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CNN Live Event/Special
CNN Townhall With Sen. Bernie Sanders, 2020 Presidential Campaign Candidate. Aired: 8-9p ET
Aired February 25, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Good evening from Washington, and welcome to a CNN Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. I'm Wolf Blitzer.
Senator Sanders is back for a second run at the presidency. This time, he's promising to complete the political revolution he started back in 2016 and defeat President Trump. Our questioners in the audience are eager to begin. They're Democrats and independents living here in the Washington, D.C., area.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Senator Bernie Sanders.
AUDIENCE: Bernie! Bernie! Bernie! Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!
BLITZER: So, Senator, this is your second time running. You know the rules. You've done this before. Are you ready?
SANDERS: I am ready. Are you ready? All right, let's do it.
BLITZER: Let's get started. We have a questioner, Sheila Ruth of Maryland. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. This is an unusual election, and unfortunately we can't focus only on the issues. We must get President Trump out of the White House before he does any more damage. If you are the Democratic nominee, how will you defeat him? And if you are not the nominee, what will you do to help the nominee defeat him?
SANDERS: Well, let me just say two things. Number one, I hope and believe that every Democratic candidate will come together after the nominee is selected and make certain that Donald Trump is not re- elected president of the United States. And I pledge certainly to do that. I hope I'm the nominee. But if I am not, I will work with that nominee.
Trump has got to be defeated. And I'll tell you why. It's not only that we have a president who wanted to throw 32 million people off of the health care they had, after promising that he would provide health care to everybody.
It's not just a president who said he'd have a tax plan to benefit the middle class, but 83 percent of the benefits go to the 1 percent. I'll tell you, it's not just a president who said to the working class of this country, "I am on your side, I'm not going to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid," and then he came forward with a budget, trillion dollar cut to Medicaid, $500 billion to Medicare, and $72 billion to the Social Security Disability Fund.
But there's something even deeper. This president is the first president in the modern history of our country who is trying to divide our people up based on the color of their skin, the country they were born in, their sexual orientation, their gender, their religion. And that is an outrage.
Our job is to bring our people together, not to divide them up. That's why Mr. Trump must be defeated.
BLITZER: We have a next question. Tara Ebersole, a former biology professor from Baltimore County, Maryland. Tara, go ahead.
QUESTION: Good evening. There's a lot of misinformation regarding your plan for universal health care. Would you please provide a brief overview of your plan and how it differs from that of other candidates?
QUESTION: Thank you.
SANDERS: The United States, shamefully, is the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people. We've got 30 million people today without any health insurance. Many of you are under-insured with high deductibles and high copayments, and we pay the highest prices in the world by far for prescription drugs. So issue number one: I believe that health care is a human right, not a privilege, and we have got to guarantee health care to all of our people as a right.
Number two, if we're going to do that in a cost-effective way, if we're going to make sure that we are not spending huge amounts of money -- and in fact, lower the amount of money we're spending -- we're now spending almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other country. That is unsustainable. The estimate is that in the next 10 years we're going to spend $50 trillion on health care.
The only way to provide health care to all people in a cost-effective way is a Medicare-for-all single-payer program. All right, that's what I believe, and that's what I will fight for.
Now, good news is, before I ran for president, in 2016, that was considered to be a wild and crazy idea. Today, a significant majority of the people support that concept.
Now, the drug companies don't. The insurance companies don't, because they make billions of dollars every single year off of our wasteful and dysfunctional health care system. So I'm going to fight as hard as I can. There's going to be a bill introduced in the House, I believe this week, over a hundred cosponsors. We're going to reintroduce the bill in the Senate, I believe 16 cosponsors. We are making real progress.
BLITZER: Senator, let's talk a little bit about Medicare-for-all, because about half of Americans, as you know, they're insured by their employer plans. According to a recent Gallup poll, 70 percent of these people with private health insurance, their plans, they like their plans. They think their plans are good.
Will these people be able to keep their health insurance plans, their private plans...
BLITZER: ... through their employers, if there is a Medicare-for-all program that you endorse?
SANDERS: What they will -- what will change in their plans is the color of their card. So instead of having a Blue Cross Blue Shield card, instead of having a UnitedHealth Insurance card, they're going to have a Medicare card. That Medicare card will allow them, Wolf, to go to any doctor that they want. If they're going to the doctor, they're happy. Any hospital they want.
But you know what else? They're not going to be paying any private insurance premiums. If they are seniors, we are going to expand Medicare benefits to cover dental care, which is not covered for seniors, hearing aids and eyeglasses. There will be comprehensive health care. People can go to any doctor, dentist, or hospital they want.
BLITZER: So if they like their health insurance plan, they won't be able to keep their health insurance plan?
SANDERS: Wolf, nobody -- this business of liking your health insurance plan, which, by the way, employers change every single year -- people like their doctors. They like the hospitals. They like the care they're getting. Our bill, in fact, right now, if you are in a particular program, you may not be able to go to the doctor that you want. Our program will allow you freedom of choice.
BLITZER: If they wanted additional private health insurance beyond Medicare-for-all, would they be allowed to purchase that kind of health insurance?
SANDERS: If they want -- our bill covers all health care needs. All. If people want cosmetic surgery, for example, yes, of course, they can get private insurance. But our bill covers all comprehensive health care needs.
