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Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday rejected the idea he supports "authoritarian communism" when asked to explain his views on democratic socialism.
"What democratic socialism means to me is we expand Medicare, we provide educational opportunity to all Americans, we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure," Sanders said. "In other words, government serves the needs of all people rather than just wealthy campaign contributors."
Sanders has frequently faced criticism for being a self-declared democratic socialist, and President Donald Trump has sought to tie the senator to the chaos in Venezuela under Nicolas Maduro.
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday tried to explain his idea of democratic socialism and rejected the notion he's seeking to implement "authoritarian communism" similar to the Soviet Union.
At a CNN town hall in New Hampshire, an attendee said her father's family left Soviet Russia in 1979, "fleeing from some of the very socialist policies that you seem eager to implement in this country."
She went on to ask, "How do you rectify your notion of democratic socialism with the failures of socialism in nearly every country that has tried it?"
Read more: Here's the difference between a 'socialist' and a 'Democratic socialist'
"Thank you for asking that question," Sanders replied. "Is it your assumption that I supported or believe in authoritarian communism that existed in the Soviet Union? I don't. I never have, and I opposed it. I believe in a vigorous democracy."
"I believe that in a democratic, civilized society, health care is a human right. Government should make that happen," Sanders said.
"What democratic socialism means to me is we expand Medicare, we provide educational opportunity to all Americans, we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure," Sanders added. "In other words, government serves the needs of all people rather than just wealthy campaign contributors. That's what it means to me."
Sanders' critics have often accused him of being too soft on socialist leaders in Latin America in the past, and for going on a trip to Soviet Russia shortly after his wedding.
More recently, he's faced criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike for not taking a more hardline stance against Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. Sanders has denounced Maduro but expressed a reluctance to support military intervention while also pushing against recognizing Juan Guaidó as the country's legitimate leader, as the US government and a number of its allies have.
Read more: Bernie Sanders says he needs to do a 'better job' explaining socialism as Republicans try to link his policies to Venezuela
President Donald Trump has sought to tie Sanders and 2020 Democrats to the chaos in Venezuela and argued the senator wants to bring the same brand of authoritarian socialism to the US,.
During the 1970s, the Vermont senator also supported nationalizing most major industries in the US while a leader of a political party known as the Liberty Union.
"I favor the public ownership of utilities, banks and major industries," Sanders said in an interview with The Burlington Free Press in 1976.
Read more: Trump's latest line of attack against 2020 Democrats is to tie them to socialism
He was asked about this during the CNN town hall on Monday, and said he's shifted his views since that time.
Sanders, who's been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, in March said he needs to do a "better job" explaining socialism.
"I think what we have to do, and I will be doing it, is to do a better job maybe in explaining what we mean by socialism — democratic socialism," Sanders said on NPR's "Morning Edition" in mid-March. "Obviously, my right-wing colleagues here want to paint that as authoritarianism and communism and Venezuela, and that's nonsense."SEE ALSO: Democratic Socialists of America officially endorse Bernie Sanders for 2020 as the 'only socialist' in US history with a 'serious chance' to win
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