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Sanders disavows attacks on culinary union, saying internet is a ‘strange world’

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said that he remains confident in his Medicare for All health care plan, despite failing to win a key endorsement from Nevada’s Culinary Workers Union. The union declined to endorse any of the 2020 presidential candidates, but issued a specific criticism of Medicare for All.

“They are a great union,” Sanders said in an interview with PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff. He added that his campaign had worked very closely with them, and will continue to do so. “Many unions do believe in Medicare for All.”

The Culinary Workers Union circulated a flyer earlier this week expressing concern that Sanders’ mandatory single-payer plan, in particular, would jeopardize the strong health care coverage they already have as union members. The next state in the primary cycle, Nevada will hold caucuses for Democratic presidential candidates on Feb. 22.

Sanders disagreed with the notion that his health care plan would not benefit Culinary Workers Union members. “I think our health care plan for them and for every person in America would expand the health care that we have,” adding that his plan would do away with premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. Sanders further promised that under his plan, no American would spend more than $200 a year on prescription drugs.

The candidate also dismissed reports that some of his supporters had gone after members of the union on social media for their decision not to endorse him: “Obviously, that is not acceptable to me. And I don’t know who these so-called supporters are. You know, we are living in a strange world on the internet….Anybody making personal attacks against anybody else in my name is not part of our movement.”

More highlights from the interview:

  • On looking forward to Nevada and South Carolina: Despite the fact that he lost 2016 election contests in Nevada and South Carolina, Sanders said he has a good shot at both of these states, which will be holding caucuses and a primary over the next two weeks. “We have a much, much stronger organization, much better name recognition. We’re feeling that we have a shot in South Carolina. In Nevada, I think we have a really good shot,” said Sanders. “We have an extraordinary grassroots movement of people…thousands of people knocking on doors all over this country.”
  • On taxing the wealthy: Asked to respond to criticisms that his plan to cancel student debt would give unfair breaks to wealthy students, Sanders said that those who can afford to pay back their loans will “certainly be paying their fair share of taxes” under his agenda. “We live in a time of massive income and wealth inequality,” he said, adding that he believed it was important to pursue more universal programs to address these issues, such as social security. “The way you deal with social programs in my view is make them universal, and then you have the wealthy start paying their fair share of taxes to pay for them. That is simpler. That is less complicated,” said the Vermont senator.
  • On pursuing a progressive agenda: In an interview with the NewsHour Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said that the 2020 election is not the time for a “my way or the highway” approach to politics. Sanders responded on Thursday by saying he would not shy away from pursuing a progressive agenda.“The agenda that we are talking about is the agenda that working families want,” said Sanders, who added that most of these voters agree with his plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and offer universal health care. And on the issue of climate change, the candidate said a moderate approach was not the answer. “We have to act boldly. We have got to, frankly, tell the fossil fuel industry they cannot continue to destroy this planet.”
  • On his personal health: Despite having suffered a heart attack in October, Sanders said he is feeling fine. “I feel great,” said the candidate, who has been criticized for not releasing as robust a collection of medical records as his predecessors. “I feel great, a little bit tired. I haven’t had a day off in three weeks, but other than that I’m feeling pretty good,” he said.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And let's take a closer look at the high stakes heading into the Nevada caucuses and beyond with the candidate fresh off his win in New Hampshire. He is Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

    Welcome back to the "NewsHour." Congratulations.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:

    Thank you very much, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, are you now the front-runner?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    I will let you make that determination.

    All I know is, we're working really hard. We're proud that we won the popular vote in Iowa, won the New Hampshire primary. I think we have got a get good shot in Nevada and South Carolina. We will just keep going.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask you about Nevada and South Carolina.

    Four years ago, in the primary, you came close in Nevada, but you didn't win it. And South Carolina, you were beaten pretty badly…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … by Hillary Clinton.

    So you're confident you are going to win both?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    We are.

    We have a much, much stronger organization, much better name recognition. We're feeling that we have a shot in South Carolina. In Nevada, I think we have a really good shot.

