Bernie Sanders

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Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders.jpg
Sanders's official Senate portrait
United States Senator
from Vermont
Assumed office
January 3, 2007
Serving with Patrick Leahy
Preceded by Jim Jeffords
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs
In office
January 3, 2013 – January 3, 2015
Preceded by Patty Murray
Succeeded by Johnny Isakson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Vermont's At-large district
In office
January 3, 1991 – January 3, 2007
Preceded by Peter Smith
Succeeded by Peter Welch
Mayor of Burlington
In office
April 6, 1981 – April 1989
Preceded by Gordon Paquette
Succeeded by Peter Clavelle
Personal details
Born Bernard Sanders
(1941-09-08) September 8, 1941 (age 73)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Political party Independent (caucuses with the Democratic Party)
Other political
Liberty Union (1971–1979)
Vermont Progressive (affiliated)[1]
Spouse(s) Deborah Shiling (1964–1966)
Jane (O'Meara) Driscoll (1988–present)[2]
Children Levi (with Susan Mott)
3 stepchildren
Alma mater University of Chicago
Religion Jewish[3][4]
Website Senate website
Presidential campaign website

Bernard "Bernie" Sanders (born September 8, 1941) is an American politician and the junior United States Senator from Vermont.

Sanders is the longest-serving independent in U.S. congressional history. A self-described democratic socialist,[5][6][7][8] he favors policies similar to those of social democratic parties in Europe, particularly those of Scandinavia.[9][10][11] He caucuses with the Democratic Party and has been the ranking minority member on the Senate Budget Committee since January 2015.[12]

After unsuccessful candidacies for Vermont's governor and U.S. senator in the early to mid-1970s, Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont's most populous city, in 1981. He was reelected to three more two-year mayoral terms before being elected to represent Vermont's at-large congressional district in the United States House of Representatives in 1990. He served as a congressman for 16 years before being elected to succeed the retiring Republican-turned-independent Jim Jeffords in the U.S. Senate in 2006. In 2012, he was reelected by a large margin, capturing almost 71% of the popular vote.

Since his election to the Senate, Sanders has emerged as a leading progressive voice on issues like income inequality,[6] climate change,[13] and campaign finance reform.[14] He rose to national prominence on the heels of his 2010 filibuster[15][16] of the proposed extension of the Bush-era tax rates for the wealthy. Sanders is also outspoken on civil liberties issues, and has been particularly critical of mass surveillance policies such as the Patriot Act.[17][18]

Sanders announced his intentions to seek the Democratic Party's nomination for President on April 30, 2015, in an address on the Capitol lawn.[19][20][21] His campaign was officially launched on May 26 in Burlington.[22]

Early life and education[edit]

Bernie Sanders was born on September 8, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Eli and Dorothy (Glassberg) Sanders.[23][24] His father was a Jewish immigrant from Poland whose family was killed in the Holocaust,[23][25][26] while his mother was born to Jewish parents in New York.[27][28]

Sanders attended elementary school at P.S. 197, where he won a state championship on the basketball team. He attended Hebrew school in the afternoons and had his bar mitzvah in 1954. Sanders attended James Madison High School, where he was captain of the track team.[29] While at Madison, Sanders lost his first election, finishing last out of three for the student body presidency. Sanders's mother died in June 1959 at the age of 46 shortly after Sanders graduated from high school.[25]


Sanders went to Brooklyn College for a year before transferring to the University of Chicago.

He was a member of the Young People's Socialist League,[30] the youth affiliate of the Socialist Party of America.

