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Less than 60 days until Iowans kick off the 2020 presidential race at caucus sites across the state. We sit down with a candidate aiming to win Iowa during his second presidential run, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, on this edition of Iowa Press.

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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.  

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For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating nearly 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, December 6 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen. 

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Yepsen: On Iowa Caucus Night 2016, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders came within less than one half of one percent to the eventual caucus winner and democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. The independent Senator from Vermont has returned to the Iowa campaign trail for much of 2019 hoping for another strong Caucus Night here. Senator Sanders joins us now at the Iowa Press table. Senator, welcome. Good to see you again

Sanders: Thank you very much for having me

Yepsen: Journalists across the table today are James Lynch with the Gazette in Cedar Rapids and Kay Henderson is News Director at Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Senator, should the House pass articles of impeachment? You would be sitting as a juror in the Senate perhaps during the month of January. Do you have the apparatus on the ground here to campaign if you're not able to get out to Iowa?

Sanders: Well, let me just say two things. First of all, I think the House should pass the articles of impeachment and I say this with reluctance. I'm not happy about it. But I think we must maintain a certain standard for the Presidents of the United States and that is the standard that President Trump has not maintained. And I think it would be a dereliction of duty if the House did not go forward of bringing articles of impeachment against him. As a United States Senator I've sworn my constitutional responsibility as a Senator and I will be there as a juror in the trial if it does go to the Senate and I will do my job. We will do everything that we can, and I think the people of Iowa will understand you can't be in two places at the same time. But I am feeling very good, I have to tell you, about our situation here in Iowa. I think we have more volunteers on the ground than any other campaign. We've got a great staff and I think we stand a good chance, a very strong chance, to win here in Iowa.

Lynch: Democratic caucus goers have a question on their lips everywhere we go and that is who is most electable? And in 2016 Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. Where do you win that she didn't win in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin?

Sanders: Well, in fact, during the democratic primaries of 2016 in fact we did win in Michigan, we won in Wisconsin, we ran strong in other states. This is how I think we beat Trump and why I believe I am the most electable democratic candidate, and that is to beat Trump you're going to need a massive voter turnout. That is the simple truth. And I believe that our campaign is the campaign of energy and excitement. I believe that our campaign is the campaign that will attract working people who understand that much of what Trump told them here in Iowa and around the country turned out to be a lie. He has not been a champion of working people. He is in many ways a fraud. And we will make that point I think effectively. Second of all, if you need a large voter turnout we're going to have to bring young people into the political process and I'm very proud that in 2016 we ended up getting more young people, get votes from young people than Trump and Clinton combined, and that is I think replicating itself right now. We're doing very well. So we've got to bring young people into the political process, we have to bring working people around an agenda that stands for the working families of America and not just the 1% and I think we have that agenda. When I was here four years ago I talked about raising that minimum wage to $15 an hour and everybody said you're crazy, it can't be done. Seven states have done it. I talked about health care as a human right, the need to pass a Medicare for all, that has now become part of the popular lexicon. I talked about climate change as a national security issue. People didn't agree with me then, they are agreeing with me now. So I think we've got the issues, we've got the movement to win here in Iowa and to win the battleground states and defeat Trump.

Henderson: What about your health? You had a health scare in October.

Sanders: I had a blocked artery. Two stents were put in. It's a procedure that I think impacts about a million people a year, so it's not an uncommon procedure. I can tell you I am feeling really good, better than before I had the procedure, less fatigue. We're running a vigorous campaign and I would not be in this race if I did not believe I had the strength and the energy to be a vigorous and effective President.

Henderson: We have heard you often say that you wrote the blanket-blank Medicare for all --

Sanders: I don't want to say damn on television, I know, probably lost votes, but all right.

Henderson: Some Iowa democrats, in fact a majority of those polled by the Des Moines Register in October, had concerns about that. They think it will trip the party's nominee up if the party's nominee supports Medicare for all. How do you allay those concerns?

Sanders: I respectfully disagree with those folks. I am a strong proponent of Medicare for all. I did write the bill. And here's where we're at. We've got to take a deep breath and look at health care in America and I want everybody to understand that we are spending twice as much per capita on health care than the people of any other country. But somehow in Canada, most of the European countries, they provide health care to all of their people while we have 87 million Americans uninsured or underinsured, underinsured means high deductibles, high copayments. 30,000 people a year die, die because they don't get to a doctor when they should. 500,000 people go bankrupt because of medically related bills. Can you imagine somebody being diagnosed with cancer, having to deal with all of the problems, what doctor do I go to, what treatment do I do, what medicine do I use, and then they've got to worry about financial ruin for their families. That is not a civilized or humane health care system. And on top of all of that we pay far more for prescription drugs as do the people of any other country. Some of you may know that I went to Canada a number of months ago with people in the Midwest who are diabetic, we bought insulin for one-tenth of the price, 10% of the price paid in this country, because of the greed and corruption of the pharmaceutical industry. So you can't tinker around the edges. The function of a rational health care system is to provide quality health care to all, not make as was the case last year $100 billion in profits for the drug companies and the insurance companies. So under my Medicare for all plan we eliminate all premiums, no more premiums, no more copayments, no more deductibles, no more out of pocket expenses, we expand health care to cover dental care, to cover hearing aids, to cover eyeglasses and to include home health care and we do that in a way that will lower the cost of health care for the overwhelming majority of the American people.