    We have — all over this country, Judy, I think what I'm very proud of is that we have an extraordinary grassroots movement of people. We have thousands of people who are just knocking on doors all over this country, certainly in Nevada and South Carolina.

    And we have the agenda that I think speaks to the working families of this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me ask you about some of your agenda.

    In Nevada, a powerful culinary workers union, they announced today they are not going to endorse a candidate. It wasn't so many days ago that they put out a flyer saying that they oppose the kind of single-payer health plan that you have endorsed.

    How do you respond to their position on this?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Look, they are a great union. And I know their leadership, and we work and will work very closely with them.

    Some of their — they're part Unite Here, the broader union, and some of the locals in Unite Here are strongly supporting us, who have the same health care plan as the culinary workers. And those unions believe in Medicare for all. Many unions do believe in Medicare for all.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They're saying your plan would take away the health care that their members have.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, I don't quite agree.

    I think our plan for them and for every person in America would expand the health care that we have. We are going to expand Medicare to include home health care, dental care, hearing aids, eyeglasses.

    We're going to do away with premiums and co-payments and deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. We're going to take on the greed and corruption of the pharmaceutical industry and make sure that nobody in America has to spend more than $200 a year for prescription drugs.

    Look, Judy, at the end of the day, we are spending twice as much per capita as do the people of any other major nation. And yet, despite that huge expenditure, 87 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured, 30,000 die, 500,000 go bankrupt. That doesn't make sense.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But they are opposing your position.

    Some of your supporters in Nevada attacked the union after this…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, you know, it's a funny thing.

    Obviously, that is not acceptable to me. And I don't know who these so-called supporters are.

    You know, we are living in a strange world on the Internet. And, sometimes, people attack people in somebody else's name.

    But let me be very clear. Anybody making personal attacks against anybody else in my name is not part of our movement. We don't want them.

    And I'm not so sure, to be honest with you, that they are necessarily part of our movement. You understand, you know, the nature of the Internet. It's a strange world out there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask you about one of the positions you have taken that people bring up often, that people — voters in New Hampshire brought it up.

    You want to essentially cancel student loans for most every…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Student debt, yes.

    Judy Woodruff I'm sorry. Student debt for college students.

    This is not only going to benefit needy students. It's also going to benefit people who would go on to careers where they can afford to pay those loans back.

    I heard — voters were asking me in a number of settings in New Hampshire, this doesn't seem fair. Why spend government money for people who could afford to pay back those loans?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, those people who can afford to pay them back, under my wealth tax and tax plan, will certainly be paying their fair share of taxes.

    Judy, we live at a time of massive income and wealth inequality. And we also live at a time where every bloody program is enormously complicated. It's not just health care which is driving people crazy. It is filling out forms. My income went up. I'm not eligible anymore. My income went down. I can do this.

    What I want to do and what I believe is universal programs. The reason Social Security has been so popular over the years — you know what? Billionaires like Donald Trump get their Social Security check. Mike Bloomberg gets a Social Security check. It doesn't mean much to them.

    The way you deal with social programs, in my view, is, make them universal, and then you have the wealthy start paying their fair share of taxes to pay for them. That is simpler. That is less complicated.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You — I interviewed Pete Buttigieg yesterday, who came out of New Hampshire a close second.

    Among other things, he said: This is not the time for politics of my way or the highway. And he said, if your only choices are between a revolution and the status quo, that's a vision that leaves most Americans out.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Look, the agenda that we are talking about is the agenda that working families want.

    I'm proud to have led the way, raised the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour. Health care is a human right. We are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people. If somebody thinks that's radical, fine. I don't think it is radical.

    You got to deal with climate change. Now, I don't know — Buttigieg or anybody else wants to deal with it in a modest way. You can't do it. The scientists are telling us we have an existential threat facing this planet.

