Bernie Sanders

Interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN's "New Day"

December 24, 2015

CUOMO: Senator Sanders, thank you for joining us on NEW DAY, as always.

SANDERS: My pleasure.

CUOMO: So the Santa Claus of political polls has brought you a gift, the highest number you have reached so far in the new CNN poll, 34 percent. Hillary down eight, you up four. However, still a big gap. Hillary getting 50 percent, commanding lead. What do you make of it?

SANDERS: Well, Chris, what I make of it is when we began this campaign, as you will recall, we were three, five percent in the polls. All of the pundits considered us a fringe candidacy. Today we perhaps are in the lead in New Hampshire. We're, I think, closing in here in Iowa. And your poll seems to indicate we have national momentum.

So I think we have come a really long way in seven-and-a-half months, and we are feeling really good. We have a tremendous volunteer network all over this country. We are raising significant sums of money from small, individual contributions. So at this point, I have to tell you, we're feeling good.

CUOMO: From the poll, we can glean that the big issue that seems to be holding you back with those potential voters is foreign policy. That's where Hillary Clinton has her biggest advantage. There is a perception that you do not have the stomach or the head for what it takes to beat ISIS. Your response, sir?

SANDERS: Well, let me assure all the people in our country that I have the stomach, I have the head, I think we have the approach not only to beat ISIS, but to crush ISIS and to destroy ISIS. And what my view is that we have got to learn a lesson from Iraq. And that lesson is, it's not god enough just to be tough. We have got to be smart. And what that means is, we cannot do it alone. We cannot and should not be involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East.

What we need to do is bring together a grand coalition led, as King Abdullah of Jordan reminds us, by Muslim troops on the ground. What we should do along with the U.K., France, and Russia, and other major powers, is give the Muslim nations on the ground the support they need from the air. We should be training troops. We should be doing special forces when necessary. But ultimately, this war will be won and ISIS will be destroyed with our support and other great nations' support taking on ISIS on the ground with Muslim troops.

CUOMO: The pushback is this talk of coalition has gone nowhere. There's been years of Democrats trying to do it, haven't gotten it done. What needs to be done here at home is protect the homeland. These refugees you want to let in willy-nilly, they can hurt Americans, they increase American fears. You have to be tougher and put up more restrictions on immigration specifically of those refugees because there are terrorists in those numbers.

SANDERS: Needless to say, I disagree with that assertion. What we want to do as we destroy ISIS, we do not want to give up the values that have made us the greatest country in the history of the world, which among other things has been a beacon of hope for people in deep distress. Obviously, it goes without saying that there must be a very, very strong vetting process. I think we have to do a better job at that. But I do not think that what America is about, and I speak as somebody whose dad came to this country at the age of 17, I do not think what America is about is turning our backs on people in distress.

CUOMO: Donald Trump says we must look twice at those coming across the southern border. There are bad people among them. His numbers go up. He says we should think about banning all Muslims, at least temporarily. His numbers go up. He points at people like you and Hillary Clinton and says they are weak insiders and I am strong. And he is now the presumptive favorite in every poll in every metric we have. Is America ready for someone like Donald Trump and not ready for someone like you?

SANDERS: Well, I think that the more the American people understand what Trump stands for, which, among other things, is his assertion that wages in America are too high. He wants to quote/unquote "Make America Great." And here's a guy who is a billionaire who thinks that wages in America are too high. He thinks we should not raise the minimum wage. He wants to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to his millionaire and billionaire friends.

But I think creating and playing off the anxiety and the fears that the American people have, the fears about terrorism, the fears about our economy and becoming a demagogue about that, and then trying to get us to hate Mexicans or to hate Muslims, I think that is the strategy that is not what America is supposed to be about.

What I believe, in contrast to Mr. Trump, is that we bring our people together to focus on the real issues, which is the disappearing middle class, massive income and wealth inequality, a corrupt campaign finance system, the fact that we're not effectively addressing the international crisis of climate change, the fact that our kids can't afford to go to college and moms and dads can't afford childcare, those are the issues we have to focus on. And we have to look at the greed, the greed of corporate America, the greed of Wall Street which has had such a terrible impact on our economy and on millions of people.

So I'm trying to bring people together to take on the wealthy and the powerful who have done so much to hurt the middle class. Trump is trying to play on fears and divide us up. At the end of the day, I believe that our approach will win.

[commercial break]

CUOMO: There are many who see what you're suggesting right now as an assault on the American dream, that you want to burden those who have been successful, even though they already pay 80 percent of the taxes in this country with a burden of paying for all of these free goodies that you want to give people.

And that's not what America is about. In a capitalist society, you make money if you're good and you don't if you're not good enough. Everybody has the right to succeed or fail on their own merits.

Why burden those who are successful with the needs of everybody else?

