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Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Bernard Sanders (born September 8, 1941) is an American politician who has served as the junior United States Senator from Vermont since 2007. Vermont's at-large Congressman from 1991 to 2007, he is the longest serving independent in U.S. congressional history and a member of the Democratic caucus. Sanders ran unsuccessfully for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president and is running again in 2020.

A self-described democratic socialist and progressive, Sanders is known for his opposition to economic inequality. On domestic policy, he broadly supports labor rights, and has supported universal and single-payer healthcare, paid parental leave, tuition-free tertiary education, and an ambitious Green New Deal to create jobs addressing global warming. On foreign policy, he broadly supports reducing military spending, pursuing more diplomacy and international cooperation, and putting greater emphasis on labor rights and environmental concerns when negotiating international trade agreements. Commentators have noted the strong influence his views have had on Democratic Party politics since his 2016 presidential campaign.[6][7][8]

Sanders was born and raised in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, and attended Brooklyn College before graduating from the University of Chicago in 1964. While a student he was an active protest organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement. After settling in Vermont in 1968, Sanders ran unsuccessful third-party political campaigns in the early to mid-1970s. As an independent, he was elected mayor of Burlington in 1981 by a margin of ten votes. He was reelected three times. He won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990, representing Vermont's at-large congressional district; he later co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Sanders served as a U.S. Representative for 16 years before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006. He was reelected to the Senate in 2012 and 2018.

In April 2015 Sanders announced his campaign for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president of the United States. Despite initially low expectations, he went on to win 23 primaries and caucuses and approximately 43% of pledged delegates, to Hillary Clinton's 55%. His campaign was noted for its supporters' enthusiasm, as well as for his rejection of large donations from corporations, the financial industry, and any associated Super PAC. In July 2016 he formally endorsed Clinton in her general election campaign against Republican Donald Trump, while urging his supporters to continue the "political revolution" his campaign began. In February 2019 Sanders announced a second presidential campaign, joining multiple other Democratic candidates pursuing the party nomination.

Bernie Sanders
United States Senator
from Vermont
Assumed office
January 3, 2007
Serving with Patrick Leahy
Preceded byJim Jeffords
Ranking Member of the
Senate Budget Committee
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Preceded byJeff Sessions
Chair of the
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
In office
January 3, 2013 – January 3, 2015
Preceded byPatty Murray
Succeeded byJohnny Isakson
Member of theU.S. House of Representatives
from Vermont'sat-largedistrict
In office
January 3, 1991 – January 3, 2007
Preceded byPeter Plympton Smith
Succeeded byPeter Welch
37th Mayor of Burlington
In office
April 6, 1981 – April 4, 1989
Preceded byGordon Paquette
Succeeded byPeter Clavelle
Personal details
Bernard Sanders

(1941-09-08)September 8, 1941
Brooklyn, New York City, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic (member) (2015–2016; 2019–present)[4]
Independent (Congressional affiliation) (1977–2015; 2016–present)
Other political
Liberty Union (1971–77)
  • Deborah Shiling
    (m. 1964;div. 1966)
  • Jane O'Meara (m. 1988)
Children4[5] (including Levi Sanders)
RelativesLarry Sanders (brother)
EducationBrooklyn College
University of Chicago (BA)
SignatureOfficial signature of Bernie Sanders

Early life

Sanders as a senior in high school, 1959

Sanders as a senior in high school, 1959

Sanders was born on September 8, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York City.[9][10][11][12] His father, Elias Ben Yehuda Sanders (1904–1962),[13] was born in Słopnice, Galicia, in Austria-Hungary (now part of Poland),[14][15] to a Jewish family; in 1921 Elias immigrated to the United States, where he became a paint salesman.[14][16][17] His mother, Dorothy Sanders (née Glassberg, 1912–1960), was born in New York City[18][19] to Jewish immigrant parents from Poland and Russia.[20][21]

Sanders became interested in politics at an early age: "A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including six million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important."[1][24][25][26] In the 1940s many of Sanders's relatives in German-occupied Poland were murdered in the Holocaust.[13][19][27][28][29]

Sanders lived in Midwood, Brooklyn.[30] He attended elementary school at P.S. 197 in Brooklyn, where he won a borough championship on the basketball team.[31][32] He attended Hebrew school in the afternoons, and celebrated his bar mitzvah in 1954.[28] Sanders's older brother, Larry, said that during their childhood, the family never lacked for food or clothing, but major purchases, "like curtains or a rug", were not affordable.[33]

Sanders attended James Madison High School, also in Brooklyn, where he was captain of the track team and took third place in the New York City indoor one-mile race.[31] In high school Sanders lost his first election, finishing last out of three candidates for the student body presidency. Not long after his high school graduation, his mother died at the age of 46;[19][28] his father died a few years later on August 4, 1962, at the age of 57.[15]

Sanders studied at Brooklyn College for a year in 1959–60[34] before transferring to the University of Chicago and graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in political science in 1964.[34] He has described himself as a mediocre college student because the classroom was "boring and irrelevant", while the community was more important in his education.[35]

Early career

Political activism

Sanders later described his time in Chicago as "the major period of intellectual ferment in my life".[36] While there, he joined the Young People's Socialist League (the youth affiliate of the Socialist Party of America)[37] and was active in the Civil Rights Movement as a student for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).[27][38] Under Sanders's chairmanship the university chapter of CORE merged with the university chapter of SNCC.[39] In January 1962 Sanders went to a rally at the University of Chicago administration building to protest university president George Wells Beadle's segregated campus housing policy. "We feel it is an intolerable situation when Negro and white students of the university cannot live together in university-owned apartments," Sanders said at the protest. Sanders and 32 other students then entered the building and camped outside the president's office.[40][41] After weeks of sit-ins Beadle and the university formed a commission to investigate discrimination.[42] Following further protests, the University of Chicago ended official racial segregation in private university housing in the summer of 1963.[36] Joan Mahoney, a member of the University of Chicago CORE chapter at the time and a fellow participant in the sit-ins, described Sanders in a 2016 interview as "a swell guy, a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn, but he wasn't terribly charismatic. One of his strengths, though, was his ability to work with a wide group of people, even those he didn't agree with".[43] Sanders once spent a day putting up fliers protesting against police brutality, only to eventually notice that a Chicago police car was shadowing him and taking them all down.[44]

Sanders attended the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech.[27][44][45] That summer Sanders was fined $25 (equivalent to $205 in 2018) for resisting arrest during a demonstration in Englewood against segregation in Chicago's public schools.[46][47][36]

In addition to his civil rights activism during the 1960s and 1970s,[48] Sanders was active in several peace and antiwar movements. He was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Student Peace Union while attending the University of Chicago. Sanders applied for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War; his application was eventually turned down, by which point he was too old to be drafted. Although he opposed the war, Sanders never criticized those who fought and has been a strong supporter of veterans' benefits.[49][50] He also was briefly an organizer with the United Packinghouse Workers of America while in Chicago.[36] Sanders also worked on the reelection campaign of Leon Despres, a prominent Chicago alderman who was opposed to mayor Richard J. Daley's Democratic Party machine. During his student years he also read a variety of American and European political authors, from Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and John Dewey to Karl Marx and Erich Fromm.[51]

Professional history

After graduating from college Sanders returned to New York City, where he initially worked at a variety of jobs, including Head Start teacher, psychiatric aide, and carpenter.[35] In 1968 he moved to Vermont because he had been "captivated by rural life." After his arrival there he worked as a carpenter,[37] filmmaker, and writer[52] who created and sold "radical film strips" and other educational materials to schools.[53] He also wrote several articles for the alternative publication The Vermont Freeman.[54]

