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Bernie Sanders on trade with China, health care and student debt

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., slammed the Trump administration’s approach to trade policy in a PBS NewsHour interview Tuesday, arguing that the U.S. needs to do more to protect workers but “not the way Trump is dealing with it.”

The remarks come in a week when President Donald Trump threatened the harshest tariffs on China yet, causing stocks to plummet Tuesday.

“I think we do need new trade policies that are fair to the working people of this country not just to the CEOs, but as usual, I think Trump gets it wrong in terms of implementation,” Sanders told the NewsHour’s anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff.

Sanders, who has opposed many of the same trade deals Trump has, including the Trans Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement, said his policies are aimed at stopping companies from sending jobs overseas.

Here are some other highlights from the interview.

On “Medicare for All”: The 2020 presidential candidate pushed back on a recent Congressional Budget Office report that said moving to a single-payer health care system “could be complicated, challenging, and potentially disruptive” and could deter people from entering the medical field.

Sanders called the nation’s current health care system “dysfunctional,” and said most of the pushback for his Medicare for All plan is coming from insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

When asked whether Americans would be able to choose their doctors under his plan, Sanders argued that Americans do not have true “freedom of choice” right now because insurance companies decide which doctors are included in their networks.

On free public college and university tuition: Sanders has long proposed free college tuition, but acknowledged Tuesday in the NewsHour interview that getting states on board with his plan could be a challenge. The proposal he introduced in 2016 calls for states to pay for a third of the cost of eliminating tuition for public college and universities for families making less than $125,000.

“That’s another issue” that could pose a challenge, Sanders said when asked how he plans to get states to pay for college tuition. He proposes paying for much of the tuition by expanding the estate tax to up to 77 percent on people with estates valued at more than $1 billion.

On attracting moderates and going head-to-head with Trump: Sanders also dismissed concerns among some Democrats that former Vice President Joe Biden could win more support among moderate, middle-class voters. Biden, who entered the presidential race last month, is already polling above Sanders, who was the front-runner before Biden entered the race. Sanders has slipped to second place in most polls in recent weeks.

“At the end of the day, we are going to be fine because I think our message is going to appeal to working people,” Sanders said.

Producers Geoffrey Guray and Saher Khan contributed to this story.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont became a household name in 2016, when he ran a progressive campaign for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

    But much of that primary race was a one-on-one contest. He is now vying for the Democratic nomination again, but, this time, he's up against at least 20 other candidates.

    And Senator Sanders joins us now.

    Senator Sanders, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I) – Vt.: Good to be with you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So let's start with our lead story tonight.

    And that is the stock market dropping over 470 points, fears, analysts say, of a trade war with China, the president — President Trump's policies toward China.

    It appears to many people that your approach to trade with China is very similar to the president.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    No, it is not.

    What I recognize is that, for many years, our trade policies have been a disaster. If you look at NAFTA and you look at PNTR with China, in fact, it's cost us about four million decent-paying American jobs and helped lead the race to the bottom, where wages were depressed in America.

    So, I think we do need new trade policies that are fair to the working people of this country, not just to the CEOs. But, as usual, I think Trump gets it wrong in terms of implementation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you would be tough on China, as he is.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    I would be supportive of American workers.

    I think it is wrong that, when large corporations are making huge profits, that they simply shut down in this country, throw American workers out on the street, then look for cheap labor abroad.

    So, I believe that we have got to deal with that issue, but not the way Trump is dealing with it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me turn to something that you spend a lot of time talking about in this campaign, and that is Medicare, health care, and, namely, a proposal for Medicare for all, guaranteed health care for every person, man, woman and child, in the country.

    I think everybody agrees the current system needs fixing. Everybody — more people need to be covered. But, right now, this is an economy that is spending, what, $3.5 trillion a year on health care.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is a sixth of the American economy.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And even you acknowledge that doing something like Medicare for all would be a massive disruption, do away with private…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    OK. All right.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    That wasn't my word, no.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right. Other people are saying it would be a massive disruption. Do away with private insurance. Why not move incrementally, rather than moving with what you propose?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Because you have a dysfunctional system that is really rotten to the core.