Lynch: Senator, Medicare for all is just one of the ideas you have that is sort of a revolution for health care. But you're talking about a revolution, a political revolution, an economic revolution. After four years, almost four years of Donald Trump, a lot of people say they just want to go back to normal. So at the heart of this campaign there seems to be a debate between nibbling around the edges, incremental change and a revolution. So what are voters going to do in November of next year? Are they going to vote for a revolution or baby steps?

Sanders: Let's be -- I don't think it's either or. I think it is primarily listening to what the American people want. Often Bernie you're so radical, your ideas making public colleges and universities tuition free, canceling all student debt, radical idea. Not so radical, that is what is happening already in states around the country. Medicare for all, overwhelming majority of democrats support it. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, dealing with climate change, does anyone think we should not deal aggressively with what is an existential crisis for this country and the world? So, when we talk about a political revolution what it means is dealing with the corruption that now exists in our political system. And I think most Americans, by the way republicans as well as democrats and independents, understand there is something wrong when billionaires are able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy elections. They understand there's something wrong when you have governors in this country engaged in voter suppression. So all that I am trying to do in this campaign, and we're having enormous success, these ideas are resonating in Iowa and all over this country, is have a government and an economy that works for all of us and not just the 1%. Is that really such a radical idea? Right now you have republican leadership, if Mitch McConnell were right here today and I would give him credit for this, for honesty, he would tell you that after giving huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires and large profitable corporations he wants to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. That's what Mitch McConnell will tell you. I think that's an outrage and that is a Congress, republican leadership, that are working day and night for the wealthiest people in this country, turning their backs on working families. So I don't want people to get scared. All that we are trying to do is what the American people want. The American people don't want tax breaks for billionaires and cuts to Social Security. They want to protect the working families of this country and that is as President what I intend to do.

Lynch: Senator, you said some of the ideas like the minimum wage, states are already raising the minimum wage, some states are taking action on environmental issues. Why not let that work its way, rather than from the top down, the federal government imposing these things?

Sanders: James, the idea of a minimum wage is not a new idea, certainly that has been going on for many, many decades. Right now though in terms of the minimum wage it's a starvation wage. It is $7.25 here in Iowa. Tell me, does anyone here think that any human being can live on $7.25 an hour? A couple of, a month ago or so ago a woman in Des Moines raising three kids, working at Burger King, making $10 an hour, she is not making it. And, by the way, what ends up happening when you have these starvation wages whether it's Wal-Mart or the fast food industry, who do you think is subsidizing these workers in terms of Medicaid, in terms of food stamps, in terms of public housing? The taxpayers are. So in terms of Wal-Mart, for example, you have the wealthiest family in this country paying starvation wages and ordinary taxpayers are subsidizing the Walton family. That doesn't make any sense to me at all. But in terms if you talk about climate, and some states are moving forward, let me be very clear, people may disagree with me or not. What the scientists are telling us, they have underestimated the severity of the crisis and that climate change is ravaging, moving in a much quicker way in ravaging our country and the entire planet. So we're talking about, if we don't get our act together, we're talking about major cities in America and around the world being under water, we are talking about farm production in Iowa, in the Midwest and the world becoming less effective because crops do not do well under water or in heat waves.

Yepsen: But Senator, what do you say to people who are concerned about climate change, that a lot of people, some of whom are logical supporters of you, people in the fossil fuels industry, workers, miners and oil field workers, who are going to get laid off? They're worried. We're seeing that pattern --

Sanders: David, what we are playing for is the future of this planet. That's what we're playing for. If there was a fire raging through this studio right now, you would say how do we put out that fire?

