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    Episode 35: Bernie Sanders at Netroots Nation

    Airdate: July 26, 2015

    Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas has a one-on-one conversation with Sen. Bernie Sanders about his presidential campaign during the recent Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix. (Special thanks to Five Steps Forward/Netroots Nation for sharing their footage of the interview.) Then Nintzel sits down with Republican National Committeeman Bruce Ash and attorney Jeff Rogers to talk about Sanders, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, the latest efforts to discredit Planned Parenthood and more.

    For more on Sanders and the Netroots conference, read Nintzel’s feature story in the Tucson Weekly.

    Here’s a transcript of the show:

    (Nintzel) Hello. I’m Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel, and this is Zona Politics. We begin today with Senator Bernie Sanders. Last weekend, Senator Sanders visited Phoenix and delivered a speech to the largest crowd he’s drawn yet in his quest for the presidency. But before the speech, Sanders addressed attendees at the NetRoots Nation Conference, a gathering of lefty bloggers, activists, politicians and strategists.

    Sanders had agreed to attend a presidential town hall and have a conversation with journalist Jose Antonia Antonio Vargas, but the interview was disrupted by activists with the Black Lives Matter movement. We are bringing you some highlights from that conversation in front of a sometimes very testy crowd.

    SANDERS: We live in a nation in which to a significant degree, media is controlled by large multinational corporations We live in a nation in which 95% of talk radio is right wing, including in areas the Republicans have almost no support. We live in a nation in which conservative Republicans own their own television network. And that is why the work that many of you do, in terms of blogging and on the internet is extraordinarily important because you are presenting an analysis of what goes on in America, and a vision of where we should go, that corporate media does not present, and I thank you very much for that The other point that I want to make is some of you have come here to say, “While we are courageous and we’re really on the fringe, and we’re leading all the stuff, I want to give you some bad news and some good news. The good news is that what most of us believe is exactly what the vast majority of the people believe.

    Some of us for years have fought to raise the minimum wage. Some of us believe it should go to $15 an hour The issue that we’re talking about is that we live in a nation which has more wealth and income inequality than any major nation on earth and worse than since 1928, and maybe it it’s time we did something about it. We are living in. a nation in which the top one-tenth of one percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. Maybe it is time to have a government which represents ordinary Americans and not just powerful and wealthy campaign contributors. And maybe that is why that is why, it is time to overturn Citizens United and move to public funding of elections. I have not made many promises during this campaign, but here’s one I will repeat to you, than any nominee I make to the Supreme Court will have to pass a litmus test and that litmus test is “overturn Citizens United” with restore democracy to America.

    When we talk about issues like Black Lives Matter, let me tell you something. A study just came out two weeks ago talking about youth unemployment in America, and here’s your issue that we do not deal with as a nation, and here’s why what that report said. What that report said is that if you are a high school graduate and you’re white the unemployment rate is 33%. If you are Hispanic, the unemployment rate is 36%. If you are African American the unemployment rate is 51%. Maybe, just maybe, it is time to invest in jobs and education, not in jails and incarceration

    (Vargas) You talk a lot about economic inequality, right?

    (Sanders) I do.

    (Vargas) But hearing what’s happening here clearly in this country we have not fully confronted the racist systems and institutions, right. That coupled with economic equality is getting us to the point that we’re at. How do we do that better? How do we talk about ….?

    (Sanders) It’s not a question of talking about it, it’s a question of doing it.

    (Vargas) Specific proposal.

    (Sanders) Well, specific proposals

    (Vargas) About the minimum wage, the minimum wage.

    (Sanders) Specific proposals are for a start, you create and economy where people have decent jobs at decent wages. And that’s why we are talking about a trillion dollar program to create 13 million jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. That’s number one. Number two, when you talk about the criminal justice system, we need fundamental reform in police departments all over this country. I was the mayor of the City of Burlington, and what we moved toward was community policing, where police officers are part of the community and not seen as an oppressive force. And we’ve got to do that as well.

    (Vargas) So, I have read about, you know, that you’ve said that you’ve been fighting for civil rights, you were there in the march on Washington. Can you point at any legislation in the past ten years that you’ve supported that has benefitted the African-American community and communities of color. (Sanders) Many

    (Vargas) Can you name a couple?

