Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Senator, Vermont

Bernie Sanders, an independent who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, has been a senator from Vermont since 2007. Reelected in 2012 and 2018, he has been an unstinting critic of economic inequality and military intervention in Yemen and elsewhere. He served in the House of Representatives from 1990 to 2006 and was previously the mayor of Burlington, Vermont.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Sanders earned a political science degree from the University of Chicago in 1964. He worked as a hospital aide and teacher, among other positions, before entering politics in 1971.

China

Sanders sees China as a “major economic competitor” and blames flawed U.S. trade policies with the country for the loss of millions of American jobs. He wants to work with allies to confront China on its “troubling” trade practices while finding common ground with Beijing on climate change and other areas.

  • He has said President Donald J. Trump’s tariffs on China, while “vindictive and incoherent,” may be “part” of the answer to the ongoing trade dispute, but says he would need to undertake a “full review” as president in order to determine which tariffs are working.
  • He advocates for a coalition of countries to pressure Beijing to stop its “troubling behavior” on trade and intellectual property.
  • He says Washington and Beijing should work together to transition to renewable energy sources and to promote environmental protection.
  • In August 2019, he praised China as having done more than “any other country in the history of civilization” to address extreme poverty.
  • He told CFR that China is committing “cultural genocide” against its Uighur Muslim minority. He says that Washington should try to promote human rights in China, despite having “limited options” to pressure Beijing to change its policies.
  • He voted against granting China permanent normal trade relations in 2000 as part of the country’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). He says he would label China a currency manipulator.

Climate and Energy

Sanders calls climate change a national emergency and the greatest challenge the United States faces. He calls for a nationwide mobilization, trillions of dollars of new investments, and expanded international cooperation to address it.

  • Sanders’s climate plan is based on the model of a Green New Deal, seeking to totally transform society and the American economy.
  • Under his plan, the United States would completely end its use of fossil fuels for electricity and transportation by 2030 and achieve total carbon neutrality by 2050. He promises a direct public investment of more than $16 trillion toward these efforts, including in research and development to create new technologies.
  • He promises to return the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate, which Trump withdrew from, and accelerate emissions reduction targets. He would end tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies, ban fracking and offshore drilling, ban fossil fuel exports, introduce carbon pricing, and put tariffs on imported carbon-intensive goods. 
  • The plan also promises to create twenty million new jobs, including in building new infrastructure and transportation systems, as well as sustainable agriculture and manufacturing. 
  • He proposes transition assistance for fossil fuel workers, including five years of a worker’s salary and other benefits. Sanders has previously argued for federal job retraining for Appalachian coal workers. 
  • He argues that fossil fuel companies should be held criminally liable, saying that they knowingly ignored evidence that they were harming the planet.
  • He told CFR he would promote a multilateral campaign to coordinate investment in green technology in less-developed countries.

Counterterrorism

Sanders has criticized post-9/11 counterterrorism operations as counterproductive and overly costly. He says that the war on terror has “turned into endless war,” allowing a handful of extremists to dictate U.S. foreign policy. 

  • In 2001, Sanders voted to give President George W. Bush the power to go after those responsible for the 9/11 attacks with the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). 
  • However, he has since criticized what he says is an overly broad application of the AUMF authority. Consecutive presidents have used the 2001 authorization to justify U.S. military action against Islamist insurgent groups in a number of countries across Africa and the Middle East, including Somalia and Yemen.
  • He opposed President Barack Obama’s 2015 request for a new congressional authorization for a military campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Sanders called instead for a coalition to be led by Middle Eastern countries.
  • He supports closing the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying the inhumane treatment of detainees there, which Sanders and others have called torture, violates international human rights standards. He says the United States “must never again engage in torture.”
  • He calls for limiting the use of drone strikes in targeting suspected terrorists, arguing they carry too high a civilian cost.

Cybersecurity and Digital Policy

Sanders says the threat of cyberattack is an “unprecedented” challenge to U.S. national security, and he has sought to bolster U.S. election systems. However, he has been critical of expanded government surveillance measures that he says compromise Americans’ privacy.  