Liberty Union campaigns

Sanders began his electoral political career in 1971 as a member of the Liberty Union Party, which originated in the anti-war movement and the People's Party. He ran as the Liberty Union candidate for governor of Vermont in 1972 and 1976 and as a candidate for U.S. senator in 1972 and 1974.[55] In the 1974 senatorial race, Sanders finished third (5,901 votes; 4%), behind 33-year-old Chittenden County State's Attorney Patrick Leahy (D, VI; 70,629 votes; 49%) and two-term incumbent U.S. Representative Dick Mallary (R; 66,223 votes; 46%).[56][57]

The 1976 campaign proved to be the zenith of Liberty Union's influence, with Sanders collecting 11,000 votes for governor and the party. This forced the races for lieutenant governor and secretary of state to be decided by the state legislature when its vote total prevented either the Republican or Democratic candidates for those offices from garnering a majority of votes.[58] The campaign drained the finances and energy of the Liberty Union, however, and in October 1977, less than a year after the conclusion of the 1976 campaign, Sanders and the Liberty Union candidate for attorney general, Nancy Kaufman, announced their retirement from the party.[58]

Following his resignation from the Liberty Union Party in 1977, Sanders worked as a writer and the director of the nonprofit American People's Historical Society (APHS).[59] While with the APHS, he made a 30-minute documentary about American Socialist leader and presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs.[37][60]

Mayor of Burlington

Burlington, Vermont City Hall, where Sanders was mayor for eight years

Burlington, Vermont City Hall, where Sanders was mayor for eight years

In 1980 Sanders ran for mayor of Burlington, Vermont (pop. 38,000), at the suggestion of his close friend and political confidant Richard Sugarman, a professor of religion at the University of Vermont. He was mayor for eight years, from April 6, 1981, to April 4, 1989.[61]


The 39-year-old Sanders ran against incumbent Democratic mayor Gordon "Gordie" Paquette, a five-term mayor who had served as a member of the Burlington City Council for 13 years before that, building extensive community ties and a willingness to cooperate with Republican leaders in controlling appointments to various commissions. Republicans had found Paquette so unobjectionable that they failed to field a candidate in the March 1981 race against him, leaving Sanders as his principal opponent. Sanders's effort was further aided by the decision of the candidate of the Citizens Party, Greg Guma, to exit the race so as not to split the progressive vote. Two other candidates in the race, independents Richard Bove and Joe McGrath, proved to be essentially non-factors in the campaign, with the battle coming down to Paquette and Sanders.[58]

Sanders castigated the pro-development incumbent as an ally of prominent shopping center developer Antonio Pomerleau, while Paquette warned of ruin for Burlington if Sanders was elected. The Sanders campaign was bolstered by a wave of optimistic volunteers as well as by a series of endorsements from university professors, social welfare agencies, and the police union. The final result came as a shock to the local political establishment, with the maverick Sanders winning by just 10 votes.[58]

Sanders was reelected three times, defeating both Democratic and Republican candidates. He received 53% of the vote in 1983 and 55% in 1985.[62] In his final run for mayor in 1987, Sanders defeated Paul Lafayette, a Democrat endorsed by both major parties.[63] In 1986 Sanders unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Governor Madeleine Kunin (D) in her run for reelection. Running as an independent, Sanders finished third with 14% of the vote. Kunin won with 47%, followed by Lt. Governor Peter P. Smith (R) with 38%.

After serving four two-year terms, Sanders chose not to seek reelection in 1989. He lectured in political science at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government that year and at Hamilton College in 1991.[64]


During his mayoralty Sanders called himself a socialist and was so described in the press.[65][66] During his first term his supporters, including the first Citizens Party City Councilor Terry Bouricius, formed the Progressive Coalition, the forerunner of the Vermont Progressive Party.[67] The Progressives never held more than six seats on the 13-member city council, but they had enough to keep the council from overriding Sanders's vetoes. Under Sanders, Burlington became the first city in the country to fund community-trust housing.[68]

During the 1980s Sanders was a consistent critic of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.[69] In 1985 Burlington City Hall hosted a foreign policy speech by Noam Chomsky. In his introduction, Sanders praised Chomsky as "a very vocal and important voice in the wilderness of intellectual life in America" and said he was "delighted to welcome a person who I think we're all very proud of."[70][71]

Sanders's administration balanced the city budget and drew a minor league baseball team, the Vermont Reds, then the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, to Burlington.[19] Under his leadership Burlington sued the local television cable franchise, winning reduced rates for customers.[19]

As mayor Sanders led extensive downtown revitalization projects. One of his primary achievements was the improvement of Burlington's Lake Champlain waterfront.[19] In 1981 Sanders campaigned against the unpopular plans by Burlington developer Tony Pomerleau to convert the then-industrial[72] waterfront property owned by the Central Vermont Railway into expensive condominiums, hotels, and offices.[73] Sanders ran under the slogan "Burlington is not for sale" and successfully supported a plan that redeveloped the waterfront area into a mixed-use district featuring housing, parks, and public space.[73] Today the waterfront area includes many parks and miles of public beach and bike paths, a boathouse, and a science center.[73]

Sanders hosted and produced a public-access television program, Bernie Speaks with the Community, from 1986 to 1988.[74][75] He collaborated with 30 Vermont musicians to record a folk album, We Shall Overcome, in 1987.[76][77]

In 1987 U.S. News & World Report ranked Sanders one of America's best mayors.[78] As of 2013 Burlington was regarded as one of the most livable cities in the nation.[79][80]

U.S. House of Representatives

Representative Sanders in 1991

Representative Sanders in 1991

Sanders meeting in 1993 with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton (his future rival in the 2016 Democratic primaries) to discuss her plan to reform the healthcare system

Sanders meeting in 1993 with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton (his future rival in the 2016 Democratic primaries) to discuss her plan to reform the healthcare system

Sanders's 1990 victory made him the first independent candidate to be elected to Congress since Frazier Reams in 1950. It was noted by The Washington Post and others as the first election of a socialist to the United States House of Representatives in decades.[81][82] Sanders served in the House from 1991 until he became a senator in 2007.


In 1988 incumbent Republican Congressman Jim Jeffords decided to run for the U.S. Senate, vacating the House seat representing Vermont's at-large congressional district. Former Lieutenant Governor Peter P. Smith (R) won the House election with a plurality, securing 41% of the vote. Sanders, who ran as an independent, placed second with 38% of the vote, while Democratic State Representative Paul N. Poirier placed third with 19% of the vote.[83] Two years later Sanders ran for the seat again and defeated Smith by a margin of 56% to 39%.[84]

Sanders was the first independent elected to the U.S. House of Representatives since Frazier Reams's election to represent Ohio 40 years earlier.[82] He served as a representative for 16 years, winning reelection by large margins except during the 1994 Republican Revolution, when he won by 3%, with 50% of the vote.[85]


Sanders meeting with students at Milton High School in Milton, Vermont, 2004

Sanders meeting with students at Milton High School in Milton, Vermont, 2004

During his first year in the House, Sanders often alienated allies and colleagues with his criticism of both political parties as working primarily on behalf of the wealthy. In 1991 Sanders co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of mostly liberal Democrats that Sanders chaired for its first eight years,[19] while still refusing to join the Democratic Party or caucus.[86]

Banking reform

In 1999 Sanders voted and advocated against rolling back the Glass–Steagall Legislation provisions that kept investment banks and commercial banks separate entities.[87] He was a vocal critic of Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan; in June 2003, during a question-and-answer discussion with the then-Chairman, Sanders told him he was concerned that Greenspan was "way out of touch" and "that you see your major function in your position as the need to represent the wealthy and large corporations".[88][89][90][91]

In 1993 Sanders voted against the Brady Bill, which mandated federal background checks when buying guns and imposed a waiting period on firearm purchasers in the United States; the bill passed by a vote of 238–187.[92][93] He voted against the bill four more times in the 1990s.[94]

