Full transcript: Sen. Bernie Sanders on "Face the Nation"

Full interview: Bernie Sanders on "Face the Nation"

The following is a transcript of the interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders that aired Sunday, June 23, 2019 on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Sanders, thank you very much for making time.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: My pleasure.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've been called an existential threat to the Democratic Party. How much resistance within the party do you face?

SEN. SANDERS: Well first I've got to figure out what this existential threat actually means, but what it became from is "Third Way," which is the corporate wing of the Democratic Party, a group that gets a lot of its money from Wall Street, and I guess I am an existential threat to them because I believe that you've got to stand up for the working families of this country who have been decimated over the last forty five years. Wages have gone nowhere. Massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top one percent. And I'm going to stand with the working class of this country. And that means, so I guess "Third Way" doesn't like it. It means we are going to break up the major Wall Street banks that caused the last Great Recession and can do it again. We're going to take on the insurance companies and move toward a "Medicare-for-All" single payer program. We're going to take on the insurance- we're going to take on the drug companies and lower drug covered drug costs by about fifty percent in this country which is what the rest of the world is paying. And we're going to take on the fossil fuel industry and transform our energy system so that we can effectively combat climate change. Now I guess all of that is a threat to the big money interests in this country. And that's who "Third Way" represents.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're not a Democrat. You're- you're--

SEN. SANDERS: Well I am--

MARGARET BRENNAN: an independent.

SEN. SANDERS: --I am in the Democratic primary. In- in Vermont I run as an independent. But for all intents and purposes, I am part of the Democratic leadership in the United States Senate. And am a Democratic candidate for president of the United States.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You had some frustration, and certainly some of your followers did in 2016, with how the party and sort of party elders hand- handled you. Do you think you're being treated fairly this time around?

SEN. SANDERS: Well I think there have been some real changes. What I was upset about and I think most Americans were upset about was the unfairness of a primary process, last time. Where Secretary Clinton had five hundred superdelegates lined up behind her before the first vote was cast in Iowa.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is it more fair this time--

SEN. SANDERS: Yes, absolutely is.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --you've got there's twenty four candidates.

SEN. SANDERS: Well, twenty four candidates it a different, not less fair, less unfair, it's a different process than running against one person. But in terms of the Democratic leadership when you had five hundred superdelegate- superdelegates voting against you before the first popular vote was cast, that was an unfair system. We've changed that in some of the states. I think that rules have been improved to make them more democratic.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you believe the Democratic Party will give you a fair shot this time?

SEN. SANDERS: I certainly hope so.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You hope? You're not convinced?

SEN. SANDERS: Well, we'll see. I'm- no, I'm not saying otherwise. As of now I think we are being treated fairly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you have according to the CBS News polling we've done, the CBS BATTLEGROUND TRACKER, indicates your supporters are backing you without considering other candidates. They're convinced. They are your base. How do you expand beyond that?

SEN. SANDERS: I'll tell you how. I'm feeling- I've got to tell you honestly I'm feeling very good about this campaign. And again it's different. Last time around you have to win 51 percent of the vote. This time I don't believe anyone is going to come close to 50 percent, so it's a very different race with 24 candidates. I think we have a strong core of support out there. Often young people, working class people who understand that to bring about real change in this country ultimately you're going to have to take on the powers that be. You're going to have to take on the one percent. You know what, in the last thirty years the top one percent has seen a twenty one trillion dollar increase in their wealth. Bottom 50 percent have seen a nine hundred billion dollar decline in their wealth. There has been a war against working families. I intend to stand with working families and take on the powers that be who are protecting the status quo.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But to move beyond those young voters, the working class, don't you still need to expand--

SEN. SANDERS: Sure you do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --and win over those Blue Dog--

SEN. SANDERS: Absolutely, absolutely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --Democrats and moderates?

