- Bernie Sandersindependent senator from Vermont and former presidential candidate.
Hundreds of international progressive leaders gathered in Burlington, Vermont, last weekend for an event hosted by The Sanders Institute. While there, Amy Goodman sat down with independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to discuss his efforts to pass a Green New Deal, raise the minimum wage and protect Social Security. He also spoke about last week’s historic Senate vote to advance a resolution he co-sponsored to end military support for the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed war in Yemen.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We’ve just returned from Burlington, Vermont, where hundreds of international progressive leaders participated in a gathering hosted by The Sanders Institute. On Saturday, I had the chance to sit down with independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and ask him about his efforts to pass a Green New Deal, raise the minimum wage and protect Social Security. I began by asking him about last week’s historic Senate vote to advance a resolution he co-sponsored to end military support for the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed war in Yemen.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: It is a big deal. It’s a big deal because for the first time since 1973 we have used the War Powers Act to in fact stop a horrific war. What we won last week was the beginning of the process. We got the language discharged from committee, so it’s now on the floor. We’re going to need a motion to proceed, and then we need final passage. I think we have the votes to pass it.
And you know—I know you know—that what’s going on in Yemen now is almost unspeakable. We’re talking about the destruction of a people. In the last three years, 85,000 children have starved to death. U.N. tells us millions more are heading toward starvation, 10,000 new cholera cases developing every single week. So, this is a country that has been decimated by the Saudi-led intervention in Saudi Arabia. The United States is part of that intervention with the Saudis. We’ve got to get out, and we’ve got to bring peace to that region. And then we need to help rebuild that struggling country.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what exactly does this bill say?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: It says the United States will not be involved in the war on Yemen anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: And what has to happen for the motion to go forward, to have the debate on the floor?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: It has to pass the Senate. And unless I’m mistaken, it will get the 51 votes that we need. Mike Lee, who’s a conservative Republican from Utah, Chris Murphy and I brought this up in March. We got all of 44 votes. But I think the Khashoggi murder really turned a lot of attention to the brutality and the despotic nature of the Saudi regime, and so we got a lot more Republicans on board. I think we’ll probably lose some of them next week, but I think we’ve got 53, 54 votes.
Now, so it passes the Senate. In the House, Paul Ryan is trying to do away with what they call the privileged, the privileged nature of the resolution. We have friends in the House who are going to fight vigorously. And if they can get a vote in the House, I’m not sure that we can’t pass it there. Then it goes to this president, who, in a particularly disgraceful manner, is cozying on up to this terrible dictator and has not even acknowledged what the CIA has told us. And that is that the crown prince, bin Salman, is responsible for the murder of Khashoggi.
AMY GOODMAN: Why didn’t Gina Haspel testify before the Senate? And can you subpoena her to?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: My guess is—I don’t know, for—you know, we’ve heard different reasons. My guess is that the first question that would have been asked of her is: What was in the tape that you heard? And then she would have been obliged to tell us the truth. So, I suspect that’s the reason. I can’t tell you for a fact. So, you know, Trump then can maintain is what—heard different stories, there’s no smoking gun, etc., etc.
AMY GOODMAN: Can the Senate subpoena Gina Haspel, the head of the CIA?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Yes, the Senate can. And so can the House. And the House may be in a better position to do that in a couple of months.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you make of President Trump saying the crown prince might have done it, he might not have, and that he’s not going to listen to the tape because it’s a suffering tape?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I mean, you know, what can you say? I mean, this is just another day in the adventure and life of a pathological liar who is president of the United States, who, despite what everybody told him in our own intelligence agencies, denies Russian influence in the 2016 election; despite what the CIA has told him about the murder of Khashoggi, tries to deny that, as well. So you’ve got a president who lives in his own world. And we hope that he will not be around for an indefinite future.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Sanders, let’s talk about Medicare for all.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Good.
