Twitter isn’t real. How do we know? Earlier this week Bernie Sanders did a Fox News town hall and, contrary to what warring Twitter factions would have us believe, we all lived to see another day (and we might even be better for it).
Sanders certainly is. He took advantage of the opportunity to sharpen his skills before the upcoming Democratic primary debates. More importantly, he tapped into the vast Fox News audience—and it’s a big audience. In the first quarter of 2019, Fox averaged 1.4 million total viewers a day. Contrary to its reputation, not all of those viewers are conservative—according to a 2017 Pew poll, more than half of Fox News viewers identify as Democrat or “other.”
Here are the most noteworthy and contentious moments from the town hall.
1. Sanders Won’t Apologize for Being a Millionaire
Sanders began the town hall in Bethlehem County, Pennsylvania, by simultaneously defending his millionaire status and somewhat humorously promoting his book, saying: “That money … came from a book that I wrote. A pretty good book, you might want to read it. It was a bestseller, sold all over the world, and we made money. So if anyone thinks I should apologize for writing a bestselling book, I’m sorry, I’m not gonna do it.”
Sanders went on to express his opposition to President Trump’s tax cuts. This prompted host Bret Baier to ask why, if Sanders so vehemently opposes Trump’s tax cuts, is he taking the 26 percent effective tax rate instead of paying the higher rate Sanders is advocating America adopt.
Sanders responded, “Pfft, come on. I paid the taxes that I owe.” He added, “And by the way, why don’t you get Donald Trump up here and ask him how much he pays in taxes? President Trump watches your network a little bit, right? Hey President Trump, my wife and I just released 10 years. Please do the same.”
Baier continued to press on the issue of income by pointing out that Bernie seems to “vilify” millionaires and billionaires when they actually give a lot of money to charity, pointing out that Sanders only gave 3.4 percent to charity himself. In a rare moment, Bernie seemed genuinely uncomfortable answering the question, saying, “My wife and I do give money to charity … we do what we do.”
2. Bernie Targets Fox News for Not Being Uber-Liberal
The socialist candidate frequently pushed back against both the Fox moderators and the network throughout the evening. The tense exchanges began when host Martha MacCallum asked if Sanders would be willing to pay the 52 percent “wealth tax” Sanders has campaigned for, telling him he could offer to write a check. Sanders quipped back, “You can volunteer too.”
Over audience cheers and clapping, Sanders suggested MacCallum pay more, saying, “You make more money than I do.” MacCallum countered that she never suggested a wealth tax. Baier added that McCallum also isn’t running for president. The exchange ended with Sanders accusing Baier and MacCallum of defending the tax bill and suggesting they move on to the next question.
Another notable moment happened when Sanders was asked about socialism. Before answering, Bernie took a shot at Fox News. That prompted Baier to jokingly interject and ask if this was going to be an ongoing issue. Sanders took a moment to reply, saying, “Not everybody thought I should come on this show.” He continued, “Your network does not have a great deal of respect in my world, but I thought it was important to be here.”
3. Cheers for Dropping Employer-Sponsored Insurance
When asked about socialism, Bernie took the opportunity to explicitly state that health care is a human right. He also said there is something “embarrassingly wrong with United States of America being the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care for all people.”
Sanders made his case for Medicare for All, calling it a widely popular government-run program for seniors “which is quite effective.” Clarifying that while the program is government-run, unlike the veterans’ health care system, it is not government-provided health care. Sanders then assured viewers that most veterans think their health care system is “pretty good, just ask the American Legion.” He mentioned that with with Medicare for All everyone can go to any doctor or hospital they prefer, claiming individuals will somehow have immense freedom of choice.
Sanders also trotted out the partisan claim that Trump’s budget proposal would cut Medicare by $845 billion over 10 years. In truth, President Obama proposed similar Medicare reforms. These reforms aren’t cuts; Medicare spending would still increase just at a slower rate.
Baier then turned to asked the audience for a show of hands of who had employer-sponsored health insurance. Roughly half of the crowd raised their hands. Baier then asked who would be willing to transition to a government-run system? Most of the hands in the room shot up, including many who hadn’t indicated they had private insurance.
MacCallum pressed Sanders on who would pay for his Medicare for All plan. Sanders explained that a self-employed family of four currently paying $28,000 for health care would no longer pay premiums, copays, or deductibles. Instead, “they’ll pay more in taxes.”
4. Bernie Was Booed on Abortion
While an abortion question was bookended with cheers, the largely pro-Bernie crowd booed when Bernie, asked if a woman should be able to terminate a pregnancy up until the moment of birth, responded, “I think that happens very, very rarely, and I think this is being made into a political issue. At the end of the day, I think the decision over abortion belongs to a woman and her physician, and not the government.”
5. Bernie Says Ilhan Omar Isn’t an Anti-Semite
On Ilhan Omar, Sanders said she has to do a better job speaking to the Jewish community, before saying, “Do I think she is anti-Semitic? I don’t.” Sanders went on to say he hopes every member of Congress fights anti-Semitism, racism, and anti-Muslim activity. He finished by saying it’s important to note, “It’s not anti-Semitic to be critical of a right-wing government in Israel”
There is very little many Fox viewers can agree with Sanders on. But given our current political environment where each side believes the stakes are greater than ever before, an event like this is a win for all of us. We should encourage more televised healthy dialogue.