The following is a transcript of the first half hour of Bernie Sanders’ Town Hall on Fox News Channel during the evening of 4/15/2019. Sanders and the Fox hosts sparred almost the entire time.
Q: Getting right to our audience… Our first question is from Joe. He is a student from Allentown, PA. Joe, What’s your question?
A: Hey, Joe,
Q: Hi Senator Sanders. Now that your tax returns have been released, and you have been identified as a millionaire and in the top 1%, will you pay your fair share? And how do you plan to apply the policies that you have been talking about enforcing on top earners? Thank you, Senator Sanders.
A: Well, I happen to believe, Joe, that we have an absurd tax system. And while millions of people today are paying actually more in taxes than they anticipated… Amazon, Netflix and dozens of major corporations -- as a result of Trump's tax bill -- paid nothing in federal taxes. I think that's a disgrace. So today, we announced -- now you raise the issue, I am a millionaire. Well, actually this year, we had $560,000 in income. And that's a lot of money.
And that money in my case -- my wife's case that came from a book that I wrote -- pretty good book, you might want to read it. It's a best seller, sold all over the world. We made money. So if anyone thinks that I should apologize for writing a best selling book. I'm sorry, I'm not going to do it.
But let me reiterate. I voted against -- so I guess on Fox News, you said that I benefited from Trump's tax bill. Did you tell people that I voted against Trump's tax bill?
Q: Sure, but you did benefit from it.
A: But I voted against it. And I happen to believe that a tax bill, written and pushed by Trump, who told the American people that that tax bill -- some of you may recall -- would not benefit the wealthier member like oh, not going to benefit the wealthy. 83% of the benefits went to the top 1%. So I think that's a bad idea. And in my view, people, whether it's me, you, probably make a lot more money than I do. But whether it's me or you or anybody else, I think wealthy people and large corporations that are making billions in profits should start paying their fair share of taxes.
Q: To your points, and to Joe's point, your taxes do show that you're a millionaire. You did make a million in 2016, 2017. Right? Then 561 in 2018. But your marginal tax rate tax rate was 26%. Because of President Trump's tax cut so why not say, you know, I'm leading this revolution. I'm not going to take those.
During -- the -- I am -- I paid the taxes that I go. By the way, why don’t you get Donald Trump up here and ask him how much he pays in taxes?
Q: I will. I will.
A: I am eagerly awaiting your doing that.
Q: Well, we’d love to ask him that question. We absolutely will.
A: President -- I guess the president watches your network a little bit, right. Hey, President Trump, my wife and I just released 10 years. Please do the same. Let the American people know--
Q: But just -- just to wrap that up, you do spend a lot of time vilifying millionaires--
A: I don't vilify. The fact that I think people who are doing phenomenally well, right now, as you know, for 40 years, we have seen a shrinking middle class. You got 40 million people living in poverty. And today just so happens that the very wealthy are doing incredibly wealthy, it’s not vilifying, to save that people have a whole lot of money, in some cases, billions of dollars of wealth, they should pay their fair share of taxes.
Q: Right. Well, last question on this. A lot of millionaires and billionaires give a ton to charity you gave 3.4%
My wife and I do give money to charity. All right, and we're proud to do what we did there. All those you're quite right. There are people Gates Foundation, do a phenomenal job. We do what we do.
Q: I got a couple questions for you. So you -- you recommended a wealth tax, 70% wealth tax?
A: No, actually, I didn’t. That was someone else.
A: No, I think another person.
Q: Well, what's your number?
A: What's my number? Well, I'll tell you what I think. I think that in order to make sure that elderly people do not continue to live in poverty, and you got 20% of elderly people trying to get by on $13,000 or $14,000 a year, I think we should raise that cap for people making $250,000 or more, so we can make sure that our parents can live out their lives in dignity.
I'll tell you what else I think, I think at a time when Wall Street is doing phenomenally well. And we have millions of young people who are deeply in debt for the crime of having gone to college. I believe we should pass a speculation tax on Wall Street.