BLITZER: We have another question from Julius Washington. He's a freshman at Howard University here in Washington, but he's originally from your hometown of Brooklyn, New York.
QUESTION: Many of your policies have been met with speculation about how they're going to be paid for. What would you propose as solutions to pay for your ambitious policy ideals?
SANDERS: Great. Great question, thanks.
In the United States right now, we have more income and wealth inequality than any other country on Earth. We have three people who own more wealth than the bottom half of America. We have the 1 percent owning more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. We have 46 percent of all new income going to the top 1 percent. OK?
So what we have in America today is a whole lot of wealth, but that wealth and income increasingly goes to the very, very wealthiest people in this country.
So what I believe that any democratic, civilized society, health care, yeah, is a right, making sure that our kids can get a higher education is a right, that we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure is a basic need. That's going to cost money.
But at a time when the people on top have so much, while the middle class shrinks and we have so many people living in poverty, if your question is am I going to demand that the wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes? Damn right, I will. All right?
And let me give you -- you know, people say where are you going to get the money? Where are you going to get the money? Amazon, owned by the wealthiest guy in the world, made $5 billion last year in profits. Anyone here know how much they paid in taxes?
SANDERS: That's right. That's where we're going to begin getting the money.
BLITZER: But tax experts caution...
... and you know this, Senator -- tax experts caution that the rich will likely look for various ways to avoid paying these taxes. How will you ensure that the wealthy actually go ahead and pay these taxes?
SANDERS: Well, that's what they do right now. Look, we got a -- we have an economy today that works very well for the 1 percent. And what these guys do -- and we have to deal with this. They stash billions and billions of dollars in profits in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens. And we have veterans sleeping out on the streets, public schools that are falling apart. We've got 20 percent of senior citizens of this country trying to live on $13,500 or less.
So we have -- when I talk about a political revolution, I know this may sound radical to some people, but we are going to create an economy and a government that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent.
So to answer your question, we are going to do away with those outrageous loopholes that allow large corporations, owned by some of the wealthiest people in this country, to pay nothing in taxes. We're going to end their ability to put their money in the Cayman Islands under the tax havens.
BLITZER: We have a question from Shadi Nasab, a student at American University. Shadi is from Denver.
QUESTION: As we saw in the 2018 midterms, the Democratic Party has become more female, more racially diverse, and younger in age. How can a voter like me feel confident in your ability to represent the party, especially given that your response to sexual harassment allegations during your campaign is that you were, quote, "a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case to be elected as president"?
SANDERS: Well, I think that quote was a little bit out of context. But let me ask you a question. I am enormously proud of the fact that we have the most diverse, progressive freshman class in the history of the United States Congress. And you know what I did in 2016 and in 2018? I ran all over this country to try to make that happen. All right?
So when you talk about the political revolution, you're talking about two things. Number one are the ideas that we are fighting for -- an economy that works for all, not just the 1 percent -- but the second point that I have made over and over again is we're not going to be able to implement a progressive agenda unless millions more people get involved in the political process.
So I am delighted. I am -- we started an organization called Our Revolution. I think Nina Turner is here. You know what the purpose of Our Revolution was about? Is to precisely bring young people into the political process. And I think we're making some real progress. That's my answer.
BLITZER: But what are you -- what are you going to do, Senator, to make sure the allegations that occurred against your campaign a couple of years ago are not repeated? What are you personally going to do to make sure that doesn't happen again?
SANDERS: Well, let me tell you what -- let me tell you what we have done and what we are doing. I was very upset to learn what I learned. When I ran for re-election in Vermont in 2018, we instituted I think maybe the strongest protocols against sexual harassment, and that will be the protocols we bring in to the 2020 presidential election.
Every employee of mine in this campaign will get significant amounts of training to understand what sexual harassment is about. Anybody who feels harassed will have an independent entity to speak to outside of the campaign. And we have hired some of the best people in the country to help us on this issue. We take this issue very, very seriously.
BLITZER: How has it affected you personally, knowing what happened?
SANDERS: It was very painful. Very painful. And it will not happen again.
BLITZER: All right. We've got another question, Jacqueline Smith is with us. She's the circuit court clerk from Prince William County in Virginia.
QUESTION: Hello, Senator. My question for you is, why have you decided to pursue the Democratic nomination for president, despite the fact that you have consistently run as an independent or other party for the last 50 years? And do you believe you can get a fair shake in the Democratic nomination process in light of your electoral history?
SANDERS: OK. Let's set the record straight. I am a member of the Democratic leadership in the United States Senate. I've been a member of the Democratic caucus in the Senate for the last 13 years and in the House for 16 years before that. Won the Democratic nomination in my state, but in Vermont, I have chosen to run as an independent because it goes way, way back.
To answer your question, in 2016, I think I will not shock anybody to suggest that the DNC was not quite even-handed. I think we have come a long way since then, and I fully expect to be treated quite as well as anybody else.
Let me -- third point that I want to make, as an independent, you know, the truth is that more and more people are disenchanted with both the Republican and Democratic Party, and especially young people. They are registering as independents or not affiliated folks. And I think as somebody who was an independent, we can bring them into the Democratic Party to help create a party which will stand with the working families of this country and have the courage to take on the very powerful special interests who wield so much economic and political power in America.
