Borg: Bernie Sanders represents Vermont in the United States Senate. But now seeking the democratic presidential nomination, he is representing, or at least resonating strongly, with those in the party seeing this election as an opportunity for major governmental changes. More bluntly, Senator Sanders boldly says the nation needs a political revolution. He knows government. Four terms as Burlington, Vermont's Mayor, eight terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, now in his second Senate term. And welcome back to Iowa Press, your second visit here.

Sanders: Thank you very much for inviting me.

Borg: You know, I've delineated here your political career. There have been some wins, some losses. And over that time you have developed I think quite a sense of political smell. What makes this one smell like a victory?

Sanders: What I think explains the momentum and the energy and the enthusiasm in our campaign all over this country and the huge turnouts we're getting is, Dean, people I think are sick and tired of establishment politics and establishment economics. I think most Americans understand that there's something fundamentally wrong when the middle class continues to disappear and almost all of the new income being generated goes to the top one percent.

Borg: That's the message that is resonating. And I want to introduce so we can continue the questions here, Senator. Across the table, James Lynch who writes for the Gazette published in Cedar Rapids and Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Senator, on the republican side we have republican candidates saying their very first act as president would be to, for instance, tear up the deal with Iran or to rescind every executive order that President Obama has issued. As president, what would be the very first thing that a President Sanders would do?

Sanders: I don't think there is a first thing. I think what we have got to do is work to create a movement which is prepared to take on the billionaire class, which today has so much power. And what we need is a set of policies designed to expand the middle class and the shrinking middle class that we have seen for 40 years and demand that the wealthiest people in this country start paying their fair share of taxes. So the agenda that we are talking about, Kay, is a federal jobs program to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure creating 13 million jobs, to raise the minimum wage over a period several years to $15 an hour, to make sure that we have pay equity for women workers, to make certain that public colleges and universities in this country are tuition free and that we deal with this outrageous situation of high student debt and we fund that by asking Wall Street to pay a tax on speculation of stocks and bonds. So those are some of the directions that we've got to move I think.

Henderson: You have also been a critic of recent trade deals, some not so recent. Do you believe as president you would have the authority to unravel some of them immediately?

Sanders: Yeah, I think, look, for Vermont, for Iowa and for virtually the entire country, trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China, have by and large been a disaster. I voted against all of them and I'm hoping to lead the effort right now against the Transpacific Partnership. At the end of the day I think what Americans perceive, you ask me why there is momentum for our campaign, these trade agreements were written by corporate America, were written by Wall Street. The goal was to shut down plants in America, to stop having to pay workers in Iowa, Vermont, this country decent wages, move to China, pay people low wages and bring their products back to America.

Borg: But supported by democratic administrations.

Sanders: You're quite right. Many of these policies, you're absolutely right, many of these policies were supported by not only republicans, by President Clinton and unfortunately President Obama. They are bad policies. They are opposed by and large by every trade union in this country and I believe by the majority of the American people. At the end of the day, the American worker should not be forced to compete against people in Vietnam who make 56 cents an hour minimum wage.

Henderson: How do you roll back the clock on those agreements?

Sanders: Well, you renegotiate agreements. And what you say is look, we want agreements that work for the American middle class. I want to see -- we have lost, just to review, since 2001 we have lost almost 60,000 factories in the United States of America and millions of decent paying jobs. Not all of that is attributable to trade, but a lot of it is. And at the end of the day, if corporations can shut down in America, pay people 25 cents an hour or 50 cents an hour someplace else that's what they will do and we have got to stop that. We have to demand they reinvest back in this country and provide decent paying jobs here.

Lynch: Listening to you, no one would doubt that you sound like a democrat, but you have always identified as an independent. When will you become a democrat? Or when will you put that D behind your name? And do you have to do that soon?