Civil Rights[edit]

While attending the University of Chicago, he was active in the Civil Rights Movement, and a student organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.[26][31] One of the actions he took was the coordination of sit-in protests against segregated campus housing, for which he was arrested.[32] Sanders also participated in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.[33]


In 1964, Sanders graduated from the University of Chicago with a bachelor of arts degree in political science, married his first wife, Deborah Shiling, and bought a summer home in Vermont. Over the next few years he took various jobs in New York and Vermont and spent several months on an Israeli kibbutz. By 1968, he was living in Vermont year-round.[30]

Early political career[edit]

Liberty Union campaigns[edit]

Sanders began his political career in 1971 as a member of the Liberty Union Party, which originated in the anti-war and people's party movement. He ran as the Liberty Union candidate for governor in 1972 and 1976 and as a candidate for senator in 1972 and 1974.[34] In the 1974 race, Sanders finished third (5,901; 4.1%) behind the victor, 33-year-old Chittenden County State's Attorney Patrick Leahy (D, VI; 70,629; 49.4%), and two-term incumbent U.S. Representative Dick Mallary (R; 66,223; 46.3%).[35][36] In 1979, Sanders resigned from the party and worked as a writer and the director of the nonprofit American People's Historical Society.[34] While with the APHS, he made a 30-minute documentary about American Socialist leader and presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs.[30][37]

Mayor of Burlington[edit]

In 1981, at the suggestion of his friend Richard Sugarman, a professor of religion at the University of Vermont, Sanders ran for mayor of Burlington and defeated six-term Democratic incumbent Gordon Paquette by 10 votes in a four-way contest.[38] Sanders won three more terms, defeating both Democratic and Republican candidates. In his final run for mayor in 1987, Sanders defeated Paul Lafayette, a Democrat who was endorsed by both major parties.[39]

During Sanders's first term, his supporters, including the first Citizens Party City Councilor Terry Bouricius, formed the Progressive Coalition, the forerunner of the Vermont Progressive Party.[citation needed] The Progressives never held more than six seats on the 13-member city council but had enough votes to keep the council from overriding Sanders's vetoes.[citation needed] Under Sanders, Burlington became the first city in the country to fund community-trust housing.

Sanders's administration balanced the city budget, and drew a minor league baseball team, the Vermont Reds, to Burlington.[23] The Sanders administration also "sued the local cable franchise and won reduced rates for customers."[23]

As mayor, Sanders "undertook ambitious downtown revitalization projects"; one signature achievement was the improvement of Burlington's Lake Champlain waterfront.[23] In 1981, Sanders campaigned against the unpopular plans by Tony Pomerleau, a Burlington developer, to convert the then-industrial[40] waterfront property owned by the Central Vermont Railway into expensive condominiums, hotels, and offices.[41] 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.[41] This was greatly assisted by a 1989 Vermont Supreme Court ruling that under a legal provision, Central Vermont Railroad could only use the land for "railroad, wharf, and storage purposes"; 35 acres of railroad land reverted to the city.[41] Today, the waterfront area includes miles of public beach and bike paths, along with a boathouse, many parks, and a science center.[41] In 2015, Sanders announced his candidacy for president at Waterfront Park.[40]

After serving four terms, Sanders chose not to seek reelection in 1989. He briefly taught political science at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government that year and at Hamilton College in 1991.[42]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]


In 1988, incumbent Republican Congressman Jim Jeffords decided to run for the U.S. Senate, vacating Vermont's at-large congressional district. Republican Lieutenant Governor Peter Smith won the House election with a plurality of 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.[43] In 1990, Sanders ran for the seat again and defeated Smith in a rematch, 56%–40%. Sanders became the first independent elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 40 years,[44] since Frazier Reams of Ohio. Thereafter Sanders continually won reelection with high margins, with his closest bid in 1994 during the Republican Revolution, when he won by 3.3 percentage points with 49.8% of the vote.[45]


In 1991, Sanders co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and chaired the grouping of mostly liberal Democrats for its first eight years. In 1993, Sanders voted for a National Rifle Association (NRA)-supported bill to restrict lawsuits against gun manufacturers[46] and against the Brady Bill.[47] Upon the resignation of Democrat Ron Dellums in 1998, Sanders became the only Congressman to describe himself as a socialist.[citation needed]

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 initial 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists[48] that has been cited as the legal justification for controversial military actions since the September 11 attacks.[49]

