Bernie Sanders is an independent Senator from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats. He is the former mayor of Burlington, Vermont and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 2007. He was elected to the senate in 2007 and currently serves as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. He also serves on the Committee on the Budget, the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and the Committee on Environment and Public Works. Sanders cofounded the Congressional Progressive Caucus. In 2015, Sanders announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential elections. Sanders went on to win 23 primaries; however, the nomination was won by Hilary Clinton. Sanders announced his presidential campaign for the 2020 election on February 19, 2019.
On the Issues
AAI tracks the official and campaign-trail statements of each presidential candidate on 12 issues that are critical for our community.
Scroll to see what Bernie Sanders has said about each.
"The truth is that our country has had a long and shameful history of voter suppression. When we look at the history of why our country has banned incarcerated people from voting, we must understand that the efforts to rob citizens of their voting rights was a legacy of slavery and continuing racist attitudes post-Jim Crow. What Bernies(sic) believes is if you've committed a crime and you're in jail, you're paying a price. But you're still a member of American society and that means you have a right to vote. In Bernie’s home state of Vermont, in Maine, in Puerto Rico and in over 30 democracies around the world, the right to vote cannot be taken away even for those who are incarcerated. Voter suppression is what Trump and Republican governors are all about. What we have to be about is expanding our democracy, and ensuring that every American citizen has the right to vote, period." (ACLU "Rights for All" Questionnaire Response)
- "Bernie is strongly in favor of D.C. statehood. Washington, D.C. is home to more people than the state of Vermont, except Vermont has two United States Senators and one Congressman with full rights while D.C. does not. That doesn't make any sense. Bernie thinks it is morally wrong for American citizens who pay federal taxes, fight in our wars and live in our country to be denied the basic right to full congressional representation." (ACLU "Rights for All" Questionnaire Response)
"I believe that it is hard to defend the current system in which one candidate receives 3 million votes less than his opponent, but still becomes president. Further, presidential elections cannot be fought out in just a dozen "battleground" states. I believe that we need to reexamine the concept of the electoral college." 7/21/2019, The Washington Post)
“And I think it was a damn good idea to say that we're not gonna fund money for the census unless that absolutely bigoted language is taken out of the census. So I think we might wanna jump in before.” (06/21/19, The Hill)
“More proof that this administration wants to rig the 2020 Census to undercount minorities—and they’re trying to cover it up. The census must not be turned into a partisan weapon. Immigrant communities have a right to equal representation and funding.” (6/1/19, Twitter)
- “We must repeal Citizens United, move to public funding of elections and end voter suppression and gerrymandering. Our goal: establish a political system that has the highest voter turnout in the world and is governed by the democratic principle ‘one person - one vote.’ (01/31/19, Twitter)
- Senator Sanders cosponsored the Voter Empowerment Act of 2019.
Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
- “More proof that this administration wants to rig the 2020 Census to undercount minorities—and they’re trying to cover it up. The census must not be turned into a partisan weapon. Immigrant communities have a right to equal representation and funding.” (6/1/19, Twitter)
- “While I do not support the BDS movement, we must defend every American’s constitutional right to engage in political activity. It is clear to me that this bill would violate Americans’ First Amendment rights." (01/28/19, senate.gov)
- “Let me be clear: it is a disturbing attack on the First Amendment for the Trump administration to decide who is or is not a reporter for the purposes of a criminal prosecution. Donald Trump must obey the Constitution, which protects the publication of news about our government.” (05/24/19, Twitter)
- “It is not anti-Semitic to be critical of a right wing government in Israel” (4/16/19, CNSNews)
Securitization and Surveillance
- "The information disclosed by Edward Snowden has allowed Congress and the American people to understand the degree to which the NSA has abused its authority and violated our constitutional rights. Now we must learn from the troubling revelations Mr Snowden brought to light. Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies must be given the tools they need to protect us, but that can be done in a way that does not sacrifice our rights. While Mr Snowden played an important role in educating the American people, there is no debate that he also violated an oath and committed a crime. In my view, the interests of justice would be best served if our government granted him some form of clemency or a plea agreement that would spare him a long prison sentence or permanent exile." (9/14/2016, The Guardian)