AMY GOODMAN: You have a massive change now that’s coming up, and that is the House will become Democratic. But that’s just the House. It’s not your House. It’s not the Senate. What does that mean? And what does a path forward look like for an issue you have pushed for years?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, Amy, thanks for asking that question. And what I want to say, and I think all of us should be proud of this, who are supporting Medicare for all, we have come a long way in the last few years. If you and I were sitting here three years ago talking about Medicare for all, you would have said, “Well, it’s a good idea, but nobody supports it.” Well, last two polls that I’ve seen, 70—seven zero—percent of the American people support it. All over this country, more and more doctors’ organizations are coming on board, because they’re tired of practicing in a dysfunctional healthcare system which doesn’t allow them to provide the treatment they want for their patients. We’re making real progress.
Now, I hope, in terms of Medicare for all, in terms of raising the minimum wage to a living wage, in terms of rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, criminal justice reform, immigration reform—I hope—climate change—I hope that the Congress, the new Congress, will come out and come out swinging. You remember back in '94 what Newt Gingrich did in the House with his so-called Contract with America. You remember that? It was an extreme right-wing agenda. But Gingrich worked that Congress—I was there—morning, noon and night. He said, “You're going to pass this. I made that promise to the American people, and you’re going to do it.” And that, in a way, laid the groundwork for where we are today.
I think the Democratic leadership in the House has got to say to the American people, “We hear you. We hear you that the current healthcare system is not working for you, that you’re spending too much, that you can’t afford the outrageous cost of prescription drugs. We’re going to do it. And we’re going to raise the minimum wage so that you don’t have to work for 11 bucks an hour anymore. And we are going to deal with climate change. And we are going to deal with the broken criminal justice system.” It is so imperative that the Democrats not twiddle their thumbs and take month after month after month. So I hope that the day after the new Congress is sworn in, they get to work.
Now, in addition, of course, they have to deal with Trump, and they have to raise the questions that have been not discussed in the House for the last two weeks. They have to hold Trump accountable. But I hope that we do more than just do investigations of Trump, and that we start pushing an agenda that the American people will say, “Hey, thank you very much.”
AMY GOODMAN: What you think about impeaching President Trump?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Not right now. Right now, obviously, we’re waiting for the report of the Mueller investigation. I think we would look stupid if you jump the gun on that. So, and it would look highly, highly political. Let Mueller do—continue to do his investigation, and let’s see where we go from there.
AMY GOODMAN: General Motors. Talk about what’s happening with General Motors announcing they’re closing these plants.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Isn’t it amazing? You know, we gave these guys huge tax breaks, and they were going to use that money to invest in their workforce, invest in their manufacturing capabilities, and now they’re shutting down a number of plants in this country.
We need, you know, as I’ve said for a very long time, real trade legislation. And what Trump is doing is not good enough by any means. But we need real trade legislation, and we need government policy which says to large corporations, whether it is General Dynamics, whether it is General Electric, whether it is General Motors, “If you want help from the United States government, you know what? You’re going to have to be a good corporate citizen. You’re going to have to treat your workers with respect. You’re not going to shut down plants, move to Mexico. You’re not going to destroy our environment. We’re willing to work with you, but you have got to work with us. And that means protect the interest of American workers and our environment, as well.”
AMY GOODMAN: What do you make of President Trump saying we just won’t help support them make electric cars?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Amy, if I had to comment on every word that, every phrase that Trump made, that’s all I would be doing. Look, the issue of climate change demands that we transform our energy system. And one of the ways that we do that is move to the electrification of our transportation system. That means massive investments in rail. It means moving toward hybrids and electric cars. That is exactly what we have to do.
Now, Trump, who either is ignorant of climate change or who pleads ignorance and is rejecting science, is on the wrong side of history. We have got to move incredibly boldly. We have a town meeting, a live-stream town meeting, coming up on Monday night, dealing with just this issue. So, bottom line here is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has told us: You’ve got 12 years before irreparable damage is done to this planet. We know damage is already taking place. Take a look what happened in California in terms of the wildfires. But we have got to move very aggressively. And one of those areas is moving to electric cars, moving to hybrid cars, moving to wind, moving to solar and making our buildings much more energy efficient.
