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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Town Hall Meeting with Sen. Bernie Sanders. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired January 9, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN: We are live from the George Washington University, here in the Nation's Capital for a CNN Town Hall event with Senator Bernie Sanders. Hello, I'm Chris Cuomo. I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. We're being seen on CNN of course, but also, CNN Espanola and CNN International.
Our service men and women are watching on the American Forces Network. Thank you for your service and welcome to those listening on the Westwood One Radio Network and CNN channel 116 on Sirius XM.
Now, tonight, kicks off a special week a historic transition of power. Donald Trump, 11 days away from being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States and leader of the free world.
It is a pivotal moment for our country. So, on Thursday night, House Speaker, Paul Ryan will be on this very stage to explain how he will help enact the Trump agenda. Tonight, we're going to hear from one of the most influential members of the opposition, Senator Bernie Sanders.
We've invited people from around the world to ask Senator Sanders question. We have reviewed the questions to make sure we cover a variety of important issues. As Senator Sanders likes to say, "It will be a serious conversation about serious issues."
Now, please welcome former Presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-VT: Thank you. Oh.
CUOMO: I feel like we were just here.
I feel like we were just doing this. You, me, on a stage. You, talking to the people, making the case for what your party has to offer.
CUOMO: You ready?
SANDERS: Let's do it. All right?
CUOMO: I didn't anticipate that answer.
SANDERS: Well, let me begin by thanking CNN. It's not going to be a filibuster, don't worry.
Thanking CNN for hosting the event, because, what I wanted to do, is to have, as Chris just said, a serious discussion about the issues impacting the American people. Issues which, very often, do not get the attention that they deserve and I hope that we can do that tonight. Chris, thanks so much.
SANDERS: For having me.
CUOMO: And, good for you for taking the opportunity. In the introduction, I don't know if you were listening, but, I referred to you as the opposition. The Democratic party as opposing the incoming administration. Are you comfortable with that description?
SANDERS: Well, historically, you have a dominant party in power and the opposition. That exists here and that exists all over the world. That means that the responsibility of the opposition party is to make constructive criticism where we disagree and to come up with alternative ideas as to how we can improve the lives of the American people.
CUOMO: Does that take shape the way it did with the GOP over the last eight years?
SANDERS: I hope not. What the GOP did, literally on the day that President Obama was inaugurated was sit down and they say, "OK, our strategy is going to be that we will obstruct, obstruct, obstruct," we will do everything we can to make sure that he accomplishes as little as possible. And then we'll go to the American people and say, "see, this guy didn't accomplish anything, vote for us."
No, I don't think that is what we do. Where Trump has ideas that make sense, that we can work with him on, I think we should. But, I will tell you this. He ran a campaign whose cornerstone was bigotry, it was based on sexism, on racism, on xenophobia and on that issue, I personally will not compromise.
He ran a campaign which denied the reality of climate change at a time when virtually all of the scientists who have studied this issue tell us that we face a planetary crisis and we've got to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable (inaudible) and we can't compromise on that issue. CUOMO: So, we'll deal with the issues and where you see space to be
together and where do you feel you must be apart. News of day question, do you accept the intelligence communities' assessment of Russia's involvement in motivating the hacks during the election and how do you understand the President-Elects resistance to that analysis?
SANDERS: Yes, I do agree with the intelligence communities. They are virtually unanimous and the evidence is overwhelming. And, we should be clear, this is not just the first time they've done it and I suspect they're working on other efforts as well in other countries around the world.
This was a way for them to help elect the candidate of their choice, Mr. Trump. And, I think it was also an effort to try to undermine in a significant way, American democracy. So, I think the evidence is very clear that Russia did play a very harmful role, unacceptable role, and it's something that we have go to deal with.
I think what Mr. Trump appears to be saying is that, no, it's not true, it's not accurate, he doesn't trust the intelligence committees, and, I think that is an unfortunate position to hold.
CUOMO: It was explained to me this morning, that the media makes the mistake with the President-Elect of putting too much weight on what he says and that we miss what is in his heart.
SANDERS: I mean, that may be true, but, think about that statement for a moment.
You're -- you're not a heart surgeon. You can't know what's in somebody's heart. You, generally speaking, we accept that when someone says something they mean it. And, we have a right to accept that on face value. And, let me say something. It will sound rude and it will sound partisan.
CUOMO: Is it directed at me?
CUOMO: Then, I'm OK with it.
SANDERS: And, that is, one of the problems that all of us has, including the media and I am not the only person to say this, there are Republicans who say this. We are dealing with a man, who in many respects is, how can I phrase this? You know, a pathological liar. And, I say that without any -- look, I have many conservative friends and I disagree with them.
They're not liars. They have their point of view. But, time after time after time, he says stuff which is blatantly, absolutely untrue.
CUOMO: The man was elected by the American people as the next President of the United States.
SANDERS: I've got it.
CUOMO: You're comfortable with that description?
SANDERS: Unfortunately, that's a reality. But, on the other hand, you've asked the question, how do we deal with that? And, I -- you know, I think we have got to figure out a way to deal with that. But, that is a very difficult issue to deal with.
CUOMO: Stock Markets up, companies are keeping jobs here, people call it the Trump Effect, maybe not everybody sees him that way.
SANDERS: Well, how people may see it or not, all I am stating is what I think is a fact. And that is (inaudible) who is saying this. I mean, Trump began his campaign by saying that he saw a Muslim in New Jersey on a rooftop on television, them celebrating the destruction of the twin towers.
