SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
When President Trump was elected, many on and the left feared he would have a temperamental and aggressive foreign policy that would bring the U.S. into a military conflict. We've actually seen the opposite. The president has met with Kim Jong Un and pledged to end U.S. military exercises on the Korean Peninsula - calling them, as the North Koreans do, provocative. He's flattered Vladimir Putin, accepted the Russian takeover of Crimea and essentially endorsed Russian military actions in Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad. He's talked about reducing U.S. forces in South Korea and Europe and even wondered if the U.S. should come to the defense of another member of NATO. We turn now to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has often criticized U.S. involvement overseas. Senator Sanders, thanks so much for being with us.
BERNIE SANDERS: Good to be with you.
SIMON: You have been plenty critical of President Trump on a range of issues. But on the ones we just mentioned, do you have some agreement?
SANDERS: No. I look at the world very differently than President Trump. I mean, you talk about sitting down with Kim Jong Un in North Korea. Is that a good thing? You know what? It is a good thing. But what is not a good thing is praising this vicious and cruel leader and calling him a great patriot. He is not. Meeting with Putin, that's very, very important. We want to do everything we can to ease tensions with Russia. But caving in to Putin and denying the very, very significant involvement of Russia in trying to undermine American elections in 2016 - and they are continuing efforts - is absurd.
SIMON: Vladimir Putin said this week that he was convinced Hillary Clinton would have been much tougher on Russia than Donald Trump has been. Would you agree?
SANDERS: It's not a question of being tough or not tough. Clearly, what we want is positive relations with countries all over the world. And in my view, at a time when our country faces enormous problems with a crumbling infrastructure, with 30 million people without any health care, with kids not being able to afford to go to college, I want to see military spending reduced by helping us create a more peaceful world. But on the other hand, when you have a country like Russia very intentionally - not only trying to undermine American democracy, Russia through their cyberattacks is trying to impact local governments around this country, academia, all sectors of American society. We have a serious problem. And it must be made clear that that type of behavior is unacceptable, something which President Trump has certainly not done.
SIMON: What message does it send to Vladimir Putin - or for that matter, to North Korea to reduce the military budget?
SANDERS: Look. We need a strong defense. But at a time when we have so many people in our own country who are hurting economically, when we have public school systems around this country that are literally falling apart, when we have veterans sleeping out on the street, we just cannot spend an endless amount of money.
SIMON: How do you feel when President Trump says the Democratic primaries were stacked against you?
SANDERS: Well, I think - it's funny. What happened, of course, is that Russia attempted to exacerbate the divisions or the differences of opinion between Clinton's supporters and my supporters. And that's the fact. And that's what they tried to do. I think in terms of the DNC, I think we, in our campaign, took on the entire Democratic establishment. And there is I think no one who does not understand that. And clearly the establishment was in favor of Clinton.
SIMON: Well, I've got a follow-up then, Senator. If you accept that the Russians were trying to create division between your supporters and Hillary Clinton's supporters, the election turned on, I believe, just 77,000 votes in three electorally key states. Are you, in a way, saying that they turned the election for Donald Trump if the result was a number of your voters didn't get out and support Hillary Clinton?
SANDERS: Actually, I think when Hillary Clinton ran against Barack Obama, a higher percentage of voters who supported her ended up voting for John McCain than was the case in the 2016 election of the people who voted for me who ended up voting for Trump. Some did. Most, the vast majority, did not. We know that Russia did everything that it could to try to interfere in this election on behalf of Donald Trump. What the exact impact was - did it make the difference between Clinton losing the election or not? You know what? I don't know that anybody knows the answer to that. I don't know that we'll ever know the answer. There are a hundred different factors that take place in determining why somebody will vote for somebody - whether they'll come out to vote at all. But clearly, that was Russia's intent.
SIMON: Senator Bernie Sanders, thanks so much.
SANDERS: Thank you.
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