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CNN "State of the Union" - Transcript: Interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders



BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash, in for Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is looking to the heartland.

Almost the entire 2020 Democratic field, 19 out of 23 candidates, descended on the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa this weekend, ahead of a major campaign cattle call, the annual Hall of Fame Dinner happening tonight in Cedar Rapids.

One candidate not there is the front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, who is attending his granddaughter's graduation. But both Biden and President Trump are heading to the state later this week.

Meanwhile, lawmakers from Iowa are breathing sigh of relief after the president dropped his threat to impose tariffs on Mexico in exchange for what he says will be stepped-up enforcement on the flow of illegal immigration at the border.

And as Democratic candidates try to get traction with Iowa voters, we have a brand-new poll from CNN and "The Des Moines Register" laying out the state of the race.

Here it is. Just five candidates hit above 2 percent in the poll. Joe Biden maintained his slot at 24 percent. Senator Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg are all virtually tied for -- in a three-way race for second place, 16, 15, 14, respectively. Senator Kamala Harris comes in fifth with 7 percent, before a sharp drop to the rest of the field.

And I want to get straight to Iowa now for our exclusive interview with the presidential candidate currently in second place, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Good morning, Senator. Thank you so much for joining me.

We have so many issues to talk to you, but, first, I want to get your reaction to what you just heard, our new poll in Iowa. You're not in the second tier on your own anymore, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg right there with you. And Warren is on top among liberal caucus- goers.

It seems maybe you have lost your position as the clear progressive alternative to Joe Biden in Iowa. Why?

SANDERS: Well, Dana, what I think is that, four years ago, there were only two of us in the race, and we split the vote about 50 percent each.

This time, we got a whole lot of candidates. And I don't think anybody is going to reach 50 percent. But I got to tell you, we have an incredibly strong volunteer network here in Iowa.

We just did several town meetings yesterday, large turnouts. And the issues that we are talking about, the fact that the working class of this country is sick and tired of working longer hours for low wages, worried about the standard of living that their kids will have, worried about climate change, worried that almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent, those are issues that will resonate in Iowa.

Those are issues that are going to resonate all over this country. The American people, in my very strong belief, want a government and an economy that works for everybody, not just the 1 percent. So we're not going to get 50 percent of the vote in Iowa. I don't

think anybody will. I think we have an excellent chance to win here. We're going to win in New Hampshire. And I think we have a very strong chance of being the candidate who will defeat the worst president in the modern history of this country, Donald Trump.

BASH: OK, so let's talk a little bit about some of the issues before us, and Donald Trump in particular.

He, of course, is touting a deal on Friday to avoid imposing tariffs on Mexico, after he says Mexico agreed to increase its National Guard presence, dismantle organizations that traffic migrants, and return asylum seekers to Mexico more easily.

Does the president deserve credit for that?


SANDERS: Well, I think what the president has done is tout what, in fact, in many respects, Mexico has agreed to do many months ago.

But I think what the world is tired of and what I am tired of is a president who consistently goes to war, verbal war, with our allies, whether it is Mexico, whether it is Canada.

The issue here in terms of immigration requires us finally to do what should have been done years ago, and that is pass comprehensive immigration reform to make sure that our young -- young people in this country who are in the DACA program get immediate legal protection, and that we have a humane border policy.

We need a decent relationship with Mexico. They are our allies, as is the case with Canada. We should not be confronting them every other day.

BASH: Philosophically, though, as president, would you be willing to use tariffs as a negotiating tactic on non-trade-related issues?

SANDERS: I believe that the trade policies this country, the United States, has had for many years were written by the CEOs of large corporations, often in secret, by the way.

I voted against NAFTA. I voted against permanent normal trade relations with China. And I think what the facts show is that we have lost some four million good-paying jobs as a result of those disastrous trade agreements.

BASH: And I understand that that's how you feel about trade.

But what about the idea of tactically using tariffs on other issues to negotiate on other issues?

SANDERS: You can't use it to threaten -- you can't have a trade policy based on tweets.

What you need is a -- comprehensive trade policies which represents the working people of this country, and not just the CEOs of large corporations.

So, do we need to change our trade policies, so that we protect jobs in America? Yes. Do we need to work with other countries to lift up the poorest people around the world? Yes, we do.

But Trump's erratic threats and trade policies are not the way to go.

BASH: OK, so you talked broadly about immigration.

You tweeted this week that President Trump's tariffs were a -- quote -- "fake border crisis" -- in quotation marks. But immigration officials have arrested or encountered more than 144,000 migrants at the southern border in May, the highest monthly total in 13 years.

