conservative Republicans, a fellow named Mike Lee of Utah who led the effort of Republicans in the Senate, to for the first time use the authority of the War Powers Act that was passed I think back in 1974. And what the War Powers Act was about is saying that let's make it clear that it is Congress, not the president, who has the authority to get us into a war. And the president must have that authority. And we used that authority for the first time in terms of the disastrous, destructive war in Yemen, which is led by Saudi Arabia, intervened in that civil war there, and America supported them. We passed in the Senate, with Mike Lee and myself leading the effort, and in the House, for the first time, a war powers resolution, which said, you know what, Mr. President, you don't have the authority to be involved in the war in Yemen. Unfortunately, Trump vetoed that. So to answer your question, I do believe in that very, very strongly. If you ask me are there any incidents. Well, if missiles were flying into the United States, I think you have to act instantaneously. Common sense suggests that. But everything being equal, you need the authority of Congress. AndI want to tell you why. I don't know that there's any other candidate for president who will say this. And maybe age has some advantage. You know, when I was a kid, that was when the war in Vietnam took place. And as people know, I marched in demonstrations against that war. But what is important, whether you're for that war or against that war, is to understand that that horrifically destructive war, which took fifty nine thousand American lives, God knows how many hundreds of thousands or millions of lives of Asians, that war was caused by a lie -- the so-called Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. It was a lie, and we got into a war based on a lie. Now, in 2002, I wasn't a kid. I was a member of the United States Congress. And I heard what Dick Cheney and George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld had to say. And I never doubted for a second that they were lying. And I never doubted for a second that they were manipulating intelligence. They were telling the American people, and the media was echoing their claims, we could talk about the role of the media in these things as well, that the United States was being endangered. Some of you who were old enough, might remember that. Saddam Hussein, who was no doubt a thug and a murderer, he was developing nuclear weapons, he was developing chemical weapons. He was going to use that against the United States. He was involved in 9/11 also, which was a lie. So they lied and they lied and they lied. And if you check the record, you will find that Bernie Sanders not only voted against that war but was one of the leaders in opposition. It doesn't give me any pleasure to tell you that much of what I predicted about the destabilization that would happen as a result of an American invasion, that's what I said back in 2002, turned out to be true. So. I hate war because and I'm also the chairman, former chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, and that gave me the opportunity to meet with so many great veterans and wives who lost their husbands at war, mothers who lost their kids in war. And people do not appreciate, it's not just in Iraq, the forty five hundred men and women that we lost, it is the thousands and thousands who came home with PTSD, without arms, without legs, without their eyes. War must be the last resort. And what we do, as the leader of the world, the most powerful nation on earth, must be to do everything that we can to resolve international conflict through diplomacy. And I know it's not sexy. You know, you get more votes when you stand up and you pound the table -- We're not going to take it anymore. These are bad guys. We're going to bomb them to hell -- it's good politics. You get votes when you're doing that. But it is not the politicians who give the speeches, by and large, whose kids come home maimed or killed. All right. It's the working class of this country.Casey McDermott:

It's an important issue, but I want to I want to just move to one more kind of security related issue. Obviously, we have seen a lot of emphasis on election interference in the last few years. We know, though, that actual hacking into voting systems is only one piece of the puzzle that we have to worry about. Outside actors are eager to sow discord or cast doubt on the legitimacy of the process itself? What responsibility do presidential candidates like you have to confront that part of it?Senator Sanders:

Let me confront it right now. You're absolutely right. Hacking attempts. First of all, let us be aware whether it's Russia or whoever else it is, trying to distort or destroy American democracy, is a real attack against America This is clearly unacceptable. You know, we would respond if somebody lobbed a missile at us. We have got to respond very forcefully. And it's a bit embarrassing that we have a president of the United States who continues to deny the role that Russia played in interfering in our election process. And you're right. So let me be very clear. I mean, we have got to be very strong in telling Russia, get the hell out of our elections. You know, they are moving in their own country toward more and more authoritarian rule. We don't need them fomenting discord. You're exactly right. What they did is try to get blacks against whites, all kinds of discord. So we have got to be very forceful in telling Russia, stay out of our elections, or else.Casey McDermott:

So I guess, for example, you know, if there are leaks along the lines of what we saw in 2016 or if you are a candidate who happens to benefit from an online army of bots or supporters who are who are fake. Are there any steps that you think that candidates could could take to address that part of it?Senator Sanders:

I'm not the world's greatest expert in technology. This is very sophisticated attacks against this country. But my campaign will do everything possible to get Russia or any other country out of this campaign. That is totally, totally unacceptable.Peter Biello:

We have a question from a listener that we wanted to put to you, Senator Sanders, and the question comes from Julia, a junior at Manchester West High School. And she asks, Who is your hero? Someone who inspired you?Senator Sanders:

Well, ironically, one of my great heroes is a man whose birthday we're gonna be celebrating tomorrow. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. Now, again, I guess telling my age. I was there on the march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I was a student at the University of Chicago. I took a long bus trip and went there. King was an extraordinary human being, one of the great leaders in American history, not just as an African-American, one of the great leaders in American history. And while the media appropriately talks about the extraordinary role he played in fighting segregation and racism, they often don't talk about what he was doing the day he was assassinated. He was in Memphis, Tennessee, with striking sanitation workers standing up for justice, for decent wages and working conditions; he was organizing a poor people's march of blacks and whites and Native Americans and Latinos to change the priorities in Washington so that instead of spending huge amounts of money on the military and war, you start investing in housing and jobs and health care. He was an extraordinary human being, in terms of his courage. He stood up at great personal sacrifice against the war in Vietnam. So Martin Luther King Jr. is certainly one of my heroes.Senator Sanders:

Well, Senator Sanders, thank you very much for speaking with us today. We really appreciate it. My pleasure. Thank you for having me. And thanks also to NHPR's Casey McDermott for joining us on stage today. Thank you, Casey. Thanks, Peter. This is the exchange on an HP. It's our 2020 presidential primary candidate series. You can find the archive of all of these conversations as well as all of our coverage of the New Hampshire primary at our Web site, Special thanks to New Hampshire PBS for partnering with NHPR during this broadcast, this is the Exchange on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. Thank you very much for listening and watching.

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