Bernie Sanders

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Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders.jpg
United States Senator
from Vermont
Assumed office
January 3, 2007
Serving with Patrick Leahy
Preceded by Jim Jeffords
Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
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
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.
Political party Independent (1979–present)
Liberty Union (1971–1979)
Other political
Democratic (Affiliated)
Vermont Progressive (Affiliated)
Spouse(s) Jane O'Meara Driscoll
Children 4
Alma mater University of Chicago (B.A., 1964)
Religion Judaism
Website Senate website

Bernard "Bernie" Sanders (born September 8, 1941) is an American politician and the junior United States Senator from Vermont. Before serving in the Senate, he represented Vermont's at-large congressional district in the United States House of Representatives and served as mayor of Burlington, the largest city in Vermont. Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist,[1][2] and has praised Scandinavian-style social democracy.[3][4]

Sanders runs for office as an independent but caucuses with the Democratic Party and is counted as a Democrat for purposes of committee assignments. He was the only independent member of the House during most of his service and is the longest-serving independent in U.S. Congressional history.

In an interview with The Nation on March 6, 2014, Sanders stated that he is "prepared to run for President of the United States" in 2016.[5] Starting in January 2015, Sanders became the Ranking Democratic Member on the Senate Budget Committee.[6]

Early life and education[edit]

Bernie Sanders was born on September 8, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Jewish immigrants, Dorothy (née Glassberg) and Eli Sanders.[7][8] He attended James Madison High School in Brooklyn, where he ran for his school's track team and from which he graduated in 1959.[9][10]

Sanders spent a year studying psychology at Brooklyn College before transferring to the University of Chicago.[11] While a student in 1963, Sanders was active in the Civil Rights Movement, becoming a student organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.[12] He was one of several thousand students who traveled on buses to Washington, D.C., for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.[13] Sanders graduated from the University of Chicago in 1964 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science.[14]

After graduating, Sanders spent time on an Israeli kibbutz.[11] In 1964, he moved to Vermont, where he worked as a carpenter, filmmaker, writer, and researcher, among other jobs.[15]

Early political career[edit]

Liberty Union[edit]

Sanders's political career began in 1971 when he joined the anti-Vietnam War Liberty Union Party (LU) in Vermont. Thereafter he ran in and lost several elections, including for the U.S. Senate in 1972 and 1974, and for governor of Vermont in 1972 and 1976. In 1979, Sanders resigned from the LU and worked as a writer and the director of the nonprofit American People's Historical Society.[16]

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. Sanders won three more terms, defeating both Democratic and Republican candidates. In his final run for Mayor in 1987, Sanders defeated a candidate endorsed by both major parties.[17]

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. The Progressives never held more than six seats on the 13-member city council but held enough votes to keep the council from overriding Sanders's vetoes. Under Sanders, Burlington became the first city in the country to fund community-trust housing. His administration also sued the local cable television provider and won considerably reduced rates and a substantial cash settlement.

After serving four terms, Sanders chose not to seek reelection in 1989, and went on to teach political science briefly at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in 1989 and Hamilton College in 1991.[18]

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.[19] 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,[20] 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 just 50% of the vote.


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[21] and against the Brady Bill.[22] Upon the resignation of Democrat Ron Dellums in 1998, Sanders became the only Congressman to describe himself as a socialist.

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[23] that has been cited as the legal justification for controversial military actions since the September 11 attacks.[24] Sanders also 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 Pentagon 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."[25]

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.[26] Sanders followed this vote on November 5, 2005, by voting 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 calling for him to bring articles of impeachment against the President passed in various towns in Vermont, Sanders stated it would be impractical to impeach George W. Bush, given the "reality that the Republicans control the House and the Senate." Still, Sanders made no secret of his opposition to the Bush Administration, which he regularly attacked for cuts to social programs he supports.[27][28][29]

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."[30] Sanders said in 1998 that investment banks and commercial banks should remain as separate entities.[31]

Republicans have attacked Sanders as "an ineffective extremist" for successfully sponsoring only one law and 15 amendments in his eight terms in the House.[32][33] Sanders responded by saying that he had passed "the most floor amendments of any member of the House since 1996."[34]

U.S. Senate[edit]


Sanders being sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney

Sanders had mentioned on several occasions that he would run for the Senate if Jeffords were to retire, and after Jeffords's announcement that he would not seek a fourth term, Sanders entered the race on April 21, 2005. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the 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."[35] Then-Senator Barack Obama also campaigned for Sanders in Vermont. 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.[36]

In the most expensive political campaign in Vermont's history,[37] 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.

Sanders was reelected in 2012 with 71% of the vote.[38]


Polling conducted in August 2011 by Public Policy Polling found that Sanders' approval rating was 67% and his disapproval rating 28%, making him then the third-most popular senator in the country.[39]

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 which is 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.