BLITZER: Let's take a seat for a second, because I have a question about transparency, Senator. Will you release 10 years of your tax returns? As you know, Elizabeth Warren has decided to do that.
BLITZER: What was the delay? Why haven't you done that so far?
SANDERS: Well, you know, the delay is not -- it'll bore -- our tax returns will bore you to death. It's simply -- nothing special about them. It just was a mechanical issue. We don't have accountants at home. My wife does most of it. And we will get that stuff out.
BLITZER: So when do you think we'll be able to see your tax returns?
SANDERS: Sooner than later.
BLITZER: What does that mean? SANDERS: Soon.
BLITZER: Are they ready to be released or...
SANDERS: I think they're -- we have to just do a few more little things, but -- check them out. But they're ready.
BLITZER: And why didn't you do it the last time around? You were under a lot of pressure to do so.
SANDERS: I wasn't under a lot of pressure. I didn't end up doing it because I didn't win the nomination. If we had won the nomination, we would have done it.
BLITZER: All right, Senator, but...
SANDERS: But, again, I don't want to shock you, Wolf. They're very boring tax returns.
BLITZER: And we'll look for to seeing them.
BLITZER: All right, Senator. Thank you very much. We have a lot more. We're going to be right back with more from our Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Bernie Sanders.
BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN presidential town hall with Senator Bernie Sanders. Senator, we have a question from Yungjung Seo, a student from Massachusetts who's studying political science and finance.
QUESTION: Hi, I'm a student at the George Washington University which touts an impressive $73,000 sticker cost. The current trends in America show the cost of college continuing to skyrocket as the workforce is becoming more and more reliant on seeking employees with a higher education background. As president, how will you work to alleviate this issue?
SANDERS: Well, thank you very much for raising an issue of enormous consequence. Look, we live in a competitive global economy, and if this economy in the United States is going to work, we need to have the best educated workforce in the world. Thirty or forty years ago, we actually did. We no longer do have the best educated workforce.
And you indicated the reason why. Right now, you got hundreds of thousands of bright young people who cannot afford to go to college. We have young people like you who do go to college and they leave school $50,000, $100,000 in debt.
I will never forget, in Burlington, Vermont, talking to a young physician, and she said, Bernie, I graduated medical school $300,000 in debt. Saw a dentist in Iowa, $400,000 in debt. Frankly, that is crazy. We want you to get the best education you can without having to pay off outrageous levels of debt for decades.
So what is the answer? The answer, in fact, is to understand that a higher education today is the equivalent of what a high school education was 40 or 50 years ago. And that means we make public colleges and universities tuition-free and we substantially lower the outrageous levels of student debt.
Right now, you have young people carrying debt with interest rates of 6 percent, 7 percent, 8 percent, and that is nuts. And then people are going -- Wolf is going to ask me in three minutes, how are we going to pay for that?
BLITZER: Go ahead. All right.
SANDERS: All right. And we are going to pay for that by attacks on Wall Street speculation. That's how we do it. And that covers that.
Now, I found it interesting that last year many of my conservative friends didn't bother to ask Donald Trump how he would pay for a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the 1 percent and private corporations. And if we can give a trillion dollars in tax breaks to people who don't need it, we can make public colleges and universities tuition-free all over this country. And that is a very high priority for me.
BLITZER: Should private -- should private universities be held responsible for the very high tuition that's going on right now?
SANDERS: I think they need to do a lot of examination, and some of them are. And...
BLITZER: What do you think they should do?
SANDERS: I think maybe they don't want to build huge football stadiums. And I think maybe they don't want to necessarily pay their football coaches far more than they pay anybody else on their faculty.
But I think, as a nation, we are going to have to take a hard look at higher education -- and not just higher education, by the way. Talk about education, talk about a dysfunctional childcare system, where working families all over this country cannot find quality, affordable childcare. So we got -- we got to get our priorities right, not for tax breaks for billionaires, but for education for all of our kids.
BLITZER: We got a question from Nikita Kachroo, a nonprofit worker here in Washington.
QUESTION: Senator Sanders, can you make a simple, persuasive case as to why socialism is preferable to capitalism?
SANDERS: Democratic socialism. Right?
SANDERS: OK. Let's -- let me tell you what I mean by that, so we're clear. Right now, we have a nation which prides itself on a lot of political rights. In other words, under the Constitution, thank God you have freedom of speech, media can do its thing, even though Trump calls you an enemy of the people. How does that feel to be an enemy? That's another story. All right.
I won't question Wolf.
BLITZER: You don't think we are, though?
SANDERS: No, I don't.
SANDERS: I certainly do not. So we have political, freedom of religion, and all of that is enormously important. But you know what we don't have? We don't have guarantees regarding economic rights.
And way back in 1944, in a little-known, a little-publicized State of the Union speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said something -- and I'm paraphrasing him -- but he said, you know, when we talk about human freedom and rights, we've got to understand that everybody needs a decent-paying job, that people need health care, that people need education.
And all over the world, these ideas are taking place. You go to countries in Scandinavia, of course, health care right is a right. Higher education is free. They have strong preschool programs. They make sure that their elderly folks can retire in dignity. These are not radical ideas.
