Transcript: Sen. Bernie Sanders on "Face the Nation," Nov. 12, 2017

In an exclusive interview Sunday on "Face the Nation," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, discussed President Trump's recent comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Democratic Party's trajectory heading into 2018, and much more.

A transcript of the interview with Sanders that aired on "Face the Nation" follows. 


JOHN DICKERSON: Joining us now is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, he's in Burlington. Senator Sanders, you tweeted something this morning about the president and his meetings overseas. You said, quote, "President Trump has never met a leader of an authoritarian nation that he didn't like."

And you named Russia, China, Saudi Arabia. Is that really fair? President Obama hosted a state dinner with the Chinese president. He was quite solicitous of the Saudi king. And he tried a reset with Putin in Russia. Isn't this what presidents do?

BERNIE SANDERS: No, you want to make friendships. You want to have good relationships. But at the same time, as we have a president attacking the media every day as fake news, encouraging Republican governors around the country to suppress the vote, playing the race card in the sense of trying to divide us up by the color of our skin, by the country that we came from.

While he's doing all of these things, he has wonderful things to say about Mr. Putin. The idea that he reports back to us that Mr. Putin said that Russia did not have anything to do in terms of interfering with our elections, and he believes him, while he does not believe the intelligence agencies of the United States of America, is beyond absurd.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about this question of Roy Moore, who's running for the Senate in Alabama. When I talk to Democrats, they basically want Republicans to be stuck with this mess. Is that really a good idea that this isn't this issue and these allegations and what as a public we do with allegations like this a little bit more than something that has to just be handled as, "Oh, great. It's the other team having a bad time"?

BERNIE SANDERS: You're right. Allegations are allegations, and Mr. Moore denies most of the allegations, I gather, not all. And I think Mitt Romney made this point, John McCain made this point, that if you look at the report done by the Washington Post, which is a very thorough report, it was not done by opposition research. I think you can reach the conclusion that what this gentleman did was totally inappropriate and not the kind of behavior that a United States senator should have.

JOHN DICKERSON: Alright. Senator Sanders, we're going to take a break and talk about politics in a minute. I should note that the president did, in fact, say that he did believe the intelligence agencies after his original remarks. So he did clean that up. But we'll be back in a second. We'll talk about other things on the other side of this commercial. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN DICKERSON: And we're back with Senator Bernie Sanders. Senator, Democrats had a good week this week, on election day. A lot of analysis has it as a kind of anti-Trump message, that that's what's spurring the Democratic Party. Is that healthy for the Democratic Party? Does it paper over some of the internal questions you all are having?

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, John, what was to me most exciting was not only the important victories in Virginia and New Jersey for governor, but also, all over this country, and I think the media hasn't quite picked up on it yet, you are seeing grassroots activists, people for the very first time, young people, working people, running for state legislature, running for city council, running for school board and winning those elections.

And what I have always believed is that the only way we're going to transform this country, the only way we're going to take on the top 1% effectively, is when millions of people get involved in the political process. And that's what we're beginning to see. So that excites me very, very much.

I do believe that in many ways the election on Tuesday was a referendum on Trump. And the American people very clearly said: "No. We're tired of the divisiveness of Trump. We're tired of his policies designed to give tax breaks to billionaires, to throw 20, 30 million people off of health insurance. That's not what we want from an administration. We want real change in this country. We want a government that represents all of us, not the 1%."

JOHN DICKERSON: You talk about that energy in the Democratic Party, in the progressive movement, in the liberal movement, however you want to define it. One of the things that I hear from people who are lifelong Democrats is they hear you giving the Democratic Party advice. And they say: "Wait a minute. He's not a Democrat. Why is he giving us advice?" It tends to irritate them. What's your response?

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, it may irritate them. But it does not irritate the American people. Look, one of the problems facing the Democratic Party is that it has got to open up its doors. The truth is that neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party today are held in very high esteem by the American people. That's just a fact.

There are more people now who are Independents than Democrats or Republicans. So to say to Independents, say to young people who are overwhelmingly independent, say to working people, "We don't want you to come into the Democratic Party," is totally absurd. And it's a recipe for failure.

Now, in my view, the Democratic Party needs to make fundamental changes. We need to do away with the extraordinary number of superdelegates that now exist in the presidential nominating process. We've got to do away with closed primaries. We've got to reform the caucus system to allow everybody to vote. And you need more transparency at the DNC. A lot of money goes through there. People need to know how. We need a 50-state strategy, so that half the states in this country have a Democratic Party, which today, does not exist.

JOHN DICKERSON: Senator, if the DNC made those changes, if the Democratic Party made those changes, would you advise your former supporters, who are basically saying, "The party can't be fixed. We've got to create our own progressive movement," would you encourage them to stop that and then strengthen the Democratic Party?

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, I am working very, very hard now to reform the Democratic Party. I'm working really hard to see that we raise the voter turnout in this country, that we bring people who have given up on the political process into the Democratic Party. That's where we are right now.

So I think that now is- and we saw this last Tuesday. We saw a whole lot of people who had never before been involved in politics getting involved in politics. That is what we have to do. And when we do that, we will have the kind of energy that we need to soundly defeat the right-wing extremism, which is now what the Republican Party is and Donald Trump, as well.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Senator Sanders, we'll have to leave it there. Thanks so much for being with us. And we'll be back in a moment.