  • Sanders backs the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. He called for new measures to safeguard the election system, including legislation to mandate paper ballots, and has backed legislation to improve cybersecurity for critical infrastructure.
  • He supports breaking up tech giants such as Google and Facebook, stressing the need for public policy to address the “incredible power of a handful of giant corporations” in tech and other industries.
  • He voted against the 2001 Patriot Act, which provided the government sweeping new counterterrorism authorities in the wake of 9/11. He also opposed its 2011 reauthorization and a 2015 update known as the Freedom Act, saying they provided intelligence agencies with too much access to Americans’ information.

Defense

Sanders has focused much of his foreign policy criticism on what he calls the United States’ “endless wars.” He advocates for a smaller U.S. military footprint around the globe, reduced defense spending, and an end to unilateral military action.

  • Sanders criticizes Democrats for not doing enough to rein in “out-of-control” military spending after Congress approved Trump’s 2019 increase to the defense budget. He says the United States should make “prudent” cuts to defense spending.
  • He argues American military intervention has caused “incalculable harm,” citing U.S. involvement in Chile, Iran, Iraq, and Vietnam, among other countries.
  • He says Congress must reclaim its authority over war-making powers, which he says the body has “abdicated,” leading to wars based on “lies and deceptions coming from the White House.”
  • He told CFR he would withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan as quickly as possible, while developing a long-term strategy to stabilize the region and keep threats from reemerging.
  • He criticizes defense contractors as having too much influence on U.S. foreign policy and calls for an independent audit of the Pentagon.
  • He has condemned low pay for service members, promising to rein in spending on private military contractors and instead provide a “living wage” for all U.S. defense personnel.
  • He also promises legislation to create a new, independent system for handling sexual assault cases in the military and provide survivors with additional support.
  • He pledges to increase spending on the Veterans Affairs health system, streamline the claims process, and expand mental health resources. He opposes any attempt to privatize the system. 
  • He promises to end the ban on transgender personnel in the military.

Diplomacy and Foreign Aid

Sanders says “democracy, human rights, diplomacy and peace, and economic fairness” will be at the center of his foreign policy, and that the United States must “seriously reinvest” in development aid. He warns that the postwar international order the United States helped build is under serious strain.

  • He has said the United States should not attempt to “dominate the world” or “withdraw from the international community” but rather to seek “global engagement based on partnership.”
  • He calls for a global movement to support democratic governments and rally against authoritarian leaders and corruption. 
  • He argues for increasing aid to the so-called Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to address the causes of Central American migration to the United States.
  • He told CFR that the United States’ greatest foreign policy achievements have been the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II and the creation of the United Nations. He considers the United Nations “enormously important” in the realms of global health, protection of refugees, and peacekeeping.
  • He also says the body needs reform, calling it too often “ineffective, bureaucratic, too slow or unwilling to act, even in the face of massive atrocities.” 

Economic Policy

Tackling income inequality has been a cornerstone of Sanders’s political career. He advocates breaking up the nation’s largest banks, more strongly enforcing antitrust rules, more strictly regulating Wall Street and large multinational corporations, and raising taxes on the wealthy.

  • Sanders proposes raising taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, including “substantially” increasing the top marginal tax rate on income above $10 million. He would also increase taxes on capital gains and other investment income, increase the estate tax, increase Social Security taxes for high earners, and eliminate offshore tax havens.
  • He says he would curb Wall Street speculation with a new tax on financial transactions, as well as break up “too big to fail” banks and reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial and investment banking. He vows to cap the interest rate on consumer loans and credit cards at 15 percent.
  • He advocates for reforming the Federal Reserve and subjecting it to congressional audit, including by barring executives of major banks from serving on its board.
  • He supports breaking up tech giants such as Google and Facebook, stressing the need for public policy to address the “incredible power of a handful of giant corporations” in tech and other industries. He vows to strictly enforce antitrust laws, particularly against agricultural conglomerates.
  • He pledges to achieve full employment by creating twenty million jobs through his Green New Deal climate program. He says he will raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  • He has backed a $1 trillion proposal to rebuild U.S. infrastructure that proponents said would create fifteen million jobs.
  • He says he would provide free higher education for all, including four-year colleges and universities, community colleges, and apprenticeship programs. 

