Sanders: Turning our backs on refugees destroys the idea of America

How would Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders handle terror threats at home and abroad, in light of the Paris attacks and the shifting threat of the Islamic State? Sanders joins Gwen Ifill to discuss his views on combatting terrorism and the anti-refugee backlash in the U.S.

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    The next person to occupy the White House will likely be faced with the continuing fallout from this week's Paris attacks.

    Tonight, we are joined by two of the presidential candidates to hear how they would handle terror threats at home and abroad.

    We begin with Democratic candidate Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

    Welcome, Senator.

  • SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, Democratic Presidential Candidate:

    Good to be with you.


    In the wake of the Paris attacks, you have called for what you describe as an international effort to eliminate the stain of ISIS from the world.

    How would you do that?


    The good news, in the midst of all of this tragedy, is that countries all over the world, whether it is France, whether it is Russia, whether it is the Muslim countries in the Gulf region, we now have a common interest.

    And that is to come together to destroy this barbaric organization called ISIS. And what has got to happen — and I don't suggest this is easy, but we have got to overcome a lot of the internal squabbling and disagreements which now exist.

    God knows the United States, correctly, has strong differences of opinion with Russia. Iran and Saudi Arabia have very, very strong differences of opinion. But what leadership is about now is bringing together all of these countries, including the countries in the Gulf region who have the most to lose, and to say, you know what, we're going to work on a coordinated military strategy and a political strategy to destroy ISIS.

    That's what I have been saying for a long time. And I believe it is even truer today.


    In your opinion, has the Obama administration done enough to create a workable strategy?


    This is tough stuff, and I know it's very easy to criticize the president.

    But I think he has tried as hard as he can. I think John Kerry has been very effective in trying to bring these countries together. He got Saudi Arabia and Iran to sit down in a room. That is no small thing. To get Turkey and the Kurds to begin working together, no small thing, but that is what has — has to happen.

    So I think we have got to do more. I think the Obama administration has made a very good step forward, but we have got to do more. I think we're seeing some results in the G20 conferences that are taking place and have taken place.

    But the bottom line is, we have got to be in this together. Russia lost over 200 people in a flight. God knows we saw what happened in Paris. We know what's happened in the U.K. We are in this together. And when we work together, not the slightest doubt in my mind that ISIS will be destroyed.


    The other thing that's happened since the Paris attacks is what appears to be a pretty strong, in this country especially, anti-refugee backlash, many, many governors saying, no, not in my state.

    What's your response to that?


    I disagree.

    Look, when we talk about terrorism, what it's really about is the terrorists trying to instill fear and terror in ourselves. And I'm hearing some people talking, well, maybe we will close down mosques, maybe we won't let Muslims into this country, maybe we will turn our back on hundreds of thousands of people who have been destroyed,whose lives have been destroyed by terrorism, who have had to flee Syria, have to flee Afghanistan.

    Now, it goes without saying that we need to have a very, very strong screening process to make sure that those people who come into this country deserve to be in this country, that they are not terrorists. I think that we can do that.

    And I will tell you something else, that if we turn our backs on those people, you know, I think in — almost, in a way, we will be — we will be under — we will be destroying what this country is supposed to be about.

    Throughout our history, we have welcomed people who were in trouble.

    So, screening, yes, but turning our backs on people whose lives have been so affected by the war in Syria and Afghanistan, I don't think that's appropriate.


    In your statement, you described this as Islamophobia and racism. Strong words.




    Do you want to name names about who is guilty of that?


    Oh, sure. It's no great secret.

    A few months ago, Donald Trump said about people from Mexico that they are criminals and they're rapists. Well, that's — you know, and now we're talking Trump and others are talking about, well, maybe we will close down mosques.

    Last I heard, we had a Constitution in this country which gave all of our people the right of religious freedom, you know? And then I'm hearing other people saying, well, you know, we may have to undermine the Constitution in terms of civil liberties.

    When we do all of those things, then, in fact, the terrorists win without having to explode a bomb in America. We're undermining what we stand for as a country.

    I understand that people are frightened. What we saw in Paris was disgusting, was horrible, was barbaric. But we are a strong enough nation to say we're not going to lose who we are as a people, that we're going to protect our Constitution, we're going to protect religious freedom, and we're not going to turn our backs on women and children who have been thrown out of their own countries with the shirts on their backs.

    Yes, we're going to open our doors, but we are going to screen. That's my view.


    Just today, the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, and even Chuck Schumer have all said that perhaps we should consider a pause in accepting refugees into this country.


    Well, I think we have to have a very, very effective screening mechanism.

    And I don't know what people mean by a pause. If a pause means that we want to take a look at how we're doing screening, to make sure that we're doing it effectively, that's — that's one thing. But if a pause really is a subtext of saying, well, we're going to turn our backs on refugees who are in desperate need of help — and, by the way, when I talk about the refugee crisis, it's not just the United States.

    It has got to be Europe. It has got to be Saudi Arabia and countries in the Gulf region. It has to be the entire world coming together and saying hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, many children, are — need help.


    And, finally — and, finally, I have to ask you.

    Today, Hillary Clinton received the endorsement of the Service Employees Union, two-million strong. There had been some split within that union about some who wanted to support you and some who wanted to support her.

    What's your reaction to that endorsement today?


    Well, obviously, I would have liked to have had that endorsement.

    But what you are going to see all over this country is leadership sometimes doing things that I think the rank-and-file don't support. I think, in New York City, 1199, one of the large locals, is not supporting. I think we have support within the SEIU.

    We have won the support of the largest nurses' union, one of the largest postal workers union. We're going to get more union support. But I have absolute confidence that, given the fact that I have one of the highest voting — pro-union rate — voting records in the Congress, that I have been on a lot of picket lines, that I'm fighting for $15 an hour, I think my record will in fact convince millions of workers in unions and out of unions that, if we want to stand up for the working class of this country, I am the candidate.


    Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Democratic candidate for president, thank you for joining us.


    Thank you.


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