Sanders has been a consistent critic of the Patriot Act. As a member of Congress, he voted against the original Patriot Act legislation.[50] After its 357 to 66 passage in the House, Sanders sponsored and voted for several subsequent amendments and acts attempting to curtail its effects,[51] and voted against each reauthorization.[52]

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. On April 7, 2006, about the investigation of what turned out to be a leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity by a State Department official, Sanders said, "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."[53]

In June 2005, Sanders proposed an amendment to limit 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 that year in House-Senate negotiations and never became law.[54] On November 5, 2005, Sanders voted against the Online Freedom of Speech Act, which would have exempted the Internet from the restrictions of the McCain–Feingold Bill.

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 it would be "impractical to talk about impeachment" with Republicans in control of the House and Senate.[55] Still, Sanders made no secret of his opposition to the Bush Administration, which he regularly criticized for its cuts to social programs.[56][57][58]

Sanders was a critic of Alan Greenspan; in June 2003, during a question-and-answer discussion with the then-Federal Reserve Chairman, Sanders told Greenspan that 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."[59][60] Sanders said in 1998 that investment banks and commercial banks should remain separate entities.[61]

U.S. Senate[edit]


Sanders being sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney

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% of the time."[62] Then-Senator Barack Obama also campaigned for Sanders in Vermont in March 2006.[63] 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.[64][65]

In the most expensive political campaign in Vermont's history,[66] Sanders defeated businessman Rich Tarrant by an approximately 2-to-1 margin. Many national media outlets projected Sanders the winner before any returns came in. He was reelected in 2012 with 71% of the vote.[67]


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.[68]

Sanders has an agreement with the Democratic leadership in the Senate under which he votes with the Democrats on all procedural matters except with permission of Democratic whip Dick Durbin—a request rarely made or granted—in exchange for the committee seats and seniority that would be available to him as a Democrat. He is free to vote as he pleases on policy matters, but almost always votes with the Democrats.[citation needed] Both the NAACP and the NHLA have given Sanders 100 percent voting scores during his tenure in the Senate.[69]


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.[70] 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.[71]

On December 10, 2010, Sanders delivered an 8½-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, saying "Enough is enough! ... How many homes can you own?"[72] (A long speech such as this is commonly known as a filibuster, but because it didn't block action, it was not technically a filibuster under Senate rules.[16]) 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.[73] Progressive activists such as Rabbi Michael Lerner and economist David Korten publicly voiced their support for a prospective Sanders run against President Barack Obama.[73]

Sanders's "filibuster" 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.[74]

Senate Budget Committee[edit]

In January 2015, Sanders became the ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee.[12] He appointed economics professor Stephanie Kelton, a distinguished modern monetary theory scholar and self-described "deficit owl," the chief economic advisor of the committee's Democratic minority[75] and presented a report aimed at helping "rebuild the disappearing middle class," which includes proposals to raise the minimum wage, boost infrastructure spending, and increase Social Security payments.[76]

Committee assignments[edit]

2016 presidential campaign[edit]

Sanders campaigning in Minnesota

In an interview with The Nation on March 6, 2014, Sanders stated that he was "prepared to run for President of the United States" in 2016[77] but did not officially announce a campaign. On April 28, 2015, Vermont Public Radio reported that Sanders would announce his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on April 30.[78][79] The official announcement came on May 26 in Burlington, Vermont.[22]

On April 30, Sanders announced he was running for president in an address on the Capitol lawn, saying, "I don't believe that the men and women who defended American democracy fought to create a situation where billionaires own the political process."[19][20] His entry into the race was welcomed by Senator Elizabeth Warren, saying "I'm glad to see him get out there and give his version of what leadership in this country should be." Warren has resisted calls to become a candidate herself.[80]

Unlike the other presidential candidates, Sanders stated he will not pursue funding through a Super PAC, instead focusing on small individual donations.[81] Sanders's presidential campaign raised $1.5 million within 24 hours of his official announcement.[82] After four days, Sanders's campaign had raised $3 million from small donors, with an average of $43 per donation.[83] On July 2, the campaign announced it had raised $15 million from 250,000 donors. (By contrast, Barack Obama attracted only 180,000 donors during the first quarter of his presidential campaign in 2007.[84])

Sanders in 2015 speaking at an event in Arizona

Sanders has used social media to help his campaign gain momentum.[85] Along with posting content on Twitter and Facebook, he held an "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit on May 19, where his answers garnered thousands of "upvotes". Sanders has also gained a large grassroots organizational following online. A July 29 meetup organized online brought 100,000 supporters to more than 3,500 simultaneous events nationwide.