So what democratic socialism means to me is having, in a civilized society, the understanding that we can make sure that all of our people live in security and in dignity.
Health care is a human right. All people should have health care. You can't get ahead in this country, in this world, unless you have a decent education. We have got to, as a right, end the kinds of discrimination, the racism, and the sexism, and homophobia that exists. So to me, when I talk about democratic socialism, what I talk about are human rights and economic rights.
BLITZER: Senator, President Trump said in his State of the Union address -- and I'm quoting him now -- America...
... this is the president -- America will never be a socialist country. Will that hold true, if you're elected president?
SANDERS: If I am elected president, we will have a nation in which all people have health care as a right, whether Trump likes it or not. We are going to make public colleges and universities tuition-free.
We are going to raise the minimum wage to a living wage of at least $15 bucks an hour. And whether Trump likes it or not, when I talk about human rights, you know what that also means? It means that our kids and grandchildren have the human right to grow up in a planet that is healthy and habitable.
And it is -- it is really a disgrace and an embarrassment that we have a president who rejects science, who does not even understand that climate change is real and caused by human activity, who does not understand what this planet will look like in years to come if we do not go forward boldly and transform our energy system away from fossil fuels.
BLITZER: Let's continue with climate change right now. Michelle Gregory has a question. She's from the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
QUESTION: Hello. My home, the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland, part of the Delmarva Peninsula, is estimated to be one of the first places in the country to experience the effects of climate change. In fact, with more and more frequent flooding, it already is. What is your plan to help these rural communities in the poorest part of our state to fight climate change?
SANDERS: What you're asking is maybe -- you know, a couple of years ago -- I don't know if you were moderating it, Wolf -- I don't remember if it was you or CBS, I can't remember -- and somebody asked me, they said, what is the major national security issue facing this country? And you know what I said? I said climate change. And people laughed. It wasn't that funny.
Well, people are not laughing now, because they have read the scientific reports and they know that if we don't get our act together in the next 12 years or so, there's going to be irreparable damage.
So let me lay it out on the line. We are going to have to not only take on Trump and his deniers, but we are going to have to take on the power of the fossil fuel industry -- that is the coal companies and the oil companies and the gas companies -- and we are going to have to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.
Now, the good news is, is that we know how to do that. The technology is there. And that technology will only improve. And here's the other good news when we make that transformation. We're going to create millions of good-paying jobs weatherizing our homes, changing our transportation system, moving aggressively into wind and solar and other sustainable energies.
But this to me is an existential crisis that impacts not just you and me and our generation, but our kids and our grandchildren, and we must accept the moral responsibility of leaving these kids, future generations, a planet that is healthy and habitable. And I will do everything I can to have the United States lead the rest of the world -- we can't do it alone, but we can bring India and China and Russia, countries all over the world, together in the fight to transform our energy system and save this planet.
BLITZER: We have a question from Abena McAllister. She's active in Maryland Democratic Party activities and a mother of two.
QUESTION: Most countries with developed economies offer public preschool as a standard benefit to all of their 3- and 4-year-olds. America does not, as we know. Instead, low-income parents here scramble for scarce public spots, while middle-income families scrounge to pay for increasingly costly private preschool. Very few can afford the cost of quality care. If you become president, will you support efforts to offer high-quality, optional publicly funded preschool for all Americans?
SANDERS: Want a one-word answer? Absolutely.
SANDERS: All right? And I'll tell you why. Thanks for asking that question.
This is an issue that does not get enough attention. Every psychologist in the world, what do they tell us? They tell us that the most important years of human development are zero through four, for intellectual and emotional development.
And yet we have a system which is basically dysfunctional, as you describe. You have workers who are underpaid, and yet you have parents, working-class people, who cannot afford the care that they need. And many kids are not getting the kinds of nourishment, intellectual and emotional, that they need.
And you know what all of the studies tell us, is that when you invest in pre-K education, and you make sure that kids are prepared for school, they are much less likely to drop out, they're much less likely to do bad things and end up in jail. Every dollar you invest in preschool education will be paid back many, many times.
So we've got a lot of work to do in education, from higher education to preschool, to improving our public schools, as well. And when people tell me we cannot afford to do that, I say we cannot not afford to do that. This is the future of the country.
BLITZER: We have a question from Osaro Grayson. He's from Baltimore, Maryland. He's a Howard University student.
QUESTION: Thank you, Senator. In a political climate where we see the current president and his followers using terms such as "fake news" or "alternative facts," how do you plan to have a productive discussion with somebody who is unwilling to accept facts?
SANDERS: This is what I think we have to -- and again, as I mentioned a moment ago, when Trump talks, you know, basically he says that Wolf Blitzer and other people in the media produce fake news, they're liars, they are enemies of the people, understand what that means. This is an attack on the very fundamentals of American democracy, because Trump does not want to be criticized. What he wants to do is disparage the media so that people do not believe what the media says.
Now, my approach -- and I should tell you that in the last several years, as I go around the country -- and I will do it in this campaign -- I go not only into communities which are progressive or Democratic -- we head out to Trump country. We head out to Trump country. And we are going to talk to those people, and we are going to expose Trump as the liar and fraud that he is. All right.
