Bernie Sanders

Senator from Vermont
Jump to  stances on the issues
Bernie Sanders dropped out of the presidential race on April 8, 2020. This page is no longer being updated.
Sanders, an independent, is back after waging an unsuccessful challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016 with a democratic socialist platform that included free college tuition. His positions on those issues have driven the policy debate within the Democratic Party ever since. He was elected to the Senate in 2006 and was previously in the House for 16 years.
University of Chicago, B.A. (1964)
September 8, 1941
Jane Sanders; divorced from Deborah Shiling
Levi (son with Susan Mott)
Heather, Carina and David
Congressman from Vermont, 1991-2007;
Mayor of Burlington, 1981-1989


'Bernie Sanders has real influence': Vermont's longtime outsider has become a trusted voice in the Biden White House
Updated 4:32 AM ET, Wed Jun 9, 2021
At first glance, they seem like an odd couple -- Sen. Bernie Sanders, the progressive and quintessential outsider, and President Joe Biden, moderate politician and political insider. And yet, the 79-year-old Vermont senator has become a key voice in the Biden administration: called upon, consulted and indispensable in keeping the liberal Democratic flock in line. After 30 years in Congress and two presidential runs, it's a new experience. "As somebody who wrote a book called 'Outsider in the House,' yes, it is a strange experience to be having that kind of influence that we have now," Sanders told CNN's Gloria Borger as they sat together in Burlington, Vermont, recently. The Biden-Sanders connection is not a love story; it's more a marriage of convenience. But as Biden pushes an unprecedented progressive White House agenda, it's crucial. It's also personal. Over the years -- both as colleagues and as political opponents -- the two men have developed a relationship based on mutual respect and trust. "We have had a good relationship," Sanders told Borger. "He wants to be a champion of working families, and I admire that and respect that." As a result, Sanders has entered Biden's political tent. "I can tell you that Bernie Sanders has real influence" in the White House, senior Biden adviser Cedric Richmond told Borger. "Sen. Sanders is respected." That respect is mutual. "One of the things that struck me about Joe Biden is the very strong sense of loyalty, which I like and respect," Sanders said. There is, of course, a history of political disputes between the two. Biden and Sanders have decades of hard-held disagreements, on issues ranging from health care and free college to how to deal with the situation in the Middle East. And that's just a short list. "He's more conservative than I am, obviously," Sanders says. "But on the other hand, he's not only a smart guy, he is a good politician who has a sense of where people are at and what is possible. And I think he understands that at this particular moment in American history where working families face so many problems, you've got to go big, not small." Five months into his presidency, Biden has gone big. First up was the $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan -- passed without any GOP support. He followed that up with a $6 trillion budget, a far-reaching plan to protect voting rights, and a massive proposed infrastructure plan, all of which still hang in the balance. And now, as Biden wrangles with Republicans over the price tag of an infrastructure bill, Sanders, now the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, is waiting -- and ready -- to use the budget reconciliation process to push spending through with 50 Democratic votes, if he can get them. "I have very limited patience," he says. "We learned a lesson from the Obama years. And that is, Republicans will talk and talk, 'We want to work with you. Bipartisan.' Month after month after month, nothing happens." Sanders has already gone to bat for Biden. First up was the American Rescue Plan, which included direct payments to millions of Americans. When some House progressives considered withholding their votes after a minimum wage increase was taken out, Sanders convinced them to stay on board. What's more, he publicly touted the bill -- much to the relief of the White House -- calling it "the most significant legislation for working people in decades" in a CNN interview after it was passed. He told Borger, "Was it everything we wanted? No. Was it a major step forward for the working class of this country? You bet it was." A shift from Biden Biden's shift from centrist to big spender has left progressives pleasantly surprised. Sanders told Borger, "I think the Biden of today is