    (Sanders) Yeah, we built in the Affordable Care Act which is providing health insurance to many millions of Americans, we got a provision in there a $12 billion provision, which expanded community health centers all over America. Hundreds of new community health centers most of them, or many of them, in low-income and minority communities that means that millions of people who otherwise would not have been able to access healthcare are now getting health care, dental care, mental health counseling low-cost prescription drugs. That’s pretty good.

    (Vargas) Um, let me pivot a little bit to immigration. There’s a headline on CNN a couple of weeks ago that said, headline, Bernie Sanders disappoints, it’s on immigration. And the article talks about the fact that you voted against a bipartisan immigration bill, sponsored by McCain and Kennedy in 2007, and for an immigration bill in 2013, but expressed concerns about it even though you ultimately supported it. So, here’s my question, right? You said you were worried about protecting jobs, with labor unions being a major part of your base How do you reconcile being pro-labor and being pro-immigration reform.

    (Sanders) I voted against, when you talk about immigration, I want to ask you a question. Why is it the Chamber of Commerce and all the big-money organizations love the immigration bill. You think they’re sitting up nights worrying about undocumented workers in this country? You tell me.

    (Vargas) I’m not running for president, but go ahead.

    (Sanders) You know why? I will tell you why. Because this bill has two major components. Number one, the good thing it has it says that we’re going to take 11 million people out of the shadows and give them dignity and give them a path to citizenship. That’s the good part. That’s what I strongly support. You know what the not-so-good part is? That at a time when we have millions of kids in this country who can’t find a job what the Chamber of Commerce and the big-money interests want is to be able to bring into this country a guest-worker program low-wage workers who will be competing against kids in this country who desperately need jobs. They’re going to bring H1B professional workers into this country to lower wages for our high-tech workers. Frankly, I don’t think that’s a good idea. The reason I voted for the last bill is that I got language in for a billion and a half dollars to create many many jobs for kids in this country, and that was important to me So my view is, of course we need a path toward citizenship for un undocumented workers. Of course we should not be dividing up families, of course I support the dream act but I do worry that corporate America and the big-money interests of course want to bring cheap labor into this program, and guest-worker programs and continue the race to the bottom, something which is devastating to this country and forcing millions of people in this country to work longer hours for lower wages.

    (Vargas) But looking at that 2013 immigration bill there’s no such a thing as perfect legislation, but for me, looking at that you look at it, you’re going, “Do we want to spend any more billions of dollars securing a border that will never really be secure? Like we have spent in this country

    (Sanders) Is your point that you think I should not have voted for the bill?

    (Vargas) Well, my point is, as president when you hear Congress talk about “We need to secure the border, we need to secure the border We’ve spent a hundred billion dollars since 9/11 to secure the border. (Sanders) My understanding, well, my answer is, that to get, en fin, I didn’t help write this bill. I voted for it. But the people who ended up putting together a bipartisan bill, including working with some conservative Republicans. That was their insistence, okay? Now my insistence that was their insistence, but we wanted a bill and by the way, what is very, one of the fault lines of that bill is it ties the path to citizenship with the border I think that does not make a whole lot of sense, but that is the bipartisan bill that we passed.

    (Vargas) In retrospect would you have supported it?

    (Sanders) I did support it.

    (Vargas) No would you support it again? Knowing what we know now, talking about border security and all that.

    (Sanders) Yeah. I think you’ve got 11 billion people in this country who are living in the shadows, who are fearful, legitimately, of being deported our families being broken up. This is a (?) bill. But I think that issue is so important, that we give some legal protection to 11 million people who are living in enormous anxiety, yeah I would.

    (Audience members are shouting.) (Sanders, responding to audience member.) You know, that’s fine, you might, we may want, in this room what we want, but you’ve got a United States Congress, which gets back to my first point. If you want a Congress, that begins to address the needs of the American people, we’ve got a lot of work to do. This Congress does not do that.

    (Vargas) Senator Sanders, Senator Sanders Do you support, if you were elected president, you’re looking at Congress doing nothing on immigration. President Obama’s executive actions are stuck in the courts, would take executive action as well?

    (Sanders) No. I support what the president has done, and probably would have gone further. But Executive Actions are not legislation, and the answer is that you have a Congress right now and I hope everyone understands it, that you have a Republican party completely owned by big-money interests, and too many democrats are sympathetic to corporate interests, that’s the reality, and nothing is going to change until you change that, which is what a political revolution is about.