Border facilities are dangerously overcrowded. Migrants are actually standing on toilets to get space to breathe. How is that not a crisis?

SANDERS: What we need to do -- I mean, what Trump has been doing and I think the -- what the meaning of that tweet is about is that Trump has been demonizing undocumented people in this country.

And that's part of his strategy about dividing us up. Before he was president, he was the leader of the birther movement, trying to delegitimize President Trump. He has been anti-Muslim. That's what his political strategy is.

What we need is a border policy that is humane that, among other things, expedites the asylum process by bringing in a whole lot more legal staff and judges, so that people do not have to wait.

BASH: But what I just described to you, is that a crisis?

SANDERS: It is a serious problem, but it is not the kind of crisis that requires demonization of desperate people who in some cases have walked 1,000 miles with their children.

It is an issue that we have to deal with. But the issue of climate change, the issue of tens of millions of Americans not having any health insurance, the fact that half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck, those are more serious crises.

So, it is an issue, but you don't demonize desperate people. We deal with it in a rational and humane way.

BASH: Let's talk to -- talk about the issue of abortion.

Joe Biden changed his position this week, opposes the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits using taxpayer dollars for abortion services. You oppose it too. And you said this week that you have -- quote -- "always voted against the Hyde Amendment."

But you have actually voted in the past to support large spending bills that include the Hyde Amendment.

Is it misleading, Senator, to say that you have never voted for it?

SANDERS: Well, look, sometimes, you -- in a large bill, you have to

vote for things you don't like. But I think my record as being literally 100 percent pro-choice is absolutely correct.

Look, if you believe, as I do, that a woman's right to control her own body is a constitutional right, then that must apply to all women, including low-income women. That is what I have always believed, and that is what I believe right now.

BASH: OK, so...


SANDERS: I am very concerned -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.

BASH: No, please.

SANDERS: All right.

And I am very concerned about the outrageous attacks that we are seeing in Alabama, Georgia or Missouri, all over this country, which clearly are trying to overturn -- lead us to overturn Roe vs. Wade.


And let me say to you, Dana, what I have said many, many times, and that I don't have a whole lot of litmus tests regarding Supreme Court nominees, but I do have one on this issue, and that I will never, never nominate somebody to the Supreme Court who is not 100 percent defending Roe vs. Wade.

BASH: So, talking about the Hyde Amendment, that is not the only issue that you and Joe Biden have had a disagreement about.

You disagreed about the war in Iraq. You disagreed about NAFTA. You disagreed about the bank bailout in 2008. He supported it. You opposed it.

If you're right on all these issues, and Joe Biden is wrong, why is he in the lead?

SANDERS: Well, Dana that's the poll of today.

BASH: Well, it's not just one poll.

SANDERS: I think that...

BASH: I'm not even talking about Iowa, just even national polls, all of them.

SANDERS: Well, Dana, last I heard -- the last I heard, the election was eight months from today, when the first ballots are going to be cast in Iowa.

And in terms of the war in Iraq, let the American people decide. I not only voted against that. Well, I did everything that I could to make certain that the United States does not invade Iraq. I did not believe what Dick Cheney had to say, what John Bolton had to say, what the Bush administration had to say. I thought that they were lying.

And, in fact, if you look at my record, go to hear my speeches on the floor of the House...


SANDERS: And it gives me no pleasure to...

BASH: So, what does it say about Joe Biden's judgment that he didn't?

SANDERS: Well, I will let the voters decide that.

All I can tell you is that not only did I help lead the effort against the war in Iraq, I'm very proud of the fact that I helped lead the effort in the Senate, successfully, to get a successful vote to end the U.S.' participation in the horrible war in Yemen, which is leading to the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.

And I will do everything I can to make sure that Trump, or John Bolton, or the Trump administration does not get us into a war in Iran, which, in my view...

BASH: So...

SANDERS: ... would be even worse than the war in Iraq.

BASH: OK, so you mentioned Iran. You are talking a lot about this on the campaign trail.

You say the Trump administration is laying the groundwork for war with Iran. And you repeatedly tout your opposition, as you did today, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, in real terms, right now, the U.S. has thousands of troops in the Middle East. If you are elected president, how soon would those troops come home?

SANDERS: As soon as possible.

Look, you have a situation where I do not want to see perpetual warfare in that region. We have been in Afghanistan. It's the longest war in the history of this country. The war in Iraq was a disaster. And if you think the war in Iraq was a disaster, the war in Iran will be even worse.