Sanders: No, we don't. As it happens, I am obviously running in the democratic caucus here in Iowa, the democratic primary process around the country and we will fulfill all of the requirements that the authorities need us to fulfill. As it happens, as is the case for Howard Dean, who ran for president, my colleague in the Senate Pat Leahy, you don't register in the state of Vermont as a democrat, you just can't do that, nobody can do that. What you do do, and what I have done for years, is been a member of the democratic caucus in the House and now in the Senate, I'm the ranking member on the Budget Committee, former chairman of the Veterans Committee where we work very hard for veterans rights and I have helped democrats get elected throughout the state and throughout the country. So I think my credentials are pretty strong.

Lynch: But, Senator Leahy or Governor Dean didn't say they were independent, they said they were democrats. Why the distinction?

Sanders: Well, historically the distinction is and the reason that I ran as an independent is pretty simple. Over the years I think the Republican Party has evolved into an extreme right wing party controlled by the Koch brothers and other billionaire interests who are really very reactionary. The Democratic Party, unfortunately, over the years has also become I think too much influenced by big money and I prefer to be outside of the Democratic Party and run as an independent and that's how I got elected. And I am the longest serving independent. But, having said that, I made a decision many, many months ago after a lot of thought, I think the last time I was on the show you probably asked me that question, I don't know. But I decided to run within the democratic primary process. That's what we're going to do and we're doing pretty well.

Henderson: There has been much discussion on the republican side about when and if Donald Trump might run as a third party because of the ground swell that is developing for his candidacy. Would you feel compelled to have a third party candidacy if you did not secure the democratic nomination?

Sanders: Look, we gave a lot of thought about what we were going to do in terms of this election. And I decided finally that we would run within the democratic process and that's what I am going to do. I will not, as I have said many, many times, if I do not win I will not run as a third party candidate, period.

Lynch: When you announced that you would support the pact with Iran, the nuclear deal, you said it's not all that many of would have liked. Is it a good deal? Or is it just good enough?

Sanders: James, I voted against the war in Iraq. I heard the same evidence that everybody else heard. I didn't believe Bush. I didn't believe Cheney? I didn't believe Donald Rumsfeld in what they were saying. And if you go to YouTube and find the remarks that I made on the floor of the House at that point, sadly, and I say this without any joy in my heart, much of what I predicted about the destabilization of the region turned out to be true. As the former chairman of the Veterans Committee, I can tell you that people do not fully understand the cost of war. I mean, it's not just that we lost 6,700 brave men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's the 500,000 that came back with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. I think what President Obama is trying to do, is to do everything that he can to make sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, but do it without another war. I am astounded, I really am, to hear my republican colleagues go on the floor in the Senate and kind of blithely talk about well there's another option. What they're talking about is another war. We were at war in Afghanistan, didn't turn out well. War in Iraq, did not turn out well. We do not need another war.

Lynch: Is this a choice between diplomacy and war?

Sanders: I think it is. Look, if it fails, who trusts Iran? I don't trust Iran. Nobody trusts Iran. But there are very tight restrictions here in terms of not only releasing, lowering the sanctions, but also the ability to bring them back. So I think you give peace a chance. War is always an option. But in my view, a great nation has got to use every capability that it has to prevent war. War is a terrible thing and I would like to see us succeed here as the President is trying to do without going to war.

Henderson: You voted for the war in Afghanistan and you voted against bot wars in Iraq in the early 90s and a good decade ago. What is the criteria that a President Sanders would use for going to war?

Sanders: I voted against the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait because I thought with the whole world united against them, the whole world, we could have driven him back without going to war. That was my motive then and I think I was right. In terms of the war in Iraq, I could not believe the stuff that we were hearing from the Bush administration and I feared very much the kind of destabilization that would take place and I voted against that war as well. I voted for the war in Afghanistan because you had a situation where Osama bin Laden was being protected by the Taliban at that point. I think a request had made he was a criminal, he was not released and we went to war. So my view is that what we need, by the way, is not the United States -- and you can't predict every event that's coming up -- but by and large I would like to see the United States work with the rest of the world, work with our allies in the Middle East and not have to do it alone.

Borg: Diplomacy though needs to be backed up, most view, it needs to be backed up by military strength. Is the U.S. sufficiently militarily strong in order to act that way in leading the world?

Sanders: Well, I could tell you that the United States now is spending, I believe, more on our military than the next nine nations combined.

