Sen. Bernie Sanders, In Denver To Campaign, Will Not Endorse A Colorado Democratic Senate Candidate

September 9, 2019
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the New Hampshire state Democratic Party convention, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Manchester, NH.Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the New Hampshire state Democratic Party convention, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Manchester, NH.Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the New Hampshire state Democratic Party convention, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Manchester, NH.

Sen. Bernie Sanders will not make an endorsement in Colorado's 2020 Senate rate, unlike several fellow presidential hopefuls who threw their support behind former Gov. John Hickenlooper's campaign.

"What I will do is do everything that I can to make sure that the Democratic candidate defeats Sen. Gardner in the fall. But I think it is best for the people of Colorado to make their choice in the Democratic primary," the Vermont independent and presidential candidate said.

Sanders, who won the 2016 Colorado caucus over Hillary Clinton, hosts a free, public campaign rally in Denver's Civic Center Park on Monday.

The Democratic competition for Republican Sen. Cory Gardner's seat is crowded, even after former state senator and Denver mayoral candidate Mike Johnston dropped out following Hickenlooper's entry into the race.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden all endorsed Hickenlooper, as well as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Their high-profile backing frustrated female and progressive Senate candidates and led several to sign and send a letter to DSCC leaders.

Hickenlooper picked a fight with Sanders during the July CNN debates, arguing over Sanders' progressive policies before mimicking and inciting the Vermont senator's regular arm-raising gestures.

It made for a good image but was one of many moments that failed to catch voters' imaginations during Hickenlooper's presidential run. He would drop out just over two weeks later.

Sanders has consistently polled as one of the top three leading candidates with Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. In an August Emerson College poll, Sanders was the top choice for Coloradans.

In an interview with Colorado Matters, the Vermont senator also touched on climate change and mineral rights owners, standing by socialism as a 2020 campaign platform and selling universal health care to voters.


Interview Highlights

On why he would not compensate mineral rights owners if he enacted his plan to transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy:

"I think we ought to worry more about the workers than the owners. And I think one of the things that we have to be careful about is understanding that there is a great deal of evidence that many of the owners of the fossil fuel industry, ExxonMobil and others, have known for years that the product that they are producing, which is carbon emissions, is destroying the planet. And despite that knowledge, they continue to do that.

So to my mind, in terms of my relationship with the fossil fuel industry, I think we have to hold them accountable in the same way we have to hold the opioid producers and the drug companies accountable for selling a product that they know was addictive. In the same way we hold the tobacco industry accountable for selling a product that they knew caused cancer and other diseases."

On what he sees as the popularity of socialist policies:

"Well, I think as others have pointed out Donald Trump and the Republican party will call any and all candidates socialists. They called Barack Obama a socialist. You know, way back when in the old days, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was called a socialist. Harry Truman was called a socialist.

Doesn't matter. They're going to call anybody a socialist. But let me be very clear, the agenda that we are running on, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, passing a Medicare for All single-payer program so that every American has health care as a human right, not a privilege and we lower the cost of health care for the vast majority of the American people, is something that is very popular."

On selling single-payer health care to voters who rejected it before on a state level, including in Colorado:

"What I would simply tell you is that poll after poll that I have seen suggests that the overwhelming majority of the American people believe in a Medicare for All single-payer system and the reason for that is they understand the dysfunctionality of the current system. They understand the absurdity of spending, as Americans, twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other country, Canada or any of the European countries, twice as much.

This is an absurd system. It has one purpose and that is to make huge profits for the insurance companies and the drug companies who last year combined and made 100 billion dollars in profits. So I think the American people are catching on that they want a health care system that guarantees health care for all, not a system that makes $100 billion a year in profit for the health care industry."


Full Transcript

Ryan Warner: Senator, welcome to the program.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Thank you very much.

RW: You say climate change is the single greatest challenge facing our country and the single greatest opportunity. It's with that in mind, you want to ban fracking and that's how the vast majority of oil and gas in Colorado is developed. Would that mean drilling comes to a halt overnight?

BS: Well, not overnight, but look, let us understand that the issue of climate change is not only the greatest threat to the United States of America, it's the greatest threat to the world. And what the scientists are telling us is that we have fewer than 12 years in order to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel into energy efficiency and sustainable energy or else there will be irreparably damaged on our country and in fact to countries all over the world.

