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Bernie Sanders on pandemic health coverage and supporting Joe Biden

After suspending his campaign for president, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said he will work hard to make sure that Joe Biden becomes president, but added, “He’s going to have to listen to and respond to the needs of a whole lot of people who have not been overly enthusiastic about his campaign up to now.”

Sanders said the former vice president will have to do a better job reaching out to young and low-income voters to defeat President Donald Trump.

Despite suspending his campaign on Wednesday, Sanders’ name will remain on the ballot in the coming primaries and he will likely continue to amass delegates. “We would like to get as many delegates as we can so that we have a stronger position at the Democratic convention to help us shape the new platform of the Democratic Party and other issues that the DNC deals with,” Sanders said in an interview with PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff on Friday.

Looking back at the successes of his campaign, Sanders said he believes he has won the ideological battle. “Ideas that I fought for four or five years ago, which everybody considered to be radical and extreme, are now part of the mainstream discussion,” Sanders said. He also said his ideas represent the future of the country because they are popular with young people. “We did very poorly, and I don’t know why, to tell you the truth, with older people,” Sanders said. “But we have done phenomenally well with younger people.”

Since announcing he was ending his race, Sanders said he has been on the phone with progressives across the country to talk about where the movement he built will go from here. “We are a strong movement and history will determine what happens in the future,” he said.

More highlights from the interview:

  • On Biden’s pick for his running mate: Sanders declined to say how he thinks his supporters would respond to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., or Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., as running mates for Biden, but he did say, “I think the more progressive the vice presidential candidate that he nominated, the better it would be in terms of the kind of response that our supporters would provide him.”
  • On his proposal to expand Medicare during coronavirus: Sanders announced a new proposal Friday to guarantee health care to all Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. He said this legislation is aimed at the uninsured, including the millions of workers who have lost their jobs, and subsequently their health care. “It’s my view that in the midst of this terrible, terrible crisis, when people have so much to worry about, the least we can do is to say to all of those people, ‘You know what, you go to the doctor when you’re sick,’” Sanders said. The coverage would be in effect until a COVID-19 vaccination is widely available to the public, he said. The proposal would cost an estimated $150 billion over four months, according to Sanders. “I think that will take a huge burden off the shoulders of so many of our people,” he said. “And that is the very least that we should be doing right now.”
  • On voting during the pandemic: Sanders said one of his highest priorities is making sure that every American is able to vote safely in the November elections. He said the Wisconsin election on Tuesday — which was not delayed despite efforts by the Democratic governor to hold off until the summer — was among the ugliest things he has seen in politics, and put the blame on Wisconsin Republicans. “What they essentially said to people is, ‘You’re going to have to put your life on the line in order to cast a ballot,’” Sanders said. “And that is just unbelievably disgraceful.” Sanders said voting rights will be a priority for him in upcoming legislation.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This week, the Democratic primary election took a momentous turn, as Senator Bernie Sanders announced he is suspending his presidential campaign.

    The senator from Vermont joins me now.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Senator, you said on Wednesday, when you made the announcement, you were doing this in part because of the pandemic, and, as you said, it would be difficult to continue under the circumstances.

    Today, you announced a proposal to guarantee health care during this period. Who is this aimed at?

  • Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:

    Well, it's aimed at the tens of millions of workers who are losing their jobs, Judy.

    And when you lose your job, you lose your health care. So, on top of 87 million people who were uninsured and underinsured before the crisis, you got tens of millions more who are not going to have any health insurance.

    And it's my view that, in the midst of this terrible, terrible crisis, when people have so much to worry about, the least we can do is to say to all of those people, you know what? You go to the doctor when you're sick. Don't worry about the health care bills. Medicare will fill in all the gaps and cover those people who are uninsured or underinsured today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And do you have support for this among Democratic colleagues?

  • Senator Bernie Sanders:

    Yes, we do.

    There's support in the House, and I think you're going to see growing support in the Senate. And I think that the cost is reasonable. It will be about $150 billion over four months, which, given everything that we're dealing with, is not a lot of money.

    But to say to every American that, don't worry about the costs of health care, you're not going to have to pay it out of your own pocket, you're not going to have to pay for prescription drugs, I think that will take a huge burden off the shoulders of so many of our people, and that is the very least that we should be doing right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, let's talk about this election.

    What, after 15 months of pour-your-heart-out campaigning, and this after you spent, what, years campaigning in 2016, you had to make this announcement that you didn't want to make. This is not where you wanted this to end up.

    But, as you look back, what went right and what went wrong?

  • Senator Bernie Sanders:

    Well, look, I think that what went right is that, for all intents and purposes, Judy, I think we have won the ideological battle.

    I think ideas that I fought for four or five years ago which everybody considered to be radical and extreme are now part of the mainstream discussion. And, in fact, many of them are being implemented across the country, raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour, making public colleges and universities tuition-free, forgiving student debt, guaranteeing health care to all people as a human right, focusing on climate change as an existential threat, immigration reform, criminal justice reform.

    Many of the ideas that we brought forth which were initially rejected are now moving forward. And I think that is the best thing that we have accomplished.

    Furthermore, we have won the generational struggle. We did very poorly — and I don't know why, to tell you the truth — with older people, but we have done phenomenally well with younger people. And by that, I mean people 45, 50 or younger.

    And the truth is, that is the future of America. So, the ideas that we have fought for are gaining momentum among younger people and will be the policies that guide America in the future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, I think that — I was just going to say, I think the numbers show you didn't do as well with young people as you had in 2016.

    But what I want to ask you about is, you are supporting — at least you acknowledge Joe Biden will be the nominee, and yet you're going to compete against him in the primaries to come. What is the value of that?