Sanders and Senator Barbara Boxer introduced the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act of 2007 on January 15, 2007. The measure would have provided funding for research and development on geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide; set emissions standards for new vehicles and a renewable fuels requirement for gasoline beginning in 2016; established energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standards beginning in 2008 and low-carbon electric generation standards beginning in 2016 for electric utilities; and would have required periodic evaluations by the National Academy of Sciences to determine whether emissions targets are adequate.[40]

Sanders is a vocal advocate about the ramifications of global warming.[41] In a speech on the Senate floor on July 26, 2012, Sanders addressed claims made by fellow 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."[42]

Following the 2011 Japanese nuclear accidents, Sanders called for a moratorium on the licensing of new nuclear plants and re-licensing of existing ones, in an effort to slow down what's been touted as a nuclear renaissance in the United States.[43] Sanders wrote to President Barack Obama asking for him to appoint a special commission to review the safety of U.S. nuclear plants. Sanders also wants to repeal a federal law that he says leaves the taxpayers to pick up most of the costs of a major nuclear accident. He says, "in a free-enterprise system, the nuclear industry should be required to insure itself against accidents."[43]

Public disclosure and transparency[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.[44]

Media reform[edit]

Sanders has been a leader in calling for media reform and opposes increased concentration of ownership of media outlets,[45] as well as being a contributing author for OpEdNews.[46] He appeared in Orwell Rolls in His Grave and Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, two documentaries on the subject.[47]

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."[48] Sanders is a social liberal, supporting LGBT rights, same-sex marriage, and pro-choice legislation.[15] In the House he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act.[49]


On September 24, 2008, Senator Sanders posted on his website a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, against the initial bailout proposal, drawing more than 8,000 citizen cosigners in the first 24 hours.[50] On January 26, 2009, Sanders and Democrats Robert Byrd, Russ Feingold and Tom Harkin were the sole majority members to vote against confirmation of Timothy Geithner to be United States Secretary of the Treasury.[51]

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?" A long speech such as this is traditionally a filibuster, but because it didn't block action, it was not technically a filibuster under Senate rules.[52]

National acclaim[edit]

On January 19, 2011, Sanders announced that his "filibuster" speech would be 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.[53]

In response to his "filibuster," "activists across the country started talking up the notion of a 'Sanders for President' run in 2012, either as a dissident Democrat in the primaries or as a left-leaning Independent."[54] Hundreds of people signed online petitions urging Sanders to run, and pollsters began measuring his support in key primary states.[54] Progressive activists such as Rabbi Michael Lerner and economist David Korten publicly voiced their support for a prospective Sanders run against President Barack Obama.[54] At that time, Sanders disavowed any interest in a presidential run, saying he was "very proud to be Vermont's Senator," and maintaining that "I am very content to be where I am, but I am flattered by that kind of response."[54] But Sanders has shown openness to running for president in 2016,[5] and as of May 2014 has been making public appearances in various states,[55] as is typical of potential candidates.[56]

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.[57]

2013 U.S. government shutdown[edit]

2015 Saudi demand for U.S. to fight ISIS[edit]


Sanders introduced the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013 (S. 893; 113th Congress) into the Senate on May 8, 2013.[63] The bill would increase the disability compensation rate for American veterans and their families.[64]

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.[65]

HIV/AIDS advocates have praised Sanders for a bill he introduced in 2012 that aimed to lower the cost of prescription drugs for HIV patients.[66]

Netanyahu speech boycott[edit]

On March 3, 2015, Sanders refused to attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress.[67] 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.[68] 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.[68]

Committee assignments[edit]

Senate Budget Committee[edit]

In January 2015 Sanders became the Ranking Democratic Member on the Senate Budget Committee.[6] 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[69] and presented a report aimed at helping "rebuild the disappearing middle class," which includes proposals to raise the minimum wage and boost infrastructure spending.[70]

Possible 2016 presidential run[edit]

In a March 6, 2014, interview with The Nation, Sanders stated that he is "prepared to run for President of the United States" in 2016[5] but did not officially announce a campaign. When pressed on the issue, Sanders said, "If the question is am I actively right now organizing and raising money and so forth for a campaign for president, I am not doing that. On the other hand, am I talking to people around the country? Yes, I am. Will I be doing some traveling around the country? Yes, I will be. But I think it’s premature to be talking about a campaign when we still have a 2014 congressional race in front of us."[5] Following the 2014 congressional elections, Sanders continued to discuss the possibility of running for president in 2016.[71] He will be 75 years old on the date of the election.[72]

Electoral history[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Sanders is married to Jane O'Meara Driscoll, a former president of Burlington College; he has one child and three stepchildren.[7][73][74] His 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. He is running as a Green Party candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon in the 2015 United Kingdom elections.[75][76][77]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Tom W. Rice, "Who Votes for a Socialist Mayor?: The Case of Burlington, Vermont," Polity, vol. 17, no. 4 (Summer 1985), pp. 795–806. In JSTOR
  • Steven Rosenfeld, Making History in Vermont: The Election of a Socialist to Congress. Wakefield, NH: Hollowbrook Publishing, 1992.
  • Steven Soifer, The Socialist Mayor: Bernard Sanders in Burlington, Vermont. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1991.
  • Bernie Sanders, The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class (2011)
  • Bernie Sanders, Outsider in the House (1998, Verso)

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)

2000, 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