not what I or others would have expected" based on the Biden of 20 years ago. The shift may have been gradual during the Democratic primaries, but after the election -- and certainly after the January 6 insurrection -- Biden evolved. Two things, says Sanders, changed Biden's MO: the coronavirus pandemic and former President Donald Trump. "Covid exacerbated all of the existing problems, in terms of the struggles of working families," he said. And after Trump's term in office -- and the insurrection in particular -- the stakes grew. Political decisions are not just about dollars, both men agree, but about saving democracy itself. "What Biden sees out there is that if we do not move aggressively, and make it clear to people that government can work for them, then we stand a real chance of losing democracy in this country." Sanders' impatience also revolves around a political fact -- that, for now, Democrats control the House, Senate and Presidency. The close margins in Congress means there are no votes to spare, so Sanders is looking for common ground, even with moderates, who would be needed to pass any large spending bill under budget reconciliation, a process that requires 50 votes. "You can vote no on every single bill and say, 'Look, this is not perfect' or 'I disagree. No, no, no,' " the budget committee chairman said. "But that's not my job." But when asked how he deals with moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, Sanders told Borger, "In all honesty, Chuck Schumer does more of that talking than I do." Former rivals As campaign rivals in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Biden and Sanders kept things mostly civil. Sanders told his team that he didn't want to launch any personal attacks against his opponent. And when a Sanders surrogate wrote an op-ed that said Biden had a "corruption problem," Sanders both privately and publicly rebuked it. When Sanders was getting ready to drop out of the race, on a plane back to Burlington after canceling a campaign rally due to Covid, he asked adviser Faiz Shakir to reach out to Biden's team. "He said, 'Why don't you reach out to them and see if they see a role for progressives in their campaign?' " Shakir said. The Biden team was immediately receptive. Sanders says they made him feel "very welcome." (Notably, that's unlike Hillary Clinton's team in 2016, when he says he was simply "tolerated" after dropping out.) This time, with Biden, Sanders suggested that they unite on a series of policy task forces and proposals. "He wanted to make sure that Bernie and his supporters had a real voice in where we go," Richmond, who served as Biden's campaign co-chair, told Borger. The Biden team, Richmond says, understood the power of Sanders' supporters. But it was about just more than votes, he adds: "I think that there's some just places where they really align." Richmond points to climate change, lowering drug prices and raising the minimum wage as areas of common ground. "Sometimes you just have to remind people that their philosophies are not that far apart," he said. 'He wants to keep his promises' It doesn't hurt that Sanders and Biden have known each other for years and that they both come from working class families that struggled. Not surprisingly, they also share an admiration for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose portrait now hangs in the Oval Office. Sanders approves of Biden's art selection wholeheartedly. "I think that was a very, very good sign," he said. Sanders points to one defining moment in this relationship. When Biden decided not to run for president in the 2016 race, and the Democratic Party establishment lined up behind Clinton, Biden invited Sanders, Clinton's rival, to meet with him at the vice president's residence. "He was giving me his advice, political advice," Sanders says of those meetings. "They were, I think for me, very useful conversations and friendly conversations." Sanders adviser Shakir puts it more bluntly. "I certainly believe that Sen. Sanders left that meeting feeling that Joe Biden was giving him a, 'Hey, go make your case, Bernie, because there's a lot of people who need to hear it,' " he said. At a time when Clinton was the prohibitive favorite -- and few in the Democratic Party expressed support for Sanders -- Biden made it clear he wanted the senator to be heard. This is not to say they will always agree -- they won't. Sanders makes it clear he will continue to push back when he feels it's necessary. "He does things sometimes that I think are really not a good idea, but I understand why he does it," Sanders said. "Because he's made promises to people, and he wants to keep his promises."