Q: That’s fine, but I'm asking you about the wealthy and how much higher you would make it. You said you don't agree with 70% What would your number be?
A: In the campaign in 2016, we talked about 52%.
Q: All right, so 52%. So, would you be willing to pay 52% on the money that you made? You can volunteer, you can send it back.
A: Well, you can volunteer too, we have a--
Q: But you suggested -- but you suggested -- everybody in --
A: Martha, why don’t you do? You make more money than I do. Why don’t you?
Q: I didn’t suggest a wealth tax.
Q2: And she’s not running for President.
A: We’re going to fight for a wealth tax. And we're going to demand that we end the absurdity where major corporation after major corporation -- In this tax bill that you are defending, families like the --
[at this point, they are both shouting at each other pretty loud, and I can’t understand either]
-- like the Koch brothers, get billions and billions of dollars --
-- in savings, that is absurd. Trump wants to repeal the entire estate tax. Huge tax breaks for billionaires. You got another question?
Q: We have many questions.
Q: We want to get substance we want to get deep. And the audience has a ton of questions too, right, Martha?
[audience member shouts something inaudible]
Q: So, our question comes from Kathy Harrington. Kathy, what's your question?
Q: Hi Senator Sanders. Welcome to the Lehigh Valley. So my question is, the definition of socialism is just a society agreeing to work together and combining their resources to make sure everyone is protected and taken care of. How can you challenge the idea that socialism is bad, and then the minds of the public?
A: Might want to ask them, not me. [laughter] But --
Q: Is this going to be a constant thing?
A: No, no.
Q: All right. All right.
A: You asked me fair questions, I will give you fair answers.
Q: Thank you, sir.
Q2: That’s the deal.
And you know, not everybody thought that I should come on the show.
Q: And we appreciate it.
A: Your network does not necessarily have a great deal of respect in my world. But I thought it was important for me to be here and have a serious discussion about serious issues.
Q: Sally asked a good question. And let's -- let's talk about it. I think it's an important issue, but it will come up. What is democratic socialism? That’s a fair question question, okay. So let's talk about it.
Democratic socialism to me, is creating a government and an economy and a society which works for all, rather than just the top 1%. It means ending the absurd inqualities that exist today. And I want to lay this out, because you're not going to hear this much on Fox. And you're not going to hear this much in the media in general. And the American people have got to conclude whether we think it is appropriate, and what America is about… to have three families owning more wealth than the bottom half of the American society -- 160 million people.
Whether it's appropriate for the top 1% to own more wealth than the bottom 92%. Whether it is right that 49% of all the [inaudible] income goes to the top 1% when many people, Bret and Martha, watching this program who working two or three jobs, just to pay the bills.
So first of all, we want to create an -- a government that works for all of us and we want to create a political system, which is based on one person one vote, not billionaires buying elections as a result of this disastrous Citizens United.
And furthermore, furthermore, when I talk -- and you know, people have different views of capitalism or democratic socialism -- whatever it may be -- but this is my view. I believe that human beings, especially in a wealthy, democratic civilized society, like our own, are entitled to certain basic rights.
So let me be very clear, and I'm sure we'll discuss it later in the show. But I believe that health care is a human right. Not a privilege. Okay? And I believe -- I believe that there is something embarrassingly wrong when the United States of America is the only major country on Earth not to guarantee healthcare to all people. I live 50 miles from the Canadian border.
So healthcare is a right, I believe that education -- whether you're poor, whether you're rich -- you have the right to get all of the education you need. And that is why I believe we should make public colleges and universities tuition free.
Q: We're going to talk about all of this. We're going to try to talk about how you pay for which is a real thing --
A: Absolutely, absolutely.
Q: but I just want to -- back on the -- the taxes, briefly, you know, when you wrote -- wrote the book and you made the money.
Q: Isn't that the definition of capitalism? The American dream?