Nobody else in the world happened to see that. He announced maybe just a month ago, that millions of people, that he would have won the popular vote, which he lost by almost 3 million votes to Secretary Clinton, that he would have won it, if millions of people had not voted illegally. Nobody believes that. Nobody. Not Republicans, not Democrats, nobody.
CUOMO: So, that's how we got here. Let's talk about how we go forward. I want you to meet Jessica Carabian (sic). She's from Pennsylvania. She was diagnosed two years ago with an incurable breast cancer.
She's with us tonight, to ask you about Obamacare, which President- Elect Trump as you know, says, he's going to repeal on day one. Jessica, thank you for taking the energy to come here tonight, I know it is very important to you. What is your question?
CARABIAN (sic): Thank you for having me, Senator Sanders. When I was 29 years old, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer and my daughter was just eight months old. And, I followed the recommended treatments by my doctors and I was given a 97% survival rate. And, a year later, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, which is an incurable cancer.
I quickly became a terminal patient at the age of 30, and, I rely greatly on the Affordable Care Act. My fear, I'm terrified that the Republicans will repeal the Affordable Care Act and, which would mean that insurance companies will once again be allowed to deny patients with pre-existing conditions. And, that's me. And, that's a life or death issue for me.
I have a daughter and a husband. And, my question to you, Senator, is how will you steer the Republican party into keeping the life-saving components of the -- of -- of Obamacare? SANDERS: Well, Jessica, thanks so much for being with us. And, you know, I'm sure I speak for everbody, wishing you the best of luck in your - in your treatments. We forget that it was only eight years ago, seven years ago, where somebody who had breast cancer, somebody who has other serious illness, could go to an insurance company, they would say, "Why would we want to insure you?
You're going to cost us a fortune, you're sick. We can't make money out of you." And, the American people said, that, that is insane. What is the function of insurance if you can't get it when you need it? But, that's what went on. And, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, we said to the insurance companies, "No, you can't discriminate against somebody for a pre-existing condition."
And we said many other things. I suspect, tell me if I'm wrong, you're probably running up a pretty steep medical bill, yea?
CARABIAN (sic): Huge.
SANDERS: All right. And it used to be there were caps on what the insurance companies would pay -- "We'll pay you $100,000. We won't pay more." "Well, how do I pay the next $100,000?" "Tough luck, you're on your own. We changed that, as well."
So, I understand -- to answer your question, Jessica, I am going to do everything that I can -- and I believe I speak for virtually member of the democratic caucus -- that we're going to do everything that we can to improve the Affordable Care Act. It has problems, but we damn well are not going to see it repealed and have no replacement there at all.
And let me just conclude by saying this -- and a lot of Americans don't know this: We are the only major country on earth not to guarantee healthcare to all people as a right. If you were in other major countries, you would not be having to deal with this issue. Comprehensive healthcare to all people; and, by the way, because they don't have private insurance companies ripping them off, or they don't have the pharmaceutical industry ripping off the people, because they negotiate prices, the cost per capita in every other country is significantly lower than it is in the United States.
So, Jessica, I -- I wish you the very best and you hang in there. Thank you so much for being here and expressing your concern for your fellow Americans.
QUESTION: Thank you.
CUOMO: Quick follow-up: Trump has said that he intends to keep pre- existing conditions and some of the other protections that are in Obamacare. Do you believe that and is that a good starting point for the democrats to work with the GOP?
SANDERS: Here's the problem. He says that he will and we will see. Other republicans are not so sure. And the other thing is, that we don't talk about a whole lot, is that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act -- the complete repeal -- would not only do away with the protection for pre-existing conditions; not only throw 20 million people off of Medicaid; not only raise prescription drug prices for seniors; not only do away with Medicare as we know it and privatize it -- and I know Paul Ryan is going to be on soon --
SANDERS: -- so you might want to talk to Paul about that, because that's his idea -- but, it would also give huge tax breaks to the very wealthiest people in this country. They want to repeal that aspect, so there's a limit to what you can do in preserving the "good" parts, if you don't continue to raise the kinds of revenue you need from the wealthy.
CUOMO: Next issue. Meet Ed Nash (ph), recently retired from his union job with the Department of Corrections in Nelsonville, Ohio. Lifelong democrat, but voted for Donald Trump. What's your question, Ed? Thanks for joining us.
QUESTION: My question tonight, Senator Sanders, is I'm from a small town in Appalachia where we had coal in factories and, today, all that is gone. I mean, people are looking at -- there's not very many good job opportunities out there in, you know, these areas and, you know, areas like mine. You know, and you and Mr. Trump both campaigned on bringing jobs back to rural communities like this. You know, and I like this when both of you, you know, spoke on this and campaigned on that fact and everything. However, you know, maybe it's time to lay the politics aside and are you willing to work with Mr. Trump to see that this happens?
SANDERS: Absolutely. And it's an area where, you're right, Trump and I talked about many of the same issues. And here's what the issue is: the issue is that for the last 30 years, under democratic and republican administrations, we have had trade policies like NAFTA and CAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China which were written, essentially, by large, multi-national corporations. Those are the guys who wrote it.
And what they said is, "Why do we want to pay a worker in America $15 or $20 an hour -- or $30 an hour -- when you can shut down here and go to China or go to Mexico, pay people a few bucks an hour. Those -- that was the goal of those trade agreements. And it succeeded at it. We have lost millions of decent paying jobs -- and I know Kentucky, West Virginia -- that whole region -- but, the whole country has been significantly hurt.