Trump told working people that he was going to be on their side. He is not on their side, and his record proves that quite clearly. He is on the side of the billionaire class. And we're going to make that very clear. And I think by the end of this campaign, I suspect that a number of people who voted for Donald Trump will understand that he is not their friend and that the agenda that we have, which is prepared to take on the billionaire class, is the agenda that they will support.
BLITZER: If you're the Democratic presidential nominee and you're on the debate stage with President Trump, how will you engage with him?
SANDERS: Well, we'll bring a lie detector along.
And every time he lies, it goes beep. That would be the first thing.
I mean, it is -- look, I have conservative friends. I don't mean to be overly facetious here. You know, I have conservative friends. We all do. And they're honest people. They believe what they believe; I believe what I believe. And that's called democracy, and that's a good thing.
But I think the fraud that Trump is, the pathological liar that he is has to be exposed. So we are going to hold him accountable for what he said and for what he did. He said he was going to provide health care to everybody, and then he proposes to throw 32 million people off the health care that they have. He said -- you all remember -- he said, I'm a different type of Republican, I'm not going to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. And he brings forward a budget that does just that.
So I think holding him accountable would be a good start in that debate.
BLITZER: Senator, we have a lot more to discuss, and the voters have a lot more questions. We'll be right back with Senator Bernie Sanders.
BLITZER: We're back with Senator Bernie Sanders. Senator, we have a question from Troy Donte Prestwood. He's a community leader here in Washington.
SANDERS: Hey, Troy.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Senator, for being here. The intelligence community all agree that Russia tampered with the 2016 election and used information warfare to sow further division and mistrust among Americans. It's likely that they will interfere with the 2020 election, as well. So as a candidate, how will you ensure your campaign will not be infiltrated by Russia? And, secondly, as president, how will you eliminate this threat once and for all to restore confidence to our electoral process?
SANDERS: Thank you very much for that question. Unlike Donald Trump, I have no doubt that what you said is true. And clearly, we have got to make it clear to Russia that they cannot sabotage elections -- not only in the United States, by the way, but in countries around the world. Specifically we are -- and I know other campaigns are doing it, as well -- hiring, spending a lot of money trying to protect our computers, et cetera.
But ultimately, the word has got to go out to Putin and others around the world that cyber warfare, the attempt to destroy American democracy, is a very, very serious offense which will not be taken lightly.
BLITZER: We have another question. I want to bring in Schanelle Saldanha, student at American University here in Washington. She's from Pittsburgh.
QUESTION: Good evening. In light of the recent events in Venezuela, you came out against U.S. intervention, a contentious stance, as many in Venezuela are currently suffering at the hands of Maduro through starvation and violence. And it is clear that he will not let humanitarian aid in. Under these circumstances and moving forward, do you have a clear position on U.S. intervention overseas, both economically and militarily, for nations that are under the regimes of these oppressive dictators?
SANDERS: Thank you. Good question. There are a lot of awful things happening in the world, and what's going on in Venezuela is terrible. Their economy is a disaster. People are living in hunger and in fear.
I strongly believe there has to be an international humanitarian effort to improve lives for the people. I think the evidence is pretty clear that the last election in Venezuela was not a free and fair election. And under international supervision, I want to see a free and fair election.
But to answer your question, let me say this. I'm old enough to remember the war in Vietnam. And I was active as I could trying to keep the United States from going to war in Iraq. I was in the Congress at that point. And I am very fearful of the United States continuing to do what it has done in the past.
As you know, or may know, the United States overthrew a democratically elected government in Chile and in Brazil and in Guatemala and in other countries around the world. So as someone who fervently believes in human rights and democracy, we have got to do everything that we can. But I think sometimes you have unintended consequences when a powerful nation goes in and tells people who their government will be.
So my view is that, whether it is Saudi Arabia, which is a despotic regime, or whether it is Venezuela, I think we have got to do everything that we can to create a democratic climate. But I do not believe in U.S. military intervention in those countries.
BLITZER: Why have you -- Senator, why have you stopped short of calling Maduro of Venezuela a dictator?
SANDERS: Well, he -- I think it's -- it's fair to say that the last election was undemocratic, but there are still democratic operations taking place in that country.
The point is, what I am calling for right now is internationally supervised, free elections. And I do find it interesting that Trump is very concerned about what goes on in Venezuela, but what about the last election that took place in Saudi Arabia? Oh, there wasn't any election in Saudi Arabia? Oh, women are treated as third-class citizens? So I find it interesting that Trump is kind of selective as to where he is concerned about democracy.
My record is to be concerned about democracy all over the world. So we've got to do everything we can. But at the end of the day, it's going to be the people of Venezuela who determine the future of their country, not the United States of America.
BLITZER: As you know, President Trump this week is meeting in Hanoi with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea. If you were president, would you meet with Kim Jong-un?
SANDERS: See, now, after all of the nasty things I said about Trump, let me say a good thing here, all right? Is I think -- look, nuclear weapons in the hands of a brutal, irresponsible dictator is a bad idea, and if Trump can succeed, in fact, through face-to-face meetings with Kim Jong-un and rid that country of nuclear weapons, that is a very good thing.