On June 25, 2015, The New York Times noted that Sanders was "running right alongside [Clinton] in a statistical dead heat for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination [in the New Hampshire primaries]", citing a CNN/WMUR poll.[86] The Guardian pointed out that when Clinton and Sanders made public appearances within days of each other in Des Moines, Iowa, it was Sanders who drew larger crowds, although he had already made numerous stops around the state, while it was Clinton's first visit of the year.[87]

Sanders's campaign events in June 2015 drew "overflow crowds" around the country, to his surprise.[88][89][90] 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.[91][92] On July 18, he drew an even larger crowd in Arizona, with an estimated turnout of over 11,000.[93]

Political positions[edit]


Income and wealth inequality[edit]

A cornerstone of Sanders's campaign is to fight the decreasing income of the middle class and the increase of wealth inequality:

What we have seen is that while the average person is working longer hours for lower wages, we have seen a huge increase in income and wealth inequality, which is now reaching obscene levels. This is a rigged economy, which works for the rich and the powerful, and is not working for ordinary Americans … You know, this country just does not belong to a handful of billionaires.

The Guardian (April 2015)[6]

In July 2015, Sanders introduced legislation that would incrementally increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by the year 2020.[94][95]


Sanders supports repeal of some of the tax deductions that benefit hedge funds and corporations, and would raise taxes on capital gains and the wealthiest two percent of Americans. He would use some of the added revenues to lower the taxes of the middle and lower classes.[96][97]

Sanders has criticized offshore tax havens, saying, "[Large corporations have] evaded at least $34.5 billion in taxes by setting up more than 600 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens since 2008. As a result, at least a dozen of the companies avoided paying any federal income taxes in recent years, and even received more than $6.4 billion in tax refunds from the IRS since 2008."[98]

Wall Street reform[edit]

On May 6, 2015, Sanders introduced legislation to break up "too big to fail" financial institutions. With three of the four banks that were bailed out during the 2007–08 Global Financial Crisis now larger than they were then, Sanders believes that "no single financial institution should have holdings so extensive that its failure would send the world economy into crisis. If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist."[99][100]


Sanders is opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which he has called "a continuation of other disastrous trade agreements, like NAFTA, CAFTA, and permanent normal trade relations with China." He has said he believes Americans need to rebuild their own manufacturing base by utilizing American factories and supporting decent-paying jobs for American labor rather than outsourcing to China and other countries.[96][101]


Saying, "America once led the world in building and maintaining a nationwide network of safe and reliable bridges and roads. Today, nearly a quarter of the nation's 600,000 bridges have been designated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete...Almost one-third of America's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition...," Sanders has introduced amendments to Senate bills (S.Amendt.323) that promote the creation of millions of middle-class jobs by investing in infrastructure, paid for by closing loopholes in the corporate and international tax system.[102][103] He also supports legislation that would make it easier for workers to join or form a union.[104]

Employee ownership[edit]

Sanders supports the establishment of worker-owned cooperatives and introduced legislation in June 2014 that would aid workers who wanted to "form their own businesses or to set up worker-owned cooperatives".[104][105][106] As early as 1976, Sanders was a proponent of workplace democracy, saying, "I believe that, in the long run, major industries in this state and nation should be publicly owned and controlled by the workers themselves."[107]

Student loans[edit]