In 1994 Sanders voted in favor of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. He said he voted for the bill "because it included the Violence Against Women Act and the ban on certain assault weapons". He was nevertheless extremely critical of the other parts of the bill.[95][96] Although he acknowledged that "clearly, there are some people in our society who are horribly violent, who are deeply sick and sociopathic, and clearly these people must be put behind bars in order to protect society from them", he maintained in his intervention before the House that the government's ill-thought policies played a large part in "dooming tens of millions of young people to a future of bitterness, misery, hopelessness, drugs, crime, and violence". In this same intervention, he argued that the repressive policies introduced by the bill were not addressing the causes of violence, stating that "we can create meaningful jobs, rebuilding our society, or we can build more jails".[97]

In 1998 Sanders voted for a bill that would have increased minimum sentencing for possession of a gun while committing a federal crime to 10 years in prison, including nonviolent crimes such as marijuana possession.[98][99][100]

In 2005 Sanders voted for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.[101] The act's purpose was to prevent firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable for negligence when crimes have been committed with their products.[102] As of 2016 Sanders has said that he has changed his position and would vote for legislation to defeat this bill.[103]

Patriot Act

Sanders was a consistent critic of the Patriot Act.[104] As a member of Congress he voted against the original Patriot Act legislation.[105] After its 357-to-66 passage in the House, Sanders sponsored and voted for several subsequent amendments and acts attempting to curtail its effects,[106] and voted against each reauthorization.[107] In June 2005 he proposed an amendment to limit Patriot Act provisions that allow the government to obtain individuals' library and book-buying records. The amendment passed the House by a bipartisan majority, but was removed on November 4 of that year in House–Senate negotiations and never became law.[108]

War in Iraq

Sanders voted against the resolutions authorizing the use of force against Iraq in 1991 and 2002, and opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He voted for the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists[109] that has been cited as the legal justification for controversial military actions since the September 11 attacks.[110] Sanders voted for a non-binding resolution expressing support for troops at the outset of the invasion of Iraq, but gave a floor speech criticizing the partisan nature of the vote and the George W. Bush administration's actions in the run-up to the war. Regarding the investigation of what turned out to be a leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity by a State Department official, Sanders stated: "The revelation that the President authorized the release of classified information in order to discredit an Iraq war critic should tell every member of Congress that the time is now for a serious investigation of how we got into the war in Iraq and why Congress can no longer act as a rubber stamp for the President."[111]


In 1996 Sanders voted against a bill that would have prohibited police purchasing of tanks and armored carriers.[98][112]

On November 2, 2005, Sanders voted against the Online Freedom of Speech Act, which would have exempted the Internet from the campaign finance restrictions of the McCain–Feingold Bill.[113]

  • Public Law 109-263 [450] : To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service at 1 Marble Street in Fair Haven, Vermont, the "Matthew Lyon Post Office Building".

  • Public Law 113-52 [451] : Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013.

U.S. Senate


Sanders being sworn in as a U.S. senator by then Vice President Dick Cheney in the Old Senate Chamber, January 2007

Sanders being sworn in as a U.S. senator by then Vice President Dick Cheney in the Old Senate Chamber, January 2007

Sanders entered the race for the U.S. Senate on April 21, 2005, after Senator Jim Jeffords announced that he would not seek a fourth term. Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, endorsed Sanders, a critical move as it meant that no Democrat running against Sanders could expect to receive financial help from the party. Sanders was also endorsed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Democratic National Committee chairman and former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Dean said in May 2005 that he considered Sanders an ally who "votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time."[114] Then-Senator Barack Obama also campaigned for Sanders in Vermont in March 2006.[115] Sanders entered into an agreement with the Democratic Party, much as he had as a congressman, to be listed in their primary but to decline the nomination should he win, which he did.[116][117]

In the most expensive political campaign in Vermont's history,[118] Sanders defeated businessman Rich Tarrant by an approximately 2-to-1 margin. Many national media outlets projected Sanders as the winner just after the polls closed, before any returns came in. He was reelected in 2012 with 71% of the vote,[119] and in 2018 with 67% of the vote.[120]


Before his 2016 presidential run Sanders was known as a legislator who advocated for progressive causes but "rarely forged actual legislation or left a significant imprint on it."[121] According to The New York Times, "Big legislation largely eludes Mr. Sanders because his ideas are usually far to the left of the majority of the Senate ... Mr. Sanders has largely found ways to press his agenda through appending small provisions to the larger bills of others."[122] During his time in the Senate, Sanders had lower "legislative effectiveness" than the average senator, as measured by the number of sponsored bills that passed and successful amendments made.[123]

Banking reform

Sanders spoke for more than eight hours in his December 2010 filibuster.

Sanders spoke for more than eight hours in his December 2010 filibuster.

Sanders has advocated greater democratic participation by citizens, campaign finance reform, and a constitutional amendment or judicial decision that would overturn Citizens United v. FEC.[124][125][126] He calls for comprehensive financial reforms,[127] such as breaking up "too big to fail" financial institutions, restoring Glass–Steagall legislation, reforming the Federal Reserve Bank and allowing the Post Office to offer basic financial services in economically marginalized communities.[132]

On September 24, 2008, Sanders posted an open letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson decrying the initial bank bailout proposal; it drew more than 8,000 citizen cosigners in 24 hours.[133] On January 26, 2009, Sanders and Democrats Robert Byrd, Russ Feingold, and Tom Harkin were the sole majority members to vote against confirming Timothy Geithner as United States Secretary of the Treasury.[134]

In 2008 and 2009 Sanders voted against the Troubled Asset Relief Program (also known as the Wall Street bailout), a program to purchase toxic banking assets and provide loans to banks that were in free fall.[135][136] Among his proposed financial reforms is the auditing of the Federal Reserve, which would reduce the independence of the Federal Reserve in monetary policy deliberations; Federal Reserve officials say that "Audit the Fed" legislation would expose the Federal Reserve to undue political pressure from lawmakers who do not like its decisions.[137][138][139]

In 2016 Sanders voted for the Federal Reserve Transparency Act, which included proposals for a reformed audit of the Federal Reserve System.[137][138][139]

Supreme Court nominees

On March 17, 2016, Sanders said he would support Merrick Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court, though he added, "there are some more progressive judges out there."[140]

Sanders opposed Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Court, saying that Gorsuch had "refused to answer legitimate questions."[141] Sanders also objected to the possibility of Senate Republicans using the nuclear option to "choke off debate and ram the nomination through the Senate."[141] He voted against Gorsuch's confirmation as Associate Supreme Court Justice.[142]


On December 10, 2010, Sanders delivered an ​8 1⁄2–hour speech against the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, the proposed extension of the Bush-era tax rates that eventually became law, arguing that the legislation would favor the wealthiest Americans. "Enough is enough! ... How many homes can you own?" he asked.[143][144][145] A long speech such as this is commonly known as a filibuster, but because it did not block action, it was not technically a filibuster under Senate rules.[146]

In response to the speech, hundreds of people signed online petitions urging Sanders to run in the 2012 presidential election, and pollsters began measuring his support in key primary states.[147] Progressive activists such as Rabbi Michael Lerner and economist David Korten publicly voiced their support for a prospective Sanders run against President Barack Obama.[147] Sanders's speech was published in February 2011 by Nation Books as The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class, with authorial proceeds going to Vermont nonprofit charitable organizations.[148]


Sanders introduced legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, April 2017

Sanders introduced legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, April 2017

In April 2017 Sanders introduced a bill that would raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $15 an hour – an increase over an earlier Democratic $12 an hour proposal – which was co-sponsored by two other progressive Democrats.[149]

On May 9, 2018, Sanders introduced the Workplace Democracy Act, a bill that would expand labor rights by making it easier for workers to join a union, ban right-to-work laws and some anti-union provisions of the Taft Hartley Act, and outlaw some union-busting tactics. It was endorsed by several Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tammy Baldwin and Sherrod Brown. Announcing the legislation, Sanders said, "If we are serious about reducing income and wealth inequality and rebuilding the middle class, we have got to substantially increase the number of union jobs in this country."[150]

On September 5, 2018, Sanders partnered with Ro Khanna to introduce the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (Stop BEZOS) Act, which would require large corporations to pay for food stamps and Medicaid benefits their employees receive, rather than shifting the burden onto taxpayers.[151] Khanna said, "if you bag groceries, you should be able to buy groceries." Sanders said, "Taxpayers in this country should not be subsidizing a guy who's worth $150 billion, whose wealth is increasing by $260 million every single day," referring to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.[152][153] The bill has received some support from conservatives; Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson endorsed the proposal on air.[154] On October 2, 2018, Bezos raised the minimum wage at Amazon to $15, effective November 1; Sanders commended him.[155]

  • Public Law 113-52 [452] : Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013

  • Public Law 113-189 [453] : A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service at 35 Park Street in Danville, Vermont, the "Thaddeus Stevens Post Office".