So I think that the idea of going and meeting face-to-face with your adversaries is a good idea. I would like the president of the United States to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia together, to bring the Palestinians and the Israelis together, all right?
So I wish the president the best of luck. This is a very important issue. And if we can get nuclear weapons out of the hands of Kim Jong-un, that would be a very good thing.
BLITZER: We have a question from Regina Brennan. She's a student at Catholic University. She's from Philadelphia, supporter of yours. She has a question about the president's border wall with Mexico.
QUESTION: Good evening, Senator. My question for you is, if Donald Trump does get his wall, do you believe that it's worthwhile to adopt a plan onto your platform for deconstruction? Or with so much happening, not in just terms of undocumented migration, but of immigration in general, to adopt such a plan will deflect from more pressing issues?
SANDERS: Yeah, in my political judgment, Donald Trump is not going to get the wall.
And I think -- I think it really is outrageous -- and by the way, there are a number of Republicans who feel the same way -- that it really speaks to his authoritarian goals to somehow decide this is a national emergency that he's calling in order to build the wall. All right.
The real national emergency that we have is that we do not have comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship. The emergency that we have is we have 1.8 million young people who are eligible for the DACA program who are scared to death any day that they could be deported, even though they were -- spent their whole lives in this country.
So the goal with immigration, in my view, is to finally deal with comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship and a humane policy at the border for those who seek asylum. America should not be the country which grabs little children at the border out of the arms of their mothers. That is not that what this country needs to be.
BLITZER: Senator, we're going to take another quick break. Much more with Senator Bernie Sanders right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our presidential town hall with Senator Bernie Sanders.
Senator, I want to bring in Devon Bradley. He's a student at the George Washington University here in Washington. He's from Florida. Devon, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Senator, my question to you is this. How do you plan to ensure the cost of medications like insulin won't continue to rise and that people over profit will hopefully become the norm in this country?
SANDERS: Oh, you're asking me a question that I have worked on for a long, long time.
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
SANDERS: Don't get me going. All right. We have a limited amount of time here, but let me just say this: The pharmaceutical industry is the most greedy entity in this country today.
Today in America, if you can believe it, one out of five people cannot afford the medicine that they need. You talk about insulin? We have had on our social media, my Senate social media, parents talking about how their children died because they couldn't afford insulin.
The pharmaceutical industry last year made $50 billion in profit, $50 billion. They pay their CEOs outrageous levels of compensation. And one out of five Americans cannot afford the medicine they need. In my state of Vermont, elderly people cut their pills in half.
Now, I have introduced I think the most sweeping set of legislation to deal with this issue. It does three things. Number one, it has Medicare for the first time negotiating prices with the pharmaceutical industry. You know why our prices are so much higher than any other country on Earth? In America, the drug companies can charge you any price they want! They can double, triple, quadruple the price. They get what the market will bear. Every other country on Earth negotiates prices, and we don't, because the pharmaceutical industry has unbelievable money and unbelievable power. All right? So, number one, Medicare negotiates prices.
Number two, many of my Republican friends believe in free trade. Well, if you believe in free trade, why can't pharmacists and distributors purchase lower cost prescription drugs from Canada and other countries? Same exact medicine made in the same factories, bring them into America?
Thirdly, roughly speaking what Canada does, what Canada does is look at prices around the world, come up with an average price, and that's what people pay in Canada. We should do something similar.
But let me say this, and this gets at the heart of what our campaign is about, the drug companies have so much wealth and so much power that they're not going to be easy to defeat. I was involved in a situation in California, where we tried -- people in California tried to lower prices. Do you know how much money the drug companies spent in one state, on one referendum? Anyone want to guess? A hundred and thirty-one million dollars. OK? They have endless amounts of money.
So in my campaign, we announced today -- I'm getting a little off topic here -- that we have signed up a million people to participate in the campaign. And the reason we are going to run an aggressive grassroots campaign is that, at the end of the day, you don't beat the pharmaceutical industry here in Washington, D.C. They own the Congress. That's the fact. They have lobbyists all over the place.
The only way you beat the drug companies is when millions of people stand up and say you're not going to allow me -- I'm not going to allow you to kill my wife or my kids. We're not going to pay outrageous prices.
BLITZER: All right, Senator.
SANDERS: That's a long answer to an important question.
BLITZER: We have a question from Noel Isama. He's a policy analyst here in Washington.
QUESTION: Thank you, Senator Sanders. There's a deep sense of mistrust for you by some within the African-American community. Many feel you undermined Secretary Clinton after her nomination by not showing enough support, and which contributed to President Trump being elected. Along with that, many also feel that you are at times racially insensitive and, by virtue of your background, don't reflect their experience enough. How do you address these concerns? And what's your approach to winning their votes?
SANDERS: Well, first of all, I reject the first premise that you made. I knocked my brains out -- in fact, I just saw a letter today from Hillary Clinton which said thank you, Bernie, for working so hard in my election. All right? We went to state after state. I think we had 35, 40 rallies, and all of the battleground states. So I do not accept for one moment that I did not do everything that I could.
And then people say, well, you know, some of your supporters voted for Trump. True. But some of Hillary's supporters in 2008 voted for McCain. That's the reality. More of those did that than voted for me.