What do I believe? I believe we need a new trade policy. I believe we tell corporate America that they've got to control their greed, they can't throw American workers out on the street who made them wealthy and then move to Mexico and pay people a few bucks an hour. So if Mr. Trump is prepared to sit down and work on a new trade policy which is based on fairness -- not just on corporate greed -- yes, I will be happy to work with him.
QUESTION: Thank you.
CUOMO: Thanks, Ed. You have one head that's shaking up and down with a lot of energy, and it comes from Tiana Dowdell (ph), because what you're talking about right now -- she hails from Detroit, Michigan. She's a democrat; she voted for you in the primary, voted for Clinton in November. This issue -- NAFTA -- goes to the core of her question. What do you have Tiana (ph)?
QUESTION: My dad worked at American (inaudible) for 24 years in skilled trades before he lost his job to NAFTA and it was sent to Mexico. I am currently an assembly worker at General Motors, Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant and I'm worried about my job. Bernie, you and Donald Trump both agree to get rid of NAFTA. As a Senator, what steps will you take to work with the Trump administration to abolish NAFTA?
SANDERS: Well, as I just told Ed, we have lost, Tiana (ph), millions -- millions -- it's not only your dad. We have lost millions of decent paying jobs. One of the reasons that the middle class in this country is shrinking is there was a time when people could go out, get a job in a factory -- if they had a decent union, they could earn good wages, good benefits. And as a result of these disastrous trade agreements written, again, by corporate American, American workers, with total contempt, were thrown out on the streets. Many of these workers are now working for 50-60 percent of what they used to work.
So, yes, I will work with Mr. Trump -- I will work with anybody who wants to work together to develop a trade policy which tells corporate America they have to look beyond they're greed. You know, they've got to look at the needs of the American people. I want to see us rebuild our manufacturing sector, create decent paying jobs here. The world has changed. Automation is also having an impact.
But I don't think you can be a great nation if you're not producing a lot of what we consume. We can't get everything from China and Mexico. You know, occasionally you've got to buy a product made in the United States of America. So I will work very hard, not only with regard to NAFTA, but with regard to PNTR with China, to transform our trade policy.
CUOMO: Let's push on this. I mean, there is a similarity between Trump's message and yours and there is no question that it hits at the heart of a lot of people's anxieties. But, you know, Joe Biden just said -- the Vice President -- he likes Bernie Sanders. He said he doesn't think 500 billionaires are behind every problem that America has. And you mentioned automation, but quickly. And when economists talk about this, Senator, they talk about it first and they almost stop there -- that the reason we've lost manufacturing jobs isn't because of one trade deal, it's because of automation -- it's innovation.
SANDERS: No. It's a combination.
CUOMO: And that why they say you've lost the jobs.
SANDERS: Chris, no. I -- I think most of the serious students of the issue think it's a combination of factors. But, there is no doubt, I think, in any objective economist's mind -- and I've read these studies -- we have lost millions and millions of decent paying jobs as a result of trade agreements. Automation is also a serious problem. Factories, now, can produce more with fewer workers. That's true.
CUOMO: It's not a problem; it's a reality.
SANDERS: It's a reality.
CUOMO: It's how you deal with that reality --
SANDERS: Well, it's a problem --
CUOMO: It's how you train workers for the next generation.
SANDERS: It is a problem for the worker who has been replaced by a machine. But, I think we need to change the culture of this country. And we cannot allow corporate America to make every decision just based on their bottom line, even with automation. If automation can replace jobs, do we just throw those workers out on the street, or do we have an obligation to retrain them for other jobs, to provide extended unemployment and educational opportunities?
We just cannot allow this culture of corporate greed, which results in the very, very rich becoming much richer, a middle class shrinking, and 43 million people living in poverty. Somebody has got to stand up to these billionaires and say "You know what? Enough is enough. You cannot have it all." I want an economy that belongs to all of us -- works for all of us. People forget, Chris, we are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. And our job now is to create a government which represents all of the people; not just the one percent.
CUOMO: So you're talking about a very important message here. Let's bring in Roey Goldstein (ph). He's a senior at the George Washington University and he's studying international affairs. He's from upstate New York; voted for Clinton. He's got a question about messaging and the future of our economy. What do you have?
QUESTION: So, along these lines, I'm a moderate democrat who is discouraged a little bit by how much blame you put towards upper income households and trade agreements for our country's problems. So, how can democrats reframe their economic message in order to address the concerns of average Americans without demonizing top earners or moderate -- or alienating moderate democrats?
SANDERS: Okay, Roy is your first name? Roy?
CUOMO: Roey (ph).
SANDERS: Oh, Roey (ph); I'm sorry. Roey (ph), I don't demonize anybody. What I try to do is state the facts, and the facts are, in my view, that corporate greed is destroying our economy and is doing incalculable harm to the working families of this country. And I think that somebody that is trying to reform the democratic party -- this coming Sunday, we're going to have 30 rallies all over this country in opposition to the republican effort to try to end the Affordable Care Act. We're trying to create grass roots activity within the Democratic Party. It's not a question of demonizing. It's a question of creating public
policies, tax policies. Do you think it makes sense? Do you think it makes sense that we give very, very large tax breaks to billionaires and then cut back on education or health care? Does that make sense to you?
