Hi Reddit. I’m Senator Bernie Sanders. I’ll start answering questions at 4 p.m. ET. Please join our campaign for president at BernieSanders.com/Reddit.
Before we begin, let me also thank the grassroots Reddit organizers over at /r/SandersforPresident for all of their support. Great work.
You are often touted by supporters as being very consistent in your political beliefs and values while other politicians get called out for “flip flopping” on issues. Because change can be good, what is a notable topic you have changed your opinions on – what resulted in the change?
Thank you for the good question. I believe I have been consistent throughout my political life in terms of my basic values and what I stand for. Obviously, when you are a United States senator working in a conservative environment, you often have to do the best that you can within the circumstances that you find yourself. Two particular examples: last year, I helped write the most comprehensive veterans legislation passed in many years. Trust me, I had to change my position on very important aspects of veterans’ health care in order to get it passed. In terms of health care, I am an advocate of a Medicare-for-all single-payer program. I voted for the Affordable Care Act, not because I think it is the end place as to where we should be, but because I was able to get a major provision in it that greatly expanded primary health care — which is helping many millions of people today. So the bottom line is that you have to stick by your values but when you’re in an elected position, especially when you’re in a conservative Congress, now and then you’re going to have to compromise.
Obama stated that since 2007 Republicans have filibustered about 500 pieces of legislation that would help the middle class. Later, he said, So far this year [in 2014], Republicans in Congress have blocked every serious idea to strengthen the middle class. With this in mind, how will you get legislation passed that would benefit the middle class?
Great question. And let me repeat what I have said many times. The only way we deal with the major issues facing our country — raising the minimum wage to a living wage, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, addressing climate change in a bold way, overturning Citizens United, demanding that the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, making college affordable for all, etc. — is when ordinary people put massive pressure on the Congress. Right now, the Congressional leadership represents the interests of the wealthiest people in this country and the largest corporations. Instead of raising the minimum wage, they’re giving tax breaks to billionaires and cutting nutrition programs. Nothing will change unless millions of people demand it and that’s what this campaign is all about — mobilizing people at the grassroots level.
Senator Sanders, I am the founder and moderator of /r/SandersForPresident. As you likely know, we have seen a MASSIVE surge in grassroots support and energy over the last year (most notably, in the weeks following your announcement). As a community, what is the SINGLE best way we can use our passion, creativity, and energy to help out and contribute to the cause?
Thank you very much for your support. And we look forward to your ideas as to how we can run the most effective grassroots campaign possible. Certainly one of the areas that redditors can help on is in making sure that young people throughout this country understand the importance of politics and government. It is an American tragedy that in the last election, about 80 percent of young people did not vote. That is exactly what the ruling class of this country wants and we have got to change it. So mobilizing, educating and organizing young people is very much at the top of my agenda.
I recently read about your proposal for a bill that ensures free tuition to American college students. My question to you is, when you hopefully someday in the future get this legislation through and approved, what will happen to the students who already have mountains of debt to pay off in their names? Is there funding in the bill to alleviate the debt currently possessed by recent and past college graduates?
Great question. Our legislation not only would make tuition free at public colleges and universities, it would also cut student debt in half. It is absurd that millions of college graduates today are carrying debts of $50,000, $60,000, $100,000 or more. Our legislation deals with the issue of student debt in a very significant way.
As a young political science student it seems many of my peers are feeling increasingly disenfranchised from politics as a whole, particularly due to increasing corporate influences in politics. But realistically what can be achieved when these interest are so intertwined with current political campaigns and current issues? Is there a way to separate these interests within a political system that seems to depend on the very same interests?