  • Senator Bernie Sanders:

    No, we're not competing against — we don't — there's no active campaigning. There's nothing to compete about. Joe Biden will, everything being equal, be the nominee.

    But I think our — my name will be on the ballot. That's the way it is in all of the remaining states that hold primaries. We would like to get as many delegates as we can, so that we have a stronger position at the Democratic Convention to help us shape the new platform of the Democratic Party and the other issues that the DNC deals with.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You say you want to shape the platform, and yet, I think, it appears, from the many last conventions, it's what the nominee wants that ultimately matters.

    And, right now, Joe Biden has moved in your direction. He's talked about lowering the age for Medicare eligibility to 60. He's talked about making free college tuition more available.

    But, at the same time, he has not endorsed Medicare for all. Senator Sherrod Brown, liberal Democrat, was on the show two nights ago, said he doesn't think that Joe Biden is going to do that. Is that sufficient for you?

  • Senator Bernie Sanders:

    Well, look, Judy, what I said on the very first day that I began my campaign, I said that, if I lose, I will be there to support the Democratic winner, the nominee, the person who wins the nomination, because I think that Donald Trump is the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country.

    And we all have got to rally around the winner to defeat Trump. And that's certainly what I will do. But I hope, in the coming weeks and months, I will be working and my staff will be working with Joe Biden and his team in making the point that, if Joe is going to do well against Trump and is going to defeat Trump, then he is going to have to reach out effectively to a whole lot of people where he has not had the kind of support that he needs.

    And that's lower-income people. That is younger people. And he's going to have to give those people the understanding that he hears them and he's moving to respond to their concerns. And that deals with climate change. It deals with making public colleges and universities tuition-free.

    In my view, it deals with — you're right. He is not going to support Medicare for all, but I think there is a significant path forward for him to make sure that, when so many people are losing their private insurance, that the federal government will be there for them to cover their health care needs.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have said that you campaigned enthusiastically for Hillary Clinton four years ago. Will you do exactly the same for Joe Biden? Will you be more enthusiastic?

    Because, as you know, many Democrats look back and say they wished you had done more.

  • Senator Bernie Sanders:

    Well, many Democrats opposed me from the Democratic establishment from day one.

    All I can tell you is, in 2016, I worked as hard as I could to see that Trump was defeated and Clinton was elected.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And will this year be different?

  • Senator Bernie Sanders:

    Well, this year, I will work as hard as I can to make that sure Donald Trump is not reelected and that Joe Biden becomes president.

    But I hope, in the interval here, what we have got to do is to — is — and I think Joe Biden is a — not only is he a decent guy. He is a good politician. And he understands that, for him to win, to get the votes that he needs, he's going to have to listen to and respond to the needs of a whole lot of people who have not been overly enthusiastic about his campaign up to now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you are saying you will be enthusiastically supporting him.

    A key decision that he's going to have to make, of course, is for vice president. He has said he will choose a woman. Let me ask you how your supporters would view it if he chose Elizabeth Warren?

  • Senator Bernie Sanders:

    Well, I think — I can't speak for all of my supporters.

    All I can say is that I think the more progressive the vice presidential candidate that he nominated, the better it would be in terms of the kind of response that our supporters would provide him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, if it were Amy Klobuchar?

  • Senator Bernie Sanders:

    I can't speculate on that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Or Kamala…

  • Senator Bernie Sanders:

    You know, Joe is going to have to make that decision himself. I have not been involved in that discussion. We will see what he does.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Republicans, Senator, this week in Wisconsin, as you know, took steps to prevent measures that would have made it easier for people to vote, to either delay the election or to make it — mail-in ballots possible.

    That view is also held by Republicans at the national level. How concerned are you right now about November and access to ballots, access to voting for Americans across the board?

  • Senator Bernie Sanders:

    Judy, I will tell you I don't know that I have ever, within a political context, seen anything as ugly as the role that the Republicans in the legislature in Wisconsin and their Supreme Court played in terms of this primary.

    What they essentially said to people is, you're going to have to put your life on the line in order to cast a ballot.

    And that is just unbelievably disgraceful. And that is not what we can allow to happen in future elections. So, it is a very, very high priority for me, and I think for many other Democrats, as we go forward on the new piece of legislation — and I have got a lot of ideas on that one — but certainly one of the highest priorities must be to make sure that every American in this country is able to vote through a paper ballot in November.

    And the Republicans, I must say, have been pretty clear. They understand that, if there is a large voter turnout, they are not going to do so well. And they're fighting us. But I hope their respect for our Constitution, for our democracy will prevail.

    And they will understand that people shouldn't have to die or get sick in order to cast a ballot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very quickly…

  • Senator Bernie Sanders:

    I should also tell you — I should also tell you that, in terms of the new legislation, we're working very hard, not only to make sure all people have health care, but that people will continue to get their paychecks.

    I think that is the easiest, most efficient way to get us out of this economic disaster that we're in right now. Just making sure that every American continues to receive his or her paycheck will go a long way to allowing Americans to have a decent standard of living, so long as we're in this crisis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Final question.

    And quickly, Senator, who leads the progressive movement that Bernie Sanders started next? Who are the next leaders of your movement?

  • Senator Bernie Sanders:

    You're asking me to speculate. I'm not much into speculation.

    But what I will say is, right now, literally, as we speak, I have been on the phone with progressives all across this country figuring out the best way that we can keep our kind of unprecedented grassroots movement strong and growing.

    So, we are a strong movement. And history will determine what happens in the future. But, right now, we are working hard to build that movement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Bernie Sanders, joining us tonight from Vermont, Senator, thank you very much.

  • Senator Bernie Sanders:

    Thank you, Judy.

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