Immigration

Sanders says Trump has used “demonization” of immigrants for political gain and promises to end what he calls the president’s “cruel and inhumane” border policies. Sanders advocates for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

  • Sanders is a harsh critic of the Trump administration’s immigration approach, and his immigration plan would end virtually all of Trump’s policies “on day one.”
  • The plan includes pledges to immediately place a moratorium on all deportations, end the expansion of the southern border wall, end the zero-tolerance policy on illegal border crossings and resulting family separations and child detentions, reverse restrictions on refugees and asylum seekers, and close all for-profit detention centers.
  • He promises to decriminalize unauthorized border crossings, making them a civil, not criminal, offense. He calls for the repeal of a 1996 immigration law that increased penalties for undocumented immigrants and expanded federal deportation powers. He would end detention of all immigrants without a violent crime record.
  • He wants a sweeping reorganization of immigration agencies, which he says have become wasteful and abusive. He pledges to break up the Department of Homeland Security, the 2002 creation of which he voted against, including by dividing the responsibilities of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection between the Justice, State, and Treasury Departments.
  • He supports keeping and expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era policy of deferring deportation for undocumented residents brought to the country as children, and a related program for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens. He vows to end deportation of any undocumented residents who have lived in the country for five years or more.
  • His plan promises a “swift and fair” pathway to citizenship for the estimated eleven million undocumented residents in the country. He argues that low-level criminal activity, including drug possession, should not disqualify anyone from citizenship. He says he would expand funding and personnel to expedite the legal immigration system.
  • He says he would raise the cap on refugee admissions and create a new program to accept at least fifty thousand climate migrants per year.
  • He says he will enact policies to protect immigrant workers, including new penalties for employers who exploit or abuse them, increased enforcement of employers of undocumented workers, and work visas that give foreign workers more recourse.
  • He has previously criticized temporary worker programs for creating an exploited underclass, taking jobs from Americans, and driving down U.S. wages.
  • He emphasizes increasing aid to Central American countries to raise their standard of living to reduce the factors causing their citizens to migrate.
  • In 2018, he and other Senate Democrats called on Trump to extend temporary protected status (TPS) for thousands of Nepalis living in the United States. He says he would maintain and extend all existing TPS designations.

Middle East

Sanders has been a staunch opponent of U.S. military interventionism in the Middle East, opposing the use of force in Iraq and Syria and leading the effort to end U.S. involvement in Yemen.

  • Sanders is a vocal opponent of ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, calling the war “a humanitarian and a strategic disaster,” and he cosponsored legislation to invoke the War Powers Resolution to end the U.S. role there. He says that Riyadh is “not a reliable ally.”
  • However, he told CFR that “for the sake of stability in the Middle East,” the United States must continue to work with Saudi Arabia. He proposes bringing together Saudi and Iranian leaders for direct negotiations on resolving their conflicts across the region.
  • He told CFR he supports rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, which Trump withdrew from in 2017. Sanders calls it “one of the strongest anti-nuclear agreements ever negotiated,” though he says there should be “additional measures” to block Iran’s “offensive actions” in the region. 
  • He opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in both 1991 and 2003. He says the 2003 Iraq War unleashed a “cascade of instability” that led to conflict in Syria and the creation of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, calling it the United States’ biggest foreign policy mistake since World War II.
  • He has called the Syrian civil war “a quagmire in a quagmire.” He has opposed the use of U.S. air strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime and favors a diplomatic solution to remove Assad from power. 
  • He supports the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria but criticized Trump’s announcement in December 2018 that he would do so as “reckless.” He condemned Trump’s 2019 withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria, which he called a betrayal of the Kurds.
  • He argues that Turkey is “not a U.S. ally” despite its NATO membership, calling the country’s military campaign against Kurds in northern Syria a “mass slaughter.” 
  • He told CFR he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and says the United States can play a major role in negotiations but that it’s up to the parties themselves to finalize an agreement. 
  • He has been a vocal critic of the Israeli government, calling the Gaza Strip an “open-air prison” and Israeli use of force against demonstrators disproportionate. He says he would withhold the $3.8 billion in annual U.S. aid to Israel until it “fundamentally changes” its policy toward Gaza.