    And let me tell you something, Judy. The people who are opposing Medicare for all in the insurance industry, in the pharmaceutical industry, these are people who are making huge compensation benefits. And they are seeing their corporations make huge profits.

    Six — the 10 largest drug companies made $69 billion in profits last year. Yes, they don't like the idea that I intend to lower drug prices by 50 percent.

    But here is the bottom line. Right now, you have got 34 million people, no health insurance, even more underinsured. We pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. We end up spending twice as much per person on health care as do the people of any other country.

    I live 50 miles away from the Canadian border. How can anyone defend a dysfunctional system like that?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But when you have a — as we said, such a huge part of the U.S. economy — the Congressional Budget Office did a nonpartisan analysis of your plan, essentially, universal coverage.

    They came away. And they concluded many people employed in the health care system now would lose their jobs. They concluded that employer-based health care service that most non-elderly Americans now use would be eliminated. And they say fewer people would likely go into the medical profession because pay would be less.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    That's exactly wrong.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Right now, because of all of the stress that the insurance companies put on doctors, you're finding many doctors demoralized.

    Doctors are trained and nurses are trained to work with their patients and try to do well by their patients. Right now, before they can do any procedure, they have got to call up three insurance company folks.

    Here is the bottom line, all right? The bottom line is, we are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people. We spend twice as much, and our health care outcomes are poor.

    Medicare right now, Judy, is the most popular health insurance program in the country. All that I want to do over a four-year period is expand Medicare to all of our people. We will save the average American significant sums of money, give him or her freedom of choice regarding doctors and hospitals.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you say it's freedom of choice, but you're doing away with private insurance.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we remember the reaction. President — remember, President Obama said, you can keep your health care plan. You can keep your doctor. It didn't work out that way.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Yes, because those were junk plans that he ended up doing away with.

    Right now, do you think the average American has freedom of choice with regard to a doctor? If a doctor is not in your network, you can't go to that doctor.

    All that I want to say to the American people tonight is, we are taking on the insurance companies and the drug companies, who make huge profits off of dysfunctional system that is not working for the average American.

    They are going to spend, Judy, in my view, hundreds of millions of dollars trying to preserve their profits and their outrageous compensation packages. The guy who's head of Aetna created a merger with CVS. He got $500 million in bonus.

    I don't think that's where we should be spending health care dollars.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But your plan would call for some form of higher taxes, no question?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Of course. Look, if I'm going to do away with all of your premiums and your co-payments and your deductibles and we're expanding benefits, it has to be paid for.

    But when you eliminate premiums and deductibles and co-payments and out-of-pocket expenses, the average American will be better off.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's talk about the cost of college.

    One of your signature proposals, tuition-free college, you would impose a financial…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Public colleges and universities, not every…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Public.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Not Harvard. Public colleges and universities.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    You would impose a financial transactions tax, as it's called, to pay for it.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    On Wall Street.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But how much — what would this mean for the, what, 45 million Americans who have college debt right now? How would they benefit?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Oh, they would benefit very substantially.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because they have left college, and they're in debt.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    No, no, no. This $900 billion that we're talking about — look, here's the story.

    Right now, Wall Street profits are very, very high. They're charging you 17 percent interest rates on your credit card, real usury. We bailed them out after their illegal activity nearly destroyed the economy.

    So, what I believe is, at a time when hundreds — hundreds of thousands of bright young kids can't afford to go to college, and millions of people are struggling with outrageous levels of student debt, this is an issue we have to deal with.

    So I am proudly — and I'm glad that more and more people are following my lead. I believe that, in the 21st century, when you talk about public education, public colleges and universities should be tuition-free, and we substantially lower student debt.

    People should not be punished for getting a higher education in a competitive global economy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly, the second part of this is, right now, states would still have to pick up a…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … bit of the cost.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    They would have to, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But these — many of these are states that have been cutting spending for higher education.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Yes, right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you get them to flip and spend more?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, that's another issue.

