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Sanders on disappointing election results for Democrats in Congress

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., represents progressives in Congress. While Democrat Joe Biden won the presidential election, his party lost seats in the House and failed to achieve a Senate majority. The mixed election results reinforce the ideological divide between the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic Party, on issues from health care to policing. Sanders joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Joe Biden has won the presidency by securing more than 270 electoral votes and leading the popular vote by a five million vote margin.

    But Democrats won't have a majority in the U.S. Senate. They have lost seats in the House, losses that exposed ideological differences between the progressive and the moderate wings of the party on issues from health care to policing.

    Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont joins me now.

    Senator Sanders, thank you so much for being here. It is clearly a win for the Democrats in the White House.

    Joe Biden is the president-elect, but disappointment in the results in the Senate and the House. What went wrong?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:

    Well, I wish I knew definitively.

    But I think the answer may be that Democratic candidates, appropriately enough, Judy, focused on the need to defeat the most dangerous president in modern American history, a pathological liar, somebody who was undermining democracy. And that's enormously important.

    But I don't think we did quite as good a job as we should have in speaking to working families, who today are in probably worse economic shape than any time since the Great Depression. And we did not make the case that we're prepared to take on powerful special interests, we're prepared to raise that minimum wage to at least 15 bucks an hour, provide equal pay for equal work, make it easier for workers to join unions, create millions of good-paying jobs, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, making public colleges and universities tuition-free, expanding health care to all people.

    So, I think we probably were not as strong as we should have been in explaining what a progressive economic agenda would mean to working families throughout the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But now that Democrats are going to have fewer seats in the House, now that you may have 50 seats in the Senate, but you may end up with 48, are you going to be able to do the kinds of things you just listed, Senator Sanders?

    You're going to have great opposition from Republicans and not even support from all Democrats.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, look, I think all of the ideas that I have talked to you about, Judy, and many more are popular ideas.

    I mean, the truth is that the American people understand that our current health care system is dysfunctional and cruel and wasteful. They understand that $7.25-an-hour minimum-wage is a starvation wage.

    They understand that, in the richest country in the history of the world, it's insane that our infrastructure is falling about, that we are not addressing the existential threat of climate change.

    That is what the American people understand and want to see us address. And our job is to explain to the American people where the opposition is and put pressure on Republicans, especially those coming up for election in two years, that they have got to do what the American people want.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, at the same time, we know President Trump, as you mentioned, received 71 million-plus votes. So, Republicans are going to point to that, and oppose, we assume, much of the Democratic agenda.

    So, my question is, can you — are you going to have to have scaled-back expectations for what President Biden is able to accomplish?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Look, I think we start off with the agenda that speaks to the American people.

    What I want all over this country is that ordinary Americans, including those who voted for Trump — you know what, they can't afford health care. They can't afford to send their kids to college. They don't want veterans sleeping on the street. They don't want to destroy their car by going over some pothole.

    They want action to improve the lives of working families. So does everybody else in America.

    So, I think the very first thing you do is make the case, here are the problems, here are the solutions. And then you can sit down with Republicans and see where we go.

    Now, my hope is that, in early January, Democrats will pick up two more seats in the Georgia run-offs, and that will make our life a lot easier.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One thing about the election, Senator, I'm sure you have heard the complaints, the comments from Democrats, moderate Democrats, who say all the talk about at defunding the police, using the term, allowing Republicans to repeatedly accuse Democrats of being socialists hurt Democrats.

    And they are saying the idea that you're going to move to a Green New Deal, that you're going to move to some form of dramatic form of police reform, that that will only hurt Democrats going forward.

    What do you say to your Democratic colleagues about that?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    First of all, I'm not aware — and maybe I'm wrong on this. I don't know there are any Democratic candidates who talked about defunding the police.

    Do we want police department reform, so that innocent African Americans are not shot and killed? Of course we do. So do the vast majority of the American people.

    In terms of some of the arguments against us, the problem is, they're just not true. To the best of my knowledge, Judy, something like 100 candidates in Congress — 100 congressional candidates ran on Medicare for all. Do you know how many lost? Zero. I think one candidate who ran on a Green New Deal lost.

    And the reason for that is these proposals are popular proposals. So, the idea of blaming our ideas on their defeat, I'm not sure that that's true. I think the converse may be true.

    Got a lot of people out there who are listening to some Democrats and saying, what do you stand for? Are you going to represent us when we are hurting so much? Do you have the guts to take on powerful special interests? Are you going to raise that minimum wage? Are you going to fight for health care for all?

    I don't want to go bankrupt because I can't afford to pay my medical bill. What are you going to do about it? How are you going to make sure that my kid can afford to go to college?

    So, I would turn that argument around and say to some of my more conservative Democratic friends, maybe the problem is that the working class of this country did not perceive that you were prepared to stand up and fight for them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two other quick questions, Senator.

    One is, there's talk of your being interested in being labor secretary in a Biden administration. Are you interested in doing that?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, let me just say this, Judy.

    The working class of this country is in a lot of pain right now, unemployment very, very high. Wages are visibly low. We have unequal pay for equal — for work. Women are getting paid much less. Workers can't form unions. People are not getting the overtime, they're not getting the pensions they are entitled to.

    So I'm going to do whatever I can, whether in the Senate or wherever, in fighting for the rights of working families. If I am asked to become a member of the Biden administration, and if I'm given a portfolio that can make a difference to the working families of this country, would I accept it?

    Yes, I would.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And do you have a favorite for Treasury secretary?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, I think there are a number of good candidates out there, but I think Elizabeth Warren has a track record of standing up to very powerful Wall Street interests. I think she knows the interests backwards and forwards.

    And I think she would be a very powerful secretary in the Treasury.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Even giving up a seat in the Senate?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, I think — without into all of the details, I think there are ways to protect that seat.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will leave it there.

    Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, we thank you.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Thank you very much.

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