- “One of the sad things we are seeing in this country is an increase in hate crimes, and we are seeing a president who is trying to divide us up. This guy is a religious bigot in my view. He is a racist and he is a sexist among many vile attributes that he has. A week ago I was in Los Angeles and this was after the horrible shooting in New Zealand where some lunatic walked into a mosque and killed 50 people because they were Muslims. It is absolutely important that different religions work together to stand with each other because you are not only seeing a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in this country, but ant-Semitism as well.” (4/6/19, Muscatine Iowa Town Hall)
“In this difficult moment, where we see a rise in hate crimes and a growing tendency toward authoritarianism, now is the time for everybody to come together and to show the world that love will conquer hate.” (3/23/19, Twitter)
- Who really stays up at night worrying that the color of your skin is darker than mine? Who worries that your religion is different than mine?[….] I never could understand why would people do such terrible and horrible things to people. [….] In this difficult moment, not only in American history, where we see a rise in hate crimes, and not only in a world where we see a growing tendency toward authoritarianism, where demagogues are picking on minority communities all over this world, now is the time, as never before, for us to stand up to hatred of all kind.” (03/23/19, Islamic Center SoCal)
Criminal Justice Reform
"Bernie believes we have a racist criminal justice system that must be fundamentally transformed. That means eliminating cash bail nationwide. Nearly half a million people are incarcerated on a given day without having been convicted of a crime--fully 65 percent of all people in jail in 2017 were 'unconvicted,' meaning they are awaiting court action. Our cash bail system systematically disadvantages low-income individuals, often people of color. He will fundamentally alter the way we police, charge, and prosecute. Today, African Americans are jailed at more than five times the rate of whites and black men are sentenced to 19 percent more jail time for committing the exact same crime as white men. All of this and more is why we are finally going to bring about real criminal justice reform in this country. We will bring the disastrous War on Drugs to an end, including legalizing marijuana and expunging past marijuana-related criminal charges. We will ban private prisons and detention centers. We will reform civil asset forfeiture. We will end mandatory minimums, reinstate a federal parole system, and reform police forces across the country to ensure they reflect their communities, are not reliant on fines and fees collected from low-income individuals and people of color for funding, and are trained to de-escalate conflicts first, using force as a last response. On the state and local level, Bernie knows we must work together to make this happen. In order to accomplish this, it requires a movement to push for new District Attorneys, state legislators and governors. He has been a leader in the criminal justice movement, and greatly appreciates the work of ACLU and other reformers. He supports the vision but to accomplish it, and understands it will take even more mobilization than currently underway. He promises to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to make these and other fundamental changes to our broken criminal justice system." (ACLU "Rights for All" Questionnaire Response)
Bernie believes that violence and brutality of any kind, particularly at the hands of the police meant to protect and serve our communities, is unacceptable and must not be tolerated. We need a societal transformation to make it clear that black lives matter and racism will not be accepted in a civilized country. When we’re in the White House, we will:
- Establish new rules on the allowable use of force. Police officers need to be trained to de-escalate confrontations and to humanely interact with people who have mental illnesses.
- Demilitarize our police forces so they don’t look and act like invading armies.
- Invest in community policing. Only when we get officers into the communities, working within neighborhoods before trouble arises, do we develop the relationships necessary to make our communities safer together. Among other things, that means increasing civilian oversight of police departments.
- Create a police culture that allows for good officers to report the actions of bad officers without fear of retaliation and allows for a department to follow through on such reports.
- We need police forces that reflect the diversity of our communities, including in the training academies and leadership.
- At the federal level, we need to establish a new model police training program that reorients the way we do law enforcement in this country. With input from a broad segment of the community including activists and leaders from civil rights organizations we will reinvent how we police America.
- Federally fund and require body cameras for law enforcement officers to make it easier to hold them accountable.
- Require police departments and states to collect data on all police shootings and deaths that take place while in police custody and make that data public.
- Conduct a U.S. Attorney General's investigation whenever someone is killed while in police custody.