See also: Student debt

Sanders has long been an advocate of making college more affordable. He has spoken out against the high interest rates on federal student loans, noting that in the next ten years, the federal government will profit by as much as $127 billion from them. He has also criticized President Obama for signing legislation that temporarily froze student loan interest rates in exchange for allowing the rates to reach historic highs over the next two years. Sanders believes tax reform is the solution, and has developed a plan to bring matching grants from the federal and state governments to cut tuition at public universities by more than half. He has criticized both Republicans and Democrats for failing to institute reforms that will stop predatory lending practices in the student loan market.[108]

Free tuition at public universities[edit]

Sanders is in favor of public funding for college students. He believes "we live in a highly competitive global economy and, if our economy is to be strong, we need the best-educated work force in the world." He further maintains that many other developed nations in Western Europe have long taken this approach to higher education. Sanders expects his plan to meet strong opposition from the Republican Party, but says it is ultimately "the American people" who will determine its failure or success.[109]

On May 19, 2015, Sanders introduced the College for All Act (S.1373), which would use a Robin Hood tax of 50 cents on every "$100 of stock trades on stock sales" to fund tuition at four-year public colleges and universities for students who meet admission standards.[110][111][112] In addition, the Robin Hood tax would include a .5% speculation fee to be charged on investment houses, hedge funds, and other stock trades, while a .1% fee would be charged on bonds, and a .005% fee on derivatives.[113]


Global warming[edit]

Sanders considers global warming a serious problem.[13] Along with Senator Barbara Boxer, Sanders introduced the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act of 2007 on January 15, 2007.[114] In a July 26, 2012 speech on the Senate floor, Sanders addressed claims made by Senator Jim Inhofe: "The bottom line is when Senator Inhofe says global warming is a hoax, he is just dead wrong, according to the vast majority of climate scientists."[115] He was Climate Hawks Vote's top-rated senator on climate leadership in the 113th Congress.[116]

Believing that "[we need to] transform our energy system away from fossil fuel," Sanders voted against the Keystone Pipeline bill, saying, "Unless we get our act together, the planet that we're going to be leaving to our kids and grandchildren will be significantly less habitable than the planet we have right now...I think it's a good idea for the president, Congress, and the American people to listen to the overwhelming amount of scientists who tell us loudly and clearly that climate change is one of the great planetary crises that we face."[117]

Nuclear energy[edit]

In a letter addressed to President Obama following the 2011 Japanese nuclear accidents, Sanders called for a halt to new nuclear plant licensing and a review of existing licenses.[118] In the letter, he urges creation of a new nuclear safety review commission[118] and suggests that current federal law would put too much of the cost of a major nuclear accident on taxpayers.[118]

Sanders has gone on record against the government financial backing of the nuclear industry, which he calls "nuclear welfare".[119] Additionally, he expresses concern over the logistics and fiscal challenges of nuclear waste.[119] He has spoken in favor of sustainable alternatives and cites Vermont as a state leading such endeavors, saying in regards to opposition of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's 2011 extension (just one week after the Japanese accidents) of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant's operating license, "In my state there is a strong feeling that we want to go forward with energy efficiency and sustainable energy. I believe that we have that right. I believe that every other state in the country has that right. If we want to move to sustainable energy and not maintain an aging, trouble-plagued nuclear power plant, I think we should be allowed to do that."[120]

Transparency and corruption[edit]

Campaign finance[edit]

Sanders supports the DISCLOSE Act, which would make campaign finances more transparent and ban U.S. corporations controlled by foreign interests from making political expenditures.[121] He has been outspoken in calling for an overturn of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Supreme Court overturned McCain-Feingold restrictions on political spending by corporations and unions as a violation of the First Amendment.[14] Saying that he believes that the Citizens United decision is "one of the Supreme Court's worst decisions ever" and that it has allowed big money to "deflect attention from the real issues" facing voters,[122] he has proposed a constitutional amendment to undo the ruling.[123] He warns: "We now have a political situation where billionaires are literally able to buy elections and candidates."[124]

Instant runoff voting[edit]