SANDERS: Well, it doesn't make sense to me. It doesn't make sense to the vast majority of the American people. I'm not demonizing people. What I am saying is that the billionaire class has enormous power. They wrote the trade policies.
You've got people sitting at the top of the pharmaceutical industry who last year, the top five drug companies made $50 billion in profits while the average American cannot afford the medicine he or she needs. Am I demonizing or is that a fact?
I think what we need is to bring the American people together and tell those people that we want a government that works for everybody. That's what I'm trying to do.
CUOMO: This is your opportunity, what have you got, Roey (ph)? Bernie is laying out his case there as the senator, what do you have? You said you don't like. Tell him what you don't like about that.
QUESTION: Well, particularly international trade, I think that most studies show that international trade, free-trade agreements, NAFTA, especially, has a net benefit on the economy. I mean, there are -- we have lost a lot of jobs to NAFTA, but there are now 7 million jobs that rely on NAFTA. If you scrap NAFTA, you essentially take those jobs away, too.
SANDERS: Well, it's not a question of scrapping, it's a question of rewriting, it's creating a new trade policy. Look, studies will tell you this and studies will tell you that. I read a lot of these studies. I think the objective evidence is that NAFTA, and PNTR even more than NAFTA, has in fact, in a net sense -- of course you're right, some of these trade policies create jobs.
But overall, when you add them up, we have lost millions of jobs, and by the way, it's not just job loss. What else goes on? What goes on you have many employers who walk into their workers' union hall or just talk to their employees and say look, here's your choice, we're going to cut your health care benefits. We're going to cut your wages, and if you don't like it, guess what we're doing? We're moving to China.
That's your choice. And that is another reason why the middle class in this country has been in decline, why wages are going down for many workers. So I think you and I have a disagreement about trade policies, but that's what democracy about.
CUOMO: This is good. I'm going to take a break right now so you can get up here and finish this conversation.
We're going to take a quick break here. We're with Senator Sanders. How's it going so far, are we happy with the discussion?
CUOMO: I think we can do a bit better. We have got a big moment coming up in this first test of how the Democrats work with the Republicans. You have got the big nominating hearings that are going to go on. Will the Democrats confirm the choices? What's going to happen when we start getting the first big battles tomorrow. We're going to discuss what the Democrats will do with Senator Sanders in the town hall, stay with us.
CUOMO: Welcome back to the CNN town hall with Senator Bernie Sanders at the George Washington University. Let's hear from Demarquin Johnson. He is from Houston, Texas, a student at Harvard Law School, we've got a big brain coming our way here, Senator.
He voted for Clinton in the primary and the general. He has a question about tomorrow's confirmation hearing. What do you have, sir?
DEMARQUIN JOHNSON, STUDENT, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Senator, I am worried about the direction of the Department of Justice over the next four years, specifically on voting rights. In light of Senator Sessions's history of attacking the Voting Rights Act, will you oppose his confirmation?
SANDERS: I'm going to listen to what Jeff Sessions has to say. I've known Jeff for many, many years. But I have very, very strong concerns. And I think the issue you raise about the Voting Rights Act and how the Supreme Court a few years ago gutted the Voting Rights Act and that right now in state after state, Republican states, what they are doing, this is really kind of unbelievable when you think about it, they're working overtime, not to expand democracy, not to bring more people into the political process, they are trying to make it harder for people to vote under the guise of voter fraud.
Thank God in America voter fraud is very, very rare. But they're using that argument to make it harder for poor people, for old people, for people of color to vote. I consider this to be one of the most significant issues facing our country.
OK. So I will listen very, very carefully to what Senator Sessions has to say, but I share your concerns.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
CUOMO: All right. We were talking earlier about how some of the interests in the new economy fold into understandings about our environment. I want you to meet David Bright. He is a farmer. He served as one of the Democratic electors from Maine.
Sir, what's your question?
DAVID BRIGHT, FARMER: Senator, those of us whose job it is to feed this country are seeing droughts and floods and climate change that are seriously threatening our ability to produce food in this country.
For us, there is no room in government for climate change deniers, yet Mr. Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He is one of the nominees who apparently is getting ready to disassemble the agency to which he's about to be posted.
So my question to you is, does the U.S. Senate have the chutzpah to actually stand up vigorously and oppose this? What has to happen to stop Mr. Pruitt from not only running but ruining the EPA?
SANDERS: Well, it is rather ironic that Mr. Trump has nominated somebody to head the EPA who doesn't much believe in environmental protection. And as you indicated, he is, as I understand it, a climate change denier.
Let me be as clear as I can be. I happen to agree with the overwhelming majority of scientists who believe that climate change is real and caused by human activity, and today as you've indicated, not only in our country but all over the world, people are experiencing drought and floods and extreme weather disturbances and rising sea levels which threaten the well-being of hundreds of millions if not billions of people.
It is insane for elected officials to say, well, I'm not sure about climate change, I'm not a scientist. That is nonsense. If we don't get our act together the planet that we are going to leave to our kids and grandchildren will not be a healthy planet. And we have a moral responsibility to do everything that we can.
Now I'm going to answer the question about Mr. Pruitt the same way I did about Mr. Sessions. I'm going to listen to what they have to say, but I think it is kind of hard for me to imagine voting for somebody who does not believe that climate change is real and was not prepared to transform our energy system in order to protect the well-being of our kids and grandchildren.
CUOMO: I have a question.
SANDERS: All right, I'll let you ask it.