Committees and caucuses

Senators participate in committees that are responsible for certain types of legislation and in caucuses that build a legislative constituency for shaping legislation of interest to its members.

Committee assignments

As an independent, Sanders worked out a deal with the Senate Democratic leadership in which he agreed to vote with the Democrats on all procedural matters unless the Democratic whip, Dick Durbin, agreed that he need not (a request rarely made or granted). In return he was allowed to keep his seniority and received the committee seats that would have been available to him as a Democrat; in 2013–14 he was chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs (during the Veterans Health Administration scandal).[156][157]

Sanders became the ranking minority member on the Senate Budget Committee in January 2015; he had previously been chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee for two years. Since January 2017 he has been Chair of the Senate Democratic Outreach Committee.[157] He appointed economics professor Stephanie Kelton, a modern monetary theory scholar, as the chief economic adviser for the committee's Democratic minority and presented a report aimed at helping "rebuild the disappearing middle class", which included proposals to raise the minimum wage, boost infrastructure spending, and increase Social Security payments.[158]

According to his senate website, Sanders's other committee assignments during 2016 were as follows:[159]

  • Committee on the Budget (Ranking Member)

  • Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee on Green Jobs and the New Economy Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure

  • Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy Subcommittee on National Parks Subcommittee on Water and Power

  • Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee on Children and Families Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, (Ranking Member)

  • Committee on Veterans' Affairs (former Chair)

Caucus memberships

Sanders was only the third senator from Vermont to caucus with the Democrats, after Jeffords and Leahy. His caucusing with the Democrats gave them a 51–49 majority in the Senate during the 110th Congress in 2007–08. The Democrats needed 51 seats to control the Senate because Vice President Dick Cheney would have broken any tie in favor of the Republicans.[160] He is a member of the following caucuses:

  • Congressional Progressive Caucus

  • Democratic Caucus of the United States Senate

  • United States Senate Afterschool Caucus[161]

Approval ratings

Polling conducted in August 2011 by Public Policy Polling found that Sanders's approval rating was 67% and his disapproval rating 28%, making him then the third-most popular senator in the country.[162] Both the NAACP and the NHLA have given Sanders 100% voting scores during his tenure in the Senate.[163] In 2015, Sanders was named one of the Top 5 of The Forward 50.[164] In a November 2015 Morning Consult poll, Sanders had an approval rating of 83% among his constituents, making him the most popular senator in the country.[165] Fox News found Sanders to have the highest net favorability at +28 points of any prominent politician included in its March 2017 poll.[166] He ranked third in 2014 and first in both 2015 and 2016.[165][162][167]

In April 2017 a nationwide Harvard-Harris Poll found Sanders had the highest favorability rating of the leading political figures included in the poll,[168] a standing confirmed by subsequent polling.[169]

2016 presidential campaign

Sanders speaking in Conway, New Hampshire, August 2015

Sanders speaking in Conway, New Hampshire, August 2015

Sanders supporters lined up to hear him speak in Seattle, Washington, March 2016

Sanders supporters lined up to hear him speak in Seattle, Washington, March 2016

Sanders speaking at Rutgers University in May 2016

Sanders speaking at Rutgers University in May 2016

Sanders announced his intention to seek the Democratic Party's nomination for President of the United States on April 30, 2015,[170][171][172] and his campaign was officially launched on May 26, 2015, in Burlington.[171] In his announcement, Sanders said, "I don't believe that the men and women who defended American democracy fought to create a situation where billionaires own the political process," and made this a central idea throughout his campaign.[170][171]

Senator Elizabeth Warren welcomed Sanders's entry into the race, saying, "I'm glad to see him get out there and give his version of what leadership in this country should be," but never endorsed him.[173][174]

Initially considered a long shot, Sanders won 23 primaries and caucuses and approximately 46% of pledged delegates to Clinton's 54%. His campaign was noted for its supporters' enthusiasm, as well as for his rejection of large donations from corporations, the financial industry, and any associated Super PAC. Some of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails leaked to the public in June and July 2016 showed that the committee leadership favored Clinton over Sanders and had worked to help Clinton win the nomination.[175]

On July 12, 2016, Sanders formally endorsed Clinton in her unsuccessful general election campaign against Republican Donald Trump, while urging his supporters to continue the "political revolution" his campaign had begun.[176]

Campaign methods

Unlike the other major candidates, Sanders did not pursue funding through a Super PAC or by wealthy donors, instead focusing on small individual donations.[177] His presidential campaign raised $1.5 million within 24 hours of his official announcement.[178] At year's end the campaign had raised a total of $73 million from more than one million people making 2.5 million donations, with an average donation of $27.16.[179] The campaign reached 3.25 million donations by the end of January 2016, raising $20 million in that month alone.[180]

Sanders used social media to help his campaign gain momentum,[181] posting content to online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and answering questions on Reddit. He gained a large grassroots organizational following online. A July 29, 2015 meetup organized online brought 100,000 supporters to more than 3,500 simultaneous events nationwide.[182]

Sanders's June 2015 campaign events drew overflow crowds around the country, to his surprise.[183][184][185] When Hillary Clinton and Sanders made public appearances within days of each other in Des Moines, Iowa, Sanders drew larger crowds, even though he had already made numerous stops around the state and Clinton's visit was her first in 2015.[186] On July 1, 2015, Sanders's campaign stop in Madison, Wisconsin, drew the largest crowd of any 2016 presidential candidate to that date, with an estimated turnout of 10,000.[187][188] Over the following weeks he gained even larger crowds: 11,000 in Arizona,[189] 15,000 in Seattle,[190] and 28,000 in Portland.[191]

Party presidential debates

The 2016 Democratic Party presidential debates occurred among candidates in the campaign for the Democratic Party's nomination for the President of the United States. The DNC announced in May 2015 that there would be six debates. Critics alleged that the small number of debates and the schedule, with half of the debates on Saturday or Sunday nights, were part of the DNC's deliberate attempt to protect the front-runner, Hillary Clinton.[192] In February 2016 Clinton's and Sanders's campaigns agreed in principle to holding four more debates for a total of ten.[193] Clinton dropped out of the tenth debate, scheduled to take place just before the California primary, citing a need to devote her time to making direct contact with California voters and preparing for the general election.[194] Sanders expressed disappointment that Clinton canceled the debate "before the largest and most important primary in the presidential nominating process".[195]

Polls and news coverage

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in May found Clinton and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in a "dead heat", but the same poll found that if Sanders were the Democratic nominee, 53% of voters would support him to 39% for Trump.[196] Clinton and Trump were the least popular likely candidates in the poll's history, while Sanders received a 43% positive, 36% negative rating.[197] Polls showed that Democratic voters older than 50 preferred Clinton by a large margin but those under 50 overwhelmingly favored Sanders.[198]