In 2007, Sanders testified to the Vermont Senate Government Operations Committee that he "strongly supports Instant-Runoff Voting" because it "allows people to vote for what they really want without worrying about the possibility of them getting what they really don't want."[125] The committee and legislature ultimately passed legislation that would have enacted instant runoff voting for U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators, but the governor vetoed it.[126]

Media reform[edit]

Sanders has been a leader in calling for media reform and opposes increased concentration of ownership of media outlets,[127] as well as being a contributing author for OpEdNews.[128] He appeared in Orwell Rolls in His Grave and Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, two documentaries on the subject.[129]

Foreign policy and national security[edit]

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria[edit]

Sanders has called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) "a barbaric organization" and "a growing threat," but does not believe that the U.S. should lead the fight against it. Sanders believes that "the United States should be supportive, along with other countries, but we cannot and we should not be involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East--the Muslim Countries themselves must lead the effort."[130]

Israeli–Palestinian conflict[edit]

In response to questions at a 2014 Vermont town-hall meeting, Sanders said that Israel had "overreacted" in its response to Palestinian missile attacks, but at the same time noted that Hamas was firing missiles into Israel from "populated areas". He concluded: "This is a very depressing and difficult issue. This has gone on for 60 bloody years. If you're asking me, do I have a magical solution? I don't. And you know what, I doubt very much that you do."[131] Sanders did not sign on to the Senate Resolution in support of Operation Protective Edge, a military operation Israel launched on July 8, 2014.[131] A statement published on his Senate website read in part: "Sanders believes the Israeli attacks that killed hundreds of innocent people – including many women and children – in bombings of civilian neighborhoods and UN controlled schools, hospitals, and refugee camps were disproportionate, and the widespread killing of civilians is completely unacceptable. Israel's actions took an enormous human toll, and appeared to strengthen support for Hamas and may well be sowing the seeds for even more hatred, war and destruction in future years."[132]

On March 3, 2015, Sanders was the first senator to decline to attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress.[133] He said that the address, arranged without consultation with President Obama, improperly interfered with the President's role. He also argued that it was inappropriate for Netanyahu to use the U.S. Congress for his own political purposes so close to the Israeli legislative election.[134] After the speech, Sanders released a statement supporting the Obama administration's diplomatic effort to address Iran's nuclear program and regretting that Netanyahu's speech did not offer "any serious alternatives" to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.[134] Sanders has said, "I am not a great fan of President [sic] Netanyahu" and "I think in that region, sadly, on both sides, I don't think we have the kind of leadership that we need."[135]


Sanders strongly opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and voted against the 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. In a 2002 speech, he said, "I am opposed to giving the President a blank check to launch a unilateral invasion and occupation of Iraq" and "I will vote against this resolution. One, I have not heard any estimates of how many young American men and women might die in such a war or how many tens of thousands of women and children in Iraq might also be killed. As a caring Nation, we should do everything we can to prevent the horrible suffering that a war will cause. War must be the last recourse in international relations, not the first. Second, I am deeply concerned about the precedent that a unilateral invasion of Iraq could establish in terms of international law and the role of the United Nations."[136]

Mass Surveillance[edit]

Sanders has long been critical of U.S. government surveillance policies. He voted against the USA PATRIOT Act and all of its renewals and has characterized the National Security Agency as "out of control." He has frequently criticized warrantless wiretapping and the collection of the phone, email, library, and internet browsing records of American citizens without due process:[18]

In my view, the NSA is out of control and operating in an unconstitutional manner. I worry very much about kids growing up in a society where they think 'I'm not going to talk about this issue, read this book, or explore this idea because someone may think I'm a terrorist.' That is not the kind of free society I want for our children.


