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Sen. Sanders Wants Trump To Apologize For Trying To Divide The Nation


On this morning of the State of the Union address, we are listening to voices from across the political spectrum, and that includes Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, also a member of the Democratic leadership. I asked Senator Sanders what he is looking for from President Trump tonight.

BERNIE SANDERS: What I would most like to see - I don't think we're going to get it. But what I would like to see is this president of the United States come forward and say, you know what? I apologize. I apologize for trying to divide our nation up based on where we were born or the color of our skin or our sexual orientation or our gender.

And then maybe, what he can do is also read some of the campaign promises that he made to the American people when he was running for president. And he talked then about providing health care to, quote, unquote, "everybody." Maybe he can tell us how in fact he is going to lead the United States to join every other major country on earth and guarantee health care to all people.

GREENE: This is going to be a year where he's going to need Democrats more than he did in the first year. Do you see places where Democrats and you can work across the aisle with him to pass a major legislation, maybe continuing the debate over health care and moving on to other issues?

SANDERS: Well, he campaigned, appropriately enough, by the way, on the need to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. A couple of years ago, I proposed a trillion-dollar effort, which people thought was just so outlandish. But now that is kind of what many people are talking about. That's what he is talking about. If he is serious about in fact rebuilding, helping to rebuild our roads, and our bridges and our water systems, our wastewater plants, airports, et cetera, that is an area that people should be able to work together because everybody in Congress - everybody in America - knows our infrastructure is in terrible shape.

GREENE: Senator, I'm struck that the first thing you said when I asked you about the speech, you know, is if you were going to get an apology from the president. You talked about, it's been an unusual year in your mind. Is there a risk for Democrats and critics of the president like yourself of being sort of people who are just no to Trump, are just ranting about this president and not articulating some sort of positive message that's an alternative?

SANDERS: Yes. I think it's absolutely imperative that we do more than just talk about Trump day after day. And some of us have been trying to do that. Well, I have to tell you it's sometimes hard to get that stuff out through the media. But we need a positive, progressive agenda which speaks to the needs of working families and the middle class. So I happen to think that we need to move toward a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program.

I think we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage - 15 bucks an hour, and I'm happy to see communities all over this country are moving in that direction. I think public colleges and universities should be tuition-free. We need pay equity for women. We need to make sure that women can continue to control their own bodies. All of those issues have got to be in the forefront of what Democrats and progressives are fighting for.

GREENE: Well, and you built a movement on many of these issues. But there's also a reality that goes back in U.S. history that when an economy is doing well, deserved or not, the current president of the United States often gets credit for it. Does Trump deserve some credit for the economy doing well right now?

SANDERS: And that's a good question, but I think the same question would be asked to leaders in almost every major industrialized - credit - I think the issue right now is the world's economy is rebounding from the Great Recession of 2008, 2009. But what I worry about is, I don't want to see all of the benefits, or virtually all of the benefits, go to the top 1 percent. There are millions of people in this country who are still working two or three jobs, people who are working 29 hours a week and are not getting the benefits they need. More people lack health insurance today than when Trump first came into office. Student debt crisis is enormous - the young people who are graduating college. Those are the issues that we have got to focus on.

GREENE: Your own son raised some speculation with a tweet recently, suggesting that you might be hoping to give a speech like the one Trump is giving maybe in 2021. Are you contemplating that?

SANDERS: Right now, what I'm contemplating is to work as hard as I can in 2018 to elect a Democratic Congress and a Democratic Senate and to address the major issues facing the people of my state and the people of this country. That's what I'm focusing on right now, and don't let anybody tell you anything different.

GREENE: And here I thought you were going to break some news right here, Senator Sanders.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

GREENE: Nice talking to you, as always. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

SANDERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.