Yepsen: What do you do to help though --

Sanders: I'll tell you what we do. What we do is in our New Deal, Green New Deal legislation we make sure that all of those workers, look you're talking to perhaps the most pro-worker member of the United States Congress. I do not turn my back on coal miners or guys who work on oil rigs, I don't do that. So we have built into our legislation a five year just transition program which will guarantee them a paycheck for five years, good paycheck, health care, educational opportunity. We are not turning our back on the workers. But on the other hand I will not turn my back on the kids and the future generations of this country who are going to see more and more extreme weather disturbances, more drought, more floods, more rising sea levels. We have a moral responsibility to make sure that the planet that our kids and future generations inherit is a plant that is healthy and is habitable. I listen to the scientists and I know I've been criticized for coming up with the most sweeping and comprehensive climate change legislation. Let me reiterate this, we are fighting for the future of this planet. And 20 years from now you don't want your grandchildren to look you in the eye and say, didn't you listen to the scientists? Why did you allow this to happen? We are underestimating the severity. We've got to listen to the science.

Henderson: Speaking of grandchildren, there are some who argue that money would be better spent insuring early childhood education than on paying down student loan debt for those who go to college.

Sanders: It's not an either or. I think what the psychologists will tell you that the most important years of human development are zero through four. And the way we treat our children in general in this station, we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country on Earth, our childcare pre-K system is a disaster. I can tell you in Vermont and I expect here in Iowa very hard for a working class person to find the quality childcare that they need for their kids at an affordable cost. That's ridiculous. So our educational program invests very heavily into pre-K, but at the same time I want those kids to be able regardless of the income of their family to get a higher education, which is why we're going to make public colleges and universities tuition free, and we're going to cancel all student debt. Now, your next question is, hey Bernie, that sounds great. How are you going to pay for it? Well, I'll tell you how we're going to pay for it. When you've got three people in this country owning more wealth than the bottom half of America, when you've got Trump giving a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the top 1% and large profitable corporations, when we have more income and wealth inequality today than at any time since the 1920's, yes, I'm 'here to tell you that I will bring forth legislation to make sure that the rich and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes.

Yepsen: Senator, we've got way too many questions. James?

Sanders: I've provoked you. You're ready to go, huh?

Lynch: I want to talk about trade, which is an important issue here in Iowa for agriculture and manufacturing. You oppose TPP, the Transpacific Partnership, like Donald Trump. How would your trade policies differ from the current administration's in a way that would benefit Iowa?

Sanders: Good, good. Not only did I oppose the TPP, I helped lead the effort against NAFTA, I helped lead the effort against permanent normal trade relations with China. These were disastrous trade agreements that have cost us something like 4 million decent paying jobs in the Midwest and all over this country. I believe in trade but I believe in fair trade, not unfettered free trade. I do not believe that we should be shutting down factories in America and having corporations run to desperate countries where people are paid a dollar or two dollars an hour. I don't believe in that. So we are going to develop trade policies not by tweet in the middle of the night, we are going to develop trade policies with the input of workers and farmers, trade policies that work for ordinary people, not just the CEO's of large corporations.

Yepsen: Tariffs?

Sanders: When tariffs are necessary, absolutely, we'll use all the tools that we have. But the bottom line is I want to protect family farmers here in Iowa and the Midwest and all over this country and I want to make sure that we protect workers as well. The function of trade is not just to make large corporations wealthier.

Lynch: You mentioned you opposed NAFTA. What about USMCA?

Sanders: I'm sorry?

Lynch: USMCA, the successor --

Sanders: Well, we're going to look at that. I have reservations about that. It's something that has to be studied more.

Henderson: A real quick follow up about student debt. There are thriving colleges in small communities in Iowa like Indianola and Pella who argue that doing that, having a free public education, will kill small colleges.

Sanders: Nope, because part of the program that we have brought forth will also very significantly increase Pell Grants, work study programs and other programs. So if a kid wants to go to a private college that is the choice of the young man or woman and we are not there to hurt private colleges. The goal here is to make sure that every person in this country regardless of his or her income can get a college education, making public colleges and universities tuition free, helping students if they choose to go to private schools.

Henderson: Something that has happened this week, the Trump administration is advancing new rules for the food stamp program. Will you support those rules?

Sanders: No, I will not. It's a wonderful thing, we give tax breaks to billionaires, we provide hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks in the fossil fuel industry whose product is destroying the planet, and then at a time when so many of our people are struggling we're going to be cutting back on food stamps. We have got to change the priorities of this country and it's not only standing up for the working class in this country, it's standing up for the most vulnerable people which is the children and the elderly. I do not want to see anybody in this country go hungry. This is the wealthiest country in the history of the world and I will not be part of a program which increases hunger in America.

Lynch: Some of the candidates out here campaigning this year are calling for the abolishment of the Electoral College and they point to 2016 as an example of why we should. You come from a small, rural state. Abolishing the Electoral College, is that a good thing for Vermont? Is it a good thing for Iowa?