A: No. I mean, you know, what we want is a country where everybody has opportunity. You know, I have a college degree. I'm a United States senator. A lot of people don't have a college degree. A lot of people are not United States Senators,
I want everybody in this country, to be able to have healthcare, to have education, to when they turn on the water, they have drinkable water, not toxic water. So what we are fighting for, Bret, it is a society not we're just a few people can make a whole lot of money. But a society where everybody in this country has the opportunity to live in security, and dignity.
Q: Alright, so next weekend -- I'm going to talk a little bit about the field of candidates who are out there this weekend. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend announced that he is also a candidate for the Democratic nomination. He's running and here's what he said in South Bend. [BUTTIGIEG: A moment like that calls for hopeful and audacious voices from communities like ours. And yes, it calls for a new generation of leadership in this country.] So Buttigieg obviously is the youngest candidate, he would certainly be the youngest President, if he were to win, at 37 years old. And you are 77 years old. So he's calling for a new generation. He didn't name anyone specifically, but what do you say to those who have raised the question of whether or not you are -- would be too old at 79 as President?
A: Well, follow me around the campaign trail. Martha, I mean, it is a fair question. And all I can say is, if there was wood here, I’d knock on it. Thank God my health is good. I was -- when I was a kid, I was a long distance runner, one of the better milers in New York City. And I've continued to have my endurance.
But I think when you look at a candidate, yeah, you can look at age, that’s fair. You could look at experience. I was a mayor for eight years, know a little bit about local government. I was a member of the House. I'm a member of the United States Senate. I've been all over the world talking to heads of state. So I mean, I think it is a combination of factors. But at the end of the day, this is what I honestly believe. It's not whether you’re young. It's not whether you’re old, it is what you believe in.
And I have to say -- and I have to say, and this is -- this is not a criticism of Fox. This is a criticism of media in general, there's too much focus on individuals, and not enough focus on the American people and what their needs are.
And I want to tell you -- again, this is not just Fox. This is all the rest. I go out and I listen to the people like say give me -- they ask me questions, those questions are often very, very different than the issues being discussed by media and Capitol Hill.
Q: Okay, so, all right, Senator, we want to get back to audience questions. I do want to say that we understand and we're very grateful that you're here. We are giving you an hour of substance and talk on our airwaves so we can get over the Fox thing. If you're okay with that. Okay. Brian is a city councilman here in Bethlehem, Brian, what's your question? Go ahead, Brian. [boos] Hold on, one second. Brian's got the floor.
Q: Senator Sanders as a -- as a member of Gotham City Council, welcome to the Christmas city. Like my -- my question is, as a lifetime Kennedy Democrat, more specifically, center left. My concern is that President Trump has so inflamed are the Democratic base that we will shift too far left and overreach like the republicans did, with the Tea Party in 2010. What are your thoughts on that?
A: Good question. And look, this is what I say every day. I disagree with Donald Trump on virtually every issue, and I talk about it. And I'll tell you what upsets me. But I'll tell you what upsets me the most -- then I'm going to answer your question -- is that whether you're conservative or moderate, or progressive, I don't think the American people are proud that we have a president who was a pathological liar.
And I say that, you know, it does not give me pleasure to say that. All right? I disagreed with George W. Bush on almost everything, which was not a pathological liar. Trump cannot even tell the truth. Even as to where his father was born. It’s really that crazy. His father was born in New York, he claims he was born in Germany. But if you can't even tell the truth about where your father was born, it's hard to believe anything that he says. But to answer your question. Look, if we spend all of our time attacking Trump, you know what, Democrats are going to lose. Alright?
Our job, our job is to lay out a vision that makes sense to the working families of this country. And that's kind of what I'm trying to do. Over a four year period, and the video that you showed earlier, I think, captured that. We raised issues four years ago, which was thought to be extreme and a little bit out there. But today, they're accepted by the American people. So I think you talked to the people of Bethlehem and Burlington, Vermont, you say “What's on your mind?” Well, you know what, among other things, if you work 40 hours a week, people don't want to live in poverty, we got to raise the minimum wage to a living wage.
