Bernie Sanders on making Democrats a 50-state party

Politics

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on these political battles we have been talking about and the challenges facing Democrats, I spoke this afternoon with Senator Bernie Sanders, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee.

And I started by asking whether he thinks an agreement will be reached to avert a government shutdown.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-Vt.: Well, I certainly hope there's going to be an agreement, not a short-term, but a long-term agreement.

I do not and will not support billions of dollars going to a border wall at the same time as the Trump administration wants to throw 24 million people off of health insurance, cut back on education, cut back on the needs of working people. That is not something that I will support.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, today at the White House, the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, announced with regard the trade that the White House, the president wants to slap in essence a tariff on Canadian lumber.

You and the president often were at least in the same — or what appeared to be on the same page when it came the trade during the campaign. What do you think of this move today?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, I don't know enough about it to comment intelligently.

But what I do know is that, when we have had trade policies for decades now that have cost us millions of decent-paying jobs, as profitable corporations shut down in America, they go to China and they go to Mexico.

We have to fundamentally rethink our trade policy and make them work not for the CEOs of large corporations, but for working people. So, if Trump wants to develop a rational trade policy which demands that corporations start investing in this country, rather than China, that's something that we can work on. But, right now, I just don't know enough about the specifics of the lumber situation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, is there a specific move you would like to see the president make on trade?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, as I have said, I want to see a trade policy which works for American workers.

Right now, what we have seen for a very long time is large corporations shutting down plants in this country, plants that are often profitable, in order to get cheap labor all over the world. And that is one of the reasons why the middle class in this country is disappearing.

We have lost our manufacturing base, and that's an issue that has got to be dealt with.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In that connection, Senator, you're reintroducing legislation to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, I believe, by 2024.

This is something that's had a tough time getting through Congress in the past. You now have the Republican-controlled Senate, House, a Republican White House. Is this realistic?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Of course it's realistic. It's what the American people want.

It is an outrage that we have a $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage. And when we talk about why the middle class is in decline, why people are working two or three jobs, working 50, 60 hours a week, it's because wages in this country are much too low.

So, we have got to raise the minimum wage over a period of years to the year 2024 to $15 an hour. When people — Judy, it is not a radical idea to say that, when you have massive income and wealth inequality, the very rich becoming much richer, it is not a radical idea that to say that, in America, if you work 40 hours a week, you shouldn't be living in poverty.

That's what the American people want, and that's what we are going to introduce.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, and I think this is in connection with that, you said in an interview two days ago, the Democratic Party — you said this as an independent, that the Democratic Party is failing, that it needs the change.

Are you saying there should be a litmus test to be a Democrat? What does one have to believe to be a Democrat?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Judy, here is the reality. And I don't think it's just me saying it.

Right now, you have the Republicans controlling the White House, right-wing extremist Republicans controlling the White House, the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, two-thirds of the governors chairs, and in the last eight years, Democrats have lost 900 legislative seats all over this country.

That is a failed approach toward politics. So, in my view, the Democrats need to do several things. Number one, Democrats need to become a 50-state party. You can't have a great party on the West Coast and the East Coast. You need to have a party in all 50 states. That's not the case right now.

And that's why I have been running around the country to Republican states to galvanize people to get involved in the political process.

Second of all, you need a Democratic Party which is a grassroots party, which makes decisions from the bottom on up, not just from the top on down.

In my view, it is not a question of Trump having won the election, it's a question of Democrats having lost the election. Democrats need a strong progressive agenda which says to the working class of this country, we are going the stand and fight for you, we're going to raise the minimum wage, pay equity for women, we're going to rebuild the infrastructure, and we're going to guarantee health care to all people as a right. We're going to make public colleges and universities tuition-free.

We understand that there is enormous pain in this country. We're going to stand with working people. We're going to take on the billionaire class. We're going the take on the drug companies and the insurance companies. We're going the take on Wall Street. That's where I think the future of the Democratic Party lies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And my question is, does that mean that some Democrats are not acceptable?

For example, the special congressional election in Georgia last week, you initially didn't endorse the Democrat, Jon Ossoff. And you said he wasn't a progressive.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Judy, don't believe everything you read in the corporate media.

Jon Ossoff never asked me for an endorsement, never asked me. Of course I want him to win the election, and of course I want the Democrats to gain control of the U.S. House. Just so happened he never asked me for an endorsement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I guess the broader question is, does a Democrat have to toe a certain line? You have said Democrats have to do well in red states.

So, for example, a Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, are these Democrats, you consider under the tent that you would like to see, under the umbrella of the Democratic …

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I think those decisions are going to be made by the people in North Dakota, where I think Heidi is quite popular. They will be made by the people in West Virginia.

It is not my job to tell the people in 435 congressional districts or in 50 states who they should be supporting. What a grassroots party is about is people getting excited, getting involved in the local political process, saying, we want her to run for office, we want him to run for office, and we're going to get involved and make sure that he or she wins.

That's what I think the future of the Democratic Party is, not a few people in Washington saying, sorry, no good, or that's OK.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you're saying it's all right with you that the Democratic Party has elected members who, for example, disagree with you on trade, who may disagree with you on the corporate tax rate, on issues like abortion?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Right.

Look, this is America. Between you and me, Judy, I would wish — I would love it if everybody in America agreed with me on every issue. I can't get my wife to agree with me on every issue, let alone the American people. It's called democracy. That's what it's about.

So, I think — you know, I have supported candidates whose views are very different than mine on the need the break up Wall Street banks, on the war in Iraq, on trade issues. Of course I have supported those people.

My hope is that we're going to see — and I believe it is the case — we're going to see more and more strong progressives running for office. That's my hope. That's my desire. But that is up to — that decision is going to be made by people in 50 states and 435 congressional districts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Bernie Sanders, very good to talk with you. Thank you.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Thank you, Judy.

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