Sanders won the 2014 Col. Arthur T. Marix Congressional Leadership Award from the Military Officers Association of America for his leadership in support of veterans.[137] Sanders introduced the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013 (S. 893; 113th Congress) into the Senate on May 8, 2013.[138] The bill would increase the disability compensation rate for American veterans and their families.[139] Sanders co-wrote, with Senator John McCain, the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, a bill intended to reform the United States Department of Veterans Affairs in response to the Veterans Health Administration scandal of 2014.[140]


Early childhood[edit]

Drawing figures from a recent report that ranks the U.S. 33rd out of 36 nations in reading literacy, 27th in mathematical literacy, 22nd in science literacy, and 18th overall in secondary education, Sanders has said, "In a society with our resources, it is unconscionable to that we do not properly invest in our children from the very first stages of their lives". He has introduced legislation to provide child care and early education to all children six weeks old through kindergarten. Sanders believes that "the Foundations for Success Act would provide preschool children with a full range of services, leading to success in school and critical support for hard-pressed families nationwide."[141][142][143]

Health care[edit]

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."[144] He advocates lowering the cost of drugs that are high 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.[145]

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. Sanders believes that supporting seniors "is not only the right thing to do, it is the financially smart thing to do", because it decreases expensive hospitalizations and allows seniors to remain in their homes.[146]

NARAL Pro-Choice America has given Sanders a 100% score on his pro-choice voting record.[147]

Social issues[edit]

Family values[edit]

In an effort to counter Republicans' use of the term, Sanders offers several proposals as his "family values" agenda:[141]

Sanders points to statistics that show that the United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers some form of paid family, paid sick, or vacation time, and that there are significant disparities among the types of workers who have access to paid sick and paid vacation time. As an example, he notes that over 77 percent of management, business, and financial operations workers have access to paid leave, while just 36 percent of construction workers and only 50 percent of employees who earn $540 per week do, as opposed to 83 percent of workers earning more than $1,200 per week.[141][142]

Sanders's Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act (S.1564) would provide 10 days of paid vacation for employees who have worked for an employer for at least one year. He is cosponsoring a Senate bill that would give mothers and fathers 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a baby. It would also allow workers to take the same amount of paid time off if they are diagnosed with cancer or have other serious medical conditions or to take care of family members who are seriously ill. And Sanders has cosponsored a bill that would guarantee workers at least seven paid sick days per year for short-term illness, routine medical care, or to care for a sick family member.[141][142]

Speaking on abortion, Sanders says, "[Republicans believe] that [a woman] cannot control her own body. I disagree. Let's say it loud and clear: Women control their own bodies -- not the government."[130]

Gun control[edit]

Sanders supports a ban of semi-automatic assault weapons and the closing of loopholes existing at gun shows that allow buyers to get around some regulations. He is in favor of instant background checks for gun owners.[148]

In the House of Representatives, Sanders voted for the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.[149] Speaking to CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union", Sanders said, "If somebody has a gun and it falls into the hands of a murderer and the murderer kills somebody with a gun, do you hold the gun manufacturer responsible? Not any more than you would hold a hammer company responsible if somebody beats somebody over the head with a hammer." Sanders has said, "we have millions of people who are gun owners in this country -- 99.9% of those people obey the law. I want to see real, serious debate and action on guns, but it is not going to take place if we simply have extreme positions on both sides. I think I can bring us to the middle."[148]

Criminal justice reform[edit]

Sanders has called for reforms to sentencing guidelines, drug policy, and police departments' use of force. Noting that there are more people incarcerated in the U.S. than any country in the world, at an annual cost to taxpayers of $70 billion, Sanders argues that the money would be better spent on education and jobs. He has spoken out against police brutality and the uneven rates of arrest of African-Americans and other minorities: "From Ferguson to Baltimore and across this nation, too many African-Americans and other minorities find themselves subjected to a system that treats citizens who have not committed crimes as if they were criminals and that is unacceptable."[150] After the release a video depicting the arrest of African American Sandra Bland for a minor traffic violation, Sanders strongly condemned the “totally outrageous police behavior” it showed: “This video highlights once again why we need real police reform. People should not die for a minor traffic infraction. This type of police abuse has become an all-too-common occurrence for people of color and it must stop."[151]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

In a letter he published in the early 1970s while running for governor of Vermont, Sanders called for the abolition of all laws against homosexuality.[152]

In the House, Sanders voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.[153] The bill was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996.