In my State of Vermont, and all over this country, we've got an infrastructure that is falling about. Roads and bridges and water systems, waste water, but we could put 15 million people back to work with a trillion dollar investment. Think that makes sense to people?
So I agree with you, I mean, I think Trump is a dangerous President. But if all we do is focus on him, we lose. Our job is to develop an agenda that speaks to the needs of workers. When we do that, we're going to win and win big.
Q: Senator, it looks like -- nobody knows for sure -- but it looks like Vice President Joe Biden is likely to get into the race. Are you worried that the DNC if that, you know -- he would be a strong establishment candidate? He's obviously been around for a long time? Are you worried that the DNC might put his finger on the scale again, the way that they did to you back in 2016, with Hillary Clinton?
A: You're right, we went through that in 2016. And I think we have come a long way since then. So we -- we speak to the DNC every week. And I think the process will be fair.
One of the important changes that we made, and we won, is, as you will recall, both of you recall, in the last time around the 2016. Secretary Clinton had 500 super delegates lined up behind her before the first vote was cast in Iowa. And that seemed to be pretty dumb and unfair.
Well, that process has been changed. And I think that works well for everybody.
Q: But let me ask you this, because now the process is that in the next round, the super delegates will come into play. And with so many candidates on the Democratic side, it's possible that somebody doesn't get 50%. Are you concerned about it? Are you talking to the DNC about that?
AL That's what the rule is. I mean, that's where we are right now. But you're right. I mean, I would hope that the Democratic Party understands what they did some years ago. And that is what we want to hear from -- is not political insiders and campaign contributors. You want to hear from ordinary people in Iowa and in Pennsylvania, and they should determine who the next Democratic nominee will be.
Q: Okay, let's go to another question. Jordan is a student from Scotch Plains. He has the next question.
Q: Hi, Senator. Thank you so much for being here. My question is why do you believe that the government can provide better health care than the private sector? And why should people who like their plans be forced to switch?
A: Okay? First of all, let's be clear what we mean by Medicare for All. Okay? Medicare is a government run program for seniors, which is widely popular and quite effective.
In 1965, when Lyndon Johnson passed that bill, it was called by some Republicans, socialism and everything else. But you go to the average senior and you say, “How do you feel about Medicare?”
And they will tell you that they will oppose any Republican effort to cut Medicare, and by the way in Trump's budget, he has proposed an $845 billion cut over a 10 year period, which seniors don't want.
So to answer your question, we are not talking about government-run health care, the Veterans Administration and most veterans think that that's a pretty good health care system. Talk to the American Legion, the VFW, they strongly defend the Veterans Health Care, that's government run.
What we are talking about is simply a single payer insurance program, which means that you will have a card which has Medicare on it, you'll go to any doctor that you want, you'll go to any hospital that you want. And by the way, millions of people today are in networks, which prevent them from doing that. So this gives you freedom of choice. With regard to the doctors you go to, or the hospitals you to go.
But here's the main point when we talk about healthcare. Probably right now, we got 30 million people, zero health insurance, and many of you and tens of millions of Americans are underinsured with high deductibles and copays, is that correct?
So what happens is there are estimates that some 30,000 Americans die every single year, because they don't go to the doctor when they should. All right?
Meanwhile, we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. One out of five Americans are getting ripped off by the drug companies who make billions and in profits, while charging us the highest prices in the world.
And on top of all of that, we spend twice as much per capita on healthcare as do the people of any other nation. So the person that I throw back to you, do you think it makes sense to spend twice as much per capita as the people of any other nation and be the only country on the world not to guarantee healthcare to all people?
Q: Senator, this audience -- audience has a lot of Democrats in it. It has Republicans, independents, democratic socialists, conservatives. I want to ask the audience a question, if you could raise your hand here, a show of hands, of how many people get their insurance from work, private insurance, right now, how many get it from private insurance? Okay, now of those how many willing to transition to what the senator says, a government-run system? [loud cheers and applause] There’s 180 million people on private insurance -- they would be lost to your system.