    (Vargas) Economic equality. College costs this time. Governor O’Malley has embraced debt-free college. Do you support debt-free college including costs beyond tuition?

    (Sanders) I have gone further than that. If you look at, well, I’m not going into the governor’s position. This is my view. We introduced, while I support it, I introduced the legislation. This is what the legislation would do. At a time when we have hundreds of thousands of bright, capable young people. who can’t go to college for one reason, and that’s because their families don’t have the income to send them to college, that’s pretty crazy stuff, and that is why I’ve introduced legislation that does two things, number one, it says, that all public colleges and universities in America will be tuition-free. Number two, what I have said which is equally important is that we have, in this country, millions of people, including, I expect people in this room who have very, very high college debts. Is that correct? (Some cheering and shouting.) And here is he insanity of that. We have people who are paying interest rates on their college debts of 8, 9, 10%, at the time when you can refinance your home for two or three percent. So what we are saying in our legislation is that people with college debt should be able to refinance, substantially lowering their interest rates.

    (Nintzel) Zona Politics will be right back with attorney Jeff Rogers and Republican National committeeman Bruce Ash to talk about Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and a whole bunch more.

    (Nintzel) Joining me now to talk about the presidential race and much more, Bruce Ash, the National Republican Committeeman from Arizona, and attorney Jeff Rogers, the former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party. Welcome both of you to Zona Politics. Jeff, let’s talk about Bernie Sanders. He drew the huge crowd in Phoenix. A lot of energy and enthusiasm in the room. I was there for the speech. Why do you think he’s taking off among the liberal Democrats?

    (Rogers) Well, I think he, there’s a lot of economic populism out there right now, people who feel left out a lot of income-inequality arguments, and he appeals to that same group of people that years ago was supporting the former chair of the democratic party, John Dean. So there are a lot of people out there who kind of think that Hillary’s a little too mainstream. Maybe she’s a little more conservative than the base of the Democratic Party, so I think he’s appealing to that segment. I don’t think he realistically has a shot at the nomination but he’s certainly energized some of the more liberal element of the Democratic Party

    (Nintzel) What’s your take on what’s going on with Bernie Sanders?

    (Ash) He’s exciting the left. He’s driving the agenda of the Democratic Party to the left Hillary Clinton is forced to respond in that fashion. There are several key issues that she has failed to comment on, for example the Planned Parenthood problem with selling baby parts to the highest bidder. She’s refused to make any kind of a comment on that. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley will continue to move the agenda of the Democratic Party to the left, and really, that’s the left in Congress– all the lefties who win safe districts where it is impossible to defeat them.

    (Rogers) Well, first off, Planned Parenthood is not selling body parts in any way, shape or form. That is absolutely illegal and under federal law. People are allowed to donate tissue, and some forms of Planned Parenthood in various other states, not Arizona, do allow such donation, and then the compensation is basically kind of like, you know you go to a blood bank and you donate blood, somebody’s got to take your blood, they’ve got to pay the salaries of the people who take your blood, they’ve got to store the blood, there are costs associated with taking that blood to hospitals and it’s the same for this fetal tissue not only does Planned Parenthood do that but this is common amongst university research institutions, although I don’t think there’s any of it being done in Arizona. So there’s not actual sale of the stuff, no profits and what they did was they took a two-hour video, edited down to nine minutes and tried to make it look like there was something clandestine going on, when in reality, once people saw the full videos of both of those videos, you could see that these right-wing fanatics who want to end women’s reproductive rights to choice what they’ve done is they’ve engaged in a three-year campaign to torment Planned Parenthood and its affiliates across America. It’s absolutely ridiculous to say they’re selling baby parts or tissue of any kind, and you know that.

    (Ash) They certainly were… (both talking at once)

    (Rogers) There’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever. That’s a completely false claim I’m shocked to hear that someone like you would even make such a claim. I don’t, I’m not surprised that these fanatics are making such a claim. But I’m sort of shocked to hear you make that kind of a claim.

    (Ash) I think Americans are judging for themselves. This is a grotesque exhibit of what happens sometimes, and it certainly doesn’t happen at all Planned Parenthood

    (Rogers) It doesn’t happen at any Planned Parenthood.