The function of the president of the United States now is not simply to side with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a totalitarian, despotic, murderous regime. They are not our friends. They do not share any of our values.

Iran also has played a very bad role in that region, supporting terrorist organizations. The role of the United States is not simply to support Saudi Arabia. The role of the United States is to bring Saudi Arabia and Iran together and help work out some kind of diplomatic agreement.

But I do not want to see perpetual warfare in that region, where our kids and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren will still be at war, and we will spend trillions of dollars that should be spent here at home.

BASH: So, let's bring it home, Medicare for all.

Several of your 2020 opponents, like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, are co-sponsoring your Medicare for all bill. But they also say they do not want to eliminate private health insurance.

Are these candidates who still see a role for private insurance true supporters of your Medicare for all plan?

SANDERS: Well, once again, Dana, I will let the voters decide that.

All I can tell you...

BASH: Well, what do you think -- is that -- I mean, you're the -- you're the creator of this plan.

SANDERS: Well, Dana, I'm not here to -- Dana -- Dana, I'm not here to attack Cory Booker, who is a friend of mine. Kamala Harris is a friend of mine.

BASH: No, I know, but I'm saying, you're creator of this plan. Is your vision to have private insurance or not?


SANDERS: Well, let me just -- let me just tell you what it is.

It is to do what every other major country on Earth does. And that is to guarantee health care to every man, woman and child in this country.

Right now, we spend twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other nation. We should talk about that. Spend twice as much. We pay by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. Millions of people cannot afford the drugs that they desperately need, because we're getting ripped off by the greed of the pharmaceutical industry.

And, meanwhile, you got 34 million uninsured and even more underinsured. This is a system that is failing. The function of the current system is to make billions in profits for the drug companies.

BASH: Is there a role for private insurance in your Medicare for all?

SANDERS: There is a limited -- no, the function of a -- this system is to make money for the insurance companies. What I believe, we need a cost-effective health care system guaranteeing health care to all people.

[09:15:01] The function of the private insurance company would be to cover those procedures, often cosmetic procedures, that will not be covered by the comprehensive single-payer Medicare for all system that I am fighting for.

And, by the way, when we talk about Medicare for all, we improve Medicare for seniors by covering hearing aides, by covering eyeglasses, and by covering dental care, which Medicare does not cover.

And when we do all of that, because we get rid of the profiteering of the insurance companies and the drug companies and the huge bureaucratic waste in the system, we save people money on their health care costs.

BASH: OK, Senator, stay right there. We have a lot more to discuss.

We're going to take a quick break. Don't go away.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.

And we are back with more of our exclusive interview with 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders.

Senator, you have announced a big speech coming up this coming week about Democratic socialism. I remember you gave a similar speech back in 2015.

Do you think, though, now the country is more ready for a Democratic socialist president like you than it was four years ago?

SANDERS: Well, I -- I think the answer is yes, but I think it's important for the American people to understand what my definition is of Democratic socialism. And it's certainly not how Donald Trump defines it.


I have spent my whole life fighting for democracy, fighting against authoritarianism, whether it was in the Soviet Union, Venezuela or anyplace else.

But what I believe, when we talk about Democratic socialism, is, number one, we have to deal with the massive levels of income and wealth inequality in this country, where you have -- and, by the way, Dana, this is not something that we see on TV too often, but we do have to deal with it as a nation.

Is it acceptable that three families in America now own more wealth than the bottom half of the American people? Is it acceptable that the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 92 percent, or that 49 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent?

If we are a real democracy, is it a problem, is it appropriate that you have a handful of billionaires who can spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elect U.S. senators, members of the Congress, governors, even presidents?

BASH: So, I want to talk about...

SANDERS: So, what we have to do, what I -- I'm sorry.

What I mean by Democratic socialism is creating a government that works for everybody, not controlled, either legislatively or politically, by a handful of very wealthy people. That's number one.

Number two, it means that, in America, we have certain economic rights that are human rights, human rights. Health care, to my mind, is not a privilege. It is a human right. That's what Democratic socialism means to me.

It means that, if you work 40 hours a week in this country, you should not be living in poverty. It means we should not have a half-a- million people tonight sleeping out on the street. It means that we do not have more people in jail than any other country on Earth.

So, when I talk about Democratic socialism, it means a vibrant democracy and an economy that works for all, not just the people on top.

BASH: So, one of the issues that I would assume you consider part of that of that -- that philosophy is your plan for tuition-free public college.

