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Sen. Bernie Sanders on how Democrats see the state of the Union under Trump

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., accused House Republicans on Wednesday of undermining special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between Russia and President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign by pushing for the release of a controversial classified intelligence memo.

Sanders told the PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff that House Republicans are “100 percent” politicizing Mueller’s Russia probe by calling for the release of the memo, which was written by aides to Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The panel voted along party lines Monday to release the memo, something that angered Democrats, who say the document “omits crucial facts and should not be selectively released.”

The memo reportedly argues the FBI abused its authority in compiling information on the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. Trump has signaled he wants the memo released. But the FBI said it has “grave concerns” about doing so, and Democrats say it is an effort by Republicans to undermine the credibility of Mueller’s investigation.

Sanders told Woodruff that the controversy shows Republicans were “turning against” the FBI.

“What the FBI and many Americans are really wondering about is: How does it happen that you have a Republican party, which for so many years defended law enforcement, defended the intelligence agencies, are now turning against them?” Sanders said.

Other highlights from the interview:

  • Sanders said he hopes Democrats and Republicans answer Trump’s call Tuesday in his State of the Union speech to reach a common ground on immigration, noting that a majority of Congress supports legislation that would ensure young undocumented immigrants don’t lose their legal status.
  • The Democratic Party does not have a unity problem, Sanders said. Democrats drew criticism for having at least four additional responses, including one by Sanders, to Trump’s State of the Union speech that competed for attention with the party’s official response by Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass.
  • Wealth inequality in the United States could push the country toward an “oligarchic form of society,” Sanders said, echoing one of the chief themes of his 2016 presidential campaign. Democrats should mobilize a grassroots movement to “demand that we have a government that represents the middle-class working people and not just the 1 percent,” he said.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Democrats may be united in opposing President Trump, but last night, they could not unify around a single message to respond to his State of the Union address. There were no fewer than five Democratic responses.

    One of those speakers, Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from the state of Vermont and the former Democratic presidential candidate.

    Senator Sanders, welcome back to the NewsHour. Thank you for being here.

    I want to start — I was going to start with the State of the Union.

    But I do want to first binge up this story that we are paying attention to tonight, this dispute that has broken out into the open between the White House and the Department of Justice, the FBI over whether to release this confidential classified memo.

    What are your thoughts about the issues that are raised by this, issues of confidence…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, first of all…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    First of all, let’s understand this confidential memo was written by Republican staffers. That is who wrote it.

    And what the FBI and the intelligence agencies are concerned about is the revelation of information that at this point shouldn’t be made public. And what the FBI and many Americans are really wondering about is, how does it happen that you have a Republican Party, which for so many years defended law enforcement, defended the intelligence agencies, are now turning against them?

    And this gets you back to the Mueller investigation and the idea here of disparaging Mr. Mueller who has had widespread bipartisan support for the work he did as FBI director. But now that he’s looking at the possibility of Trump’s campaign colluding with the Russians, suddenly, they are trying to really denigrate this man.

    So, I think that is what this is about, very political.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Excuse me.

    What we understand is that the core of this memo, though, is whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — Surveillance Act courts, the FISA courts, and the Department of Justice may have been used in a political way to help one party over another in 2016.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think it’s possible that that happened?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    I think — well, first of all, they, as I understand it, have chosen not to release the House memo which deals with this issue as well. So, the only memo that’s being released is the Republican memo.

    Bottom line is, Mueller is doing an independent investigation, and Republicans in the House are doing everything they can to obstruct that investigation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me turn you — so, in other words, you are not commenting on whether it’s possible that happened, whether there was some political use?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, I’m not a great fan of — I voted against a lot of the intelligence, the FISA efforts, because I think as a nation we are invading people’s privacy to a significant degree, both government and the corporate world.

    But I would say that what the Republicans are doing is 100 percent political at this point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Senator, let’s talk about the State of the Union.

    There were several points in the speech last night where the president said, I want to reach across the aisle, I want to work with Democrats on whether it’s the economy, immigration, infrastructure.