Some supporters raised concerns that publications such as The New York Times minimized coverage of the Sanders campaign in favor of other candidates', especially Trump's and Clinton's. The Times's "public editor" or ombudsman reviewed her paper's coverage of Sanders and found that as of September 2015 her paper "hasn't always taken it very seriously. The tone of some stories is regrettably dismissive, even mocking at times. Some of that is focused on the candidate's age, appearance and style, rather than what he has to say." She also found that the Times's coverage of Sanders's campaign was much scanter than its coverage of that of Trump, the Republican candidate also initially considered a long shot, with 63 articles covering the Trump campaign and 14 covering the Sanders campaign.[199][200] A December 2015 report found that the three major networks – CBS, NBC, and ABC – had spent 234 minutes reporting on Trump and 10 minutes on Sanders, despite their similar polling results. The report noted that ABC World News Tonight had spent 81 minutes on Trump and less than one minute on Sanders during 2015.[201]

In November 2016 Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! noted that on March 15, Super Tuesday III, the speeches of Trump, Clinton, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz were broadcast in full. Sanders was in Phoenix, Arizona, on that date, speaking to a rally larger than any of the others, but his speech was not mentioned, let alone broadcast.[202] Other analysts disputed that the media was biased against Sanders. According to Vox's Matthew Yglesias, the media was biased in his favor, as it had a "systematic self-interested bias toward exaggerating how close the race is."[203] In September 2015 George Washington University political scientist John Sides failed to find evidence that there was less coverage of Sanders than would be expected for a candidate who was considered unlikely to win,[204] saying, "if anything, you could make the case for the opposite: that Sanders is getting more coverage than he 'should' based on his chances of winning, perhaps because the media's framing the Democratic race as competitive makes it more interesting to readers."[204] The media coverage that Sanders did get was far less negative than Clinton's, according to Sides.[204] Jonathan Stray of Harvard University's Nieman Lab found in January 2016 that media coverage of Sanders was proportional to his standing in the polls.[205]

A 2016 report by the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that Sanders did not get much media coverage in early 2015 due to initial low poll numbers, but as he "began to get coverage, it was overwhelmingly positive in tone. Sanders' coverage in 2015 was the most favorable of any of the top candidates, Republican or Democratic",[206] while Clinton received "by far the most negative coverage of any candidate."[206] A second 2016 Shorenstein Center report found that "Sanders was the only candidate during the primary period to receive a positive balance of coverage"[207] and that the ratio of Clinton-Sanders coverage in 2016 was 54–46% in weeks 5–11 and 61–39% in weeks 12–19, while the ratio of Trump-Clinton-Sanders coverage was 43–37–20% in weeks 20–24.[207] As the primary progressed, coverage of Sanders was increasingly dominated by his electoral defeats and increasingly smaller chance to win the Democratic nomination.[207]

An analysis in Newsweek found that 12% of those who voted for Sanders in the Democratic primary voted for Trump in the general election, enough to swing the election in his favor. By comparison, 25% of those who voted for Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary voted for Republican nominee John McCain in the general election.[208]


Sanders campaigning for Hillary Clinton at Nashua Community College in October 2016

Sanders campaigning for Hillary Clinton at Nashua Community College in October 2016

After the final primary election, Clinton became the presumptive Democratic nominee.[209] On July 12 Sanders formally endorsed Clinton,[210] and he continued to work with the Democratic National Convention organizers to implement the progressive positions he had been campaigning for. Sanders spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention on July 25, giving Clinton his full support. Some of Sanders's supporters attempted to protest Clinton's nomination and booed when Sanders called for party unity. Sanders responded, "Our job is to do two things: to defeat Donald Trump and to elect Hillary Clinton ... It is easy to boo, but it is harder to look your kids in the face if we are living under a Trump presidency."[211]

On November 8, in the general election, Sanders received almost 6% of the vote in Vermont, though he was no longer a candidate. This was the highest share of a statewide presidential vote for a write-in draft campaign in American history.[212] He also received more votes in Vermont than Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, and Jill Stein, the Green candidate, combined.[213]

It was possible to vote for Sanders as a write-in candidate in 12 states,[214] and exact totals of write-in votes for Sanders were published in three of them: California,[215] New Hampshire,[216] and Vermont.[213] In those three states, Sanders received 111,850 write-in votes, approximately 15% of the write-in votes nationwide, and less than 1% of total nationwide vote.[214]

In November 2016 Sanders's book Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In was released; upon its release, it was number 3 on The New York Times Best Seller list. The audiobook received a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word Album.[217] In 2016 Sanders formed Our Revolution, a political organization dedicated to educating voters about issues, getting people involved in the political process, and electing progressive candidates. In February 2017 he began webcasting The Bernie Sanders Show on Facebook. Polls taken in 2017 found Sanders to be the most popular politician in the United States.[168][218]


In February 2018 Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election revealed that Russians communicated false information during the primary campaigns to benefit Sanders and Stein and harm Clinton.[219] Sanders rejected the investigation's conclusion, saying that he had seen no evidence that Russians helped his campaign.[220] He furthermore blamed the Clinton campaign for not doing more to prevent Russian interference.[220] Sanders later said his campaign had taken action to prevent Russian meddling in the election and that a campaign staffer had alerted the Clinton campaign.[221] Politico noted that a Sanders campaign volunteer contacted a political action committee (PAC) that supported the Clinton campaign to report suspicious activities but that the Sanders campaign did not contact the Clinton campaign as such.[221]

Effect of the Sanders campaign on the Democratic Party

A variety of analysts have suggested that Sanders's campaign shifted both the Clinton campaign and the Democratic party politically leftward. Speaking on the PBS Newshour about the upcoming 2018 elections and discussing the main principles of the two major parties, Susan Page described the Republican party as "Trump's party" and the Democratic party as "Bernie Sanders's party", saying that "Sanders and his more progressive stance has really taken hold."[222] Noting the increasing acceptance of Sanders's national single-payer health-care program, his $15-an-hour minimum wage stance, free college tuition and many of the other campaign platform issues he introduced, an April 2018 opinion article in The Week suggested, "Quietly but steadily, the Democratic Party is admitting that Sanders was right."[223] In July 2016 a Slate article called the Democratic platform draft "a monument to his campaign", noting not only Sanders's call for a $15 minimum wage, but other Sanders campaign issues, such as Social Security expansion, a carbon tax, Wall Street reform, opposition to the death penalty, and a "reasoned pathway for future legalization" of marijuana.[224]

Political activities: 2016-2019

Sanders's book Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In was released in November 2016. Upon its release, it was on The New York Times Best Seller list at number 3.[225]

To build on momentum gained during the 2016 election campaign, Sanders and supporters founded a political action committee and a political education organization:

  • Brand New Congress – In April 2016, former Sanders presidential campaign staffers formed a political organization, Brand New Congress, to elect Congressional representatives in line with the campaign's political platform.[226]

  • Our Revolution – In August 2016, Sanders founded Our Revolution, an organization dedicated to educating voters about political issues, getting people involved in the political process, and recruiting and supporting candidates for local, state, and national office.[227][228]

On February 16, 2017, Sanders began webcasting The Bernie Sanders Show using Facebook live streaming. As of April 2, 2017, guests have included William Barber, Josh Fox, Jane Mayer, and Bill Nye. Nye's episode has 4.6 million views and 25,000 shares.[229][230]

In September 2018 The Guardian published two op-ed pieces on the need for international progressive cooperation to challenge the rising threat of globalism, threat of authoritarianism and wealth inequality, one by Sanders[231] and another by European progressive Yanis Varoufakis.[232] In late October Varoufakis announced the upcoming launch of Progressives International on November 30 in Vermont.[233]

In 2018 Sanders sponsored a bill with Senators Chris Murphy (D–CT) and Mike Lee (R–UT) to invoke the 1973 War Powers Resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen,[234] which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties[235] and "millions more suffering from starvation and disease".[236] Sanders first introduced the bill in February 2018, but the Senate voted to table the motion the next month;[237] after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 (which, according to multiple intelligence agencies, was ordered by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman),[238] Sanders's bill attracted bipartisan co-sponsors and support, and the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 56–41 [454] on December 13.[234][235][236][238]