Borg: Is it enough? That is, would you increase the strength of the U.S. military?

Sanders: What I would do is change the priorities of the U.S. military. You're asking me is it enough. We have elderly people in this country living on $13,000 a year because they don't get enough in Social Security. We have young people who can't afford to go to college. We have people, veterans, sleeping out on the street. So as a nation we have got to determine our priorities. No, I am not in favor of just simply putting more and more money into the military, but this is what I am in favor of, right now you may or may not know that the Department of Defense is the only agency of government which cannot sustain an independent audit. You go there and say, well where are you spending your money? How many private contractors do you have? They don't know the answer. So before you throw a lot more money into the military, I think you need some accountability, which we do not at the present time have. Furthermore, I think to too large a degree the United States may still be fighting against the old Soviet Union. Our enemy now is terrorism, it is a very type, very different type of military conflict. So the answer is yes, we need the strongest military in the world. Second of all, I do not believe everything being equal we should do it alone, we should work with coalition. France is there, the UK is there, other countries are there. In the Middle East, by the way, people don't know this, Saudi Arabia, this will shock everybody, has the third largest military budget in the world, third largest. You know what, maybe they want to get their hands a little bit dirty in taking on ISIS with our support without us having to have our ground troops there in combat.

Henderson: There are democrats and libertarians who have concerns about the use of drones as part of military operations. What is your view?

Sanders: I am concerned. I think we have seen situations where drone attacks have ended up doing us a lot more harm than good. I don't think you outlaw the policy at all, but when they can be effective that's good, but I think when they are killing, as they have done, innocent people, we're seeing women and children being killed, that is not a good thing and it turns people against the United States. I think you've got to be very selective in that area.

Lynch: Moving from the military to minimum wage, which you spoke of earlier, you want to see a $15 an hour minimum wage. Republicans argue this is a state issue, that states should decide minimum wage, not the federal government. You have called for a national minimum wage. If you become president, it's likely one chamber of Congress will still be in republican hands, how do you move that issue forward?

Sanders: Well, two things. Republicans argue a lot and usually, just coincidentally, what they end up arguing always benefits the wealthy and the powerful. They argue that climate change is not real and we need not do anything about it while they receive huge amounts of money from the Koch brothers and the oil industry. They argue that we should not have pay equity for women workers. They argue that we should -- in fact, you know what they argue, not only we should not raise the minimum wage, many republicans will come here and tell you we should abolish the concept of the minimum wage and if you can find in a high unemployment areas workers prepared to work for $3 or $4 an hour for many republicans that is a good idea. But to answer your question, look, $7.25 is now the federal minimum wage. It's a starvation wage. You do the arithmetic. People can't live on it. We have got to raise the minimum wage over a period of years to a living wage, in my view. Maybe it's a radical view. I don't think so. If somebody works 40 hours a week in the United States of America that person should not be living in poverty. That's what a $15 minimum wage over a period of years would do. Now, you asked me the question, how do you negotiate with republicans? I'll tell you how. You rally the American people who overwhelmingly believe, by the way, that the minimum wage should be raised, depending on the polls maybe to $15 an hour. The republicans get away with murder, they get away with trying to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, not raise the minimum wage because people are not organized in opposition to them. When we rally the American people, I think the republicans will see the writing on the wall, they will come along with us.

Borg: Is that how you avoid class warfare, because what you've been saying here really promotes class welfare.

Sanders: Class warfare you mean.

Borg: Yes. Did I say welfare? Warfare.

Sanders: Well, you're right, we have been giving welfare to the very wealthiest people in this country for too long. That's not what you meant. Let me talk about so-called class warfare. I have been accused of promoting class warfare so let me be clear. Class warfare goes on in the United States right now. The rich are getting much richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is disappearing. In the last 30 years we have seen a shift, a redistribution of wealth to the tune of trillions of dollars that have gone out of the hands of the middle class and working families to the top one-tenth of one percent. The republican budget passed a few months ago gave over $250 billion in tax breaks to the wealthiest two-tenths of one percent and yet they cut Medicare, they cut Medicaid, they cut health care. That's class warfare.

