On Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders kicked off a series of campaign rallies, his most extensive since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before his first plane took off, Sanders talked with Semafor about the anti-corporate message that he wants Democrats to use to regain the high ground on the economy against Republicans. We also discussed the left’s divisions over the war in Ukraine.
Here is our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
AMERICANA: Are you advising Democrats to run a Truman 1948-style campaign? Here’s our agenda, the one Republicans wouldn’t let us pass?
SANDERS: It’s funny that you mention that. I think what Truman did in 1948 was absolutely brilliant. He called a special session of the Congress, and he challenged the Republicans to stand up for working families. And the American people back then, in 1948, saw that they were not going to do that. In a huge upset, he won re-election. My point of view is Republicans right now talk a good game, but in reality, they are a corporate party that is at war against the working class.
What we are saying is that corporate profits are soaring in the oil industry, in the food industry, in the airline industry, in the health care industry, in the drug industry. In fact, there are estimates out there, that over 50 percent of the increase in costs, inflationary costs, are a direct result of excessive corporate profits. And I think we need a windfall profits tax.
The Republicans are not in a million years going to go near that. And at a time when working people are struggling, when elderly people are struggling, what Republicans want to do is repeal the estate tax, which only applies to the top 1/10 of 1 percent, and would increase the national debt by $1.75 trillion. In order to pay for that, they want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. So, I think what Democrats have got to do is take the fight to the Republicans.
AMERICANA: What are the specific actions you’re talking about Democrats taking? When I watch their TV ads, or I hear Joe Biden speak, they’re often using much of this message already.
SANDERS: But I think they have got to say, right now: In a time of soaring corporate profits, are you prepared to support a windfall profits tax, or you’re going to allow prices to continue to rise? Are we going to move forward in addressing the absolute greed in the healthcare industry and in the pharmaceutical industry, which is driving up prices?
AMERICANA: Should Democrats be talking about Jerome Powell raising interest rates, or the Saudis cutting back OPEC oil production?
SANDERS: In terms of the Saudis, we have, for years, given military support to a monarchy which is incredibly authoritarian, which treats women as third-class citizens. And I do not favor maintaining that kind of a relationship. What we saw recently is the Saudi government, in essence, supports Putin – it drives oil prices up. We cannot continue to maintain that kind of relationship. Secondly, you’ve got OPEC, which is a cartel, and in my view you’ve got to break that cartel up.
AMERICANA: You’re talking about turning out young voters. The president just did student debt relief, and he just did marijuana policy reform – those are two things that I’ve heard, for years, would excite young voters. Are they?
SANDERS:I think Biden took a step forward in terms of canceling student debt for large numbers of people – the right thing to do, and I would go further. In terms of marijuana, I happen to think that we should legalize marijuana in this country. Biden made an important step forward.
But I think we have got to go further. I think we’ve got to be bold, in terms of speaking about climate change, about raising the minimum wage to a living wage. A lot of young people are struggling with healthcare issues. They’re struggling with the cost of housing, with rents. I’m also going to speak to those issues.
AMERICANA: What’s your reaction to the Congressional Progressive Caucus urging Biden to pursue a negotiated settlement between Russia and Ukraine and then retracting it?
SANDERS: I don’t agree with that. And they don’t agree with it, apparently. It was withdrawn today, so it becomes a non-issue. But look, I think what Putin did is beyond belief, and outrageous. That in the year 2022, we have a major power invading and causing mass destruction to a smaller democratic country? It’s unacceptable, and it has to be resisted. And I applaud the Ukrainian people for the courage that they are showing in fighting back.
AMERICANA: I’ve seen Republicans use this as a way to portray Democrats as warmongers, especially to young voters. You’ve seen people protesting AOC; you’ve seen Tulsi Gabbard go around the country calling Democrats “warmongers” over Ukraine.
SANDERS: Democrats, warmongers? When you have Putin breaking all kinds of international laws, unleashing destruction against the people of Ukraine? This is Putin’s war, and it has to be resisted. And to suggest that Democrats are war mongers? Incomprehensible.