CUOMO: Sorry to sneak up on you like that. Jeff Sessions, you said you have real concerns about what he did with respect to the Voting Rights Act. Pruitt, you say you have real concerns about the fact that, in your words, he's a climate change denier. But you say you won't commit to voting against them.
How do you vote for someone who think is a climate change denier? How do you vote for someone in Jeff Sessions that you think may have a problem towards voting rights?
SANDERS: All that I am doing here is trying to be polite.
CUOMO: It's too late to be polite. No time for that. (APPLAUSE)
CUOMO: Why are you clapping for politeness when you say you want to hear more real...
SANDERS: If I said I'm going to vote against these guys, then his next question would be, how can you vote against them when they haven't even gone before you in a hearing? Ask him a question. So I'm trying to be polite. But I have to say...
CUOMO: I'm still confused, are you going to vote against them or are you going to vote for them?
SANDERS: Well, I'm just saying, before I vote against them, I want to hear what they have to say.
CUOMO: Does it matter what they say if you are determined?
SANDERS: Of course it matters what they say, you know. But I think I know what they're going to say. But I think you have got to give people the courtesy of...
CUOMO: So you're not inclined to vote for them.
SANDERS: Good, thank you. You a lawyer?
CUOMO: I am.
SANDERS: You went to law school. All right. I knew that. All right.
CUOMO: All right, and you know why? Because I was lucky to get a lot of education. Segue, Gary Colletti, it's good to have you here, is a graduate student studying education policy here at the George Washington University. He is an independent who voted for Clinton. What is your question about the cost of school?
GARY COLLETTI, GRADUATE STUDENT, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: So the high costs of the courses here are prohibiting me from continuing past the degree that I'm currently going for. I'm stopping in May, not going for a Ph.D. past this. As a student and as a former high school teacher where I saw this issue happen a lot, opportunities for lower tuition mean a lot to me.
So can you explain how moving toward policies of free college is a better step than, say, lowering costs just nationally?
SANDERS: OK. Well, it's not either/or. I think colleges and universities have an obligation to make sure they're running their establishments in a way that is cost-effective. But this is what I believe. Everybody here knows that we live in a highly competitive global
economy. And that most of the new jobs require a lot of education. Technology is transforming our society.
Twenty years ago, the United States led the world in terms of the percentage of our people who were college graduates. Anyone know what percentage we are in today? We're in 11th place, 11th place.
I don't know how we have a bright economic future if we don't have the best educated workforce in the world.
So what I believe is that when we talk about public education, right now, when we talk about public education, I went to public schools in Brooklyn, New York, they were very good. When we talk about public education, we say, OK, you're going to have preschooling from kindergarten through high school, right? Good.
That was great 20, 30, 40 years ago. But today in many respects, given the changing economy, a college degree is the equivalent of what a high school degree was 40 years ago.
That means to me that what we have to do is make a simple statement, and that is that we will make public colleges and universities tuition-free. Now how are you going to pay for that? During my campaign for the presidency, I proposed a tax on Wall Street speculation which would have more than covered the cost of making public colleges and universities tuition-free.
The other part of the problem is that we have millions of people who have graduated college and graduate school, 30, 50, 100, $200,000, talked to a young woman in Iowa, went to dental school, $400,000 in debt. Now how do you get your life together when you're paying off huge debts for decades?
So I think as a nation we have to make a fundamental decision. Do we punish people for the crime of getting a good education? Or do we say, you know what? We want everybody in this country to get the best education they can. Not only for themselves, but for the future of this country. And that's what I believe.
The second part about that is I grew up in a family, didn't have a whole lot of money. We didn't know anybody who went to college. And that's true today for many families. I want every child in this country who's in the fourth grade or the sixth grade, regardless of the income of his or her family, to know that if they study hard and they do well in school, you know what, they are going to be able to go to college.
And I think that will bring a revolution to education in America. So I think that when we have the top 0.1 percent in this country owning almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, when we have huge disparities of wealth and income, when we have major corporations making billions in profits, not paying a nickel in taxes, yes, I think we can raise the money that we need to make colleges and universities tuition-free.
Now I don't know if you know him, there's a guy named Andrew Cuomo, New York State.
CUOMO: Funny looking.
SANDERS: Funny looking guy. And I was with him just a week ago. In New York State Governor Cuomo hopes to make that state the first state in the country to make public colleges and universities tuition-free. I think that's a great idea. I would like to see that all over this country.
CUOMO: What do you say to people who say instead of making me pay for your kid to go to college through taxes, get after the private universities and make them deal with the cost structure that's crippling the system to begin with?
SANDERS: Well, I think -- as I've said, I think...
CUOMO: Because that's kind of the heart of your question, right?
SANDERS: Universities and colleges have got to do a better job. But this business of making you pay for somebody else, you're doing it today. This is called society. This is called democracy.
You are now paying taxes so that some kid can go to a public school today. All I'm asking you, Chris, pay a little bit more in taxes so that somebody can go to college as well.
But it's not just you. Again, we have major corporation after major corporation not paying a nickel in federal income taxes. As Warren Buffett reminds us, you've got billionaires who pay an effective tax rate lower than their secretaries.
We have the money to make public colleges and universities tuition- free, I think in the long run we'll do an enormous amount of good for this nation.
CUOMO: So sometimes it's about doing more to make society better, sometimes it's about doing less, and on that note, let's bring in Jim Jacobs (ph). He's a small business owner from Chester County, Pennsylvania. He voted for Donald Trump.
Jim, what's your question?
