Bernie Sanders on National Security, Renewable Fuels, and His Age

Dec 2, 2015

The latest Quinnipiac University poll shows former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton widening her lead over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, but it also shows Sanders is polling well against Republican candidates. Iowa Public Radio River to River host Ben Kieffer talked with Sanders Wednesday by phone. Read a full transcription of the interview below. 

KIEFFER: The Paris attacks have put national security on everyone’s minds. How would national security under a Bernie Sanders administration be different than what we currently have, or under a Clinton administration?

SANDERS: "All I can tell you is that when you have a barbaric organization like ISIS, it has got to be eliminated. It has got to be destroyed. What I do not want to see is to have the United States and our troops and our taxpayers get involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East. What I think has got to happen is, a major coalition has got to be put together consisting of the Arab nations in the region supported by the United States and the United Kingdom and France, but the boots on the ground have got to be done by the Muslim nations. I was very impressed with King Abdullah of Jordan who recently made that point. He said ‘look, terrorism is an international problem, but it is mostly our problem. We are fighting for the soul of Islam, and we have got to lead the effort.’ And he’s right. We’ve got to be supportive of Jordan, and we’ve got to be supportive of all those countries in the region who are prepared to take on ISIS. And I will tell you Ben, that one of the concerns that I have is that you have extraordinarily wealthy countries in the region. Countries like Qatar, countries like Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, which are extremely wealthy, but they’re not contributing the kind of support that they should be to the war against ISIS, so this is something we have to deal with."

KIEFFER: Let’s talk briefly about the Renewable Fuels Standard. Monday, the required Renewable Fuel Standard level for 2016 was announced. Renewable fuel and corn producers, along with some Iowa officials, are criticizing the Obama administration's new requirement for the amount of ethanol that must be blended into the nation's gasoline, saying it falls far short of the aggressive production targets that Congress set nearly a decade ago. What’s your reaction to the new level for 2016? 

SANDERS: "Well, I share that concern of Iowa corn growers, and I’ll tell you why. I happen to believe that climate change is the great environmental crisis that we face, and what the scientist tell us is that if we do not get our act together in the near future, a bad situation will become much worse. And what that means is that we have got to do everything we can to break our dependence on fossil fuel, move to energy efficiency and move to sustainable energy. I know Iowa has done a really great job in terms of wind, and in terms of biofuels, so I think we have to be supportive of that effort. And take every step that we could, and in every way we can including the growth of the biofuels industry to break our dependency on renewable fuels."

KIEFFER: The President said he was hopeful that a global deal on climate change could be reached in the wake of the climate change summit in Paris. Do you share his optimism?

SANDERS: Well I certainly hope that he is right. Pope Francis recently said that the planet is on a suicidal path with regard to climate. And I think that he is right. I think that this is a very, very serious problem, and I think that if we are concerned with the kind of planet that our children and our grandchildren are going to inherit, it is absolutely imperative that we transform our energy system and that we work with countries all over the world which is presumably what is going on in Paris right now, to move away from oil, and coal and gas, into energy efficiency - wind and solar and biofuels and other sustainable energies. What we are seeing right now Ben, is the hottest year on record. We are seeing more floods, we are seeing more droughts. We are seeing rising sea levels. We are seeing the acidification of the ocean. We’ve got some very, very serious problems regarding climate change, and I would hope that the United States leads the world in transforming our energy systems. It’s absolutely imperative that we do that."

KIEFFER: Iowa has the highest incarceration rate per capita for black people in the country Senator Sanders, perhaps you know that, in part because of arrests for marijuana possession. That racial disparity in arrests for marijuana possession is a trend nationwide. What would you do about that as President?

SANDERS: "Well, you make a good point, uh, in terms of disparities. It turns out that based on the studies I have seen, blacks and whites utilize marijuana at about the same percentage, and yet, blacks are four times more likely to get arrested than whites. Right now, you have a law in the federal government which is called the Controlled Substance Act, and the Controlled Substance Act has marijuana on Schedule 1, right alongside to heroin. I think that makes no sense at all. What we have seen for the last number of decades literally millions of people getting police records for possession of marijuana. When you got a police record, it makes it harder for you to get a job. It makes it harder for you to get credit. It has a real impact on your life. So I what I have proposed and have introduced legislation to do, is to take marijuana out of the Controlled Substance Act. It will no longer be a federal crime. If states want to legalize marijuana, that’s their business. That is a state’s business, but it should not be a federal crimes."
KIEFFER: I’ve spoken to a number of your supporters here in Iowa. They are passionate indeed about your ideas for sure. But when I ask if they have any concerns about your candidacy, a number have mentioned your age, and a number have said, ‘I wish he were younger.’ What’s your reaction to that?

SANDERS: "Well, I’m feeling great. Uh, you know. I have been blessed with good health, we’re running a very energetic campaign. And Ben, I think the issues we are talking about, which is an economy today which is rigged, where almost all income and wealth is going to the top 1%, and a campaign finance system which is corrupt which allows billionaires to buy elections, I think those are the dominant themes that that resonates in Iowa and all over this country to be honest with you. But yeah, I’m feeling great. We all wish we were younger. I wouldn’t mind being 30 again, uh, but the fact is that we are where we are. And uh, being 74 and having been in Congress and having been a mayor gives me a whole lot of experience as well, which I think is useful as we pursue this presidency right now."

KIEFFER: Senator Sanders, we’re asking all the candidates we interview to describe Iowa in their words in three words. In three words, three words you would use to describe Iowa would be?

SANDERS: "Beautiful. Down to Earth."

KIEFFER: Beautiful. Down to Earth. I guess that qualifies. Sounds good. Thank you, Senator Sanders.

SANDERS: "Thank you very much, Ben. Take Care."