climate crisis
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Sanders has described climate change – now as well as during his 2016 run for president – as a global security threat. He is a leading proponent of the Green New Deal, the broad plan to address renewable-energy infrastructure and climate change proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. In August 2019, Sanders released a $16.3 trillion climate change program. His targets include meeting the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s goal of 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2030; cutting domestic emissions by 71% over that period; creating a $526 billion electric "smart grid”; investing $200 billion in the Green Climate Fund; and prioritizing what activists call a “just transition” for fossil fuel workers who would be dislocated during the transition. The Vermont independent would also cut off billions in subsidies to fossil fuel companies and impose bans on extractive practices, including fracking and mountaintop coal mining, while halting the import and export of coal, oil and natural gas. Sanders vows to recommit the US to the Paris climate accord, a landmark 2015 deal on global warming targets that Trump has pledged to abandon. More on Sanders’ climate crisis policy
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Sanders introduced his 21st-century Economic Bill of Rights in June 2019, in which he pledged “once and for all that every American, regardless of his or her income, is entitled to the right to a decent job that pays a living wage; the right to quality health care; the right to a complete education; the right to affordable housing; the right to a clean environment; and the right to a secure retirement.” In October 2019, he introduced a plan that would guarantee workers eventually take control of 20% stakes in the country’s largest companies through the issuance of new stock and would mandate that employees elect 45% of corporate boards of directors. The Sanders plan would also impose strict new guidelines on mega-mergers, while asking a revamped Federal Trade Commission to review deals pushed through during the Trump administration. Throughout his career, Sanders has been pro-union, saying in January, “If we are serious about reducing income and wealth inequality and creating good-paying jobs, we have to substantially increase the number of union jobs in this country.” In 2017, he supported a 10-year infrastructure plan costing $1 trillion. At the time, proponents estimated the plan would create 15 million jobs. He had put forth a similar proposal during his first presidential campaign. More on Sanders’ economic policy
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Sanders would eliminate tuition and fees at, as his campaign says, “four-year public colleges and universities, tribal colleges, community colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeship programs.” He unveiled legislation in June 2019 that would wipe out $1.6 trillion in undergraduate and graduate student loan debt for about 45 million people. The plan has no eligibility limitations and would be paid for with a new tax on Wall Street speculation. Sanders frequently describes education as a “human right.” That means “making public colleges, universities and historically black colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free by tripling the work study program, expanding Pell grants and other financial incentives," he said. His “Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education” would seek to improve the K-12 system by taking aim at de facto segregation and public-school funding disparities while banning for-profit charter schools. More on Sanders’ education policy
gun violence
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Sanders describes “an epidemic of gun violence” in the US and has pushed for expanded background checks and the closing of assorted loopholes in firearm purchases. Sanders has consistently voted for legislation that would ban so-called assault weapons and said he would seek to do the same for high-capacity magazines. He said he would push for harsher punishments for “straw” purchases, when someone purchases a gun for someone who cannot legally possess a firearm. More on Sanders’ gun violence policy
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Sanders introduced “Medicare for All” legislation in 2017, which would have created a national government-run program providing comprehensive coverage with no premiums, deductibles or copays. He has taken this version of the plan one step further since its initial rollout to include long-term care at home and in the community for senior citizens and people with disabilities. Unlike some of his presidential opponents, Sanders says there should be no private insurance option except for items not covered by his Medicare for All act, such as elective procedures. Sanders argues that the increase in taxes would be more than offset by eliminating the premiums, deductibles and copayments associated with private health insurance. When asked during the first Democratic presidential debate about whether taxes would go up as a result of his health care plan, Sanders said: “Yes, they will pay more in taxes, but less in health care for what they get.” Sanders also supports importing drugs, allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and pegging the price of medicine in the US to the median price in five other developed nations. More on Sanders’ health care policy
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Sanders has called for comprehensive immigration legislation, which includes providing a path toward citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He has proposed providing legal status for those covered by the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields from deportation some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. Sanders has also called for restructuring Immigration and Customs Enforcement. More on Sanders’ immigration policy