Borg: But when you talk about organizing, it sounds to me like you're organizing to go to war.

Sanders: Well, not to -- we're organizing for politics. What do you think is going on today with Wall Street and the billionaire class and the Koch brothers? They are organized. When the Koch brothers, as a result of this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, are prepared to spend $900 million in this campaign cycle to elect candidates, republican candidates who represent the wealthy and the powerful, is that not organized? That's organized. When you have super PACs -- I'm the only major candidate, or one of the only, who doesn't have a super PAC. I don't want money from billionaires. Dean, in my view that is organized. So what we have seen for many, many years in my view is a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top one-tenth of one percent, you've seen as a result of Citizens United billionaires able to try to buy elections in this country. I think we've got to fight back.

Borg: I think we got the point there. I want to move directly into politics here. Vice President Biden, how would his entrance possibly into the race affect your candidacy and your campaign?

Sanders: Good question and you know what, I honestly don't know the answer. I mean, there are some people who speculate that he would take more votes away from Hillary Clinton, some people speculate he would take more votes away from me. I don't know the answer to the question. I'm not much into speculation. But this I will say, I have known Joe Biden for many years, a very decent guy, friend of mine. We served in the Senate together. And what I will do, you're looking at a candidate who in the many campaigns I have run in the state of Vermont, do you know how many negative ads I have run? I've never run one, never run a negative ad. I am not taking super PAC money, I don't want super PACs. I run campaigns based on the important issues facing our people. Joe Biden gets in, I can promise Joe, as I have Hillary Clinton, we will run an issue oriented campaign, not one of personal attacks and negative ads.

Lynch: Joe Biden reportedly has said that if he decides to get into the race and run for president he would only serve one term because of his age. You're going to have a birthday in a couple of days and you'll be older than Joe Biden. Not to put a fine point on it, but are you too old to be president?

Sanders: That's not a fine point. It's a pretty fine point. No, look, it isn't an issue. Thank God, this is what I hope knocking on wood here, I was blessed with very good health and if you follow my work schedule, follow me around Iowa in the next period of time, see what I've been doing on this campaign, I cannot remember the last day that I missed work because I was sick, thank God. So I think I'm healthy. If we win the first term and it goes well we'll take a look at the second term. It's a little bit too early to speculate on that.

Lynch: But should there be -- the Constitution says you have to be 35 to be president. Should there be an upper limit for presidents and Supreme Court justices?

Sanders: I don't agree. I think in a democracy the American people make the choice. You can also say that I have a lot of experience. As Dean mentioned, I was a mayor, I was a Congressman, I'm in the United States Senate, I'm a candidate for president, I've learned a few things along the way. And people ultimately have to make the choice about the qualifications, the character of the candidate, age I suppose is one of the factors but I don't know that you want limitations. There are a lot of -- the world is changing and you've got a lot of people doing a lot of -- I look at Pope Francis, for example, who is one of my heroes. He has been playing an extraordinarily important role around the world and talking about income and wealth inequality, what he calls the dispossessed, talking about climate change. He is not a young guy but he is playing a fantastic role.

Henderson: One of the issues that has gripped the country, it revolves around gun violence. As a Senator representing Vermont you have opposed waiting periods for the purchase of guns --

Sanders: Nope, not true. I support -- well I have supported instant background checks. Yes.

Henderson: Instant but five-day waiting period.

Sanders: That was way back when, yes.

Henderson: Okay. So as president would you take actions in regards to gun related legislation in a different way than you have as a Senator representing Vermont?