North Korea

Sanders has expressed support for the Trump administration’s recent diplomatic efforts with North Korea, but has said negotiations on denuclearization must involve more than “photo ops.”

  • Sanders says Trump’s meetings with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un are “the right thing to do” but that he would seek to apply more economic and diplomatic pressure on the country.
  • He told CFR he would seek a “step-by-step process” to roll back North Korea’s nuclear program and that he approves of partial sanctions relief in exchange for North Korea dismantling parts of its program.
  • He advocates for coordinating with South Korea, as well as with China, to negotiate a nuclear agreement.

Russia

Sanders says that Russia exemplifies the global rise of authoritarianism and warns that President Vladimir Putin is trying to undermine liberal democracy in the United States and Europe, but he has also said that Washington should work with Moscow on arms control and other issues.

  • Sanders says Trump refuses to admit the extent of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which he calls “an attack on American democracy.” 
  • He says that Trump has developed a “cozy” relationship with Putin and that the president appears to be more sympathetic to Russia’s “strongman form of government.” 
  • He told CFR he supports the current international sanctions regime against Russia, which began after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, though he previously voted against Russia sanctions due to unrelated measures included in the legislation. 
  • He has said he would consider expanding sanctions over Russia’s continued involvement in the Ukrainian conflict but has warned against U.S. military involvement in Ukraine.
  • He has at times expressed skepticism of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance, saying that its expansion has needlessly provoked Russia and that European countries should do more in their own defense. However, he has said he will honor NATO’s collective defense requirements.
  • He condemned Trump’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, describing it as “dangerous and irresponsible,” and called for strengthening arms control treaties instead.

Trade

Sanders has for decades been a vocal critic of U.S. trade liberalization efforts, which he says have boosted corporate profits at the expense of American workers and the environment. He seeks to curb the outsourcing of jobs and end tax benefits for companies that move operations abroad. 

  • Sanders told CFR he opposes “unfettered free trade agreements” that he says pit American workers against low-wage foreign labor and lead to “massive job losses.” 
  • He says trade agreements must include strong and enforceable provisions on labor standards, human rights, and environmental protection. He would also mandate provisions against currency manipulation in every trade deal. 
  • He told CFR that “under no circumstance” would he rejoin Obama’s “disastrous” twelve-nation Asia-Pacific trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which Trump withdrew. He says doing so would be “a betrayal of American workers.”
  • He opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he says has allowed firms to send U.S. jobs to Mexico, and argues that Trump’s renegotiated deal with Mexico and Canada, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, won’t fix the problem
  • Sanders criticizes Trump’s “haphazard” tariffs on U.S. allies such as Canada and the European Union—a policy he calls a “disaster.” However, he says he would impose tariffs and other penalties on countries that illegally dump subsidized steel and aluminum on the U.S. market, including “China, Russia, South Korea, and Vietnam.”
  • He says Trump’s trade war with China is “destabilizing the entire world economy,” but that he would also use tariffs as one tool to pressure China to change its trade policies.
  • He opposed granting China permanent normal trade relations in 2000 as part of the country’s entry into the WTO and has advocated for labeling China a currency manipulator, which the Trump administration did in 2019.
  • He points to over 180,000 jobs that have been outsourced since Trump took office and says he would end tax breaks and other incentives that encourage multinational corporations to move jobs out of the country.

Venezuela and Latin America

Sanders supports U.S. sanctions against the regime of President Nicolas Maduro, but he has been critical of Trump’s support for the opposition.

  • He has called on Maduro to step down and, until then, to allow humanitarian aid deliveries into the country and refrain from violence against protesters.
  • He advocates for sanctions against Maduro and his top officials but does not support a U.S. military intervention, citing Washington’s long history of “inappropriate” intervention in Latin American politics. “My administration would not be in the business of regime change,” he told CFR.
  • He opposed the Trump administration’s decision to back opposition figure Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader, instead favoring a deal to hold internationally supervised elections.
  • He supported Obama’s moves to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, which Trump has rolled back.

This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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