AMY GOODMAN: What will you do about Andrew Wheeler, who has been nominated to be the EPA—I mean, he’s the acting administrator right now, the former coal industry lobbyist. We’re headed to Poland to cover the U.N. climate summit, coal land, I guess you can say. And we’re actually—it’s in Katowice, which is the coal heart of coal land.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Yeah. Look, this is all of Trump’s appointees. I mean, he has made the Environmental Protection Agency into the anti-environment protection agency. He’s made it into the fossil fuel agency. So, you know, all of his appointments are beyond belief in terms of their contempt for environmental protection and their support for the fossil fuel industry.
But, above and beyond Trump, we have an issue that must bring countries all over the world together. This is not simply an American issue. We have got to be leaders in this. But even if we do the right thing, we’re going to need the help of China. China is making some significant changes in terms of solar. They deserve credit for that. Still burning a lot of coal. But we need to bring the entire world together to transform our energy system. Not going to be easy, but that is what the future of the planet depends upon.
AMY GOODMAN: Is General Motors a done deal?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Nothing—
AMY GOODMAN: What can the U.S. government do when they say they’re closing their plants?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Nothing is ever a done deal. One of the things you learn in Congress is, nothing is ever a done deal. I mean, if you had a strong president who was willing to say, “You know what? We may want to rethink this or rethink our relationship to you, where you have some military contracts.” I mean, one of the tools that you do have, not just with General Motors, with other major corporations, is many of them receive government contracts. And right now, when it is done, quote-unquote, “well,” is you come in with a bid that’s lower than my company, presumably you get that contract. But there are other demands you can make. Price is important, obviously. But how you treat your workers, or whether or not you’re offshoring jobs, how you protect the environment should be factors that we can incorporate into the kind of contracts we give to corporations.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s a Green New Deal?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: A Green New Deal is creating many millions of decent-paying jobs, transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. A Green New Deal means that we make—we weatherize buildings all across this country so that they are utilizing less energy. A Green New Deal puts—means that instead of subsidizing coal and oil and gas, and giving them all kinds of tax breaks, etc., we put our resources into wind, solar and other sustainable type of energies. It means that we create the kind of rail system that we need to efficiently get passengers and cargo all over this country, among other things.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what the Stop BEZOS Act is, which stands for what? Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies? Talk about the significance of the richest man on Earth.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, here’s what we got. Today in America—and it’s a good thing—unemployment is relatively low. You want to get a job in Burlington, Vermont, you can get a job. Problem is that many of the new jobs that are out there do not pay workers a living wage. You can get a job, but you can’t afford to pay your rent and buy health insurance.
So, what the Stop BEZOS Act said is that the wealthiest guy on this planet, Jeff Bezos—we said, “Look, you are worth $150 billion. You should not be paying your workers $9 or $10 an hour. You’ve got to raise that minimum wage at Amazon to a living wage, which is at least $15 an hour.” And we put a lot of pressure on him through social media, through a variety of mechanisms. And the end result, he did the right thing, and he raised the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour. Now, we also did—
AMY GOODMAN: Would you take credit for that, having introduced Stop BEZOS first?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I’m not going to take credit. We were one of the people, a number. You have the Fight for 15 people, who have done—some of them are here in this gathering right now—who have done a great job. But we played a role in that, no question. The workers at Amazon stood up and fought back.
We also worked with some of the unions at Disneyland. You know, people go out to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, what they did not know is those folks walking around in Mickey Mouse outfits were making 10, 11 bucks an hour, all right, which is a real starvation wage in that part of the country. We worked with them. They raised—Disney raised its minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour.