Excellent questions. You are right. People in general and young people in particular are increasingly alienated and disillusioned with the political process. The middle class is disappearing, the rich get richer, young people cannot afford college, the crisis of climate change is ignored, and Congress continues on its merry way paying attention to the needs of billionaires and multinational corporations. The truth is that we are in a very difficult political moment. But despair of giving up is just not an option. I would not be doing what I am doing if I did not believe that this country could provide health care to all as a right; that we could lead the world in transforming our energy system and dealing with climate change; that we could make education affordable for all. My strong belief is that it is imperative that we maintain our vision of what American can be, and that we fight hard to make that happen. DO NOT GIVE UP.
Redditor /u/SomeKindOfMutant, who claims to have interned for a senator, says that the single best way for average Americans to get the attention of their senators is to write a letter to the editor calling them out by name and to get it published in one of the 5-10 biggest newspapers in the state. Do you agree with that assessment? If not, what is the best way for us to influence our legislators? And in particular, what can we do to stop TPA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TTIP, and TISA?
Thank you. I believe that the TPP is a disastrous agreement and I am working as hard as I can to see it defeated. One of the reasons that the middle class of this country is disappearing is because we have lost some 60,000 factories since 2001 and millions of good-paying manufacturing jobs. We need trade agreements that protect and benefit working families, not just the CEOs of large corporations.
In terms of getting the attention of elected officials, writing letters and emails as well as phoning is very important. But, what is even more important is grassroots organizing. Putting together a meeting of 100 people about an issue and inviting that elected official to that meeting to hear comments would be a huge step forward in making politicians aware that you know what’s going on and that you want your concerns addressed. I have done hundreds of town meetings as an elected official and urge citizens to organize them as fast as they can.
Do you approve of the way the USA is handling their relationship with Latin America currently? Considering recent trade deals, the drug wars amongst other things have been hurting the region, do you think there is any way of changing the way the US relates itself to Latin America for a more mutually beneficial relationship?
Great question. Given the fact that Latin America is our next-door neighbor, I have been very distressed about the lack of attention that we have paid to Latin America. I applaud President Obama’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba, a country which I have visited on several occasions. But I think much more can be done to bring the United States and Latin America closer and to improve relationships with a continent that faces many economic and social problems.
What is your opinion on the fact that the DNC has scheduled only six debates for the primaries? Since it’s important to get the issues out there and get yourself to be known by the people, do you think six debates are enough? And if not, is your team working on making sure there are more?
No I don’t think six debates are enough and we will be interacting with the DNC to try to create a situation where we have as many debates as possible. There are huge issues facing our country. Candidates are entitled to different points of view. The American people need to hear a serious discussion on these issues, so I hope there will be far more debates than what the DNC has proposed.
What do you think will have to be done regarding massive unemployment due to automation permanently killing jobs with no fault on the people losing these jobs? This video is the best one discussing these issues.
Very important question. There is no question but that automation and robotics reduce the number of workers needed to produce products. On the other hand, there is a massive amount of work that needs to be done in this country. Our infrastructure is crumbling and we can create millions of decent-paying jobs rebuilding our roads, bridges, rail system, airports, levees, dams, etc. Further, we have enormous shortages in terms of highly-qualified pre-school educators and teachers. We need more doctors, nurses, dentists and medical personnel if we are going to provide high-quality care to all of our people. But, in direct response to the question, increased productivity should not punish the average worker, which is why we have to move toward universal health care, making higher education available to all, a social safety net which is strong and a tax system which is progressive.
You have been one of the few vocal critics against the war in Iraq from the beginning. Do you think there can be just wars? And in what case would you be willing to commit armed forces into other countries?
Well, that is a very big hypothetical. Yes I do believe that there can be just wars. But, you are talking to somebody who opposed Vietnam, who voted against the first Gulf War, who voted against the War in Iraq and who believes the United States has been far far too aggressive militarily in the last many years. We have got to work with the international community not only in trying to create peaceful resolutions to conflict, but to address the underlying causes of war. This is not easy stuff. But that is the direction in which we have to move.
As a soon-to-be defending doctoral student in biophysics I am increasingly concerned about the state of scientific research in the U.S. How do you intend to improve funding security for research labs and keep our research competitive with the rest of the world? Do you have any specific plans for NIH and NSF budgets?