JIM JACOBS, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: My question is this. I'm a business owner. And we just keep getting kicked in the teeth by this administration. It's regulation after regulation and tax upon tax. What Donald Trump does understand is the complexities of business and to reward the person who takes the risk.
So, really, my question is, this country was founded on entrepreneurship. Why is this administration so against the business owner? Please tell me.
SANDERS: I don't think this administration, the Obama administration you're referring to, is so against the business. JACOBS: Oh, really?
SANDERS: When you talk about tax increases -- yes. Obama -- I don't know your income, and I'm not concerned about your income. Obama did raise taxes on the top...
JACOBS: My income doesn't matter for the...
SANDERS: Excuse me. He raised taxes on the top 1 or 2 percent, and you know what, I would have gone further. I think the wealthiest people in this country are doing phenomenally well, 52 percent of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent.
So you and I may have a difference, but yes, I do believe that billionaires and multi-millionaires should be paying more in taxes.
JACOBS: I'm business owner, I'm not a multi-millionaire, I'm not a billionaire. OK? I mean, you haven't lived until you've put a payroll on your credit card. I mean, this is the reality of the backbone of this country.
SANDERS: Well, the backbone of this country, I think we should support entrepreneurialship. I think we should support small business. But I am not supportive of large multi-national corporations that made billions a year in profit and don't pay a nickel in taxes, nor am I supportive of those corporations who throw American workers out on the street and then move to China or Mexico.
CUOMO: What about the small businesses and the regulations?
SANDERS: I think we should be, support them.
CUOMO: Do you think there's space to work with Trump on that? He has talked about getting rid of regulations.
SANDERS: Well, you can't say in general -- what does that mean? Should a small business or a large business be able to pollute the water or the air or the food? No, I hope you don't believe that.
JACOBS: I don't pollute air, I don't pollute water, I don't pollute food. However, when these rules and regulations come in to cover all of business and you're starting -- trying to start a business, it's tough enough...
SANDERS: I think we should take a look at it, but the devil is in the details. We've got to see what those regulations. Some of them, by the way, may not all -- it's very easy to blame Barack Obama for everything, by the way. Some of those regulations may be state, maybe they're local. I don't know exactly the federal regulations...
CUOMO: But you're saying you're open to looking.
SANDERS: Of course! Look, if there's regulation that doesn't make any sense, why do you keep it, all right?
But some of them, if you're talking about -- you know, you have some folks out there who really want the freedom to pollute our air or to pollute our water. They want to get rid of those regulations, I don't agree. Don't agree. I think we have to protect the environment.
CUOMO: All right. Let's take a quick break. We have more questions for Senator Bernie Sanders when we come in and the future of the Democratic Party.
Great pleasure. Thank you.
CUOMO: We're back with CNN's town hall with Senator Bernie Sanders here at the George Washington University.
How are you holding up, Senator?
SANDERS: I'm great.
CUOMO: Good. That's what I like to hear.
All right. Let's have another question here. Jenny Gutierrez, she's a high school teacher from Maryland who voted for Hillary Clinton.
What are you learning from your students?
JENNY GUTIERREZ, HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER: All kinds of things.
Senator, thank you so much for taking my question.
I'd like to start with saying that I really love my students, and it's an honor to be able to teach them. Many of them are undocumented or have parents that are undocumented, and right now, they're very worried about the political atmosphere. I've talked to them, and I've let them know that they're going to be OK, that they need to focus on their education and not worry about possible deportation.
But, Senator, really, what do you have to say? Where can I, aside from encouraging them, where can they find hope?
SANDERS: Well, Jenny, first of all, thank you very much for your work as a teacher. You are one of the heroes and heroines in this country, and I think you never get -- teachers don't get the credit that they deserve. So, thank you very much for what you're doing.
GUTIERREZ: Thank you.
SANDERS: You've touched on a very emotional issue, and what I am hearing from you I am hearing from teachers, and people in the Muslim community and not just the Latino community, and other communities all over this country. People are frightened.
They are frightened, because during the campaign, Trump was saying, well, we're going to -- you know, we're just going to deport, whatever it may be. It changes every day. But we're going to be picking people up. We're going to throw millions of people outside of this country -- people who have lived in this country, worked in this country, people who have children in this country. And I can fully understand that your kids are frightened.
I think what all of us have got to remember, and I believe this from the bottom my heart, is somebody whose father came to this country from Poland, I'm a first generation American. He came to this country at the age of 17, no money, no education, dropped out of school he was 16.
We are a unique and great country because of our diversity. That is what makes us great. And of all the things that Trump talked about in his campaign, what troubled me the most is that after all of the generations of great people trying to bring us together, people in the civil rights, people in the gay rights movement, people in the women's movement. A hundred years ago, women didn't have the right to vote.
We have made progress. In looking at people, as Martin Luther King Jr. reminding us, based on their character, not where they came from, not the color of their skin. After seeing a man elected president who campaigned on dividing us up, turning us against each other, your beautiful students should not be afraid. Young Muslim kids should not be afraid to walk the streets. That is not what this country is about.
So, please tell your students that there are many of us in the Congress, not just Democrats or progressives, who will do everything that we can to protect those beautiful children.
GUTIERREZ: I will. I will let them know.
SANDERS: Please do.
GUTIERREZ: Thank you.
SANDERS: Thank you.
