Sen. Bernie Sanders on taxes, trade agreements and Islamic State

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is the second candidate to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. Judy Woodruff talks to the senator about rebuilding the middle class, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the U.S. role in the Middle East.

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    Now to our series of interviews with the men and women running for president in 2016.

  • Tonight:

    Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent seeking the Democratic nomination.

    Welcome to the NewsHour, Senator Sanders.

    SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) Vermont: Great to be with you.


    So, you are an independent. You call yourself a Democratic socialist. How is that different from being a Democrat?


    Well, I have been in the Democratic Caucus in the Senate for over 24 years.

    But, as an independent, my views, in fact, are a little bit different than many of my Democratic colleagues. I worry very much that we have a billionaire class now which has enormous power not only over our economy, but over our political system as well, as a result of Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

    So, my own view is that we have got to be very, very bold in taking on big money and creating a situation where government begins to work for the middle class and working families of our country, rather than just the wealthy and the powerful.


    So that's the main difference that you would make.

    Why are you running for president?


    Judy, I'm running for president because, in my view, this country today, our country, faces more serious problems than at any time since the Great Depression.

    And if you throw in the planetary crisis of climate change, it may well be that the problems today are more severe. Look, for the last 40 years, the great middle class of this country has been disappearing. Median family income today is significantly less than it was in 1999. Millions are working longer hours for lower wages.

    And, at the same time, we have seen a huge shift of wealth to the top one-tenth of 1 percent. So, today — today, 99 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent. The top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. That is immoral and unsustainable.


    Now, and speaking of that, I want to ask you about that. One of the issue is taxes. You have talked about raising the capital gains rate and the tax on dividends for the top 2 percent.

    In fact, you talked about, I think, nearly doubling it. Critics say that is going to put a big damper on job creation and on the growth of this economy.


    Well, I know. Critics are often paid by large corporations or corporate think tanks.

    The fact of the matter is right now in America we're losing about $100 billion every single year because very profitable corporations are stashing their money in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and other tax havens. And that has got to end. Second of all, we have a situation where hedge fund managers, guys that are making many, many millions of dollars a year, are paying an effective tax rate lower than what nurses or school teachers are paying.

    And Warren Buffett makes the point that his effective tax rate, as a multibillionaire, is lower than his secretary's. That's got to end. The wealthiest people in this country are in fact going to have to start paying their fair share of taxes if I'm elected president.


    Another issue is trade. You have been very critical of the trade bill President Obama is vigorously pushing. Hillary Clinton, your rival, has not yet taken a position on this.

    Today, just today, CBS News reported that she has taken $2.5 million in speaking fees from organizations that are promoting this trade bill. Is that a problem?


    Sure it's a problem.

    The problem that we have now is that our political system is increasingly dominated by a billionaire class and by super PACs, who have unbelievable influence over what goes on politically. It is a huge problem.

    But in terms of this trade agreement, in my view, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is a continuation of other disastrous trade agreements, like NAFTA, CAFTA, and permanent normal trade relations with China.

    These trade agreements, among other things, have contributed to the that we have lost almost 60,000 factories since 2001 and millions of decent-paying jobs. And I think enough is enough. We have got to rebuild our manufacturing base, not send it to China or other countries.


    Does it matter — we said Secretary Clinton has not taken a position. What does it mean if she doesn't take a position on this before the Congress votes on it?


    Well, I think that's a very fair question. And I think the American people will have to decide.

    If you are asking me why it is that the middle class is disappearing and we're seeing more income and wealth inequality than any time since the 1920s, trade is a very important factor, not the only reason. And it is hard for me to understand how any serious candidate for president, Hillary Clinton or anybody else, can duck this issue. You can't. You can be for it. You can be against it. But it is being hotly debated right now in Congress. You have got to have a position on it.


    In this race, you are going up against someone who is literally part of a political juggernaut in this country in Secretary Clinton. Why do you think you would be a better president than she would be?


    I have spent the better part of my adult life standing up and fighting for working families.

    I have taken on virtually every element of the big money establishment, whether it's the Koch brothers, and the big energy companies, whether it's the industrial complex, whether it's Wall Street. You're looking at the guy who has introduced legislation to break up the largest financial institutions in this country.

    I have taken on the drug companies. I have taken on the insurance companies. I happen to believe that we should move to a Medicare-for-all single-payer system, similar to what other countries around the world have.

    So, I think if people understand that establishment politics just no longer is working, that we need some bold ideas, that we need a mass movement of people, millions of people to stand up and say, you know what, enough is enough, this great country belongs to all of us and not just to a handful of billionaires, if people believe that, I will win this election.


    And you're saying she can't do that?


    I don't think she can, yes.


    One other thing I want to ask you, Senator, about foreign policy.

    ISIS, they just achieved a major victory in Iraq in taking over a big city, Ramadi, over the weekend. You have said you don't think the U.S. should be leading the charge against ISIS. Does that mean that raids like the one that took place last week where the U.S. took out one of the top ISIS leaders and the ongoing airstrikes in Syria and Iraq shouldn't go on?


    No, no, no, I have supported those efforts on the part of the president.

    I voted against the war in Iraq. And I think, if you go back and you read what I had to say way back when, you know, it will sound pretty prescient in terms of the destabilization that we have seen in the Middle East.

    So my view is, the United States has got to play an active role in defeating this barbaric organization, but at the end of the day, it's going to be the Muslim countries themselves, supported by the United States and other Western countries, that will defeat ISIS and bring some degree of stability into the Middle East. It cannot be American troops on the ground.

    And I will tell you what I worry about. I think too many of my Republican friends are into perpetual warfare in the Middle East. And that scares the bejesus out of me.


    So, the raid last week that took out the ISIS leader, you would — you support…


    And I supported the airstrikes as well. But I do not want to see perpetual warfare in the Middle East. I do not want to see American combat troops on the ground in the Middle East.


    Senator Bernie Sanders, candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, we thank you.


    Thank you very much.

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