Now, on the second point, OK, we ended up winning among younger people more votes from young African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans than Clinton and Trump combined. All right. Furthermore, if you look at the polling out there, we're doing quite well with the African American community.
But let me just raise an issue here. Maybe I haven't been as strong on this issue as I should be. I talk about the fact that we have a nation of massive inequality, OK, and I believe that. I think that's the most important issue we can talk about.
But within that inequality, we have another inequality, and that is racial disparity, and it's important that everybody understands that. That means that the wealth gap between a white family and a black family is 10 to 1. If you are a black mother, the likely it is that you are -- you will have a baby that will die, your infant mortality rate two-and-a-half times higher than a white mother. If you are a black businessman -- I remember talking to a fellow in
Milwaukee, black businessman -- he said, Bernie, I can't get a loan from the bank -- and his business was pretty good -- because of red- lining.
Black kids are leaving college more deeply in debt than white kids. So we have an enormous amount of disparity in wealth, in education, in health that must be addressed. And I will work as hard as I can, number one, to have a cabinet that reflects what America is and, number two, to do everything that I can in every way to end all forms of racism in this country.
BLITZER: We have a question from Chioma Iwuoha. She works at a nonprofit here in Washington.
QUESTION: Thank you, Senator Sanders. Part of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in the U.S. is the legacy of income inequality in the U.S. What your position on reparations to the descendants of slaves?
SANDERS: Well, as I just indicated, there are massive disparities that must be addressed. There is legislation that I like, introduced by Congressman Jim Clyburn -- it's called the 10-20-30 legislation, which focuses federal resources in a very significant way on distressed communities, communities that have high levels of poverty.
So as I've just indicated, you know, I think we have to do everything that we can to end institutional racism in this country. It is not acceptable to me that the rate of childhood poverty among the African American community is over 30 percent in this country, that is beyond belief, that African Americans die from cancer at higher rates than whites.
So we're going to do everything we can to put resources into distressed communities and improve lives for those people who have been hurt from the legacy of slavery.
BLITZER: So what is your position, specifically, on reparations? I ask the question because Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, they've indicated they want to...
SANDERS: But what does they mean? What do they mean? I'm not sure that anyone's very clear. What I've just said is that I think we must do everything that we can to address the massive level of disparity that exists in this country.
BLITZER: I'll tell you what they mean, because Elizabeth Warren has said black families have had a much steeper hill to climb. We need systematic structural changes to address that. Julian Castro has said...
SANDERS: Well, I just...
BLITZER: ... I have long thought that this country would be better off if we did find a way to do that, reparations. SANDERS: Well, I just -- I agree with what Elizabeth said.
BLITZER: So you would support -- you would support reparations?
SANDERS: Well, but read what she said. What does that mean? She means, I think -- I don't want to put words into her mouth -- is what I said. OK?
In other words, as a result of a legacy of slavery, you have massive levels of inequality. It has to be addressed, and it has to be addressed now.
BLITZER: In 2016, you said it would be divisive, reparations.
SANDERS: Well, again, it depends on what the word means. And I know you don't want to be divisive tonight.
BLITZER: All right, let's go to Samantha Hakeem, a student at Catholic University. She's from Massachusetts.
QUESTION: Thank you. As a strong advocate for raising the federal minimum wage to $15, I've had many discussions with my peers in regard to this matter. Many expressed concerns that small-business owners would have to lay off employees because they do not have the money and income to support that many workers at that rate. How do you reassure them that this would not be the case and it is, in fact, possible?
SANDERS: Well, you're right. In 2016, when I ran for president, and we talked about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, everybody said, well, it's pretty radical, pretty extreme. Well, a lot has changed in three years. And right now, you've got five states in this country that have passed $15 an hour minimum wage.
And, by the way, it means phasing it in over a period of years, not tomorrow. But here's what I believe. I believe that in the richest country in the history of the world, if you work 40 hours a week, you should not be living in poverty. And I believe that if we raise that minimum wage to $15 an hour, workers will have more money to spend in their community and create jobs doing that.
So I think raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do. And I think it is good economics. And I'm very delighted to see the kind of progress we're making in states and cities all over this country.
By the way, I believe that the House of Representatives will, in fact, pass -- can't guarantee it, I think they will -- pass a $15 an hour minimum wage. And we're going to fight as hard as we can to see that passed in the United States Senate. We should not have to have in this country working people working two or three jobs just to pay the bills. So...
(APPLAUSE) BLITZER: We have Beau Finley. He's a lawyer here in Washington.
SANDERS: A lawyer, all right.
QUESTION: My apologies. Thank you, Wolf. Senator Sanders, every Texas resident has two senators and a member in the House. Every Florida resident has two senators and a member in the House. Every Ohio resident has two senators and a member in the House. I live in Washington, D.C., and have no such representation. What will you do to help me and my fellow 700,000 Washingtonians do to receive full representation?
SANDERS: All right. And you pay taxes and your young people serve in the military, right?
SANDERS: Well, I think it would be -- I come from one of the smallest states in America. We have about 620,000 people in the beautiful state of Vermont. It would be -- it would be a little bit hypocritical of me to suggest that Washington, D.C., should not become a state. And I strongly support statehood for D.C.
BLITZER: So what can you do to make that happen?