- States and localities that make progress in this area should get more federal justice grant money. (ACLU "Rights for All" Questionnaire Response)
“Real criminal justice reform means standing up to the prison industrial complex. When we are in the White House, we're going to end the disgraceful practice of profiteering from locking people up. No more private prisons and detention centers.” (3/20/19, Twitter)
“Develop a model program which says, look, lethal force is the last response, not the first response, if you are threatened. These are the things that you as a police officer can do before you pull out you gun and start shooting people, and we can reward those communities that are prepared to train their police officers to do that.” (6/22/19, MSNBC)
Bigoted Speech: Instances of Condemnation and/or Use
When I call the president a racist, this is what I'm talking about We must stand together for justice and dignity towards all. (7/14/19, Twitter)
“We have got to make it very clear that the type of demagoguery we are seeing from the Trump administration is not what this country is about, and I will do everything I can to help lead this country in a direction that ends all forms of discrimination. [...] I actually was at the March on Washington with Dr. King back in 1963, and as somebody who actively supported Jesse Jackson’s campaign, as one of the few white elected officials to do so, in ‘88, I have dedicated my life to the fight against racism and sexism and discrimination of all forms” (4/26/19, Guardian News)
“We all want civil discourse in this country. But that's not the end. You cannot be extolling people who really were part of a disgusting system that oppressed and terrorized millions of African-Americans in this country.” (06/23/19, CBS News)
- “It is not an American value to talk about rounding up millions of people and throwing them out of the country. That is xenophobia and racism.” (05/17/19, Twitter)
- “To those who want to divide us up: No, we’re not going to hate Muslims. We are going to stand up to demagogues and build a nation based on love, not division.” (4/26/19, Twitter)
- “I support a Muslim member of congress not to be attacked every day in outrageous, racist remarks” (04/15/19, FOX News)
- “Ilhan Omar is a leader with strength and courage. She won’t back down to Trump’s racism and hate, and neither will we. The disgusting and dangerous attacks against her must end.” (04/12/19, Twitter)
"Bernie believes we are long overdue for humane, comprehensive immigration reform in this country that is rooted in civil and human rights. He will fight for a pathway to citizenship to bring 11 million immigrants out of the shadows and strengthen our country, our economy, and our society. A comprehensive and humane immigration reform plan would include a swift and fair roadmap to citizenship, dismantling Trump’s deportation machine and its detention centers, demilitarizing our border, ensuring our border remains secure while respecting local communities, modernizing the visa system, rewriting bad trade agreements, and enhancing access to justice for immigrants." (ACLU "Rights for All" Questionnaire Response)
"When Bernie is in the White House, he will decouple local law enforcement from Immigration enforcement. In too many instances, deportation programs like the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), the 287(g) program, and the Criminal Alien Program have unjustly turned local law enforcement officials into immigration officers. Racial profiling and the criminalization of communities of color form the foundation of these deportation programs which will be eliminated under a Sanders Administration." (ACLU "Rights for All" Questionnaire Response)
"When Bernie is president, his first executive actions will be to reverse every single thing President Trump has done to demonize and harm immigrants. Bernie voted against the creation of ICE in 2002 and believes that was the right vote. He will fundamentally restructure ICE and ensure all immigration agencies are subject to appropriate oversight. He will end the detention of children, families, and non-violent immigrants and ensure any shelters necessary to temporarily house immigrants meet humane, 21st century standards with access to medical and humanitarian services. He will authorize alternatives to detention that are community-based, and ensure legal counsel and support for immigrants before and at their hearings. Bernie believes in ending cash bail and would apply the same to immigration detention." (ACLU "Rights for All" Questionnaire Response)
“Because we'll have strong border protections. But the main point I want to make is that what Trump is doing through his racism and his xenophobia, is demonizing a group of people. And as president, I will end that demonization. If a mother and a child walk thousands of miles on a dangerous path, in my view, they are not criminals. They are people fleeing violence. And I think the main thing that we've got to do -- among many others, and Beto made this point -- we've got to ask ourselves, "Why are people walking 2,000 miles to a strange country where they don't know the language?" So what we will do, the first week we are in the White House, is bring the entire hemisphere together to talk about how we rebuild Honduras…Guatemala and El Salvador so people do not have to flee their own countries.” (7/30/2019 Democratic Debate, transcript, NBC)
“A sane immigration policy moves the comprehensive immigration reform. It moves to a humane border policy, and which, by the way, we have enough administrative judges, so that we don't have incredible backlogs that we have right now.” (7/30/2019 Democratic Debate, transcript, NBC)
“Well, I think what the president has done is what, in fact, in many respects, Mexico has agreed to do many months ago. But I think what the world is tired of and what I am tired of is a president who consistently goes to war, verbal war, with our allies, whether it is Mexico, whether it is Canada. The issue here in terms of immigration requires us finally to do what should have been done years ago, and that is pass comprehensive immigration reform to make sure that our young -- young people in this country who are in the DACA program get immediate legal protection, and that we have a humane border policy. We need a decent relationship with Mexico. They are our allies, as is the case with Canada. We should not be confronting them every other day.” [CNN, 6/9/19]
“But this is a president who also tweeted out last week that he is prepared, I think, to round up millions, was that the word, millions of undocumented people. And that is so horrific and so un-American that it is unacceptable, and I will do everything I can to stop that. Look you've got some 11 million undocumented people in this country. Our job is to pass comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship. Our job is to give immediate legal status to what Trump took away. And that is the DACA program that protects one point eight million young people.” (06/23/19, CBS News)
NO BAN Act
"The Supreme Court today sided with fear, racism and xenophobia and against the American ideals of religious freedom and tolerance. The Trump administration’s travel ban was never about keeping America safe. We need only look at Trump’s own words to understand that this has always been a racist and anti-Islamic attempt to ban Muslims from entering this country. America loses when we become divided by religion, race, national origin or sexual orientation. We are stronger when we come together.” (6/26/19, Facebook)
“Let’s call Trump's travel ban what it is: A racist and anti-Islamic attempt to divide us up.” (3/6/17, Twitter)
- “More and more people understand that what President Trump did on his ban for foreign visit is un-American, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s something that is going to make us less safe, not more safe. This country has always welcomed people into our nation. To tell over a billion Muslims that they are not welcome to come into the United States sends a horrible message and something that runs absolutely contrary to American values.” (1/3/17, Facebook)
Favreau: You’ve been very critical of Bibi Netanyahu in the Israeli government. We spend a few billion dollars on Aid to Israel. Would you ever consider using that Aid as leverage to get the Israeli government to act differently?