CUOMO: All right. So, let's go from someone who is teaching kids who are concerned, to somebody who is living that concern themselves. His name is Osama Alsaleh, from Shawnee, Kansas. He's a student here at GW, voted for Clinton.
And even though you're from Kansas, Osama, you say, as soon as people hear your first name, things change.
OSAMA ALSALEH, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Definitely. So, thank you for addressing my question.
And I just, you know, with the -- myself and many Muslims around the country are experiencing silent prejudice and we're noticing an uptick in hate crimes that occurred after the election. Now, I would like to know, what are -- what are you and fellow Democrats doing to work with Republicans to ensure that Muslims in America have fairness and equality?
SANDERS: We have to make a very fundamental decision, which I had hoped that this country had made. And that is that we understand that there is a common humanity, whether you are Muslim or I am Jewish or whether somebody is Catholic, whether somebody is protestant, whether somebody comes from Mexico or my case, my father from Poland, or somebody from Ireland, or his family from Italy.
So what? That is America. And we judge people on who they are, not where your grandfather came from or your religion.
And that is the principle that we have got to fight for. It's a fundamental, fundamental principle. We judge people on who they are. There are good Muslims, bad Muslims, good Jews, bad Jews, good Catholics, bad Catholics -- we judge people by who they are and not their religion or their country of origin. That is the principle we have got to fight for.
That is essentially in my mind what the fabric of this country is supposed to be about. So, there are many of us, I can't tell you what we have been doing, but we have already made some progress in that area and we will continue that fight. I will do everything that I can.
You asked me, when we will work with Trump -- I will work with Trump on any issue that is sensible. But I will not work with Trump when he espouses bigotry and dividing us up.
CUOMO: All right. So, we have a question that goes right to the heart of that, you know, that tension, between when you want to work with him, but you don't like what he's doing.
The next speaker is Matthew Kincaid. He's an economic consultant from Virginia. He's interested in pursuing law school. He's got about the Supreme Court.
MATTHEW KINCAID, ECONOMIC CONSULTANT: It's usually pretty easy for a president to get their Supreme Court nominee confirmed when their party is in control of the Senate. But given what happened with Merrick Garland, should Democrats unilaterally oppose a nominee like Republicans did last year?
SANDERS: Well, that's a good question.
I'm a member of the Democratic leadership. We discussed that a little bit today. I won't tell you what people said. But it was an issue of discussion.
Here's the problem we had -- the Supreme Court right now, more or less, is divided 4-4. The Constitution is very clear. There's no debate about it. The president of the United States, whether it's Obama or Trump, has the right to nominate somebody. And the Senate holds hearings and votes.
Other Republicans refused to do that. They refused. They violated, in my view, what the Constitution is.
Now, as soon as Trump decides on who his nominee will be, they will no doubt come to us and say, all right, here's the Constitution. We've got to have hearings. You've got to vote on this guy.
Oh, but you and you guys were in power. You rejected Obama's nominee and you didn't give him a hearing.
So, I think those are issues that have got to be taken into consideration. I think the solution of the problem would be, if Obama in fact -- if Mr. Trump in fact nominated somebody who was not, you know, an extreme right winger as I fear he might. It might make our lives a little easier. But I think we're going do have to wait and see how that one plays out.
CUOMO: You know it's going to play out. He's going to pick somebody and you guys on aren't going to like that person. What are you going to do?
SANDERS: Well, I think we've got to let it play out. But I gave you the concerns that I have. Media likes to jump two months in advance. Let's play one day at a time.
I want to repeat the point, but I do think that the Republicans treated President Obama shamefully and outrageously. And then to expect suddenly that, oh, we're going to do the right thing. Maybe, we'll see.
CUOMO: Which is exactly what took me to the question. We will see, but that's a big one. That's the big thing.
All right. Now I've got a big question for you, OK?
CUOMO: Donald Anyanwu, he immigrated to the United States from Nigeria, while he was in middle school. Now, he's a junior here at George Washington University. He's an independent, voted for Clinton, has a very interesting question for you.
DONALD ANYANWU, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Thank you, Senator Sanders, for your time. You recently referred to President- elect Trump as a pathological liar. In your opinion, in light of the efforts to steer cohesiveness in our nation, what do you view as his strongest attribute?
CUOMO: That is a provocative question. I'm going to use it to carry us through the commercial break, because I know people want to hear the answer to that. We're going to take a quick break. Senator Sanders will answer that
question, we hope when we come right back.
Donald, thank you very much.
CUOMO: Welcome back to the George Washington University and CNN's town hall with Senator Bernard Sanders.
We just had a very provocative question asked by one young Donald Anyanwu.
You are a student here at George Washington University. Please repeat your question.
ANYANWU: Yes, thank you, Senator Sanders.
You recently referred to President-elect Trump as a pathological liar. An in an effort to inspire a cohesive front, I'd like to know your opinion on his strongest attribute.
SANDERS: You think I should say something good about him now?
SANDERS: Well, let me, that's not a hard question for me to answer. Look, any objective assessment in the last year or a year and a half, or how long it was, will tell you that Donald Trump did something extraordinary. Something that nobody but nobody thought that he could do.
Trump took on the Republican establishment, took on the Democratic establishment, took on the media establishment, and he ended up winning the election to become president of the United States. That is an extraordinary accomplishment.
And it talks about perseverance. It talks about very strong political instincts. It talks about a way to connect with people.
So, I give, you know, I Donald Trump his due. And I think any fair minded person has got to.
Is that good enough?
ANYANWU: Yes, sir. Thank you.