SEN. SANDERS: I think we have. This is what I think. I think that our message of guaranteeing health care to all people resonates with a significant majority of people who are going to vote Democratic. I think making public colleges and universities tuition free and very substantially lowering student debt, which is an incredible burden on an entire generation of people, is going to win us a lot of support. I think my strong stance that a woman, and not politicians, or woman has the right to control her own body will resonate with many women. I was stance on immigration reform and criminal justice reform. I think those ideas are going to bring in new voters that will carry us to victory

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you don't see, for those who might feel uncomfortable with the term socialism, you don't think that's going to inhibit those voters?

SEN. SANDERS: No I think we have--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --even moderates?

SEN. SANDERS: I just gave a speech on that. And- and what- I have got to do more work in explaining what that means. And what that means to me, is carrying on the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1944, in a not much publicized speech, it was the end of World War Two, what Roosevelt said, is he said, you know, economic rights are human rights and we have got to guarantee all Americans fundamental economic rights: the right to a job that pays you a living wage, the right to health care, the right to education. And we have expanded that to say that economic rights are human rights, that means a clean environment. When you turn on the faucet the water that comes out is not toxic. So what democratic socialism, in that sense, means to me is guaranteeing all of our people in the wealthiest country in the history of the world a decent retirement, a decent standard of living.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Most Democratic voters, according to our polling, say that Joe Biden is the candidate who is best positioned to beat Donald Trump. Do you think the party may be repeating some of the dynamics of what played out in 2016?

SEN. SANDERS: Well, again, you know, let's take polling- all polling with a grain of salt. This is eight months before the primary and a long, long time before the general election. I think what a lot of the polling out, there to the degree that we give credibility to it, has me doing actually quite well. There's never been I don't believe a national poll that doesn't have me defeating Trump. And some of the more recent ones have me beating him by pretty large numbers. And Joe Biden also does very well in these polls, but I think we have a long time to go and I think that people do want a candidate who will beat Trump. I think if you look at Pennsylvania, you look at Michigan, you look at Wisconsin, states that a Democratic candidate has got to win, I think we are doing very well in those states and I think our message will resonate very effectively. Even in Florida, a poll that just came out last week has me beating Trump.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But when you said you have some work to do on that--

SEN. SANDERS: Well we all have work to do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --explaining socialism--

SEN. SANDERS: Well--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --aren't you concerned that someone more familiar like Joe Biden--

SEN. SANDERS: Well--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --will be more acceptable--

SEN. SANDERS: Well, but you see, everybody--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --to those moderates in the middle of the country?

SEN. SANDERS: You got twenty four candidates.  I think every single one of them will tell you they have work to do. Including Joe Biden. And Joe has to defend his record. And you know, I helped lead the opposition to the war in Iraq, which in my view was the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country. Joe voted for that. I led the opposition against disastrous trade agreements which cost the workers of this country millions of good paying jobs. Joe voted for those. I voted against the deregulation of Wall Street, which in my view led to the great economic recession of 2008. Joe voted for them. So I mean we all have more work to be done. But I think that our message and my record of standing up for working families throughout my entire political life is one that will, in fact, resonate and carry me to victory.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But by the same token when it comes to that record President Trump could look at that and say Bernie Sanders has been in Washington since 1991. If he was going to change, if he had the ability to make the changes he's promising he would have done something by now. How do you respond to that?

SEN. SANDERS: Well I respond in two ways. I mean we have a pretty good record of accomplishment. And second of all, I am one out of 100 members of the United States Senate and Trump is the president. For example, I led the effort to get the United States out of the Saudi led intervention in Yemen which is the worst humanitarian disaster on the face of the world. It is horrific. Hundreds of thousands of people will die this year if we don't stop that war. I led the effort in the Senate, it passed. My colleagues led it in the House, it passed. Trump vetoed that legislation. I led the effort to stop Trump from throwing 32 million people off of the healthcare that they currently have, by defending the ACA and by one vote we managed to stop Trump. So you know Trump can say what he wants but I think most people know among other things, that Trump lies a whole lot of times.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you don't that- what you're describing is activism, a consistency of ideology. But is there one thing you would point to to say, "This is my chief legislative achievement"?