In a statement after the Senate's passage of the bill, Sanders said the following about his rationale for leading the bipartisan effort to pass it:[239]

"I want to stress the bipartisan nature of this legislation. We have brought Republicans and Democrats together in a very historic moment. And what that moment is about is that the Senate this afternoon stated that we will not continue participation in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which has resulted in the worst humanitarian crisis on Earth. And that crisis is about 85,000 children starving to death; 10,000 new cases of cholera every single week; and the United Nations telling us that Yemen is on the verge of imminent famine, with the possibility of millions of people dying, all because of Saudi activities in that civil war. And today what the United States Senate said in a very loud way is that we will not continue to have our military posture dictated by a despotic, murderous regime in Saudi Arabia – a regime which does not respect democracy, which does not respect human rights, a regime whose leader nobody doubts was involved in the horrific murder of a dissident journalist in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, Jamal Khashoggi."[239]

The bill must also be passed by the House and signed by President Trump before it becomes law;[234] if it does, it will be the first-ever invocation of the War Powers Resolution.[234]

In March 2019 Sanders, along with seven other members of Congress including Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, signed a pledge written by veterans and their families to bring a "responsible and expedient" end to U.S. military interventions around the globe.[240]

2020 presidential campaign

Sanders campaigning for President in San Francisco, California in June 2019

Sanders campaigning for President in San Francisco, California in June 2019

On February 19, 2019, Sanders announced on Vermont Public Radio that he would seek the Democratic Party's nomination for President of the United States in the 2020 election.[241] On the same day he announced his campaign in an interview with John Dickerson on CBS This Morning[242] and in an email to his supporters.[243] Sanders had declined the Vermont Democratic Party nomination for U.S. Senate in 2006, 2012 and 2018, which caused an unsuccessful legal challenge to his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. Along with his 2019 campaign announcement, he said he would abide by a new Democratic Party rule for presidential candidates and would affirm his membership in that party.[244] On March 5, 2019, he signed a formal statement, known as a "loyalty pledge," that he is a member of the Democratic Party and will serve as a Democrat if elected. News reports noted that the day before he had signed paperwork to run as an independent for reelection to his Senate seat in 2024.[245]

Campaign methods

Given the high national profile Sanders has maintained since his 2016 campaign, NPR described him as "no longer an underdog" when he announced his 2020 campaign.[246] Nevertheless, his campaign has employed many of the same methods as its 2016 counterpart, eschewing a Super PAC and relying predominantly on individual, small-dollar contributions.

Political positions

Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist,[251] and progressive who admires the Nordic model of social democracy and has been a proponent of workplace democracy.[252][248][253] In November 2015 he gave a speech at Georgetown University about his view of democratic socialism, including its place in the policies of presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson.[254][255] In defining what democratic socialism means to him, Sanders said: "I don't believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up, not down. I do believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America, companies that create jobs here, rather than companies that are shutting down in America and increasing their profits by exploiting low-wage labor abroad."[254] Based on Sanders's positions and votes throughout his political career, Noam Chomsky and Thomas Frank have described Sanders as "a New Dealer".[2][256]

Party affiliations

Sanders joined Vermont's Liberty Union Party in 1971 and was a candidate for several offices, never coming close to winning election. He became party chairman,[61] but quit in 1977 to become an independent.[257] In 1980 he served as an elector for the Socialist Workers Party.[258]

In 1981 Sanders ran as an independent for mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and defeated the Democratic incumbent. He was reelected three times.[259] Sanders first ran for the US House of Representatives in 1988 and for the US Senate in 2006, each time adopting a strategy of winning the Democratic Party primary, thereby eliminating Democratic challengers, and then running as an independent in the general election.[260] He continued this strategy through his reelection in the 2018 United States Senate election in Vermont.[261] Throughout his tenure in Congress, he has been listed as an independent. He caucused with the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the House[19] while refusing to join the Democratic caucus or party,[86] and caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate.[160]

Sanders's campaigns for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination have created controversy about his affiliation. On the 2016 campaign trail, he affirmed that he was a Democrat running for the Democratic nomination.[262] But both Sanders and the Senate website continued to refer to him as an independent senator during and after the campaign.[263][264] His party status became ambiguous once again in March 2019 when he signed a formal "loyalty pledge" to the Democratic Party stating that he is a member of the party and will serve as a Democrat if elected president. He signed the pledge the day after he signed paperwork to run as an independent for reelection to the Senate in 2024.[245]

Evaluations of his ideology

Commentators have noted the consistency of Sanders's views throughout his political career.[265][266] Many have examined his political platform and variety of democratic socialism and found it to be based on tax-funded social benefits rather than social ownership of the means of production.

Some writers have variously described Sanders's political philosophy as "welfarism"[267] or "social democracy"[268] but not democratic socialism as defined as "an attempt to create a property-free, socialist society".[269]

Some members of various US socialist parties and organizations have said that Sanders is a reformer of capitalism, not a socialist.[270][271][272]

Others distinguish among socialism, social democracy, and democratic socialism, and describe his philosophy as an extension of such existing liberal programs in the US as Social Security and Medicare[273][274][256] and more consistent with the social democracy found in much of Europe, especially the Nordic countries.[275][276]

Bush Administration

In March 2006, after a series of resolutions passed in various Vermont towns calling for him to bring articles of impeachment against George W. Bush, Sanders stated that it would be "impractical to talk about impeachment" with Republicans in control of the House and Senate.[277] Still, Sanders made no secret of his opposition to the Bush Administration, which he regularly criticized for its cuts to social programs.[278][279][280]

Climate change

Sanders advocates bold action to reverse global warming and substantial investment in infrastructure, with "energy efficiency and sustainability" and job creation as prominent goals.[281][282] He considers climate change the greatest threat to national security.[283][284] Sanders said that family planning can help fight climate change.[285] Sanders opposes the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on the grounds that, like the Keystone XL Pipeline, it "will have a significant impact on our climate."[286]

On July 9, 2019, Sanders and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Earl Blumenauer proposed legislation that would declare climate change a national and international emergency.[287]

Democratic Party

Born into a Democratic-voting family, Sanders was first introduced to political activism when his brother Larry joined the Young Democrats of America and campaigned for Adlai Stevenson II in 1956.[288] Although elected mayor of Burlington as an independent, Sanders endorsed Democratic presidential candidates Walter Mondale in 1984 and Jesse Jackson in 1988. His endorsement of Mondale was lukewarm (telling reporters that "if you go around saying that Mondale would be a great president, you would be a liar and a hypocrite"), but he supported Jackson enthusiastically.[289] The Washington Post reported that the Jackson campaign helped inspire Sanders to work more closely with the Democratic Party.[289][51]

Once elected to the House of Representatives, Sanders joined the Democratic caucus, though some conservative southern Democrats initially barred him from the caucus as they believed that allowing a self-described socialist to join it would harm their electoral prospects.[51] He soon came to work constructively with Democrats, voting with the party more than 90 percent of the time during his tenure in the House and Senate.[51]

Starting in November 2015, in connection with his presidential campaign, Sanders's announcements suggested that not only was he running as a Democrat, but that he would run as a Democrat in future elections.[290][291][292] When challenged by Clinton about his party commitment, he said, "Of course I am a Democrat and running for the Democratic nomination."[262] Since he remained a senator, elected as an independent, the United States Senate website continued to refer to Sanders as an independent during the campaign and upon his return to the Senate.[263] He confirmed at the end of the campaign that he remained an independent in the senate for the balance of his term, since that was how he was elected.[264]

Sanders advocated that, following Trump's victory in the 2016 elections, the Democratic Party undergo a "series of reforms" and that it had to "break loose from its corporate establishment ties and, once again, become a grass-roots party of working people, the elderly and the poor."[293]

