Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, faced a broad array of questions Monday evening at a live Fox News town hall at ArtsQuest in Bethlehem.
The event was hosted by Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, and it covered topics relating to tax policy, health care, defense and included a back and forth between the moderators and the candidate regarding Fox News’ alleged partisan biases.
Notable Bethlehem residents, from Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio to various city council members, were in attendance, as were several hundred people from around the Lehigh Valley and beyond.
As Donald Trump supporters waved flags and signs outside the building, Sanders entered at 6:30 p.m. to loud applause and chanting under the backdrop of the old blast furnaces that once powered a thriving Bethlehem Steel.
In the first question of the night, an Allentown student asked about Sanders’ recently released tax returns, which showed that in 2016 and 2017, Sanders was a millionaire. Sanders answered by noting that he gained that money from writing a book about politics.
“If anyone thinks I should apologize for writing a bestselling book, I’m not going to do it,” Sanders said.
Sanders then turned the question into a discussion of Trump’s taxes, asking if he, too, would release his tax returns, which led to a heated exchange with the moderators.
The three often interrupted one another, and at various points, audience members shouted words of support or derision.
“If you ask me fair questions, I’ll give you fair answers,” Sanders said.
On the topic of health care, Sanders reiterated his call for a universal single-payer system.
When Baier asked the audience who had employer-sponsored healthcare coverage, roughly half raised their hands. When he asked who would be willing to give up that coverage for a single-payer system, they raised their hands again, to raucous applause.
“Every year, millions of workers wake up and find that their employer has changed the insurance that they have,” Sanders said as an explanation for why his plan would provide more “stability” than the current system.
During the second half of the town hall, the moderators drew attention to the history of Bethlehem Steel and the economic difficulties Bethlehem has faced in the past as well as its improvements in recent years. Sanders attributed this to the general recovery after the 2008 financial crisis and described how despite new economic growth, many Americans remained in poverty.
“The economy today is good, thank God, but you still have millions of workers struggling to put food on the table,” he said.
Sanders rarely sat down during the hour-long broadcast in front of an energetic crowd. Throughout much of the evening, Sanders articulated his broad vision for his politics and policy proposals, while admitting that his “fight” would not be easy against the insurance companies, drug companies and wealthy political establishment donors.
“I think the American people are ready to take on the issue of justice in this country,” Sanders said. “Economic justice, social justice, environmental justice, racial justice.”
Sanders expressed his support for a major transformation of the American energy grid towards renewable sources of energy, citing the example of Burlington, Vermont, changing its power sources. Sanders used to be the mayor of Burlington.
“If we do not combat climate change, I fear very much for the world that we’re leaving for our kids,” he said.
The conversation switched to foreign affairs and immigration, to which Sanders cited his recent bipartisan effort to end American involvement in the Saudi-led war against Yemen and recalled his opposition to the Iraq War in 2003.
Meanwhile, on the issue of immigration, Sanders avoided MacCallum’s question about what should be done with asylum seekers currently on the U.S.-Mexico border, and instead called for broader reform to the American immigration system and the hiring of new judges to assess asylum claims.
He also rejected Trump’s rhetoric around immigration.
“We need real, comprehensive immigration reform,” Sanders said. “We don’t need to demonize immigrants.”
Sanders also dealt with questions about the national debt, controversies involving Rep. Ilhan Omar and allegations of anti-Semitism, and whether or not he thought the Democratic National Committee would treat his campaign fairly. On the latter, he expressed his confidence.
Several Lehigh students were in attendance at the event.
“This was a really good opportunity to start hearing about his platform, and about the issues,” said Kerry Shamnoski, ’22.
Lauren Mannion, ’22, who was also in attendance, said she appreciated Sanders’ passion for the topics he talked about.
Andrew Goldman, ’19, said he thought that the questions asked by the anchors seemed staged to make Sanders look bad.
“I just feel like there is definitely a statist mentality, and I like to see people focusing more on local actions,” Goldman said, who agreed with most of Sanders’ views.
Shamnoski said she found seeing Sanders in person to be a valuable experience.
“Seeing it live is very different, because you don’t have that framing by social media, and by the news, and what they want you to hear,” she said.
Delaney McCaffrey contributed to this article.