As the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, I share your concern very deeply. The recently-passed Republican budget makes massive cuts in almost every governmental agency, including those engaged in our scientific research. This is a disaster. If we are going to address the major health issues facing our society — Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer, etc. — we need to invest more in research and develop the best research centers in the world.
In 2014 you expressed that the decriminalisation of recreational marijuana use is “not a major issue”, but also added that you would “look into it”. The freedom to alter ones own state of consciousness, whilst doing no harm to others, is something that many people deem to be a basic human right. The prison-industrial complex, and pharmaceutical monopolies that have been erected around prohibition of consciousness altering, pain relieving, but otherwise benign drugs seems to be the epitome of what you stand against. I’d imagine that you have refrained from speaking on this issue for fear of it being used as ammunition by your “opponents”, but could you update us on your position regarding the war on drugs?
Let me just say this — the state of Vermont voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and I support that. I have supported the use of medical marijuana. And when I was mayor of Burlington, in a city with a large population, I can tell you very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana. Our police had more important things to do.
Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I’m going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done. I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months.
Do you think that wiretapping of American citizens is necessary for security of America and Americans?
I voted against the USA Patriot Act and voted against reauthorizing the USA Patriot Act. Obviously, terrorism is a serious threat to this country and we must do everything that we can to prevent attacks here and around the world. I believe strongly that we can protect our people without undermining our constitutional rights and I worry very very much about the huge attacks on privacy that we have seen in recent years — both from the government and from the private sector. I worry that we are moving toward an Orwellian society and this is something I will oppose as vigorously as I can.
What is your stance on Universal Basic Income(UBI)? If in favor how do you see the United States progressing towards realizing UBI? If against, what alternatives come to your mind for combating rising inequality and poverty in the United States?
So long as you have Republicans in control of the House and the Senate, and so long as you have a Congress dominated by big money, I can guarantee you that the discussion about universal basic income is going to go nowhere in a hurry. But, if we can develop a strong grassroots movement which says that every man, woman and child in this country is entitled to a minimum standard of living — is entitled to health care, is entitled to education, is entitled to housing — then we can succeed. We are living in the richest country in the history of the world, yet we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country and millions of people are struggling to put food on the table. It is my absolute conviction that everyone in this country deserves a minimum standard of living and we’ve got to go forward in the fight to make that happen.
I would like to speak with you today regarding the push to label GMO food within the United States. I would like to ask, why you support this movement (which is primarily based in the assumption that GMO foods are more dangerous than non GMO food) when almost all major scientific and academic communities are in agreement that GMO food poses zero health risks?
I respectfully disagree. It is not my view, nor have I suggested, that GMO food causes health problems. What I have said is that the people of our country, as well as people around the world, have the right to make choices in terms of what they eat and have the right to have labels telling them whether or not food is made with GMOs. As you know, GMO labeling exists in dozens of countries and the state legislature in Vermont also passed a bill requiring that. I support that effort.
What is your opinion about possible US ground military operation in the Middle East against ISIS or Bashar Asad in Syria?
I voted against the war in Iraq and I voted against the first Gulf War. I am strongly opposed to sending American combat troops into Iraq and Syria. At the end of the day, the war against ISIS will only be won when the Muslim countries in the area fully engage and defeat ISIS and other groups that are distorting what Islam is supposed to be about. The United States and other western countries should be supportive of the efforts of those governments, but cannot lead them. The nightmare, which I believe a number of Republicans want to see, is perpetual warfare in the quagmire of the Middle East.
As the longest serving independent in congress, what are your thoughts about electoral reform in the United States? Would you support a single transferable voting system for congress that would allow smaller parties to compete? And what are your thoughts on reforming (or doing away with altogether) the Electoral College?