Sanders drew parallels between his campaign and that of the Labour Party in the 2017 UK general election.[294][295] He wrote in The New York Times that "the British elections should be a lesson for the Democratic Party" and urged the Democrats to stop holding on to an "overly cautious, centrist ideology", arguing that "momentum shifted to Labour after it released a very progressive manifesto that generated much enthusiasm among young people and workers".[296][297] He had earlier praised Jeremy Corbyn's stance on class issues.[298]

In October 2017 Sanders said he would run for reelection as an independent in 2018 though he was pressured to run as a Democrat.[299]

Distribution of wealth

Sanders opposed the 2017 Trump/Republican federal budget plan, calling it "a budget for the billionaire class, for Wall Street, for corporate CEOs, and for the wealthiest people in this country ... nothing less than a massive transfer of wealth from working families, the elderly, children, the sick and the poor to the top 1%".[300]

Following the November 2017 revelations from the Paradise Papers and a recent report from the Institute for Policy Studies which says just three people, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, own more wealth than the bottom half of the U.S. population, Sanders stated that "we must end global oligarchy" and that "we need, in the United States and throughout the world, a tax system which is fair, progressive and transparent."[301]

Foreign policy

On June 12, 2017, U.S. senators reached an agreement on legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia and Iran.[302] The bill was opposed only by Sanders and Republican Rand Paul.[303] Sanders supported the sanctions on Russia, but voted against the bill because he believed the sanctions could endanger the Iran nuclear deal.[304]

Addressing Westminster College in a September 2017 speech, Sanders laid out a "progressive foreign policy" that pushes for greater international collaboration, an adherence to U.S.-led international agreements such as the Paris Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal framework, and the promotion of human rights and democratic ideals. He emphasized the evils associated with "outrageous" global economic inequality and climate change, and urged reining in the use of U.S. military power, saying it "must always be a last resort". Sanders also heavily criticized U.S. support for "murderous regimes" during the Cold War, such as those in Iran, Chile and El Salvador, and said that those actions continue to make the U.S. less safe.[305][306] He also spoke critically of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections and the way President Trump has handled the crisis.[307]

In September 2017 Sanders said that Saudi Arabia is "an undemocratic country that has supported terrorism around the world, it has funded terrorism. ... They are not an ally of the United States."[308] In an October 2018 column for The New York Times, Sanders called on the United States to end its backing of the Saudi intervention in Yemen against the Houthis, saying that US support for this war makes it complicit in crimes against humanity and is unconstitutional because its participation has not been authorized by Congress.[309]

In 2019 Sanders called on Brazilian authorities to immediately release former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from prison and drop all charges after an enormous trove of leaked documents confirmed suspicions that the case against Lula was a politically motivated effort to prevent him from winning the 2018 election.[310]

Gun laws

Sanders supports banning assault weapons, universal federal background checks, and closing the gun show loophole.[311][312][313] In 1990, Sanders was supported by the NRA in his bid to become a U.S. Representative in exchange for opposing both the competing campaign of Peter Smith, who had reversed his stance on firearm restrictions, and waiting periods for handgun purchases.[314] In 1993, while a U.S. Representative, he voted against the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (which established background checks and wait periods), and in 2005 he voted for legislation that gave gun manufacturers legal immunity against claims of negligence, but as of 2016 he has said that he would support repealing that law.[103] In 1996 he voted against additional funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for research on issues related to firearms, but in 2016 he called for an increase in CDC funding for the study of gun violence.[103]

Health care

Don't Take Our Health Care rally in Columbus, Ohio, June 2017

Don't Take Our Health Care rally in Columbus, Ohio, June 2017

Sanders is a staunch supporter of a universal health care system, and has said, "If you are serious about real healthcare reform, the only way to go is single-payer."[315] He advocates lowering the cost of drugs that are expensive because they remain under patent for years; some drugs that cost thousands of dollars per year in the U.S. are available for hundreds, or less, in countries where they can be obtained as generics.[316] As chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, Sanders has introduced legislation to reauthorize and strengthen the Older Americans Act, which supports Meals on Wheels and other programs for seniors.[317] He supported the Affordable Care Act, though he said it did not go far enough.[318]

On May 4, 2017, in response to the House vote to repeal and replace The Affordable Care Act, Sanders predicted "thousands of Americans would die" from no longer having access to health care.[319] Politifact rated Sanders's statement "mostly true".[320]

In September 2017 Sanders and 15 Senate co-sponsors submitted the Medicare for All bill, a single-payer health care plan. The bill covers vision and dental care, unlike Medicare. Some Republicans have called the bill "Berniecare" and "the latest Democratic push for socialized medicine and higher taxes." Sanders responded that the Republican party has no credibility on the issue of health care after voting for legislation that would take health insurance away from 32 million people under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).[321]


In 2007 Sanders helped kill a bill introducing comprehensive immigration reform, arguing that its guest-worker program would depress wages for American workers.[322] In 2010 he supported the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors.[322] In 2013 he supported the Gang of Eight's comprehensive immigration reform bill after advocating for the provision of a $1.5 billion youth jobs program, which he argued would offset the harm of labor market competition with immigrants.[322]

Social benefits

Sanders focuses on economic issues such as income and wealth inequality,[247][323] poverty,[324] raising the minimum wage,[149] universal healthcare,[315] cancelling all student debt,[325] making public colleges and universities tuition-free by taxing financial transactions,[326] and expanding Social Security benefits by eliminating the cap on the payroll tax on all incomes above $250,000.[327][328] He has become a prominent supporter of laws requiring companies to give their workers parental leave, sick leave, and vacation time, noting that such laws have been adopted by nearly all other developed countries.[329] He also supports legislation that would make it easier for workers to join or form a trade union.[330][331]

Social issues

Sanders has liberal stances on social issues. He advocated for LGBT rights as Mayor of Burlington in 1983 and voted against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. In 2006 Sanders indicated that the time was not right for legalization of same-sex marriage in Vermont, describing the issue as properly handled at the state, not the national, level, but in 2009 he supported the legalization of same-sex marriage in Vermont, which was enacted that year.[332] He considers himself a feminist,[333] is pro-choice on abortion, and opposes the de-funding of Planned Parenthood.[334] Sanders has denounced institutional racism and called for criminal justice reform to reduce the number of people in prison,[335] advocates a crackdown on police brutality, and supports abolishing private, for-profit prisons[336][337][338] and the death penalty.[339] Sanders supports Black Lives Matter.[340] He supports legalizing marijuana at the federal level.[341]


Calling international trade agreements a "disaster for the American worker", Sanders voted against and has spoken for years against NAFTA, CAFTA, and PNTR with China, saying that they have resulted in American corporations moving abroad. He also strongly opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he says was "written by corporate America and the pharmaceutical industry and Wall Street."[342][343] On May 1, 2019, Sanders tweeted: "Since the China trade deal I voted against, America has lost over three million manufacturing jobs. It's wrong to pretend that China isn't one of our major economic competitors."[344]

Trump administration

Sanders criticized President Trump for appointing multiple billionaires to his cabinet.[345] He criticized Trump's rolling back President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, noting the scientifically reported effect on climate change of human activity and citing Trump's calling those reports a hoax.[346] He called for caution on the Syrian Civil War, saying, "it's easier to get into a war than out of one."[347] Sanders has promised to defeat "Trump and Trumpism and the Republican right-wing ideology".[348]

Sanders condemned Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, because "It would dramatically undermine the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and severely, perhaps irreparably, damage the United States' ability to broker that peace."[349] He gave an online reply to Trump's January 2018 State of the Union address in which he called Trump "compulsively dishonest" and criticized him for initiating "a looming immigration crisis" by ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He voiced concern about Trump's failure to mention the finding that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election and "will likely interfere in the 2018 midterms we will be holding ... Unless you have a very special relationship with Mr. Putin."[350]