CUOMO: Sawyer Neale, 19 years old, was the youngest Bernie Sanders delegate from Pennsylvania, at the Democratic convention last year.
SANDERS: You've aged rapidly since? Is that right?
CUOMO: What's your question?
SAWYER NEALE, SANDERS DELEGATE TO DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION: So, I became the youngest delegate from Pennsylvania, and I voted for you at the convention, because you inspired me, you motivated a generation of voters by talking about issues like health care, criminal justice, income inequality. And I'm afraid with Trump in the White House, with Republicans occupying a majority all around the country, that this is on the line. And progressives need someone to rally behind, liberals need someone to rally behind if we want to accomplish policy objectives.
My question to you is whether you'll take up the mantle of your presidential campaign, of our political revolution, and run for president in 2020?
SANDERS: It's --
SANDERS: Chris has heard me respond to that question before, in the sense that it's much too early to be talking about that.
What is important for us to be doing today is not worry about who's going to be a candidate for president four years ago. CNN likes that. But what we have got to worry about is how we deal with the issues that impact us today. OK?
And one of the things that -- reasons I think we had success in our campaign -- we also surprised a lot of people -- is we talked about issues that people believed in, which the media often does not talk about, and the establishment doesn't talk about it. You know what? The overwhelming majority of the American people, including many people who voted for Mr. Trump support the ideas that we're talking.
Go to Trump supporters and you ask them whether they think it's right that so few have so much and so many have so little. Ask them if we think we should raise the minimum wage to a living wage. Ask them if we should rebuild our infrastructure and create millions of jobs, rebuilding our roads, and our bridges and water systems. And you'll be surprised with the kind of response.
What I say all over the place is that, yes, of course there are differences in this country on issues like choice or on gay rights. And I support a woman's right to choose and I support gay rights.
But on many economic issues, you would be surprised at how many Americans hold the same views. Very few people believe what the Republican leadership believes now, -- tax breaks for billionaires and cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
If 10 percent of the American people -- I've been asking a question, fair question, right now in this audience, how many people believe we should give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the top 1 percent. And then cut Social Security and Medicare? Please raise your hand.
Chris, what's the answer? Did you see any hands going up?
SANDERS: That is exactly what the Republican leadership -- I'm not exaggerating. That is what they believe. But they get away with that, because they have incredible campaign contributions, capabilities. They have all kinds of lobbyists all over this place.
So, keep the faith. We did very well, by the way, in California yesterday. You know, we won all kinds of seats within the Democratic Party yesterday in California. A lot of people came out. We are making progress.
But the main goal is not to worry about who's going to run for president. Worry about all of you getting involved in the political process, honoring those people who fought and died for democracy. Respect people who disagree with you. But this is your country and not just the handful of billionaires.
CUOMO: So, you are taking off around the country. You're going to be bringing the message of your party to people, especially places where it did not go as well for you as you thought. What are you going to tell people around this country who feel that your party, the Democratic Party, does not pay attention to them any more, that you are more concerned with what bathroom people go into, to how they earn a living? What is the message do the Democrats --
SANDERS: Very fair question.
CUOMO: One, one, you give me credit.
SANDERS: All right. Not often. Hey, it's been an hour and ten minutes.
CUOMO: It's not a bad rate for me.
SANDERS: Facing (ph) questioning. All right.
SANDERS: Look, if we were going back in history to the '30s and '40s, and you asked the average working person, which party is the party of the working class in America? Overwhelmingly, people would have said, it was the Democratic Party. Today, people do not say that and for good reason.
SANDERS: When we talk about the greed on Wall Street and the deregulation of Wall Street, it wasn't the Republicans alone who did that. They did it with Democrats.
We talked about trade policy. It was a Democratic administration, not a Republican administration, that brought forth NAFTA. So, I think the Democrats have got to make a very fundamental choice,
Chris, and that is, which side are they on? You cannot be on the side of Wall Street. You can't be on the side of the drug companies and the insurance companies and the big money and go to working people and say, "Hey, I'm on your side," because they're smarter (ph), and they're not going to believe you.
So, what we have got to do is come up with an agenda that speaks to the needs of working people, and that is creating millions of decent paying jobs, making public colleges and universities tuition free, raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour, creating jobs by addressing the crisis of climate change, dealing with the broken criminal justice system, dealing with the need for immigration reform, et cetera, et cetera.
I think the American people understand that there's something profoundly wrong in this country when you have a small number of billionaires that have so much power. And I believe they want to see a government which represents all of us, and that's what the Democratic Party has got to stand for.
CUOMO: We get to the issues. Was it a serious discussion about serious things? Good. Give yourselves a round of applause. Thank you for joining us here.
CUOMO: Our thanks to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. (INAUDIBLE) Happy New Year to you.
For everyone who made this town hall possible, and it's more than you may just be thinking about what you see up here on the stage.
This is just the beginning of a very special week at CNN. Tomorrow, you have President Obama's farewell address. Wednesday, you have President-elect Donald Trump, holding his first full scale news conference in months. And later on Wednesday night, Van Jones is going to host another edition of his town hall series, "The Messy Truth". And then, Thursday, you've got my colleague Jake Tapper here at the George Washington University with the Republican speaker of the House, Representative Paul Ryan.
Our thanks to our host, the George Washington University, and, of course, to all of you in the audience tonight and at home for watching and participating. I'm Chris Cuomo.
Don Lemon is going to pick up our coverage right now.