We are fighting for the future of this planet. That is what the scientists tell us. So we are going to have to be extremely aggressive in combating climate change and that is why I have introduced the most comprehensive climate change legislation or proposal I should say, that has ever been introduced. And that is what we have to do if we're going to provide a planet for our kids and grandchildren that is healthy.

RW: This is a plan that would transition away from a fossil fuel based economy to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. You say this will pay for itself in 15 years, but back to that first –

BS: No. By 2050 that we'll have it done. We will be carbon neutral in electricity and transportation by 2030. But the other, becoming carbon neutral will not take place until 2050.

RW: To this idea though that you say drilling won't stop overnight. Would you compensate the owners of those mineral rights of that oil and gas left in the ground who count on its value?

BS: I think we ought to worry more about the workers than the owners. And I think one of the things that we have to be careful about is understanding that there is a great deal of evidence that many of the owners of the fossil fuel industry, ExxonMobil and others, have known for years that the product that they are producing, which is carbon emissions, is destroying the planet. And despite that knowledge they continue to do that.

So to my mind, in terms of my relationship with the fossil fuel industry, I think we have to hold them accountable in the same way we have to hold the opioid producers and the drug companies accountable for selling a product that they know was addictive. In the same way we hold the tobacco industry accountable for selling a product that they knew caused cancer and other diseases. So what our legislation does in fact is say to these CEOs in the fossil fuel industry, "You know what, we are going to hold you accountable for producing a product which is destroying this planet, we're going to do away with all of the subsidies. $400 billion a year in tax breaks and subsidies that you are currently receiving."

We have a national crisis on our hands. We have a global crisis on our hands. And now is the time to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, transform this energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency, not only in America, but all over the world.

RW: Of course, not all fossil fuel, mineral rights owners are large corporations.

BS: Correct.

RW: But give me an example of how a middle-class attorney or office assistant working in connection with the oil and gas industry, how they transition to something else in a greener economy.

BS: Good question. Good question. If you read our bill, you'll find out that we spend billions of dollars for what we call a just transition. Oil workers and coal miners are not my enemy. I have perhaps the strongest pro-worker record in the United States Congress. What my enemy is are not the working people in the fossil fuel industry. My enemy is climate change. So we have a five year transition period which guarantees those people who may have lost their jobs decent wages, decent health care benefits, and the educational opportunity to move on to other jobs. So we do everything that we can to make sure that this is a just transition. But at the end of the day, climate change is an existential threat to the United States of America and every other country on earth. We have got to bring this planet together to save this earth for our kids and our grandchildren.

RW: Let's move on to your plan in Colorado, your ground game here. Do you see Colorado as a swing state, a blue State? How do you perceive Colorado?

BS: Well, as you may know, we did very well in Colorado last time, but we take nothing for granted. We have in Colorado a very, very strong volunteer base. And one of the advantages I believe we have as we head into the fall in this campaign is that I think we have the strongest grassroots support of any candidate out there, and that includes Colorado. So we're going to be knocking on a lot of doors. We're going to be making a lot of phone calls.

And I think the platform that we have, which basically says to the people of Colorado and the people of America, that we are sick and tired of the greed and corruption of the corporate elite. Whether it is Wall Street, whether it is the drug companies who are charging us by far the highest prices in the world for the medicine that we need. Whether it's the insurance companies, and we're going to move to Medicare for All, whether it's the fossil fuels industry. We need a government and an economy that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent. I believe that that is a message that will resonate in Colorado and all over this country.

RW: Sen. Sanders, do you plan to make an endorsement in Colorado's U.S. Senate race?

BS: No, I think that's a ... What I will do is do everything that I can to make sure that the Democratic candidate defeats Sen. Gardner in the fall. But I think it is best for the people of Colorado to make their choice in the Democratic primary.

RW: You will not make an endorsement now or ever, it sounds like?

BS: That's what it sounds like to me, yeah.

RW: Okay. Let me say that recently Colorado's former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper jumped from the presidential race, as you know, to the U.S. Senate contest here. There were already about a dozen candidates running. Hickenlooper pretty much took aim at you and policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal in a speech at the National Press Club in June. He said to defeat Donald Trump ...

