By Jonathan Martin and Stephanie Saul, New York Times–
Senator Bernie Sanders said in an interview that he would consider releasing a list of potential Supreme Court appointees he would name if elected president, and noted that his wife, Jane, also believes he should offer a roster of jurists in the way President Trump did during his 2016 campaign.
Mr. Sanders suggested that it was premature right now to unveil the names of his prospects for the nation’s highest court — “got to kind of win the nomination first,” he said — but he warmed to the idea in an interview with the editorial board of The New York Times.
“It’s not a bad idea,” Mr. Sanders said, noting that his wife, perhaps his most influential adviser, supported it. “It’s a reasonable idea. My wife agrees with you. Yeah. I’ll take that into consideration.”
Mr. Sanders, a progressive Vermont senator who remains a political independent, does not face the sort of ideological suspicion that many on the right harbored toward Mr. Trump when he ran, but he is viewed warily by some Democrats. And with polls in the states that begin the presidential nominating process showing him at or near the top of the field, his willingness to name his potential Supreme Court appointments at a moment the court is sharply divided could offer a measure of comfort to uneasy primary voters.
The editorial board, which is separate from the publication’s newsroom, is making its candidate interviews public this year. It will endorse a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination on Jan. 19.
The board’s interview with Mr. Sanders, which lasted 90 minutes and was conducted last month, touched on a broad range of foreign and domestic issues.
Mr. Sanders said he would push the Senate to pass his legislative priorities with a simple majority; called Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, a dictator; and acknowledged he had changed his views to become more supportive of gun control.
In his characteristic gruff fashion, he also tangled with the Times editorial board members over whether higher immigration levels can push down domestic wages; bridled at a comparison between Mr. Trump’s rallies and the events he said he would hold as president to pressure Republican lawmakers; and, in an exchange that with little embellishment could double as a sketch of Larry David playing Mr. Sanders on “Saturday Night Live,” explained why he had little patience for offering people birthday wishes.
Asked by the editors of a paper he reads religiously but often criticizes what he’s most likely to fare poorly at as president, Mr. Sanders initially responded, “talk to The New York Times,” drawing laughter. But then, with no prompting, he acknowledged: “I don’t tolerate bullshit terribly well.”
Mr. Sanders conceded that he’s not “good at pleasantries” and singled out one particularly grating part of retail politics.
“If you have your birthday, I’m not going to call you up to congratulate you, so you’ll love me and you’ll write nice things about me,” he said. “That’s not what I do. Never have. I take that as a little bit of a criticism, self-criticism. I have been amazed at how many people respond to, ‘Happy Birthday!’ ‘Oh Bernie, thanks so much for calling.’ It works. It’s just not my style.”
Mr. Sanders, 78, was equally candid about his exercise and diet struggles since suffering a heart attack last fall, an event that he said came as “a shock” because he had been otherwise healthy.
“I’m eating better. I’m exercising,” he began. “Well, not as much as I should. It’s hard when you’re on the campaign trail, but I am trying to do better.”
Mr. Sanders, who allowed that he had eaten ribs the previous night, said he viewed his health “as a public responsibility” and revealed that one of his daughters was prodding him toward a new fitness regimen.
“She’s into yoga,” he said. “She’s a yoga instructor. She’s been trying to get me to do this.”
Mr. Sanders, though, was more eager to discuss what he calls his “political revolution,” his vision for a grass-roots uprising that he believes will apply so much pressure on both Republican and Democratic lawmakers that they will rally to, or at least won’t obstruct, his progressive agenda.
He spoke with particular relish about the prospect of taking Air Force One into Kentucky, the home state of Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and mobilizing voters there on issues like “Medicare for all” and addressing climate change.
“This is what makes me a little bit different than other candidates, and that is not only will I be commander in chief, I will be organizer in chief,” he said, dismissing the prospect of “sitting with Mitch in the Oval Office or wherever it is, negotiating something.”
Such a message represents a contrast to the claims offered by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has said he thinks he can work with Republican lawmakers and find a consensus that has been elusive in Washington.
Yet even some of Mr. Sanders’s ideological allies are skeptical he’ll be able to push through his agenda without ending Senate rules that require a 60-vote majority to pass most legislation.
He has been reluctant to say he would do away with the legislative filibuster entirely, and again declined to do so in this interview, but without indicating exactly how, he said he would suspend it for his top priorities.
“I like the idea of members of the minority having the freedom to voice their objections, but we will not require 60 votes to save the planet or to pass Medicare for all, or to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, that’s for sure,” he said.
On foreign policy, which Mr. Sanders has sought to highlight more in this campaign than he did four years ago, he did not offer extensive details on many issues. But he was notably critical of Mr. Xi’s effort to further consolidate power in a country that is emerging as the United States’ top competitor. While allowing that he’s “not the world’s greatest authority on China,” Mr. Sanders said, “They are an increasingly authoritarian country and that concerns me.”
Mr. Xi, he said, “has made the situation even worse.”
In Latin America, Mr. Sanders defended his support for some of the hemisphere’s left-wing leaders but was more willing to level criticism of them than he often is when the subject is raised.
He said the recently deposed Bolivian president Evo Morales had “a pretty good record” but added, referring to Mr. Morales’s attempt to eliminate term limits: “Should he have run for another term although they made it legal? Probably not.”
Mr. Sanders has far more support among younger voters than among his generational peers, something he conceded he needed to improve, but he sounded every bit like a septuagenarian when the interview took a more personal turn.
“What’s an app on your phone that you have that might surprise people?” he was asked.
“Nothing,” Mr. Sanders replied.
He also was unaware of the term “cancel culture.” “Help me out a little bit,” he asked. “Give me a hint.”
And Mr. Sanders declined a request to give an example of when he had his heart broken.
“I won’t,” he said. “Even candidates for president of the United States have a limited amount of privacy.”
In another interview, the editorial board pressed Tom Steyer, a hedge fund billionaire who is also running for the Democratic presidential nomination, on why the party would nominate a businessman who, like Mr. Trump, has absolutely no experience in government.
The board also questioned him on controversial investments made by his fund, Farallon Capital, in companies that resisted unions as well as the fund’s use of offshore havens to shelter income from taxation.
Mr. Steyer emphasized his decision more than a decade ago to leave his business and devote much of his money to nonprofit causes.
“I have spent a decade running props and building grass-roots organizations, taking on the companies who I believe actually get their way in Washington, D.C., who are getting their way in climate change,” he said, a list that he said included fossil fuel and financial services executives.
“If you ask me when I look back at 2008, one of the overwhelming facts is that nobody was criminally prosecuted. To me, that’s wrong,” Mr. Steyer said, arguing, for example, that J.P. Morgan Chase should have faced criminal charges after the financial crisis.
At another point in the interview, Mr. Steyer teared up as he discussed female mental health workers he met while campaigning in Iowa recently.
“Look, they’re being mistreated across the board,” he said. “They weren’t getting overtime pay, they weren’t getting raises, they’re underpaid, they were getting physically abused and then fired for not coming back to work fast enough. It was illegal for them to tell the truth outside their job function or they’d be fired. There was a treatment of working people in the United States that’s wrong.”
Jonathan Martin reported from Washington, and Stephanie Saul from New York.