A: That’s what the right wing throws out, so let me answer it. All right? Millions of people, every single year, lose their health insurance. You know why they get fired, or they quit. And they go to another employer. I was the mayor for eight years. You know, what I did was probably every mayor in America does? Is you look around for the best insurance program, most cost-effective venture. You change your insurance. Every year, millions of workers wake up in the morning and their employer has changed the insurance that they have. Maybe they like the doctors that -- people are nodding their heads. Okay? So this is not new. Every year -- what we're talking about actually is stability -- that when you have a Medicare for All, it is there now and it is there in the future.
Q: About Vermont -- Vermont tried to have a single payer program and in 2014, the Democratic Governor abandoned it because he had to raise income taxes, had to raise payroll taxes, and the people of Vermont didn't want their taxes to go up…
A: That’s not quite true.
Q: And they abandoned the program so --
A: You’re getting into internal Vermont politics, which I know a little bit.
Q: I’m sure you do.
A: The governor did a rather poor job. But I think if you look at polling, especially among Democrats, as I'm sure you have, you tell me. Strong majority of Democrats and more than a few Republicans want to see a Medicare for All program.
What the opponent -- let's be clear about this Martha. When you are dealing with an health care, which is what's at 18% of our GDP, I mean, we're talking about three and a half trillion dollars. And you have insurance companies that make billions and billions of dollars in profit. Let me give you an example -- if I might -- of the dysfunctionality of the current healthcare system.
Recently, Aetna merged with CVS. You may recall that. Big merger which will drive my healthcare costs up. The gentleman who was head of Aetna is named Mr. Bertolini. You know what he got for putting together that merger? He got a $500 million bonus.
Do you think that's how we should spend healthcare dollars?
Q: I think everybody is in agreement that healthcare it needs to be fixed in this country. The question is how, and my question to you was, it will drive up taxes to pay for health care and not just the wealthy will pay for that, the middle class will also pay for it. So how do you justify it --
A: What are you not including in your discussion?
Q: You tell me.
A: I will tell you. You're not gonna have health insurance premiums.
Q: You’re going to pay one way or the other.
A: Look, Martha -- Martha -- health care is not free.
Q: Of course not! You just said it will be free for everyone.
A: It's going to be free at the point of when you use it. Okay. And you go to -- why are you so shocked by this?
Q: Because someone’s gotta pay.
A: Somebody is going to pay.
Q: Who are they? Who pays?
A: Okay, okay, one second, let me talk.
A: Okay, We'll get through this together.
A: Okay, one second, let me talk.
Q: I’m just asking! Please!
A: I got it, I got it.
Q: We had so many emailed questions, ask Senator Sanders how he’s going to pay.
A: I got it. It's a fair -- firstly, let's just say hypothetically, you are self-employed. And you have -- you got a husband and two kids. Okay? Family of four. You know how much that family is paying today for healthcare? $28,000.
A: All right, we're spending $11,000 per person. We are saying to that family of four, you ain’t going to pay that $28,000, you're not paying any more premiums. You're not paying any more co-payments. You're not paying any more deductibles. How's that? $28,000? You're not paying. But does not mean you're not going to pay something? Of course it does. You're going to pay more in taxes.
Q: And do members of Congress, who now have gold plated health insurance--
A: No, we don’t.
Q: Well, they have a special plan that's outside of Obamacare…
Q: ...a different plan. Will member members of Congress, are they going to do that transition as well?
A: Damn right. Of course, of course. Why would you suggest otherwise? But I want to make the point. I want to get back to the point that Martha raised. Look, health care costs money. Every other country, or virtually every country, does it in the same way that we do education for our kids. Okay?
When a kid walks into school, kid doesn't have to take out a credit card. Right? It's paid for out of public funds. That's what most countries do. So if you're asking me -- if your question is a fair question -- are people got to pay more in taxes? Yes.
But at the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of people are going to end up paying less for health care, because they're not paying premiums, copayments and deductibles.
We're going to get into many more specifics, Senator, thank you.