The major issue in terms of our electoral system is truly campaign finance reform. Right now, we are at a moment in history where the Koch brothers and other billionaires are in the process of buying politicians and elections. We need to overturn Citizens United with a constitutional amendment. We need to pass disclosure legislation. We need to move toward public funding of elections. We also have got to see an increased federal role in the outrageous gerrymandering that Republican states have created and in voter suppression. These are the main issues that I’ll be tackling in the coming months.
While I understand your stance on nuclear power is (forgive me for paraphrasing) something along the lines of “old reactors are bad, why are we (as taxpayers) spending money to keep them going?”, I have not yet found any quotes from you regarding new nuclear energy technology. Could you give some opinions on emerging nuclear technology, such as reactors with passive safety mechanisms, the ability to consume spent fuel rods from other (pressurized water) plants, and fusion? Since nuclear power has close to the lowest amount of human deaths per kilowatt hour of electricity generated ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/2/ ) , is it fair to cut all taxpayer funding to developing newer forms of nuclear power while subsidizing others?
I believe that climate change is perhaps the most significant planetary crisis that we face and we have got to be extremely bold in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels and towards energy efficiency and sustainability. The fact is that investing in solar, wind, geothermal and energy efficiency is far more cost-effective than nuclear plants. Further, I do not support more nuclear power plants when we do not know how we get rid of the toxic waste from the ones that already exist.
What, specifically, do you feel you can realistically accomplish in your first term as President that my age bracket (18-30) can get excited about? You’ve been outspoken about supporting a $15 minimum wage, progressive tax reform, single-payer health care, and elimination of higher education tuition fees; do you feel like you have the ability to realistically bring one or more of these ambitions to fruition if elected president?
The answer is that everything depends upon the kind of strong grassroots movement that we can develop. If we do not have tens of millions of people actively involved in the political process, there is very little that any president can do because of the power of big money over the political and economic process. So what I have said time and time again is that we need a political revolution in this country, which means that 80 percent. of the people vote, not 40 percent, and which means that people demand that Congress represent the middle class and working families of this country and not just the billionaire class.
If you win in 2016, what will your first dispositions be?
My first effort would be to rally the American people to demand that Congress pass a progressive agenda which reverses the decline of our middle class. We have got to create millions of decent-paying jobs rebuilding our infrastructure, we’ve got to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, we’ve got to overturn this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and we have to transform our energy system in order to protect us from climate change. If the American people are politically active and demand that Congress act on their behalf, we can accomplish those goals and much more.
What, if anything, has or will convince you to provide more funding to NASA in the future? Numerous breakthroughs in recent years and promosing technologies being developed and brought to market have made it obvious that, outer space treaty what it is, the first trillionaires will be made in space. Wouldn’t it be best if the American People were part of that?
I am supportive of NASA not only because of the excitement of space exploration, but because of all the additional side benefits we receive from research in that area. Sometimes, and frankly I don’t remember all of those votes, one is put in a position of having to make very very difficult choices about whether you vote to provide food for hungry kids or health care for people who have none and other programs. But, in general, I do support increasing funding for NASA.
What is the most useful thing we can do to benefit your campaign besides donating money?
Help us educate and organize and spread the message of what this campaign is about. If every American understood that 99 percent of all new income generated in this county today goes to the top 1 percent, and that the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, millions of people would join us in fighting for a political revolution so that Washington represents all of us, not just wealthy campaign contributors. So, as this campaign evolves, we are going to ask you to knock on doors, talk to people, get on the phone and help us transform the American political system. Thanks for your support.
I am a transgender US Army Soldier with a decade of service. A recent study revealed that there are approximately 15,500 transgender personnel currently serving in the US Military. Current Department of Defense policies prevent us from serving openly, but the policy is under review. What are your thoughts regarding transgender rights generally, and open transgender military service specifically?
As somebody who has consistently voted to end discrimination in all forms — who voted against DOMA way back in the 1990s — I will do all that I can to continue our efforts to make this a nondiscriminatory society, whether those being discriminated against are transgender, gay, black or Hispanic.