Right now we’re focusing on Walmart, which is the wealthiest family in America. And as you know, they pay many of their workers just horrific wages. And we are going to do everything we can to see that they raise their minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour.
AMY GOODMAN: So, we just came from New York, where a deal was just made with Amazon, in Virginia, as well, right next to the Pentagon. So, Amazon makes its fortune by avoiding paying state taxes for years.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: And federal taxes.
AMY GOODMAN: And now the taxpayers of New York, of Virginia are paying them to come to our cities.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: This is a problem. Amazon certainly has done it, as you indicate. But it’s not just Amazon. Nissan did it. Car manufacturers have done it. This is what they say. They say, “Hey, we want to build a new plant. We want to build offices for good-paying jobs. And cities and states all over this country, what are you going to give me? I have—thinking of moving an automobile plant to Mississippi or Alabama, I’ve got 3,000 decent-paying jobs. What are you going to give me? How much are you going to give me in building an infrastructure, training the workers, allowing me not to pay you any taxes? Now, Alabama is going to do X. Mississippi, what are you going to do? Colorado, what are you going to do? Because Alabama did this.” And you’re going to play off one community after another.
And that’s exactly, in the most overt manner—I mean, Amazon wasn’t covert about it. They made the whole world know. “We’re going to—we have”—I imagine, what, hundreds of communities got into the process, bidding against each other, and it ended up going to Virginia and New York. I think, at the federal level, we have got to stop that, because working families should not have to subsidize, in this case, the wealthiest guy in the world. Or in case of the Walton family of Walmart, many of their workers are on food stamps, Medicaid. We don’t have to subsidize them at all.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what’s going to happen with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—what they call, or Republicans call, the entitlements. What do you call them?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, they’re not entitlements. They’re paid-for programs that people have invested in.
What Trump promised his supporters during the campaign is that he was a different type of Republican. You recall that. He was not going to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. I know I will shock your viewers when I tell them that he lied. And his last budget provided a trillion dollars in cuts in Medicaid, which would be a disaster not only for low-income people, but for middle-income people who have family members in nursing homes. It was a $500 billion cut to Medicare, $72 billion cut the Social Security Disability Fund.
So, what we are trying to do is not only stop cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Obviously, we are trying to make those program stronger. In terms of healthcare, it means Medicare for all. In terms of Social Security, no, we’re not going to cut Social Security, we’re going to expand benefit—expand the life of Social Security for another 60 years, and we’re going to extend benefits, better benefits, to more people. So, that’s kind of what we’re working on right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, George H.W. Bush just died.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: You took him on in many ways when you were in Congress.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Yes, right.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about his legacy?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, the only thing I remember—I was elected to the Congress when Bush was president, first Bush. And I remember being in the White House and chatting with him and with Barbara, as well. Look, he devoted his life in his way and did what he thought was best. He was vice president. He was CIA director. He was president of the United States. His politics, obviously, are not my politics. But what we can also say is that he was a very different type of Republican. He was a very conservative Republican. But I don’t think anyone would suggest that he was a racist. I don’t think you could suggest that the essence of his presidency was trying to do what Trump is doing, which is to divide the American people up. He was a conservative president. So…
AMY GOODMAN: Will Trump get another term?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Not if I have anything to say about it. And I think there are millions of people who understand not only that his economic and healthcare policies are a disaster, but that his hateful rhetoric, his trying to turn one group of us against another based on the color of our skin or our religion or where we were born from—my god, we have struggled with those issues since the inception of this country. We have struggled with discrimination and racism, sexism and homophobia. And we are not going back. And we’re not going to let him win that fight.
AMY GOODMAN: Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. I interviewed him Saturday at The Sanders Institute gathering in Burlington, Vermont. To hear his keynote address there, you can go to democracynow.org. Senator Sanders, New York Congressmember-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others are holding a town hall meeting tonight on Capitol Hill on a Green New Deal.
That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is currently accepting applications for a full-time social media manager. Details at democracynow.org. It’s full-time in New York.