SANDERS: Well, everything that we possibly can. Look, I think -- you know, this is a political issue. It's political. It's hard to argue the facts that the gentleman raised. People pay taxes. They live here. The size of this community is larger than some states. Why don't they have senators and a member in the House?
The answer, not shockingly, is the Republicans kind of guess that this will be two Democratic senators, given the fact that the city consistently votes overwhelmingly Democratic. That's the opposition right there. And I hope -- I hope that my Republican colleagues, you know, do the right thing. People here are entitled to representation in Washington.
BLITZER: We have a question from Elianna Landau. She's a sophomore at the George Washington University. She's from Pennsylvania and an active member of the College Democrats.
QUESTION: Hi, Senator. We're arguably living in one of the most polarized political environments in American history. The Democratic Party is shifting more to the left and the Republican Party more to the right. But most Americans tend to fall in the middle of the political spectrum. How do you plan to unite such a polarized country if your policies are moving further away from where most Americans stand?
SANDERS: OK, I look at it a little bit differently, that the country is polarized, I agree. And that has a lot to do with Trump's fostering a division and hatred, to be honest with you. And it concerns me very much that the level of -- number of hate crimes are going in this country.
But here's the other side of that story, is that if you ask people in red states, conservative states, you go to Oklahoma and you go to Missouri, wherever you go, and you say, do you think it makes sense to give huge tax breaks to billionaires and then cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which is what the Republican leadership wants, do you know what they say in red states? You're crazy, of course we don't believe in that.
Do you believe that health care is a right? Yeah, we do. Think we should raise the minimum wage? Yeah. Think we should have pay equity for women? Yeah, that makes sense. Think we should rebuild our crumbling infrastructure? Well, of course we could, because my car nearly, you know, disappeared in a pothole the other day, OK?
Do you think we should deal with climate change? Yeah, we should. Should we address racism and sexism and homophobia? Many people believe in conservative states that we should.
So I start off from the premise that we're not quite as divided as some would think. The reality is that what goes on here in Washington is that many of the folks who come here really are not reflective, in my view, of the people they represent. They're much more reflective of the billionaires who fund their campaigns and the lobbyists who get them to do their things.
So I think -- I honestly believe that we can bring the American people together around an agenda that works for working families, rather than just the 1 percent. OK? And that's my -- that's what I believe as to how we can deal with some of the divisions that exist.
BLITZER: If you're elected president of the United States, Senator, how would you reach out to Trump supporters to try to unite the country?
SANDERS: Well, I just indicated that. For example, if you talk -- you know, one of the crises that we face is -- and I'll give you an example of this. And it's taking place as we speak.
In Erie, Pennsylvania, there is a company that makes locomotives, something that we need if we want to rebuild our rail system. A new company came in and took it over from General Electric called Wabtec. And as soon as they came in, do you know what they did, Wolf? They said to their workers, we're going to have mandatory overtime, we're going to change the scheduling, and we're going to substantially lower the pay for new workers. And meanwhile, as a result of the merger, they gave tens and tens of millions of dollars in bonuses to CEOs and high-ranking officials in the company.
That is what's going on all over this country. Large corporations cut health care and benefits for their workers, and the CEOs make 300 times what their workers make. You go to Trump country and ask people there whether they think that makes sense. All right?
I am very worried about artificial intelligence and robotics and what it will mean to working people in this country. We need to have a long discussion to make certain that millions of workers are not thrown out on the street because of robotics. Technology is a good thing, but it has to be a good thing for workers and not just the people who own that technology. All right? And the Trump people believe that, as well.
Now, I'm not going to say -- I'm not going to say that within Trump's camp there aren't some people who are racists and sexists. There are. We have seen that. But I don't believe that is the case for most of those folks.
I think many of these people are people who have worked hard their entire lives and their standard of living is going down, in many cases, they're making less today than they did 30 or 40 years ago. They're looking at their kids and they're seeing that their kids will have a lower standard of living than they do.
In fact, in many rural communities in America, if you can believe it, life expectancy is going down. Opioid epidemic, what they call -- the doctors call the diseases of despair, heroin, opioids, suicide, alcoholism, serious problem all over those communities. We have got to reach out to those people, and we have got to stand with them for decent jobs, decent health care, decent education. And I think we can win many of them over.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Senator, Democrats want a candidate who can beat Donald Trump. Why do you think you're the most qualified to beat Donald Trump?
SANDERS: Well, first of all, let me say that there are a lot of really good candidates in this race, and many of them are personal friends of mine. I've known Elizabeth Warren for like 25 years, you know? So -- and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that we discuss policy and not personality and not make it ugly.
But as I look at what happened in the last election, I look at states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, I think we could win those states. I think the message of our campaign is that we've got to bring our people together -- black and white and Latino -- bring our people together around an agenda that creates a government that works for all of us, that we deal with the horrific trade policies that we have, that we raise the minimum wage, so we make education available to working families, childcare available, that we guarantee healthcare to all people.
I think that that is a message that will resonate in many of the countries -- in many of the states that Trump won.
BLITZER: Thanks to Senator Bernie Sanders, and thanks to our audience members for their questions. Our coverage continues right now with Chris Cuomo.
AUDIENCE: Bernie! Bernie! Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!