Colorado judge finds Christian baker broke state discrimination law by refusing to bake a birthday cake for a trans woman
Updated 3:13 PM ET, Fri Jun 18, 2021
A Colorado baker, who was the subject of a 2018 Supreme Court case for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, has violated state discrimination laws in another case, a Denver district court has found. A judge on Tuesday found the Masterpiece Cakeshop illegally refused to bake a cake to celebrate a trans woman's birthday and identity, saying it violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA). Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, was fined $500, the maximum amount for this violation. Phillips drew national attention in 2012 when he said his religious beliefs kept him from making a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. In 2019, he was sued by Denver attorney Autumn Scardina for refusing to bake her a custom birthday cake in 2017 after she said the colors and design of the cake would celebrate her transition from male to female. "I'm elated that the Colorado courts upheld the principle that Colorado's anti-discrimination laws are valid, constitutional and will be enforced and that people cannot evade them with appeals to religious beliefs or claims of expression, especially when the conduct is not expressive in any reasonable way," Scardina told CNN. "I have tremendous respect for (Phillips) as a human. I think he's entitled to his religious beliefs," she said. "I share many of those religious beliefs, and I think we agree far more than we disagree, however, I've always felt that he doesn't appreciate that basic principle." Dismissal of the earlier filing Scardina first filed a CADA discrimination charge against the bakery on July 20, 2017, but the administrative​​ case was dismissed "with prejudice" in March 2019 by the Colorado Civil Rights Division. Scardina filed the lawsuit in June 2019. Scardina said it all started when she had heard about Phillips' comments in his 2012 trial and wanted to see if the wedding event was the only reason he declined to make the cake. At that time, Phillips said he would be happy to make birthday cakes, shower cakes, cookies, and brownies, but he cannot create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding because it "expressed messages that contradict his religious beliefs," according to court documents. "I was very hurt at the time, but as things progressed, I kept hearing him say that this wasn't about the individual, it was about the religious nature of the marriage ceremony," Scardina said. "So when I heard him say he would be happy to make a birthday cake, I decided to take him up on that offer." Scardina called the bakery on June 26, 2017, the same day the Supreme Court decided to hear Phillips' case, and asked Phillips' wife for a cake to feed six to eight people for her upcoming birthday party in July. "I explained to them that it would be a cake with pink on the inside and blue on the outside," she said. Scardina then explained the personal meaning of the cake as a transgender woman and she said the tone of the call changed. She was told the bakery "probably could not make that cake because of the message," according to court documents. "Ms. Scardina then asked Mrs. Phillips to repeat her statements so someone else could hear, at which point Mrs. Phillips believed something was wrong with the conversation and told the caller she would get Mr. Phillips on the phone. Mrs. Phillips then went to get Mr. Phillips to take the call, but when he picked up the phone, the line was disconnected," the court documents say. When Scardina called back, the baker's daughter answered and confirmed the requested cake "isn't a cake we could make," according to court documents. Phillips claims "his religious beliefs prevent him from creating a custom cake celebrating a transition from male to female because expressing that message -- that such a transition is possible and should be celebrated -- would violate his religious convictions," according to court documents. He also argued that this only applies to custom cakes, because they come in a box bearing the name of the bakery and show where the cake came from, the documents said. "Jack Phillips serves all people but shouldn't be forced to create custom cakes with messages that violate his conscience," Kristen Waggoner, Phillips' attorney through the Alliance Defending Freedom General Counsel, said in a statement. "Radical activists and government officials are targeting artists like Jack because they won't promote messages on marriage and sexuality that violate their core convictions." Court says request was not 'set-up' to initiate litigation The court confirmed Scardina's actions were not "'set-up' to initiate litigation" but were seeking to "challenge the veracity" of Phillips' comments, according to the filing. The court said the decision was based on several factors including the fact that Phillips' wife admitted they would have sold the cake if Scardina had not disclosed the meaning behind it, and Scardina did not ask for a message on the cake, simply a pink and blue design. "We will appeal this decision and continue to defend the freedom of all Americans to peacefully live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without fear of punishment," Waggoner said. In 2018, the Supreme Court held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed hostility toward the baker based on his religious beliefs, in the case in which he refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. However, it was a partial win because it left unsettled the broader constitutional questions on religious liberty. The case was one of the most anticipated rulings of the term and was considered by some as a follow-up from the court's decision three years ago to clear the way for same-sex marriage nationwide. That opinion expressed respect for those with religious objections to gay marriage.