    I'm sure you have read a dozen reports about this, OK? We have to act boldly. We have got to, frankly, tell the fossil fuel industry they cannot be continue to destroy this planet. I support the Green New Deal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you think that's a plan that appeals to moderate Democrats, as well as progressive liberal — and I'm asking, because one of your most visible supporters, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, gave an interview a few weeks ago in which she said that there's such a thing as too big a tent for Democrats.

    She questioned whether she and Joe Biden should even be in the same party. It was sounding this — that this is a party that should limit who belongs.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    No, not at all. That's not my view.

    What Alexandria was talking about, I think, is that, in Europe, where you have many, many parties, she and Biden probably wouldn't be in the same party. And that's true.

    What I believe is that to win this election — and I think it's absolutely imperative that we defeat Trump, who is the most dangerous president in modern American history — the way you beat him is to grow the voter turnout.

    We need the largest voter turnout in the history of the country. And you know what, Judy? I don't think that the same old/same old status quo politics is going to excite people and bring them out.

    What our campaign is doing is reaching out to disillusioned working people who no longer vote, to young people who have not gotten involved in the political process to the degree that they should. That is the way, I believe, we defeat Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, with all due respect, the turnout in Iowa not what it was in 2008, when Barack Obama…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    That's true.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … engendered a huge turnout. And then, in New Hampshire, the turnout among young people was down.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    All right, let me say two responses.

    Number one, in Iowa, you're right. The turnout was similar to what it was in 2016. But you know what? Young people under 29 years of age, we saw a 33 percent increase in their participation.

    In New Hampshire, we won almost all of the working-class communities in this country. And if we're going to bring working-class people back into the Democratic Party, I think, frankly, our campaign is the campaign to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I was just going to say quickly, though, the young — younger voter turnout, 18 to 29, in New Hampshire was down.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    I — I heard that. I'm not sure that that's accurate.

    My understanding is that, on college towns, the turnout was high. But we haven't really analyzed those results yet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A question that has come up from a number of voters, your health records.

    You said last fall you would release them by the end of 2019. What is your plan about that?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, we did. We released them, in the same way that other candidates did release them. We had…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As full and as complete as…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Yes, I think that that's fine.

    Look, I am — it's no great secret I had a heart attack in early October. Follow me on the campaign path. We're working hard. I am feeling fine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you — I was going to ask you, how do you feel?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    I feel great, a little bit tired. I haven't had a day off in three weeks.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    But, other than that, I'm feeling pretty good.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Understandable.

    I — Pete Buttigieg said yesterday — he said, in order to compete against a president and his allies who've raised astonishing sums of money, we need to go into this fight with everything we got.

    The president raised more than $60 million in January.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Does he have a point?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    No, he does not have a point.

    I mean, the other part of the answer that you're going to give me is, of course, because he's raising money from some 40 or 50 billionaires or whatever, who are pouring — big money interests, CEOs of the drug companies are pouring a lot of money into his campaign.

    Look, that's what candidates always say.

    At the end of the day, the American people, in my view, or in most people, are, frankly, disgusted by the power of billionaires controlling not only our economy, but our — the political life of this country as well.

    What we have done is raise money in a very different way than the mayor, Mayor Buttigieg, has. We have received more contributions from more people than any candidate in the history of this country at this point in election, averaging $18 apiece.

    We are a candidate of the working class in this country. Our major contributors are teachers. I'm very proud of that. I don't go to billionaires' homes. I don't go to wine — whatever they call them — wine caves to raise billions — you know, lots of money. We don't do that.

    And anybody who tells you, Judy, that when billionaires contribute, when the CEOs and when the pharmaceutical industry contribute, they don't want anything, they're just doing it out of the goodness of their heart, I don't think anybody in America believes that.

    And that is why we have such massive — why, in terms of the drug companies, we pay 10 times more than Canada and other countries do for the same exact medicine.

    Of course, billionaires contribute for a reason. They want influence in the political process. I don't want their money. My job is to represent the middle class and working families of this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Of course, there's another billionaire in the race. We can talk about him the next time — the next time we're together.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    I heard about that. I did.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Bernie Sanders, thank you.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Thank you very much, Judy.

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