Millionaire Bernie Sanders pushes higher taxes, defends not paying more voluntarily
After running as champion of the left in 2016, Sen. Bernard Sanders revealed himself Monday to be an aspiring millionaire with an eye on reaching out to disaffected Trump voters as he prepares for a presidential campaign in 2020.
Mr. Sanders released 10 years of tax returns, showing he earned more than $2.7 million over the past three years and did not give a big percentage of his income to charity.
He became the first high-profile Democrat to hold a town hall on Fox News Channel, saying he is determined to spread his “Medicare for all” gospel beyond the confines of his liberal fans and to reach viewers of President Trump’s favorite network.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 16, 2019
The first question he faced was about his income, which puts him in the top 1 percent, a group he regularly says must be forced to pay more.
Mr. Sanders said his income surged because he wrote a book and that he wouldn’t apologize for it, but he bristled at the idea of voluntarily paying more in taxes, filling out his “fair share.”
“I pay the taxes that I owe,” the senator said.
He then quickly switched to attacking Mr. Trump, saying the president should publicly release his own tax returns.
“By the way, why don’t you get Donald Trump up here and ask him how much he pays in taxes?” Mr. Sanders said to co-hosts Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, who responded they hoped to do just that.
“I guess the president watches your network a little bit,” Mr. Sanders said. “Hey, President Trump, my wife and I just released 10 years. Please do the same. Let the American people know.”
The event was held in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, one of the key states to Mr. Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. He carried Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan by a combined total of 77,000 votes — enough to swing the election in his favor. The results shocked Democrats who had grown accustomed to winning those states with strong support from working-class voters.
Mr. Sanders and his allies say they could have been — and will be — more competitive than Mrs. Clinton in a general election showdown with Mr. Trump across the Midwest and Rust Belt states, where they believe the candidate’s populist message and focus on economic inequality could hit home with voters who feel left behind in the changing economy.
The gruff style that has helped make Mr. Sanders an iconic political figure was on display Monday as he defended his calls for higher taxes on big corporations and wealthy individuals. He said his push for “Medicare for All,” free college tuition and more infrastructure spending would not add to the nation’s $22 trillion debt.
“We pay for what we are proposing — unlike the president of the United States,” he said.
Mr. Sanders dismissed the findings of bipartisan think tanks that warn his agenda doesn’t add up, and he downplayed questions about his age. He also touted his opposition to the war in Iraq and trade deals such as NAFTA that he blamed for hurting American workers.
“These agreements under Democrat and Republican leadership was written by multinational corporations to make these corporations even wealthier at the expense of the American worker,” Mr. Sanders said. “American workers should not have to compete against desperate people around the world who are making a dollar or two dollars an hour.”
Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, said it makes sense for Mr. Sanders to try to reach working-class voters who have drifted away from the Democratic Party.
“I think it is smart for any candidate to do outreach to the other side, not because you are going to win a majority from that other side, but because completely conceding the field among supporters of the other side just more or less guarantees you lose big there,” said Mr. Franklin, pointing out that Democrats won the Wisconsin gubernatorial race this fall after making inroads in Republican strongholds.
Mr. Franklin said Mr. Sanders is unlikely to convert many Trump voters who watch Fox but that the outreach was worthwhile.
G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, said Mr. Sanders is trying to broaden his base of support by wooing conservative-leaning Democrats in the primary and persuading disgruntled Republicans to give him a look if he advances to the general election.
“He is trying to walk down that road where he looks one way and there are democratic socialists with him, and on the other side of the street you have the working-class Democrats that may have voted for Trump, but they are still Democrats and they get to vote in states with closed primaries,” he said.
Mr. Madonna said Mr. Sanders will first have to prove he can win those voters in a Democratic primary — particularly if former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, a native of Pennsylvania, enters the race.
Polls show Mr. Sanders is leading the 2020 Democratic nomination race among the declared candidates — though Mr. Biden has topped most polls, including surveys completed after a series of accusations of inappropriate touching were leveled against him.
Mr. Sanders refused to say whether he considered Mr. Biden a liberal progressive.
Michael O’Connell, a Republican Party strategist in Pennsylvania, said it is difficult to see why people who voted for Mr. Trump would trade his economic populism for that of Mr. Sanders, who wants to drastically expand social programs.
Without winning over those voters, Mr. Sanders has little room to grow, Mr. O’Connell said.
“To someone who reluctantly voted for Trump four years ago because Hillary Clinton was a bridge too far and, other than the whiff of personal corruption, ideologically was far closer to being a centrist than Sanders ever has been, I think it is tough sell,” Mr. O’Connell said.
Mr. Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns has intensified the focus on the issue and put more pressure on the 2020 presidential contenders to distance themselves from Mr. Trump by releasing their returns.
In 2016, Mr. Sanders would release only his 2014 return, which showed he made $205,000 in income from his congressional salary and Social Security payments.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota also have released parts of their tax history.
Mr. Sanders’ 2018 tax filing showed he had an adjusted gross income of $561,293 and paid an effective tax rate of 26% — benefiting from the Trump tax cuts. He contributed 3.4% of his income to charity.
Mr. Sanders posted more than $1 million in adjusted gross income in 2017 and 2016 — much of it coming from the sale of a book — and paid an effective tax rate of 30% and 35%.
He contributed 3.2% of his income to charity in 2017 and 1% to charity in 2016.
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