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Sen. Bernie Sanders: Idea Of Generational Change Is A 'Pretty Superficial Argument'


If Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is elected president next year, he'll be the oldest person to take office for the first time. The same could be said for former Vice President Joe Biden. And the current record was just set by President Donald Trump. Several younger Democratic presidential candidates have seized on the idea of generational change. Sanders shared his take on that and much more with the NPR Politics Podcast and New Hampshire Public Radio. NPR's Scott Detrow has more.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Sanders always has a lot on his mind, especially when he has to sit there while producers adjust microphones.


BERNIE SANDERS: Oh, NPR is going to drive me completely crazy.

DETROW: But during last week's debate, he wasn't called on during a key moment when Congressman Eric Swalwell urged Biden to pass the torch to the younger candidates.


ERIC SWALWELL: We ought to contribute to the generational...

SANDERS: Part of Joe's generation...

UNIDENTIFIED MODERATOR: Before we move on...

SWALWELL: I'm all for generational change.

UNIDENTIFIED MODERATOR: Before we move on...

SANDERS: Part of Joe's generation - let me respond.

DETROW: Nobody called on Sanders, so I asked him what he was trying to say. He says age shouldn't be the determining factor. In fact, he calls that argument pretty superficial.


SANDERS: Because I think what the American people want to know from you - whether you're old or you're young, whether you're black or you're white, whether you're a woman, whether you're a man - they want to know what you stand for, and what are you going to do to improve their lives? So if I'm a vital, young person and I want to throw 32 million people off of health insurance - we have some of these vital, young Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives - wow, great new generation. It is what you stand for.

DETROW: On the debate stage, several other candidates challenged his signature policy plan, a "Medicare for All," single-payer health care system. They said it would raise taxes and kick people off private insurance. Sanders doesn't disagree.


SANDERS: Are people going to pay more in taxes? And the answer is of course some people will pay more in taxes. Are people going to lose the private insurance that they have - yeah. Every year now, the estimate is that about 40 million people lose their private insurance. You get a new job. You quit your job.

DETROW: Sanders says the upside is worth the political risk.


SANDERS: But very rarely am I asked what it will mean to the American people when you can go to the doctor anytime you want and there is no copayment; there is no deductible. You don't have to take out your wallet.

DETROW: Still, polls show support for a single-payer system drops by a lot when respondents learn it would come with higher taxes and could force them off private insurance. Those are aspects Republicans plan to highlight against Sanders or any other eventual Democratic nominee. I asked Sanders about the candidate ahead of him in early polls, Joe Biden.


DETROW: You have said in a lot of interviews lately that Democrats need to excite voters.


DETROW: They need to give them a reason to go to the polls.

SANDERS: Yes, I have.

DETROW: Does Joe Biden do that?

SANDERS: I'll let Joe Biden - I'll let you ask Joe Biden that question.

DETROW: But just a few moments later, Sanders warned that Democrats may not win if they don't get high turnout from young voters, voters of color and people who sometimes don't show up on Election Day.


SANDERS: But you're not going to have that turnout unless the candidate has issues that excite people, that energize people. That means you have to be talking about "Medicare for All." You have to be talking about raising the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 an hour. You have to be talking about making public colleges and universities tuition-free and canceling student debt. You've got to be talking about climate change and a bold response to the planetary crisis.

DETROW: Biden supports the $15 minimum wage but hasn't gone as far as Sanders and several other candidates on the other policy areas. Sanders' campaign has made his electability a key theme this year as poll after poll shows voters looking for a candidate who can beat Trump. As much as he likes to dismiss polling, Sanders regularly points to surveys showing him defeating Trump in a hypothetical matchup. But he also allows for this.


SANDERS: But if perchance it is not me, I will do everything I can to support the winner and make sure we defeat Donald Trump.

DETROW: Scott Detrow, NPR News, Nashua, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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