Sanders: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. I mean we are giving large sums of money look, let me let me back it up before the tweets start flowing in–I lived in Israel. Actually, I worked in a kibbutz for a number of months. I have family in Israel. I am Jewish. I am not anti-Israel. Okay, I believe that the people of Israel have absolutely the right to live in peace, independence and security. End of discussion–that is what I fervently believe. But I think what has happened is in recent years under Netanyahu, you have an extreme right-wing government with many racist tendencies. The role of the United States and this is not easy–you know, believe me–Clinton tried it, Obama tried it, Jimmy Carter tried it. This is not easy stuff–is to try to finally bring peace to the Middle East and to treat the Palestinian people with a kind of respect and dignity they deserve. Our policy cannot just be pro-Israel pro-Israel pro-Israel. It has got to be pro-region working with all of the people, all of the countries in that area and it’s a similar position–and Hillary Clinton and I had a bit of a disagreement on this in 2016–Saudi Arabia is a vicious ugly dictatorship. That’s what it is, you got to call it out. That’s what it is. They do not tolerate dissent, they treat women like third-class citizens and yet they have been on wonderful ally. We followed them into this terrible war in Yemen where I’m proud to say, I helped lead the effort to get us out of that terrible war. Alright. So what we need to do is not say we’re 100% pro-Israel or 100% Pro Saudi Arabia. We hate Iran, we hate the Palestinians–that is not the role that the United States of America should be playing. We got to bring people together and say, you know what? We spend a whole lot of money not only in aid to Israel and to Egypt, we have spent trillions of dollars on the war on terror. Alright, we are going to sit down and by the way, I’ve been critical about Trump every single day of his administration, but one area I’m not critical of. He went to sit down with Kim Jong Un. You know what? I think that’s okay. I think that’s the right thing to do. And I, as president of the United States will sit down in a room with the leadership of Saudi Arabia, with the leadership of Iran, with the leadership of the Palestinians, with the leadership of Israel and hammer out some damn agreements which will try to end the conflicts that exist there. (7/18/2019, Crooked Media)
- “Jared Kushner can sit up there and say, "this is what I want to do." Who is he working with? Is he working with the Palestinian people? So I think what has to be done is all I have been in terms of the Middle East is you know I believe 100 percent in Israel's right to exist in peace and security when I was a kid I lived in Israel for a while, okay, I got family in Israel. But I believe that the United States has got to play an even handed role in the Middle East. Right now in Gaza, for example, it is a humanitarian disaster. You have unemployment rate at 60, 70. 80 percent. Kids have no life in front of them. And it is going to boil over. No question about it. You've got to deal with that issue... I would sit down with- with Israel and say look you get- I don't know what it is, maybe 3 billion a year or something, I don't know what an exact number is, something- like three billion a year and say, "look you want military aid from the United States you're going to have to treat the Palestinian people and that region with respect that we intend to work with you to do that."” (06/23/19, CBS News)
- “I have great concerns about the role Netanyahu is playing in Israel and their relationship with the Palestinians. As I’ve said many times, I believe 100 percent in the right for Israel, not only to exist, but to exist in peace and security. But the role of the United States is to work with all of the entities in the region, including the Palestinians, and to do that in an even-handed way.” (06/20/19, The New York Times)
“Netanyahu is an extreme right wing leader in Israel. I do not support his policies and I think to speak out against Netanyahu is not to be anti-Israel. What I believe is that we in fact need a two-state solution to the Middle East’s ongoing crisis and the United states needs to have an evenhanded policy. We need to tell the leaders of Israel and to tell the leaders of the Palestinian movement that they have got to sit down and we have the leverage to do that and negotiate peace agreements in good faith. That’s the kind of president that I would be.” (4/6/19, Muscatine Iowa Town Hall)
- “Instead of applauding Israel for its actions, Israel should be condemned. Israel has a right to security, but shooting unarmed protesters is not what it is about. Over 50 killed in Gaza today and 2,000 wounded, on top of the 41 killed and more than 9,000 wounded over the past weeks. This is a staggering toll. Hamas violence does not justify Israel firing on unarmed protesters.” (5/16/19, Israel Palestine News)