SEN. SANDERS: Well yeah I mean it's part of the ACA. We, along with Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, we put twelve billion dollars over a five year period into community health centers which are now providing nine million more Americans with not only primary health care, but with dental care low cost prescription drugs and mental health counseling. So getting 9 million more people access to health care is no small thing. I wrote, along with John McCain a major piece of veterans legislation, turned out not to be all that I wanted, but it put five billion dollars into the Veterans Administration to make sure that our veterans get the quality health care that they deserve. My amendment exposed the fact that as part of the Dodd-Frank legislation that Wall Street received not only 700 billion dollar bailout from the taxpayers but some 14 trillion dollars in low interest loans from the Fed. 14 trillion dollars. The public would not have known that without my amendment.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you a few things about one of your opponents but just to- to button this up you've laid out a lot of your big picture policy ideas. You're saying there needs to be a political revolution in this country. If you're president, how do you fundamentally reshape the U.S. government?

SEN. SANDERS: Well- well, before we reshape the US government, we've- we make the government responsive to ordinary people-

MARGARET BRENNAN: But who runs "Medicare for All?"

SEN. SANDERS: --and not wealthy campaign contributors. What?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who- who runs Medicare for All?

SEN. SANDERS: Well, "Medicare for All" is run by an expansion of what runs Medicare right now. But the main point, Margaret, what I'm trying to--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So the existing Health and Human Services and all those agencies would remain in place?

SEN. SANDERS: Yes.  In- in that case. We have a Medicare program that is working pretty well. I want to see it expanded to provide seniors with dental care with eyeglasses and with hearing aids. But you have a program that most seniors feel pretty good about, and I want to expand that program over a four year period to cover every man woman and child in this country and have the United States do what every other major country does, guarantee health care to all people as a right. But the main point that I want to make, and you're asking what is the difference with a Sanders administration is right now it is no great secret that corporate America and the very wealthy in this country and big campaign contributors have enormous power over the economic life of this country and the political life of this country. That's a fact. May not talk about it too much in the media. That is the fact. And what I intend to do as president of the United States is everything I can to rally the American people to do what the American people want to do. They want to raise that minimum wage to a living wage. They want to combat climate change. They want to improve significantly our educational system. And they want the wealthiest people in this country, who in some cases today, large corporations you've got Amazon, eleven billion dollars in profit not paying a nickel in federal income taxes. Dozens of corporations in that position. Nobody believes that makes sense except the big money interests in this country. And we're going to rally the American people to take them on. And you've got to do that if you want real change in this country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman John Lewis the civil rights icon said this week that Joe Biden's comments about in the past having done some work alongside and with segregationists wasn't offensive. Why do you disagree?

SEN. SANDERS: Well look, Joe was a friend of mine as John is a friend of mine, all that I- all that I say is that I think Joe owes the country an apology on that and that it is one thing to work with people in the Senate as you have to do, as every senator does, I do, with people who have fundamental disagreements with. That's one thing. You do that. That's your job, but it's another thing to kind of extol that those relationships and also to see civility in a sense as an end unto itself. We all want civil discourse in this country. But that's not the end. You cannot be extolling people who really were part of a disgusting system that oppressed and terrorized millions of African-Americans in this country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But don't you think he believes those things?

SEN. SANDERS: Yeah, do I believe-  if your question is I think Joe Biden is a racist? Absolutely not. No I don't. Not for a second. Joe is a friend of mine. I like Joe and I hope very much that this campaign will be about the real issues facing the American people and not, you know, ugly attacks.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think it's just politically minded though that a level of fire he's taken on because of these remarks?

SEN. SANDER: Well, it's- he's taken them on for- you know I can't comment on that. I think everybody up there has taken on their fire, including me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about Iran. Was President Trump's decision this week to call off that strike the right one?

