He’s a millionaire now, but Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders showed Monday night what his supporters have liked about him since the 2016 presidential race – and why he leads the 2020 Democratic primary polls.
Sanders stuck to his message on health care and other core economic issues during a CNN town hall in New Hampshire. Here are four takeaways from the town hall:
Giving the Boston Bomber the vote
As criminal justice has moved to the forefront of the increasingly progressive Democratic agenda, there are some proposals that middle America may find hard to swallow – and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tackled one of them Monday night.
A student asked whether he really believed that incarcerated Americans should be allowed to vote, including the Boston Marathon bomber. Showing Democrats the kind of direct, straightforward rhetoric that helped him win over so many voters in 2016, he answered with an unequivocal yes.
The Vermont senator said he wants to see America have the highest voter turnout on earth, and part of that is preserving the right to vote even for the most “terrible people.”
“If somebody commits a serious crime – sexual assault, murder – they’re going to be punished. They may be in jail for 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, their whole lives. That’s what happens when you commit a serious crime,” Sanders said. “But I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy. Yes, even for terrible people, because once you start chipping away and you say, ‘Well, that guy committed a terrible crime; not going to let him vote. Well, that person did that; not going to let that person vote. You’re running down a slippery slope.”
CNN’s Chris Cuomo noted that Sanders was essentially writing a 30-second opposition ad against himself “by saying you think the Boston Marathon bomber should vote.”
“Well, Chris,” Sanders answered, “I think I have written many 30-second opposition ads throughout my life. This will be just another one.”
‘Rightfully criticized’ on foreign policy
Sanders conceded that his decades of consistency on economic issues does not extend to his approach on foreign policy.
“I was rightfully criticized the last time around because I didn’t pay as much attention as I might,” Sanders said. “The economy issues, whether people have health care and whether they have decent paying jobs and deal with climate change is enormously important but we have to look at the United States’ role in the world as well.”
He specifically pointed to Yemen and the recent passage of the War Powers Act, a bipartisan effort led by Sanders in partnership with GOP Utah Sen. Mike Lee that was ultimately vetoed by Trump.
“Probably a few years ago I would not have been as involved as I have recently been in demanding and helping in the senate to pass a resolution to get the United States out of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen,” Sanders said.
Caution on impeaching Trump
Sanders rang notes of caution on Democrats pursuing President Donald Trump’s impeachment, just an hour after Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren argued forcefully for it.
“Here is my concern: At the end of the day, what is most important to me is to see that Donald Trump is not reelected President and I intend to do everything I can to make sure that that doesn’t happen,” Sanders said.
“But if for the next year all the Congress is talking about is ‘Trump, Trump, Trump,’ and ‘Mueller, Mueller, Mueller’ and we’re not talking about health care and raising the minimum wage to a living wage and we’re not talking about climate change and sexism and racism and homophobia and the issues that concern ordinary Americans – I worry that works to Trump’s advantage,” he said.
Sanders said there should be a “thorough investigation” of Trump’s actions in the House and the Senate, but that he won’t hold his breath for Senate Republicans to probe the president.
A millionaire’s relief
Thanks to his best-selling book, Sanders is a millionaire now. But he insisted Monday it hasn’t changed his outlook on the obligations of the “millionaires and billionaires” he rails against on the campaign trail, even though he’d now carry a larger share of the tax burden he is seeking to impose on them.
“When I was a kid, my family had to worry about how they’re going to pay this bill or how they’re going to pay that bill. I don’t have to worry about that now. That stress is off my family, and that is a great relief,” he said.
“And I have spent my entire life – and hopefully will conclude my political life in the White House – trying to make sure that every person in this country does not have to deal with the stress of whether they can afford to pay the electric bill, whether they’re going to have health care, whether they can send their kids to health care.”