John Hickenlooper: Democrats must present a bold agenda while at the same time being mindful that socialism is the most effective attack Republicans can use against us.

RW: And you have been the subject of that attack yourself, senator Sanders. Is socialism the label that will keep the White House in Republican hands?

BS: Well, I think as others have pointed out Donald Trump and the Republican party will call any and all candidates socialists. They called Barack Obama a socialist. You know, way back when in the old days, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was called a socialist. Harry Truman was called a socialist. Doesn't matter. They're going to call anybody a socialist. But let me be very clear, the agenda that we are running on, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, passing a Medicare for All single-payer program so that every American has health care as a human right, not a privilege and we lower the cost of health care for the vast majority of the American people, is something that is very popular.

Making public colleges and universities tuition free by imposing a modest tax on Wall Street speculation, very popular idea and dealing aggressively with climate change is something that the people of Colorado, I believe, and the people of America want us to do. So Trump and his friends can say anything they want, but we have to remember that Trump is a pathological liar. That Trump is a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe and a religious bigot and the credibility of Donald Trump is not very high in most places in this country.

RW: Do you think that you can speak to the people in Colorado who may have voted for Donald Trump and who you wish to court to vote for a Democrat?

BS: I do. Not all of them obviously, but I think we can get some of them, because I think many of these people are struggling. They are struggling to pay for childcare for their children. They are struggling to be able to send their kids to college. They're struggling to be able to afford health care and I think we have an agenda that speaks to those needs. Many of those people voted for Trump because Trump said he would take on the elite, that he would not cut social security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Well, Trump is a liar. He brought more billionaires into his cabinet and his administration than any President in history and his budget calls for massive cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and to social security. And I will make that point that we have a President who is a fraud and that if you look at my record, it is a record that for decades has stood with the working people of this country, that I am prepared to take on Wall Street. We're prepared to take on the insurance companies, the drug companies. We are prepared to stand, to create an economy that works for all of us, not just wealthy campaign contributors. And yes, I think that is a message that will resonate with some of Trump's voters.

RW: Now, what would you say to Coloradans who may have supported you in 2016 but want something different, something new from Democrats this time around?

BS: Well, I think that Coloradans and people all over this country understand that what politics is about and what the presidency of the United States is about is not something quote, unquote new or something quote, unquote old or something quote, unquote different. It is about the policies that a candidate stands for. It is the record that a candidate has established for many, many years. So what I would ask them ... this is not a game. "Well, we're old. Gee, we're tired of the old and want something new."

BS: What people want is a candidate who will stand with the working families of this country. Which candidate out there has led the effort to take on the insurance companies and the drug companies and fight for health care for all as a human right? Well, I think it's Bernie Sanders. Which candidate has introduced the most comprehensive program to address the crisis of climate change? Well, you know what, it's Bernie Sanders. Which candidate has helped lead the effort to raise the national minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour? Well, know what that's Bernie Sanders as well.

So my point is there are a lot of good candidates out there. Many of them are personal friends of mine and I don't disparage them. But I would hope that in Colorado and I expect all over this country, people will take a hard look at the candidate, at what he or she has accomplished over the years, what their vision is for America. I think if people do that, we're going to do just fine.

RW: You've mentioned health care several times. I want to point out that in Colorado a single-payer plan that would have been specific to this state lost overwhelmingly, something like an 80-20 margin. Todd Cohen asks on Twitter, how would you sell something like that nationally?

BS: Well, I knew a little bit about that campaign. It was a poorly run campaign in Colorado. That's several years ago. What I would simply tell you is that poll after poll that I have seen suggests that the overwhelming majority of the American people believe in a Medicare for All single-payer system and the reason for that is they understand the dysfunctionality of the current system. They understand the absurdity of spending, as Americans, twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other country, Canada or any of the European countries, twice as much.

And yet we have 87 million Americans uninsured or underinsured. 30,000 people a year die because they don't get to a doctor when they should. We pay by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs and 500,000 Americans go bankrupt every year because of medical bills. This is an absurd system. It has one purpose and that is to make huge profits for the insurance companies and the drug companies who last year combined and made 100 billion dollars in profits. So I think the American people are catching on that they want a health care system that guarantees health care for all, not a system that makes $100 billion a year in profit for the health care industry.

RW: Senator, thanks for your time.

BS: Thank you very much.