War and peace

Sanders opposed funding Nicaraguan rebels, known as contras, during CIA's covert war against Nicaragua's leftist government.[351] He strongly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and has criticized a number of policies instituted during the War on Terror, particularly mass surveillance and the USA Patriot Act.[352][353][354] He criticized Israel's actions during the 2014 Gaza war[355] and U.S. involvement in the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen.[356] On November 15, 2015, in response to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)'s attacks in Paris, Sanders cautioned against "Islamophobia" and said, "We gotta be tough, not stupid" in the war against ISIL, adding that the U.S. should continue to welcome Syrian refugees.[357]

Personal life

Sanders with his wife Jane O'Meara in Des Moines, Iowa, January 2016

Sanders with his wife Jane O'Meara in Des Moines, Iowa, January 2016

In 1963 Sanders and Deborah Shiling Messing, whom he met in college, volunteered for several months on the Israeli kibbutz Sha'ar HaAmakim. They married in 1964 and bought a summer home in Vermont; they had no children and divorced in 1966.[37][358][359][360] Sanders's son (and only biological child), Levi Sanders, was born in 1969 to girlfriend Susan Campbell Mott.[35] In 1988 Sanders married Jane O'Meara Driscoll (née Mary Jane O'Meara), who later became president of Burlington College, in Burlington, Vermont.[361] The day after their wedding, the couple visited the Soviet Union as part of an official delegation in his capacity as mayor.[362][363] Sanders considers Jane's three children—Dave Driscoll (born 1975), Carina Driscoll (born 1974), and Heather Titus (née Driscoll; 1971)—to be his own.[37][364] He also has seven grandchildren.[365]

In December 1987, during his tenure as mayor of Burlington, Sanders recorded a folk album, We Shall Overcome, with 30 Vermont musicians. As he was not a skilled singer, he performed his vocals in a talking blues style.[366][367] Sanders appeared in a cameo role in the 1988 comedy-drama film Sweet Hearts Dance, playing a man who distributes candy to young trick-or-treaters.[368] In 1999 he acted in the film My X-Girlfriend's Wedding Reception, playing Rabbi Manny Shevitz. In this role he mourned the Brooklyn Dodgers' move to Los Angeles, reflecting Sanders's own upbringing in Brooklyn.[369] On February 6, 2016, Sanders was a guest star alongside Larry David on Saturday Night Live, playing a Polish immigrant on a steamship that was sinking near the Statue of Liberty.[370]

On December 4, 2015, Sanders won Time's 2015 Person of the Year readers' poll with 10.2% of the vote[371][372] but did not receive the editorial board's award. On March 20, 2016, he was given an honorary Coast Salish name, dxʷshudičup,[3] by Deborah Parker in Seattle to honor his focus on Native American issues during his presidential campaign.[373]

Sanders's elder brother, Larry, lives in England.[374] He was a Green Party county councillor, representing the East Oxford division on Oxfordshire County Council, until he retired from the Council in 2013.[375][376] Larry ran as a Green Party candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon in the 2015 British general election and came in fifth.[377][378] Sanders told CNN, "I owe my brother an enormous amount. It was my brother who actually introduced me to a lot of my ideas."[378]

On May 30, 2017, Sanders received an Honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Brooklyn College.[379]

After complaints made in 2016 by Donald Trump's Vermont campaign chairman, the FBI launched an investigation into Sanders's wife Jane's involvement in a bank loan for Burlington College when she was its president.[380][381][382][383] The Washington Post reported on June 25, 2017, that Sanders himself was not under FBI investigation.[384] Both Sanders and his wife retained prominent counsel during the investigation.[382][383] In November 2018 the U.S. Attorney for Vermont informed Jane Sanders that the investigation had ended and no charges would be filed.[385]

In 2016 and 2017 Sanders reported earnings of just over $1 million, mostly royalties and advances for his recently published books.[386][387] He and his wife own a row house in Capitol Hill, a house in Burlington's New North End neighborhood, and a lakefront summer home in North Hero.[388][389][390][391]

Religion, heritage, and values

As Sanders described his upbringing as an American Jew in a 2016 speech: his father generally attended synagogue only on Yom Kippur; he attended public schools while his mother "chafed" at his yeshiva Sunday schooling at a Hebrew school; and their religious observances were mostly limited to Passover seders with their neighbors. Larry Sanders said of their parents, "They were very pleased to be Jews, but didn't have a strong belief in God."[392] Bernie had a bar mitzvah[393] at the historic Kingsway Jewish Center in Midwood, Brooklyn, where he grew up.[392]

In 1963, in cooperation with the Labor Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, Sanders and his first wife volunteered at Sha'ar HaAmakim, a kibbutz in northern Israel.[394][395][396][397] His motivation for the trip was as much socialistic as it was Zionistic.[392]

As mayor of Burlington Sanders allowed a Chabad public menorah to be placed at city hall, an action the ACLU contested. He publicly inaugurated the Hanukkah menorah and performed the Jewish religious ritual of blessing Hanukkah candles.[392] His early and strong support played a significant role in the now widespread public menorah celebrations around the globe.[398][399][400][401] When asked about his Jewish heritage, Sanders has said he is "proud to be Jewish".[397][25]

Sanders rarely speaks about religion.[393] He describes himself as "not particularly religious"[25] and "not actively involved" with organized religion.[393] A press package issued by his office states "Religion: Jewish".[402] He has said he believes in God, but not necessarily in a traditional manner: "I think everyone believes in God in their own ways," he said. "To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together."[393][403] In October 2015, on the late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Kimmel asked Sanders, "You say you are culturally Jewish and you don't feel religious; do you believe in God and do you think that's important to the people of the United States?" Sanders replied:[404]

I am who I am, and what I believe in and what my spirituality is about is that we're all in this together. That I think it is not a good thing to believe as human beings we can turn our backs on the suffering of other people ... and this is not Judaism, this is what Pope Francis is talking about, that we can't just worship billionaires and the making of more and more money. Life is more than that.

In 2016 he said he had "very strong religious and spiritual feelings", adding, "My spirituality is that we are all in this together and that when children go hungry, when veterans sleep out on the street, it impacts me."[405]

Sanders does not regularly attend synagogue, and he works on Rosh Hashanah, a day Jews typically do not work. He has attended yahrzeit observances in memory of the deceased, for the father of a friend, and in 2015 attended a Tashlikh, an atonement ceremony, with the mayor of Lynchburg on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah.[392] According to Sanders's close friend Richard Sugarman, a professor of religious studies at the University of Vermont, Sanders's Jewish identity is "certainly more ethnic and cultural than religious".[406] Deborah Dash Moore, a Judaic scholar at the University of Michigan, has said that Sanders has a particular type of "ethnic Jewishness" that is somewhat old-fashioned.[407] Sanders's wife is Roman Catholic, and he has frequently expressed admiration for Pope Francis, saying that "the leader of the Catholic Church is raising profound issues. It is important that we listen to what he has said." Sanders has said he feels "very close" to Francis's economic teachings, describing him as "incredibly smart and brave".[18][408][409] In April 2016 Sanders accepted an invitation from Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, an aide close to Francis, to speak at a Vatican conference on economic and environmental issues. While at the Vatican, Sanders met briefly with Francis.[410][411]


  • Outsider in the White House (1997; 2015)

  • The Speech: On Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class (2010; 2015)

  • Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In (2016)

  • Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution (2017)

  • Where We Go from Here: Two Years in the Resistance (2018)

See also

  • American Left

  • 2016 Democratic Party presidential candidates

  • 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries

  • History of the socialist movement in the United States

  • Healthcare reform in the United States

  • List of elected socialist mayors in the United States

  • List of Jewish members of the United States Congress

  • List of people who received an electoral vote in the United States Electoral College

  • United States National Health Care Act

  • Progressivism in the United States

  • Senate Democratic Caucus

  • Third party officeholders in the United States

  • The People for Bernie Sanders

  • Spintharus berniesandersi


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