    (Ash) It happened here and there was an open (?)

    (Rogers) It did not happen here. It did not happen here it does not happen anywhere in Arizona. Arizona’s version of Planned Parenthood doesn’t even ….

    (Ash) That particular videotape showed evidence….

    (Rogers) It did not show evidence of any such thing, Bruce. That’s absolutely ridiculous.

    (Ash) Well, I’m glad that you feel compelled to defend yourself and the movement. Planned Parenthood, I think, is living on borrowed time in terms of funding finally….

    (Rogers) I hardly think so, and Planned Parenthood any federal appropriations that they receive goes merely for birth control and other women’s health activities. It is absolutely against the law for Planned Parenthood to use any funds that come from a federal or state source for an abortion activity.

    (Nintzel) I want to go back to Bernie Sanders here. Earlier in the day, at NetRoots, he had a bit of a harder time when his talk was disrupted by the Black Lives Matter protesters, and there were people in the room who I spoke to who seemed to think that Bernie may have some trouble with African American groups, minority groups. Nate Silver has some polling data about how Sanders is favored by white liberals but not by other groups in the Democratic Party. Jeff, your thoughts on that.

    (Rogers) I saw that Nate Silver column on that, and I think there’s some truth to that, that he lives in what is described by Nate Silver as the whitest state in America, Vermont, which is something like 97% white I didn’t realize that it was, but I assume he’s correct in his figures, so he’s never really had to deal with African Americans and so, and this is a big issue, I mean with the shootings we’ve seen, and all across America and some of the kind of discrimination that we still see against African Americans in this day and age it’s become a big issue in the Democratic Party, and I think he’s probably someone who right now is ill-prepared to deal with that, as we saw in the video from that network station. (Ash) And Martin O’Malley was attacked as well for claiming that all lives matter, and I agree with that. Governor O’Malley and Senator Sanders, all lives matter and we obviously are never going to be a nation that is fully rid of the dangerous germs of discrimination, but to contend that only black lives matter, and anybody who disagrees with that is somehow not right and not politically correct for Martin O’Malley to feel compelled to apologize for really makes me question his commitment to serving all Americans if he’s elected president. I do admire both him and Senator Sanders for saying that all lives matter because they do

    (Rogers) Well certainly all lives do matter, but we’ve seen African American treated poorly for centuries in this country, and it still goes on to this day, so it certainly ought to be a focus. of Democrats, Republicans and everyone to say, “Yeah, all lives matter but, these people should not be discriminated against in any way , shape or form.”

    (Nintzel) Let me shift over to what’s going on with Donald Trump He’s got this feud going with John McCain. This week he gave out Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number He’s rocketed to the top of the polls. Bruce, your thoughts on this whole Trump phenomenon

    (Ash) Donald Trump is an interesting guy. He’s a long-time self-promoter, sort of cult personality. A presidential campaigns, both the primaries as well as the general campaigns have become someone of a cultural contest Trump is the flavor of the month. Whether the comments that he made about John McCain begin to flow shift downward we’ll not know. We have the first debate which will take place in Cleveland the first week of August That’ll be a very interesting place where these ten candidates stand up together and have that opportunity to air things out, and by the way the other good news is the other candidates who don’t necessarily make this sort of complicated formula for FOX picking the ten people up on the stage they also have a C-SPAN forum that they’ll be participating in it as well, so all the Republican voices are going to be heard, I’m glad that there’s a large contest that’s going on in the Republican Party. I’m hoping that the Democratic Party will engage in the same sort of a debate, a constructive debate, not calling people dummies and losers and wishing that somebody had not been captured and so on. These are message fragments and they make great news, and they’re kind of entertaining, but we’re not any closer to really knowing what our presidential candidate is going to look like, from today in July, 2015.

    (Nintzel) Your thoughts on ….

    (Rogers) He’s becoming the face of the Republican Party in some respects. I think it very fascinating to see how when he slurred John McCain’s heroic military experience, every other Republican candidate jumped on it immediately about that. But not one of them has said anything about how he slurred the country of Mexico and Mexican American immigrants and he slurred a whole class of people, and we haven’t heard any of these candidates really speak out against him. RNC did say something about it, but the rest of the candidates … so he’s kind of … and what that tells me is that they don’t disagree with his characterization of immigration issues in this country, and I think, certainly in the long term and I think even this election, the Republican Party’s immigration stance is going to hurt them at the polls in the next election.

