This post was written by reporter Joshua Porter.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., participated in a CNN town hall with reporter Chris Cuomo at the Jack Morton Auditorium Monday night. The town hall, which was broadcast live, focused on congressional priorities in light of an impending Donald Trump presidency.
Sanders offered broad strategies for the Democratic Party during the new administration and addressed audience members’ concerns for the future.
Here are the big takeaways:
Compromising with Trump
Sanders urged fellow Democrats against unilateral obstruction during the Trump administration, while still acknowledging characteristics of Trump’s campaign which Democrats should guard against.
“I will tell you this: He ran a campaign whose cornerstone was bigotry,” he said. “It was based on sexism, on racism, on xenophobia, and on that issue, I will not compromise.”
After criticizing Republicans for blocking President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme court, Sanders suggested some Democrats may use a similar strategy toward the GOP. Still, he urged bipartisan cooperation when possible.
“Where Trump has ideas that make sense that we can work with him on, I think we should,” he said.
The future of Obamacare
Sanders, who ran his 2016 presidential campaign on free education and free healthcare, noted that the U.S. is one of the only major countries not guarantee health care as a right. Saying that it was time the U.S. government provide free health care, Sanders said that initial efforts like the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, would need to be tweaked over time in order to be successful.
Jessica Karabian, an audience member who relies on Obamacare to cover treatments for breast cancer, asked Sanders how he will make sure that the life-saving components of the Affordable Care Act remain.
“We are going to do everything we can to improve the Affordable Care Act. It has problems, but we damn well are not going to repeal it and not have anything there at all,” Sanders said.
The influence of trade
Sanders said that trade policy is one area of potential compromise between progressives and the Trump administration. Both Sanders and Trump have criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement and said they opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the 2016 campaign.
Ed Mash, a former Ohio corrections officer, asked Sanders how he will work with Trump to promote growth in areas like Ohio. Sanders pointed to international trade agreements.
“The issue is that for the last 30 years, under Democratic and Republican administrations, we have had trade policies like NAFTA and CAFTA and permanent relationships with China,” Sanders said.
Sanders voted against NAFTA and CAFTA in the past, saying that such agreements benefit multinational corporations rather than the American working class by outsourcing jobs to nations with low or nonexistent labor regulations and cheap manufacturing costs. Sanders said he believes in fair trade, not unfettered free trade.
“I believe we need a new trade policy. I believe we tell corporate America they’ve got to control their greed,” Sanders said. “Mr. Trump is prepared to sit down and work on a new trade policy which is based on fairness, not just on corporate greed, yes, I will be happy to work with him.”
Plans for immigration reform
Sanders highlighted his hopes for immigration reform that would give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and access to health care under the Affordable Care Act.
Jenny Gutierrez, a high school teacher from Maryland, and Osama Alsaleh, a GW student, asked Sanders about the future of immigrants and their children under the upcoming Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress.
In response, Sanders noted Democrats’ commitment to protecting immigrants as well as undocumented immigrants during the next administration.
“To see a man elected president who campaigned on dividing us up, turning us against each other. Your beautiful students should not be afraid. Young Muslim kids should not be afraid to walk the streets,” he said. “That is not what this country is about.”
Sanders added that diversity is what makes the country thrive.
“We must judge people on who they are, not where their grandfather came from or their religion,” Sanders said. “This is a principle we have to fight for.”