    Do you see potential areas of common ground where you can work with the president?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, I would hope so. I would hope so.

    But let’s understand, when we talk about immigration, it is the president himself who precipitated this DACA crisis by revoking Obama’s executive order on DACA in September.

    And where we are now is the situation where 80 percent — according to poll after poll, 80 percent or more of the American people say we have got to provide legal status for these 800,000 dreamers and a path towards citizenship.

    Now the good news is, is that, in the House, there is majority support now. I think you have something like 30 Republicans joining almost all Democrats in support of a dreamers act. You have majority support now in the Senate, my guess is 55, 56 people in the Senate, who support a dreamers act.

    Now the question is whether the leadership will come together in the House and the Senate and allow us to go forward to do the right thing, the moral thing, and make sure that these young people do not lose their legal status.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But do you think it is likely that there will be some agreement?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    I would hope so.

    I think, if we are at 56 or 57 votes in the Senate right now, I think we can get three or four more. And I would hope that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan will allow us to go forward and protect these young people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Senator, you gave a response to the president last night live-streamed on YouTube and Facebook at the same time the “quote” official Democratic Party response.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Not true. We gave it after the Democratic response.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    After the — I’m sorry. It was after.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

     Joe Kennedy — Joe Kennedy did a fine job, and we did it after he did it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, what I want to ask you is, among other things, it was Congressman Kennedy who made the response.

    He talked about a better deal for all who call this country home. He talked about Democrats supporting a higher minimum wage, paid leave for employees, affordable child care and so on.

    How does his message differ from yours, which is described as a progressive Democratic message?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, his message is fine. So, I’m not here to argue with Congressman Kennedy, who I think gave a very good speech.

    The theme of my remarks is to suggest that this country is moving very rapidly into an oligarchic form of society, where we have massive levels of income and wealth inequality.

    Recently, I’m sure you saw that the Koch brothers and their billionaire allies have now suggested they are now planning to spend $400 million in the 2018 elections. So you have got a handful of billionaires who have enormous influence over the economic and political life of this country.

    In my view, the Democratic Party needs to be active in organizing at the grassroots effort. And some of us are working very hard on that, a mass movement to demand that we have a government that represents the middle-class working people and not just the 1 percent.

    And that includes doing what every other major country on Earth does, providing health care to all, in my view, through a Medicare-for-all single-payer program. It means transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.

    It means raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour, pay equity for women. It means rebuilding the infrastructure, not in the way that Trump is proposing, which is calling for states to do a lot of privatization of their roads and their water systems, but a real investment in our infrastructure to create up to 15 million jobs.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Senator…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Go ahead. I’m sorry.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I’m sorry.

    I was just going to say, is it a problem for Democrats, though, that you had several different messages? There was Congressman Kennedy’s. There was yours.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    No, I don’t think that the — no.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There was a response, so-called moderate Democratic response.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    I don’t think that’s the response at all.

    I think, right now, there is massive revulsion, if I may use that word, against Donald Trump for his divisiveness, for his dishonesty, for his bigotry. And different people are approaching how you deal with Trump and how you bring America forward in different ways.

    And the truth is that different voices bring in different respondents, people who have different perspectives. But the goal right now is to rally the American people around a progressive agenda, all of the ideas that I’m talking about, making public colleges and universities tuition-free.

    Instead of giving massive tax breaks to the billionaires and large corporations, as Trump has done, most Americans think we need to ask the billionaire class to start paying more in taxes, not less.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How soon do Democrats need to get together and have a unified message?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, right now, I mean, again, what most of these polls suggest is that the Democrats are doing quite well.

    If you look at November 7, Democrats did very well in New Jersey and Virginia. They won a huge upset in Alabama. We’re winning at local levels. So, I think the momentum is with us.

    The problem that we have, Judy, is taking on the Koch brothers, the second wealthiest family in this country, and other billionaires who are going to pour huge amounts of money into the political — into the election of 2018.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Bernie Sanders, it is always a pleasure. Thank you very much.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Thank you.

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