    (Nintzel) So, Bruce, you’ve got John Kasich joining the presidential race this week. Sixteen candidates now Who’s top, here.

    (Ash) Probably, besides Don, Donald Trump, who’s the “flavor of the month” at this time you would have Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio I like Carli Fiorina as well in that mix. She’s very, very bright. She’s articulate. She’s exciting crowds wherever she goes. And she’s a real fighter. She’ll be great on the campaign trail. We have great candidates. There’s no lack of successful Republican governors who are involved in thi.s We have some people who’ve been battle-tested whether it’s in 2008 or 2012. We’ve got Huckabee, Senator Santorum and so on. It’s going to be a very interesting race. We’ll probably start seeing some of the ranks thin out some here in the fall, and certainly, if there’s a problem for any of these candidates it’s going to come in the four early primary states By the end of February, we’re going to know who the top two and the top two are.

    (Roger) Once you purposely didn’t mention is Ted Cruz who’s raised the second-most amount of money to Jeb Bush, so he probably rounds that out but it’s a I’m enjoying watching the Republican primaries. as they’re sorted out. I enjoyed the last time around, too. I thought that ultimately the same thing was going to happen, but the candidate that emerges is going to be so badly damaged from having to go so far and so extreme to the right on issues like immigration that whoever emerges is going to be so badly damaged that we the Democrats should have a very good chance of winning. On the Democratic side, it’s interesting to see Sanders shaking things up a little bit. I think it’s healthy for Hillary to have a good, some good opponents. I do think she’s going to emerge victorious by a wide margin, but I think it’s good for us to have a little bit of a contest, and it’s good for us to talk about the issue.

    (Nintzel) As crowded as the field is, any chance of a brokered convention?

    (Ash) I don’t. I think it’ll be resolved through the contest. I think the course that we’ve taken party rules over the past couple of years is going to help us. We’re going to have all of our states fully represented in this particular primary season, and we’ve set out a debate schedule that I think is going to give America a great chance to see our candidates and get to know what they believe in

    (Nintzel) Let me ask you this. What do you think of the Iran deal?

    (Ash) It’s a bad deal. Lack of verification. There is a real problem with the economic aid as well as the ending of sanctions on Iran. They’ll practically be no way of taking out an Iranian nuclear development facility with the aid of their that they’re going to get, and the sanctions on other countries who, if they even employ sabotage, are in trouble with the United Nations. It’s a bad deal. We operated from a position of weakness. The Clinton-Obama-Kerry deal is I think going to go down as one of the most poorly conceived peace deals around. Egypt wants nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia wants nuclear weapons. We’re going to find great proliferation of nuclear weapons all through that region.

    (Nintzel) Jeff, your thoughts. You’ve got about a minute left.

    (Rogers) We had a choice between basically declaring war on Iran or coming to an agreement and this agreement has been endorsed by the United Nations Security Council unanimously The five permanent members plus Germany were the people negotiation this in addition to the United States, and so, this is a pretty good deal. It shut down their uranium enrichment process for ten to 15 years. Now, do I trust Iran? No. Do I think they might cheat on it? I think they might. But the fact is that this deal has verification implements in it that allow us to snap back to sanctions rapidly should they reneg on the deal or cheat, so I think it is probably the best under the circumstances. Certainly Americans aren’t ready to attack Iran and have another war.

    (Ash) How about this were a war, Jeff, and …

    (Rogers) I think it is.

    (Ash) And we’re dealing with a belligerent nation.

    (Rogers) I can’t argue with you. It is a very belligerent nation, but it is either this or war.

    (Rogers) I don’t think it’s in Israel’s interest or the United States’ interests to be attacking Iran at this point in time. Now, sometime in the future it might be necessary to destroy facilities.

    (Ash) The only one … who’s saying they want to attack is Iran and they still wish …

    (Nintzel) We’ve got to leave it there. I want to thank both Bruce Ash and Jeff Rogers for coming by today. That is our show. Next week, we have Elizabeth Warren and Martin O’Malley from the Net Roots Conference I’d also like to thank our sponsors at the Arizona Inn and at Hotel Congress We’ll see you next time.