    Instead of giving tax breaks to billionaires — you got Amazon and dozens of other corporations not paying a nickel in federal income tax last year. So, my view is that large profitable corporations should start paying their fair share of taxes. We will work with the states.

    But the bottom line is, in a competitive global economy, every kid in this country, regardless of his or her income, deserves a higher education, if that is their goal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very quickly, a question on foreign policy.

    You have been saying recently you wish you had spoken more about foreign policy four…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two years ago, when you ran for president.

    What would you do right now to punish Russia for what they did in 2016?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    First of all, unlike Trump, you have to acknowledge the very seriousness of what they did. To try to undermine democracy in America and other countries is simply not acceptable. And they have got to pay a price. So we have a president who doesn't even acknowledge that.

    But I think we should be looking at very tough sanctions. This is an act of aggression against American democracy. It cannot be accepted.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Beyond what this administration…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Yes, absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, and what would that do? I mean, are the Russians going to stop — are you saying that's going to stop them from…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, I can't give you a blueprint.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … hacking? I mean…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    But we have a president who doesn't even acknowledge — virtually doesn't even acknowledge the reality of what they did.

    Here is a — Putin and his friends are trying to undermine American democracy and democracy in Europe. They have got to know that's not acceptable. And the world has got to tell them they're going to pay a very heavy price for it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A question about polls.

    Joe Biden, you and he were running roughly one-two in the polls. And then he got into the race officially. He has surged into the lead. You have slipped. What's going on?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is he appealing to the moderates among Democrats? What's going on?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    I think you're going to see — here's my prediction. You're going to see polls that are very good for Joe and for Bernie and polls that are not so good.

    All I can tell you is that we are working really, really hard. I'm very proud that we have over a million people who have volunteered to work on our campaign. I think, in our campaign, you're going to see an unprecedented grassroots effort, not only to help me win the primary and beat Trump, but really to take on the powerful special interests, who control so much of the economic and political life of our country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are you at all concerned he appeals more to the moderates in the Democratic Party?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    No.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    I think, at the end of the day, we're going to be fine, because I think our message will appeal to working people.

    We had polls out there that showed us, by the way, winning in Pennsylvania, winning in Michigan, winning in Wisconsin. And I think we're going to appeal to the heartland — I was just in Iowa the other day — because our message of standing up for the working class in this country, which has been ignored for so long, I think will resonate.

    And I think people are seeing that Trump is a phony. He told the American people he would guarantee health care to everybody. Then he wanted to throw 32 million people off of health care. He wouldn't cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. His budget did exactly that.

    So, we are going to expose Trump for the fraud that he is. We have a message that will appeal to working people, black and white and Latino, all over this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Bernie Sanders, thank you very much. We look forward to watching you on the trail.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Thank you very much, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to another Democratic contender.

    Our Amna Nawaz has been on a reporting trip to Iowa. Last night, she caught up with former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke.

    And here is part of what he had to say.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There's a comment you made early in an interview that has kind of stuck with you, is the idea of being born to be in this, born to do this. People have said it about you, too.

    Beto O'Rourke, (D) – Texas: Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And when it came across to a lot of people — you are, in a diverse field of candidates, a straight white man. It sounded little entitled.

    So I wonder how you look back on that now. How — what do you explain to people…

  • Beto O’Rourke:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … who say that maybe wasn't the right thing to say?

  • Beto O’Rourke:

    Yes.

    Well, I hope that you read the entire article, because I didn't say that I was born to be president of the United States. Whoever decides the headlines on the magazines made that choice.

    What I said is that I feel like I was born to serve people, you know, a small business owner, creating jobs in El Paso, meeting a payroll week in, week out. I'm not entitled to anything.

    Every vote, every caucus-goer will be earned by showing up, showing profound respect, by listening to their concerns, learning from them, but also showing up with the courage of our convictions, talking about what this country needs to do at this pivotal, pivotal, defining moment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And stay tuned for more of Amna's reporting from Iowa soon.

    And join us tomorrow for a conversation with another 2020 contender, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney.

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