Sanders trip to Soviet Union comes under new scrutiny

A lengthy story from The Washington Post is shining new light on Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) 1988 trip to the Soviet Union.

The Post’s report, which was based on audio and video of the visit, as well as interviews with several people who accompanied the Vermont senator, includes anecdotes about the then-Burlington, Vt., mayor criticizing U.S. intervention in other countries along with the high cost of housing and health care in his home country.

{mosads}Republicans seized on the report to hit the top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, using the remarks to bolster President Trump’s argument that Sanders would move the U.S. further toward socialism. 

“Bernie refuses to disavow his socialist dreams of a government takeover of our major industries. His dangerous plans would destroy the booming economy thanks to President Trump’s America First policies,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Joyce.

A spokesperson for Sanders’s campaign did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the Post’s story.

Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Sanders’s presidential campaign, told the Post that the trip to the Soviet Union “was an example of that, if you can get people from everyday walks of life together, you can break through some of the animosity that exists on a governmental level.”

The main purpose of the trip was to establish Yaroslavl, a Russian city of about 600,000, as the sister city of Burlington. Sanders also traveled to Moscow and Leningrad, which is now called St. Petersburg.

David Kelley, a Republican who helped arrange the trip for Sanders and accompanied him to the Soviet Union, told the Post that the former Burlington mayor’s remarks at a banquet in Yaroslavl made him uneasy enough to leave the room as Sanders was speaking. Sanders rebuffed Washington’s intervention in other countries in the remarks.

“When you are a critic of your country, you can say anything you want on home soil,” Kelley said. “At that point, the Cold War wasn’t over, the arms race wasn’t over, and I just wasn’t comfortable with it.”

Another person who accompanied Sanders on the trip, Howard Seaver, told the Post that he saw the visit as influential to the senator — an experience that showed him “the downside of the Soviet system” while shaping his views on social welfare and economic equality.

“I suspect that what Bernie saw in Russia probably affected his views that you see today, where he is not anti-free-enterprise or capitalism but he wants to have a safety net and give a fair shake to all, but certainly not to have a command economy we saw in the Soviet Union,” Seaver said.

Upon returning from the trip, Sanders held a news conference in which he made clear that he did not hesitate to criticize the U.S. while in the Soviet Union. But he also pointed out the poor quality of housing in the communist country.

“The fact that we were willing to be critical of the United States … I think that made them maybe more appreciative of our criticisms we made of their own society,” Sanders said at the time.

“We were saying, ‘Yeah, in our country, we also have a housing crisis. Our housing in general is better than yours, but people are paying 40 percent of their income for housing. The quality of your housing is not good, but we appreciate the fact that people are paying 5 percent. The quality of your health care is not good, but in the United States, believe me, we have enormous problems in terms of our health care system.’ ”

Sanders’s trip overlapped in part with a historic summit in Moscow between then-U.S. President Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev — a meeting that Sanders hailed at the time as “a major step forward for humanity.”

The trip also took place just a day after he married his second and current wife, Jane Sanders. The trip was described by Bernie Sanders as “a very strange honeymoon,” according to the Post’s report.

Tags 1988 2020 election Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders Democratic primary Donald Trump Socialism Soviet Union

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