Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

By The Situation Room - June 8, 2011

BLITZER: On Capitol Hill right now, big decisions to be made affecting the economy, the war in Afghanistan, and a huge distraction right now, the scandal surrounding Congressman Anthony Weiner, calls for his resignation.

Let's discuss with a liberal voice in the Senate, Bernie Sanders, he's the Independent senator from the great state of Vermont.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just briefly, I assume you want to raise the debt limit in the immediate future so that the country can move forward on that front, right?

SANDERS: Well, I think it would be a huge embarrassment and cause really international financial ripples if for the first time in the history of the United States of America we didn't pay our debts. So, obviously, I think we want to avoid that at all costs.

BLITZER: Are you ready to meet the Republicans halfway and do massive budget cutting in order to raise the debt limit?

SANDERS: No. Wolf, we have to look at what is happening in American society today, and that is that the middle class is collapsing, poverty is increasing, we have real unemployment is at about 15 percent, the highest since the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest people in our society are doing phenomenally well, corporate profits are at an all-time high. And over the last number of years, we have given huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires. You have corporations out there like General Electric making billions of dollars in profit not paying a nickel in taxes.

So the idea that the Republicans have brought forth that we're going to decimate Medicare and Medicaid and education, do away with Medicare as we know it, and at the same time not only ask the wealthy and corporations not to contribute one nickel towards deficit reduction, but give them a trillion dollars in tax breaks is totally, to my mind, insane.

BLITZER: Well, what if that's the only way, Senator, to raise the debt limit? In other words, if the Republicans are saying, and they are adamant they are not going to raise taxes on millionaires or billionaires or anyone else, they think it would hurt the economy, what if the only way to raise the debt limit is to engage in them and to come up with a number, a serious number, to cut the spending?

SANDERS: No. Wolf, I think our Republican friends listen to their Wall Street sponsors to a significant degree, and I think what the folks on Wall Street, the big money people, are telling the Republicans, don't do it. Don't vote against raising the debt limit.

So I think that at the end of the day, Republicans will understand that they cannot allow the United States to default on its debt, and I think we can reach a reasonable agreement which says that major corporations who pay nothing in taxes, a situation where all kinds of corporate loopholes in allowing companies to put their money in the Cayman Islands and other tax shelters, that we've got to do away with that. We need share sacrificed, not only moving toward deficit reduction on the backs of working families and lower-income people.

BLITZER: Well, there's a game of chicken, if you will, so we'll see who blinks on this front. But as you point out, the stakes are certainly enormous right now.

Let's talk about Afghanistan for a moment.

You know that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, they come out with a report today that's saying billions and billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan is simply wasted. It's costing U.S. taxpayers $2 billion a week, $10 billion a month, $100-plus billion a year to keep 100,000 U.S. troops there. Is this a waste of U.S. taxpayer money?

SANDERS: Well, Wolf, I was in Afghanistan a few months ago. And I want to say very honestly, as somebody who is often critical of the military, our guys are doing a tremendous job under very difficult circumstances.

But we have a $1.5 trillion deficit. As you've indicated, we're spending $100 billion a year on Afghanistan, the war there. A lot of it goes to rebuild that country.

Well, you know what? I know a great country that needs to be rebuilt in terms of roads, bridges, schools. That is called the United States of America.

So, after 10 years, I think it is time to start rapidly withdrawing our troops, supporting the Afghan military and their police. We want a victory over the Taliban, but I think it is time to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can.

BLITZER: Because the president says they're going to stay there until the end of 2014. I take it three and a half years, that's way too much for you to accept.

SANDERS: In my view, it is. I think that the support for the Afghan military and police is imperative, but we've got to bring our troops home. And when we do that, we save substantial sums of money.

BLITZER: So how quickly?

SANDERS: I would accelerate -- I mean, I don't have a date in mind, but much faster I think than the president is talking about.

BLITZER: What would you do, if anything, to stop the slaughter in Syria right now?

SANDERS: Well, you know, there are a limits to the number of laws that we can engage in, and I think we can work with our allies in the region to do the best that we can. But I certainly do not think we can be involved in country after country after country.

BLITZER: Did the president do the right thing in launching Tomahawk cruise missiles and other strikes against targets in Libya?

SANDERS: I have reservations about our involvement in Libya. I mean, we are in a huge deficit. We are in two wars. And I would become somewhat conservative on that issue.

BLITZER: It's already cost U.S. taxpayers a billion dollars for what those Tomahawk cruise missiles, some of the other equipment that was used in Libya. A billion dollars is a lot of money.

SANDERS: It is a lot of money. And, you know, Wolf, there are a lot of horrible things taking place all over this world, but we have enormous problems ourselves -- anyone who gets in their car right now and drives home. We've got to rebuild our infrastructure. We've got to invest in our teachers. We have to build public transportation. We have to deal with global warming.

Believe me, we have enough problems right here at home. So I'm kind of conservative on getting involved in all kinds of wars abroad.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go. The former Democratic National Committee chairman, Tim Kaine, says it's time for Anthony Weiner, the congressman, to resign.

Do you believe it is?

SANDERS: Well, I think what you're seeing there is a terrible personal tragedy and an embarrassment to the United States Congress. And I think Congressman Weiner will have to make that decision for himself.

BLITZER: But you're not saying he should resign?

SANDERS: I think that's his decision.

BLITZER: OK. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SANDERS: Thank you.


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