Sanders: Here's where I think we're at. I think we have to ask, if we believe in democracy, and I am a vigorous, unlike the President of the United States I actually do believe in democracy, that we have to ask ourselves a simple question. The guy in the White House lost the popular vote by over 3 million votes. Last I heard when you win the majority of the votes or the popular vote, if I beat you I should be elected, if you beat me you take office. And that is not what happens right now. The other problem with the Electoral College, we don't talk about this enough, is that in many ways, as you know, the presidential campaign ends up really centering around 15 or 16 so-called battleground states, Iowa being one of them. But is that fair to the people of California? Is it fair to the people of New York? Is it fair to the people of Wyoming who vote republican overwhelmingly? So in a sense the presidential candidates ignore their needs. I think you want a presidential campaign which addresses the needs of people in 50 states in this country, not just 15 or 16.

Yepsen: Senator, we've got just a few minutes left and I want to switch to a question of foreign policy. Are we the world's policemen? What is America's role in the world going forward?

Sanders: Look, I want to tell you two things. When I first was elected to the Congress in 1990, I took office in '91, one of my first votes was on the Gulf War, the first Gulf War when getting rid of Saddam Hussein, I voted against that war and that was a difficult political vote. In fact, I thought my political career was about to end. But it was the right vote. And I helped lead the opposition to the war in Iraq which turned out to be perhaps the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country. I was chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, I talked to so many of our young men and women who came back from that war wounded in body and in spirit, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people in the region who were killed or displaced, that was a danger. So to answer your question, I will do everything I can to end endless wars.

Henderson: Briefly, if Major League Baseball closes a few minor league teams --

Sanders: More than a few, 42.

Henderson: -- including three in Iowa, should they lose their monopoly status?

Sanders: And one in Vermont. In fact, that's the city, Burlington, I brought baseball to Burlington, Vermont, minor league baseball so I've got a personal interest in this one. Look, Major League Baseball is enormously profitable, these guys are making all kinds of money. Many of the heads, the owners of Major League Baseball are billionaires. And now they decide for their own kind of greedy reasons that they want to shut down baseball in 42 small communities, three in Iowa, one in Vermont, all over this country. That's wrong. So I met with the Commissioner of baseball last week. I will do everything that I can to tell them that when they receive an enormous amount of corporate welfare, when they have received exemptions from anti-trust legislation, do the right thing, protect those communities all over this country with baseball that is so important.

Yepsen: Senator, just a couple of minutes left. One other thing that happened earlier this week, one of the problems you have in this state there are a lot of Clinton voters who are unhappy with what are the leftovers of that campaign. As she told Howard Stern, one of the things that hurt her in the November election was your endorsement didn't come soon enough. She said, he hurt me, there's no doubt about it, and I hope he doesn't do it again to whoever gets the nomination, once is enough. What is your reaction to that?

Sanders: I'm sorry that Hillary Clinton is re-running 2016 and if I had it on me I could take out a letter from Hillary Clinton saying, thank you, Bernie, for working so hard to try to make me the President of the United States. Let's be clear, in the last, during my efforts to get Hillary Clinton elected and to defeat Donald Trump, I ran to something like 14, 15, 16 states right here in Iowa. I worked as hard as humanly possible. We did dozens and dozens of rallies around this country. Now, what I tried to do after she won the primary is to sit down with her staff, and we did, to create a democratic platform that was as progressive as it could be and that ended up happening. So I don't want to rerun 2016. Right now our goal is to defeat Donald Trump. I think I am the strongest candidate to do that. If it turns out that I am not the democratic nominee I will strongly support anybody else.

Lynch: New job numbers out show that 266,000 jobs were added in the past month and wages grew by about 3%. If Donald Trump runs on the economy, are democrats sunk?

Sanders: Wait a minute, wage went up by 3%, but that does not count inflation. The fact of the matter is that the average American worker today is scarcely making in real dollars a nickel more than he or she did 45 years ago. You've got half of the American people living paycheck to paycheck. I have talked to many people in this state trying to make it at $9, $10, $11 an hour and they're not making it. 87 million people uninsured or underinsured at a time when we give tax breaks to billionaires, you've got a half a million people tonight sleeping out on the streets of America. So what I would say is the economy is doing very, very well for the wealthy and the powerful, not so well for the average working class person.

Yepsen: Senator, I have to leave it there. Thank you very much for being with us.

Sanders: My pleasure, thank you.

Yepsen: And we'll be back next week with another edition of Iowa Press when the republican majority leader of the Iowa Senate Jack Whitver joins us. That's Iowa Press at our regular times, Friday night at 7:30 and again at Noon on Sunday. So for all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.

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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. 

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