SEN. SANDERS: See, it's like somebody setting a fire to a basket full of paper and then putting it out. He helped create the crisis and then he stopped the attacks. The idea that we're looking at the president of the United States who number one, thinks that a war., with Iran is something that might be good for this country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: He was just doing a limited strike of just a limited strike.

SEN. SANDERS: Oh, just a limited strike- well, I'm sorry. I just didn't know that it's okay to simply attack another country with bombs just a limited strike- that's an act of warfare. So two points. That will set off a conflagration all over the Middle East. If you think the war is either- the war in Iraq, Margaret was a disaster I believe from the bottom of my heart that the war- a war with Iran would be even worse, more loss of life never ending war in that region, massive instability. We're talking about, we have been in Afghanistan now for eighteen years. This thing will never end. So I will do everything I can number one to stop a war with Iran. And number two here's an important point. Let's remember what we learned in civics when we were kids. It is the United States Congress, under our Constitution, that has warmaking authority not the president of the United States. If he attacks Iran in my view that would be unconstitutional.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So if you are commander-in-chief, you will ask Congress for permission--

SEN. SANDERS: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --before you engage in any kind--

SEN. SANDERS: No, no.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --of military action?

SEN. SANDERS: Look, there are some times emergency situations, okay? That I understand.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Defensive action.

SEN. SANDERS: Yeah. If you're attacked immediately you have to respond. Nobody believes that we are in that type of emergency situation with Iran right now. So I'm going do everything we can to stop that. And what the function of a president should be is to say to Saudi Arabia which by the way is a horrific dictatorship a brutal dictatorship that kills dissidents, that treats women as third class citizens. I would try to say to Saudi Arabia you know, "we're not following your lead, you're gonna have to sit down with Iran. We will play a role. Work it out. The United States does not want to continue to lose men and women and trillions of dollars in never ending wars in the Middle East. Work it out."

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you said it was President Trump's fault that this situation evolved don't you hold Iran responsible?

SEN. SANDERS: Yes I do too. But what- what Trump said he said during his campaign. Trump has been extraordinarily antagonistic with Iran. Whether or not he wants to bring down their government, I don't know? I think people like John Bolton may very well want to do that. Trump is the person, you remember, who withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. So he has been without any, I don't think anyone disagrees an extraordinarily provocative toward Iran. And loving the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia that is not the role that we should be playing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, how would President Sanders resolve this?

SEN. SANDERS: I'll tell you how we would. Look. This is a tough issue and I'm not saying it's- anyone can easily resolve- but this is what I would say. I would say to Iran I would say to Saudi Arabia I would say to Israel I would say to the other countries in that region, "you know what, you have been at war in one way or another for decade after decade after decade. And by the wars have not only impacted your own people. They have impacted the United States to the tune of trillions of dollars and five thousand lost lives. We will play a role in bringing you together. And if you need economic aid, we will provide the economic aid. We will provide the resources, but we are not simply going to give more and more weaponry to Saudi Arabia, to Israel." We've are going to try to bring people together for what I admit, Margaret, I admit it will not be easy, but that's what the role of I think the US should be not simply to be part of the story of war efforts in the region.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've been outspoken in your defense of Palestinian human rights. You've been critical of the Netanyahu government in Israel. Jared Kushner plans to unveil a fifty billion dollar plan in investment in Palestinians--

SEN. SANDERS: Yeah, but--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --what do you think of this?

SEN. SANDERS: Well I think you know you have to be- Jared Kushner can sit up there and say, "this is what I want to do." Who is he working with? Is he working with the Palestinian people? So I think what has to be done is all I have been in terms of the Middle East is you know I believe 100 percent in Israel's right to exist in peace and security when I was a kid I lived in Israel for a while, okay, I got family in Israel. But I believe that the United States has got to play an even handed role in the Middle East. Right now in Gaza, for example, it is a humanitarian disaster. You have unemployment rate at 60, 70. 80 percent. Kids have no life in front of them. And it is going to boil over. No question about it. You've got to deal with that issue.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Would you cut aid to Israel if--

SEN. SANDERS: I would sit down--

MARGARET BRENNAN: If they try to annex the West Bank as Netanyahu said?