Sanders: Kay, that's a great and very important question. Let me just say this, I represent the state which has virtually no gun control. That's just the way it is and democratic governors, republican governors have supported that. Yet despite that, this former Congressman and Senator has voted for instant background checks because I think at the end of the day what is most important, what we see these horrible things that we're seeing on TV, we have to make sure that guns do not get into the hands of people who should not have them. That's the bottom line. Those are criminals, those are people with mental illnesses. And, by the way, so that's number one. Number two, I have voted, this was not an easy vote, I have a lifetime NRA voting record of something like a D-. I have voted against the distribution and production in this country in manufacturing of certain types of assault weapons. I voted for the assault weapon ban. And I voted to close the outrageous gun control loopholes which allows people getting around the instant background check. Furthermore, what I believe, if you look at the records of people doing these horrible things whether it's killing police officers or anybody else, you're seeing a lot of mental illness, a lot of mental illness. There are many thousands of people in this country today who are suicidal, who are homicidal, who are not getting the care that they need. I get those calls in my office frankly. And what we need to do as a nation and say that if somebody calls up and says I'm worried about my husband, I'm worried about my brother, what he may do, that person should be able to get treatment immediately, not three months from now. We are way, way behind where we should be in that area.

Henderson: This is an issue in which there is a philosophical divide in the country. As I go out and listen to Iowans ask candidates questions, one of the candidate questions asked is how will you unite the country, how will you govern a country that is so riven with a philosophical divide?

Sanders: Good question. This is what I think. I think absolutely I am lifetime pro-choice. That's who I am, ain't going to change. I am pro-gay rights. Have been for many, many years. Not going to change. I am one of the leaders in the United States Senate in fighting for the environment and the need to cut back climate change. Ain't going to change. But here's what I would say, Kay, sometimes on other issues you would be surprised that there is a lot more commonality of thinking than sometimes the media perceives. James asked me about the minimum wage, well you know what, republicans support raising the minimum wage, so did democrats. Republicans support rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, so do democrats. Republicans support a very important issue in dealing with the outrageously high prices of prescription drugs in this country, so do democrats. And I'm prepared to do that. Many republicans, by the way, Dean asked me about trade policy, you asked me about trade policies, guess what, more republicans are opposed to our trade policies than our democrats as a matter of fact. So I think what I can do is bring people together essentially around economic issues which says hey, it is time to rebuild the middle class, it is time to demand that the wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes. On all of those issues there is broad support in both political parties. And then what you have to say, guess what, on the abortion issue, we're going to disagree. This is my view, I know I'm not going to convince you, you're not going to convince me, but let us at least work to protect our kids and our parents, make sure we don't cut Social Security but expand Social Security, etcetera, etcetera.

Lynch: Before you get to do all that though you have to get the nomination and I'm wondering, the latest polls show you gaining in Iowa, surging, according to some people. Will you win the Iowa caucuses? And do you have to win the Iowa caucuses to be successful?

Sanders: Look, all of you know Iowa plays, along with New Hampshire, a unique role in American politics and that's why we have hired, not a coincidence, we have hired dozens of people, we have a great field organization here in Iowa, I have spent a lot of time and will continue to spend time in Iowa. What interests me about the Iowa caucus is you demand a lot more of people than do people in the primary states. You demand people to know my views, know Hillary Clinton's views, known Trump's views and to actually go to a meeting and argue about these things, and I love that stuff because what you're doing is engaging people in the political process. So I'm not here to make predictions. It is very clear that not only in New Hampshire, not only in Iowa, we are gaining momentum.

Borg: Final question, Kay.

Henderson: In 1987, I covered a debate between Michael Dukakis and Jack Kemp over the gold standard. If you have an opportunity to debate the surging Donald Trump and focus on a single issue, what issue would you choose and why?

Sanders: Well I think, there are many issues, obviously huge issues and differences between Trump and myself, but I really have to say I dislike very much his belief that anybody who criticizes him, anybody who disagrees with him, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, for example, just wrote a statement and he attacked Kareem in a very personal way because he disagreed with Trump. A president cannot go around attacking everybody just because you disagree.

Borg: I have to end there. Thank you for being with us. Thank you very much.

Sanders: Thank you very much.

Borg: And before we go a programming note for next week. Iowa Press will be airing a half hour early next Friday so that Iowa Public Television can bring you the end of Ken Burns' landmark documentary, The Civil War. Our guest at that time though will be freshman Congressman David Young. And we'll talk to him about his first eight months in office. So that is next week on Iowa Press, a half hour earlier Friday at 7:00 and the usual time on Sunday. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.