Your 2020 opponent Elizabeth Warren unveiled her own college plan that she says goes further than yours, because it also cancels up to $50,000 in student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans.

So, is she right? Or would you also forgive any existing student loan debt?

SANDERS: Oh, no, of course, our plan forgives massive amounts of student debt. Elizabeth's plan is a good idea. And so is ours.

But here's the story. Every place I go -- I'm here in Iowa right now -- and you ask people about student debt, they're paying $50,000. If you go to graduate school, medical school, could be $300,000, $400,000. That is insane.

We need to have the best-educated work force in the world. We used to 20 or 30 years ago. We no longer do. So, to my mind, when you ask me about...

BASH: Senator, I just want to be specific. I want to be specific, because Senator Warren is specific. She says that it cancels up to $50,000 in student debt.

How much would yours...

SANDERS: Our plan will cancel -- our plan will cancel a substantial amount of student debt and in some ways probably go further than Senator Warren's.

BASH: More than $50,000?

SANDERS: But we have got to -- I don't have the plan in my pocket right now.

But what we have got to do is make sure that every person in this country, regardless of their income, can get a higher education. And I am very proud, by the way, that not only Senator Warren, but others, have moved in that direction.

And, by the way, you're seeing cities and states move in that direction. Four years ago, when I talked about that idea, it was considered to be pretty radical. But I'm delighted to see that, all over this country, there is the understanding that education, higher education, is a right for all workers, for all Americans.

And, by the way, when we talk about higher education, not just college. There are a lot of young people who are not academically inclined who need to get the trade skills they need to be carpenters and sheet metal workers and plumbers.

BASH: Senator, I want to ask you about...

SANDERS: And that -- our legislation does that as well.


SANDERS: Yes, I'm sorry.

BASH: I want to ask you about something that happened in Maine recently, and that is, the state legislature passed a bill effectively legalizing assisted suicide for patients with terminally ill diseases.

Now, if the governor signs it, Maine would be the eighth state to enact that legislation, including your home state, as you know, of Vermont.

Would you support federal legislation to legalize assisted suicide?

SANDERS: Look, that's a very difficult issue.

And I think that is an issue right now that I am comfortable seeing in the hands of the state. It's a controversial issue. And the fear is, obviously, that it could be taken too far. But I think, probably, it is best dealt with at this point at the state level...


SANDERS: ... which is where it is right now.

BASH: OK, Senator, you were in Arkansas this week at a Walmart leadership meeting, where you called on the company to raise its entry-level pay from $11 an hour to $15 an hour.

But they're already paying almost $4 above the federal minimum wage. And Congress, which you're a part of, is not doing anything to raise that. So, why should Walmart raise its wages on its own, when it's already paying more than is required by law?


SANDERS: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.


SANDERS: When you say Congress is not doing anything, let's be clear.

BASH: I'm not saying -- I'm not saying you're not supporting it.

SANDERS: It is the Republicans...

BASH: But go ahead.

SANDERS: Well, actually, it is my legislation...

BASH: I understand.

SANDERS: ... that is the dominant legislation in the Senate.

So, let's be clear. It's not Congress. It is Republican leadership. So, I have asked Mitch McConnell, who apparently supports the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

Now, let me be clear. I think a $7.25 minimum wage right now is a starvation wage. It is a disgrace. Minimum wage has not been raised in 12 years. So, I am pushing very hard to make sure that we have a $15 minimum wage, so that, if you work 40 hours in this country, you can live with a shred of dignity. That's not a lot of money.

Now, I went to Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas, to make this point, that the family that owns Walmart is the Walton family. As you may know, Dana, the Walton family is the wealthiest family in America. They are worth $175 billion, $175 billion.

They should be able to pay their workers a living wage, at least $11 an hour. And now you have the absurd situation that, because they have a starting minimum wage in Walmart of $11 an hour, you got many thousands of Walmart employees who are forced to go on Medicaid, food stamps and public housing.

And guess who pays for that? It is the taxpayers of America. And I don't think the ordinary taxpayer should have to subsidize the wealthiest family in this country.

BASH: Senator...

SANDERS: But it's not just Walmart. I will be marching -- I will be marching with McDonald's workers today. They need an increase in their minimum wage.

BASH: All right, Senator.

SANDERS: So the fight continues, because -- yes, sorry.

BASH: We're -- we're going to look for that. We're out of time.

No problem.

We will look for you doing that with McDonald's workers.

Thank you so much for all of your time today. Appreciate it, Senator.

SANDERS: Thank you very much, Dana.