SEN. SANDERS: I would sit down with- with Israel and say look you get- I don't know what it is, maybe 3 billion a year or something, I don't know what an exact number is, something--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SEN. SANDERS: --like three billion a year and say, "look you want military aid from the United States you're going to have to treat the Palestinian people and that region with respect that we intend to work with you to do that."

MARGARET BRENNAN: Tons more on that, but I want to make sure we get to immigration. There are ICE raids set to start Sunday morning. Estimates of some 2000 people or so who will be targeted, is this appropriate?

SEN. SANDERS: No, it's not. It is absolutely not appropriate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well the president says--

SEN. SANDERS: I--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --these individuals have broken the law--

SEN. SANDERS: Yeah, I know, I know.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --and haven't shown up for court dates.

SEN. SANDERS: Yeah. But this is a president who also tweeted out last week that he is prepared, I think, to round up millions, was that the word, millions of undocumented people. And that is so horrific and so un-American that it is unacceptable, and I will do everything I can to stop that. Look you've got some 11 million undocumented people in this country. Our job is to pass comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship. Our job is to give immediate legal status to what Trump took away. And that is the DACA program that protects one point eight million young people.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Both of those ideas have gone nowhere in past administrations.

SEN. SANDERS: Well, now that's not true. DACA was implemented by Obama .

MARGARET BRENNAN: But not legislatively.

SEN. SANDERS: Not legislatively but you have- the president should be able to do that. And I think--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you need a Democratic controlled Senate and House to be able to do that.

SEN. SANDERS: Not necessarily. I think there are- the answer is that would be very helpful, yes. I agree. But I also think that's what the American people want. The American people do not believe that America is about rounding up men, rounding up millions of people throwing them out of this country. How ugly is that. That's not what the American people want. They do want comprehensive immigration reform and a president that would provide that support could get Republican leadership on that as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But specifically on this point the two thousand that are supposed to be targeted haven't shown up for a court date so essentially they're- they're not following the asylum process. The legal standards when they're here. So should they be prosecuted should they be deported?

SEN. SANDERS: I don't- I don't like this deportation thing at all and I think Trump uses this as a beginning to do worse things to come. Once again. We need also a humane policy at the border for people seeking asylum. We need a lot more judges down there and administrative staff as well. So you've got a real problem, but let's deal with it in a humane and serious way not through a demagogic way. And let me tell you what my view is, Trump thinks that he can win re-election. And this is his political game, it's not an accident that he announced this the same time he went through his- his announcement that he was seeking reelection.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You think this is purely politically motivated?

SEN. SANDERS: Yeah, I do. And I think that- look it's not to say that we don't have a serious problem but there are ways for serious people to deal with serious immigration problems. It is a problem. But what he is doing and this is his entire political strategy is to divide the American people up based on where we came from based on our sexual orientation. Remember before he was president he was the leader of the so-called birther movement trying to delegitimize Barack Obama's presidency. Clearly a racist act. So you have a president who gives tax breaks to billionaires and wants to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. That's not what he's going to run on. You've got a president who tried to throw 32 million people off health care. He ain't gonna run on that one. You got a president who gave 83 percent of the tax benefits to the top one percent, not going to run on that one. So how do you win an election? What do you say- you see those undocumented people, they all your enemy. Stand with me. Hate them. Let's divide this country up. I think that is an incredibly ugly and dangerous thing to be done. And I will do everything I can to stop that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator, I'm told we are out of time. I appreciate you making time.

SEN. SANDERS: Margaret thank you very much. .. I was just getting warmed up!