Vermont was the first state to legalize same-sex unions in 2000 and in 2009 was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage by statute. When the Supreme Court took up the issue in 2015, Sanders issued a statement reaffirming his support, saying gay Americans in every state should be allowed to marry: "Of course all citizens deserve equal rights. It's time for the Supreme Court to catch up to the American people and legalize gay marriage."[154]


Sanders voted for the comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013,[155] saying, "It does not make a lot of sense to me to bring hundreds of thousands of [foreign] workers into this country to work for minimum wage and compete with American kids." Sanders opposes guest worker programs[156] and is also skeptical about skilled immigrant (H-1B) visas, saying, "Last year, the top 10 employers of H-1B guest workers were all offshore outsourcing companies. These firms are responsible for shipping large numbers of American information technology jobs to India and other countries."[157] Sanders believes open borders will drive down wages and constitute a threat to American jobs. He believes a path to citizenship should be created for new immigrants.[158]

Church and state[edit]

Sanders is rated by Americans United for Separation of Church and State as strongly in favor of the separation of church and state.[159]

Personal life[edit]

Sanders married his "college sweetheart" Deborah Shiling in Baltimore in 1964. They had no children and divorced in 1966. His son, Levi Sanders, was born in 1969 to Susan Campbell Mott. In 1988 Sanders married Jane (O'Meara) Driscoll, a former president of Burlington College, in Burlington, Vermont. With her he has three stepchildren, which he considers as his own.[30][160] Sanders's brother, Larry Sanders, was a Green Party County Councillor representing the East Oxford division on Oxfordshire County Council, in England, until his retirement in 2013.[161][162][163] Larry Sanders ran as a Green Party candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon in the 2015 British general election and came in fifth.[164][165]


Sanders has said he is "proud to be Jewish", but "not particularly religious."[4] Sanders credits his Jewish identity with teaching him "in a very deep way what politics is about," explaining that "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 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important."[4]

Sanders has frequently expressed admiration for Pope Francis, saying: "the leader of the Catholic Church is raising profound issues. It is important that we listen to what he has said." On social media, Sanders often quotes Francis on economic issues and has described him as "incredibly smart and brave."[27][166]


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  164. ^ Hansen, Lauren (May 8, 2015). "Bernie Sanders' brother lost his longshot bid for British Parliament". The Week. Retrieved May 8, 2015. 
  165. ^ Collinson, Stephen (May 7, 2015). "Bernie Sanders' brotherly love". Retrieved May 8, 2015. 
  166. ^ Sanders, Bernie (February 15, 2015). "Pope Francis". U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. Retrieved June 13, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Rice, Tom W. (Summer 1985). "Who Votes for a Socialist Mayor?: The Case of Burlington, Vermont". Polity (Palgrave Macmillan Journals) 17 (4): 795–806. doi:10.2307/3234575. JSTOR 3234575. 
  • Rosenfeld, Steven (1992). Making History in Vermont: The Election of a Socialist to Congress. Wakefield, NH: Hollowbrook Publishing. ISBN 978-0893416980. 
  • Soifer, Steven (1991). The Socialist Mayor: Bernard Sanders in Burlington, Vermont. Westport, CT: Praeger. ISBN 978-0897892193. 
  • Sanders, Bernie (2012). The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class. CreateSpace Independent Publishing. ISBN 978-1468178470. 
  • Sanders, Bernie (1998). Outsider in the House. Contributions by Huck Gutman. Verso. ISBN 978-1859841778. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Gordon Paquette
Mayor of Burlington
Succeeded by
Peter Clavelle
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Peter Smith
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Vermont's At-large congressional district

Succeeded by
Peter Welch
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ed Flanagan
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Vermont
(Class 1)

2006, 2012
Most recent
United States Senate
Preceded by
Jim Jeffords
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Vermont
Served alongside: Patrick Leahy
Preceded by
Patty Murray
Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
Johnny Isakson
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Ben Cardin
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Sherrod Brown