- “Let me be very clear, I will do everything I can to prevent a war with Iran which would be far worse than disastrous war with Iraq.” (6/28/19, First Presidential Debate as reported in The New York Times)
- “Oh, just a limited strike- well, I'm sorry. I just didn't know that it's okay to simply attack another country with bombs just a limited strike- that's an act of warfare. So two points. That will set off a conflagration all over the Middle East. If you think the war is either- the war in Iraq, Margaret was a disaster I believe from the bottom of my heart that the war- a war with Iran would be even worse, more loss of life never ending war in that region, massive instability. We're talking about, we have been in Afghanistan now for eighteen years. This thing will never end. So I will do everything I can number one to stop a war with Iran. And number two here's an important point. Let's remember what we learned in civics when we were kids. It is the United States Congress, under our Constitution, that has warmaking authority not the president of the United States. If he attacks Iran in my view that would be unconstitutional.” (06/23/19, CBS News)
U.S. Role in the Arab World
- What we need is a foreign policy that focuses on diplomacy, ending conflicts by people sitting at a table, not by killing each other. As president of the United States, I will go to the United Nations and not denigrate it, not attack the U.N., but bring countries together in the Middle East and all over the world to come to terms with their differences and solve those problems peacefully.” (7/30/2019 Democratic Debate, transcript, NBC)
“And what the function of a president should be is to say to Saudi Arabia which by the way is a horrific dictatorship a brutal dictatorship that kills dissidents, that treats women as third-class citizens. I would try to say to Saudi Arabia you know, "we're not following your lead, you're gonna have to sit down with Iran. We will play a role. Work it out. The United States does not want to continue to lose men and women and trillions of dollars in never ending wars in the Middle East. Work it out." (06/23/19, CBS News)
“We will play a role in bringing you together. And if you need economic aid, we will provide the economic aid. We will provide the resources, but we are not simply going to give more and more weaponry to Saudi Arabia, to Israel. We've are going to try to bring people together for what I admit, Margaret, I admit it will not be easy, but that's what the role of I think the US should be not simply to be part of the story of war efforts in the region.” (06/23/19, CBS News)
- “I think we would work as aggressively as we can with our allies in the region to end the endless wars that we have been participating in. I fear very much, and am doing everything I can, to get the United States now out of the horrific war in Yemen, and to do everything I can to make sure that Trump does not get us into a war with Iran. So to answer your question I think by the end of my first term, [referring to Afghanistan] our troops would be home” (06/20/19, The New York Times)
“We have been in Afghanistan I think 18 years, in Iraq 16 or 17 years. We have spent $5 trillion on the war on terror. And there are probably more terrorists out there now than before it began. We're going to spend -- the Congress passed -- and I will not vote for -- a $715 billion military budget, more than the 10 next countries combined. (7/30/2019 Democratic Debate, transcript, NBC)
“I helped lead the effort for the first time to utilize the War Powers Act to get the United States out of these Saudi led intervention in Yemen which is the most horrific humanitarian disaster on Earth.” (6/28/19, First Presidential Debate as reported in The New York Times)
“For example, I led the effort to get the United States out of the Saudi led intervention in Yemen which is the worst humanitarian disaster on the face of the world. It is horrific. Hundreds of thousands of people will die this year if we don't stop that war. I led the effort in the Senate, it passed. My colleagues led it in the House, it passed. Trump vetoed that legislation.” (06/23/19, CBS News)
- “President Trump’s abrupt announcement last month that he would withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan was typical of his reckless approach—an approach that left our international partners blindsided and questioning U.S. leadership. Congress must play a role, consistent with its Constitutional authority over war, in developing a troop withdrawal plan that is coordinated with our allies, that continues to provide humanitarian aid and that supports political settlements in these countries." (01/31/2019, senate.gov)