Fox News hosted a Town Hall with Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) at the University of Michigan-Dearborn fieldhouse on March 9. Fox News anchors Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier sat down with Sanders during the live broadcast to discuss his campaign and outlook on the Michigan primary vote. About 300 people attended in person as well, many of whom were UM-Dearborn students.
Sanders and Joe Biden may have a tight race in Michigan- an important state to win at that, with 125 delegates up for grabs. After Super Tuesday (March 3), Biden was leading with 670 with Bernie behind him at 574. Michigan could make or break the race for either candidate.
One of the first few questions Sanders was asked was what his response to the coronavirus would be and his opinion on the Trump administration’s efforts. He criticized the Trump-Pence administration for not believing in science, and said he would want scientists to lead the effort instead of politicians.
He also said that Medicare for All would help the health crisis.
“When I talk about healthcare being a human right, and all people having healthcare, the coronavirus crisis makes that abundantly clear as to why that should be,” said Sanders.
He mentioned that “half of the people in this country are living paycheck to paycheck,” and that people who work at McDonald’s and Burger King may not be able to miss work due to illness or injury because they have to feed their families.
“What happens if you have that virus and you’re going to work? You’re spreading it to other people,” he said.
Paid medical leave is also something that Sanders wants to make a national policy.
Baier pointed out the experts at the CDC and scientists who are aiding president Trump in the efforts, and asked what exactly Sanders would do differently than Trump. Sanders replied that as president, he would not claim to be “the world’s greatest scientific expert on climate change or coronavirus.”
When asked about economic answers to the coronavirus- as industries such as airlines, cruise lines, and hospitality are being affected-, Sanders brought up the bailouts that Congress gave to Wall Street. While Sanders said that he can see that the economy is in trouble, he also said, “Go to your billionaire friends, and we will put a special tax on billionaires to bail out the economy.”
“Given what’s going on in the economy right now, concerns that perhaps there might be a recession coming,” MacCullum asked Sanders, “would you hold off on raising taxes while that situation is going on?”
Sanders said no, and that raising taxes helps deal with “a grotesque level of income and wealth inequality.” Under Sander’s ruling, the wealthiest people in the country would pay higher taxes. He was again asked how this position would be affected by a possibly failing economy from coronavirus, to which he responded, “I will not become president until January, and the economic situation will be different than it is today.”
However, if he was president today, he would still raise taxes on billionaires “to deal with the issue of income and wealth inequality and raising the funds we need for education, environmental protection and homelessness.”
To stimulate the economy and create new wealth, Sanders said he would “invest in working class people, [and] in good-paying jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, roads, bridges…” He also mentioned the people of Flint, Michigan and how they need a new water system.
MacCallum brought up a point that billionaires such as Bill Gates are acting as philanthropists by spending money and trying to come up with solutions to other issues, including pharmaceuticals and medical treatments.
“I understand that, and I’m not here to demonize anybody,” Sanders replied. However, he said he doesn’t think it is reasonable for the wealthiest country in the world to have to rely on the generosity of billionaires to help citizens.
The discussion then moved to how coronavirus might affect our borders. Sanders criticized Trump on his “xenophobic, anti-immigration sentiment” and that “the first thing that he could think about is closing down the border.” Sanders said he would rely on scientists rather than a political approach to the situation.
Baier then spoke about how all of Sanders’ programs would financially add up; Medicare for All, Green New Deal, free public college and universities, housing, etc.
“The estimates put it at a staggering $55 trillion over the next decade,” Baier said. To describe this amount of money, Baier said that if [it were] entirely covered by taxes, it would be nearly double the existing level of taxed. If entirely covered by borrowing, it would soar the national debt to $78 trillion.”
Medicare for All
Sanders first addressed the concerns about funding Medicare for All; right now, an average family spends 20% of their income on healthcare, and their employer pays even more. Under Medicare for All, all premiums, deductibles and copayments would be removed. Nobody pays that anymore.
Next, Sanders said that “we will end greed and collusion of the pharmaceutical industry, nobody under my plan pays more than $200 a year for prescription drugs.”
Under Sanders, a proposed 4% tax on Americans is planned, except for people who make less than $29,000 or less a year, who would pay nothing.
Then, employers would pay a 7.5% tax. “That will save employers money,” Sanders said. The rest of the program would be funded by progressive taxation.
According to Sanders, this program would save money across the board because it gets rid of the “profiteering of insurance companies and the drug companies.” In total, Sanders approximates the cost of his plan to be about $47 billion.
As for the 150 million Americans who have private coverage and don’t want to lose it- Sanders said that 50 million people lose their healthcare every year due to losing or switching jobs. He also mentioned the enormous expense of providing healthcare that employers deal with, especially when it comes to small businesses.
“Do your damn business, don’t worry about healthcare,” Sandes said. “We will cover all healthcare for you as a human right.”
Free public college and university tuition
Sanders wants to fund public college and university tuition “through a modest tax on Wall Street speculation.” He believes that this will also be able to cancel all existing student loan debt.
A UM-Dearborn student named Richard was able to ask Sanders a question about this issue: “What would you say to families who have worked hard to save up money so that their children can go to college with minimal debt, or to graduates that have worked hard after graduating to pay off their student loans?”
Sanders replied, “I went to a public school. Most of my kids went to a public school. We didn’t have any money. We had a pretty damn good education, okay?” He also mentioned that, in his opinion, it is not radical to believe that free public education should surpass K-12 and include college, university and trade schools.
Margaret, another audience member, asked Sanders. “As someone from Russia, a country that was greatly impacted by the negative effects of socialism, what assurances can you offer myself and other people impacted by socialism that Democratic socialism will not have the same results?”
Sanders replied by correcting Margaret about what she said happened in her home country.
“What happened and existed in the Soviet Union wasn’t socialism. It was authoritarian communism,” Sanders said.
Sanders seemed to want to make very clear what he means when he refers to himself as a democratic socialist.
“When we talk about Democratic socialism, Margaret, I’m talking about Finland. I’m talking about Denmark. I’m talking about Sweden.”
These are countries with wide social programs, but thriving economies with private companies.
Sanders has been criticized for his comments about Fidel Castro’s education policies in a good light. While he has responded to these concerns, it was again addressed at the town hall. He said that he has always condemned authoritarianism.
For example, he does not approve of China, a totalitarian communist regime, but referred to some good things that China may have done along the way;
“Would anybody in their right mind deny that extreme poverty in China has been reduced? Can anyone deny that? Of course not. Does that mean we approve of the Chinese government? No, it doesn’t,” Sanders said.
When Sanders says that he is a democratic socialist, he is referring to a Scandinavian style of government. Those countries are lowering taxes in order to encourage companies to move back to domestic operations instead of operating in countries like the United States.
They are also finding other ways to fund their expensive programs, but Sanders is solely focusing on those social programs they offer.
Sanders also expressed his support of a two state solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. He is a Jewish-American that has spent a significant amount of time of his life in Israel, and he is concerned with the right-wing movements happening there. However, he believes that “Israel needs absolutely to be guaranteed the right to live in peace and security.” He also believes that Palestinians have “a right to live in dignity and with justice.”
Sanders was also asked about his preferred choice of running mate, and he replied that it was a bit premature to make decisions about a possible vice president when he is yet to secure the nomination.
“I think my gut feeling is that it must be a woman,” Sanders said. “I would look to women first, but they would be women, by the way, who hold my political views.”