SANDERS: Well, Chris, let's talk about reality. And here's the reality, that in the last 30 years, the great middle class of this country has been disappearing. Trillions of dollars in wealth have gone from working families to the top 0.1 percent whose percentage of wealth that they now own has doubled.

So what we are see also is a situation where the average American is working longer hours for low wages; 58 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent. We have a massive difference in terms of wealth and income inequality in America today.

And I want to change that. I think what this country is about is a great middle class, not a handful of billionaires receiving almost all of the new wealth and income.

So, yes, I believe that public colleges and universities should be tuition-free. We pay for that. We pay for that by a tax on Wall Street speculation.

Yes, I do believe that we should rebuild our tumbling infrastructure, create 13 million new jobs, rebuilding our bridges and our roads. We pay for that by doing away with all of these huge tax breaks, which allow corporate America to put their money in the Cayman Islands and in Bermuda and, in a given year, end up not paying a nickel in taxes.

And, yes, I do believe that the wealthiest people and the largest corporations in America who are doing phenomenally well while the middle class continues to disappear, yes, I do believe that they're going to have to start paying their fair share of taxes.

CUOMO: But they say they do pay their fair share, they pay 80 percent and when they look at your suggestions, whether it's Glass-Stegall or what you want to do with Dodd-Frank or the interest rate move with the Fed, they say that you want to regulate them and tax them out of existence.

And at the same time, you want to force them to lend to people that are risky, which is how they say we got into the mess back in 2008 in the first place.

SANDERS: Well, Chris, that is wrong, wrong, wrong. This is the reality. Either we are going to be a nation in which we have a strong middle class or we are going to be a nation which moves to an oligarchic form of society, where a handful of very, very wealthy families control the economy and the political life of this country.

Today -- and let the American people make this decision -- the top 0.1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Today, 20 of the wealthiest people in this country own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent, 150 million Americans.

That is not what America is supposed to be about. That is not an economy that works for working families. That is a rigged economy.

So bottom line here, Chris, is rich becoming much richer. Most Americans becoming poorer. The gap is growing wider. I intend to do something about it, whether corporate America or the billionaire class likes it or not.

CUOMO: One political point: headlines were made about this data breach. The firewall goes down. The Sanders campaign winds up looking at data it wasn't supposed to. The campaign acts quickly; you get rid of somebody, you suspend some other people.

Why doesn't it just end there?

Why does this call for a broader investigation and wanting the Clinton campaign involved?

It sounds like a smokescreen.

SANDERS: Look, Chris, I hope that we can resolve this. I think the DNC understands, I think the Clinton people understand, we understand. This is not a great thing. We made a mistake. We have dealt with that mistake. We want to get it beyond us and I hope that that will happen. We're in negotiations right now with the DNC.

CUOMO: But what's all of this other stuff about a broader investigation and let's see what else happened?

Why that distraction?

Why not -- you owned what happened?


SANDERS: Right, well, we did own what happened, Chris. But here's what happened, and everybody has got to understand this, there has not only been one breach recently, there was another breach. And in that breach, we also ended up with information from the Clinton campaign.

And our people went running to the DNC and said what is going on here?

You've got a problem.

So, I want to make sure we understand what's happened in the past and that it does not happen again. This serves nobody's purpose. Let's end it.

CUOMO: That's just the only piece I don't understand.

What else do you think might have happened?

What have you heard or what do you think you can show that adds to the understanding?

SANDERS: Well, what we believe, what we know has happened is this is at least the second breach. There was another breach a couple months ago. Our campaign ended up with information from Clinton's campaign and we went to the DNC right away. Nobody looked at it.

Well, if there's a breach, it's a breach as a whole information you get to both sides. So we would like to take a look at that. We're not making any accusations. But I think it's fair to understand why these breaches occur and what the DNC is going to do to make sure that they do not happen again.

[commercial break]

CUOMO: You started off this interview using Donald Trump as a point of contrast. His popularity at this point is inarguable. How he is becoming popular has become a source of a lot of argument and criticism.

The most recent volley, what he said about Hillary Clinton's break during the debate. What he said about how he characterized her loss to Barack Obama.

You're a guy who grew up in Brooklyn. You probably know the word that he used. Maybe you never heard it used as a verb before.

But why is it working so well for him?

Well, Chris, you're going to have to ask the media precisely why. I mean, Trump is a smart guy. He is a media guy. He ran -- you know, he did a TV show.

I'll give you one example, all right, a recent study showed that on "ABC Evening News," Trump, over a period of time, got 81 minutes of time. Bernie Sanders got 20 seconds. Now you tell me why.

CUOMO: Well --

SANDERS: And I think it has to do with the fact that Trump is very smart. He knows that media is not so interested in the serious issues facing this country.

They love, you know, bombastic remarks. They love silly remarks. If he says that somebody is sweating, my God, that is a major story and all that silly business, the personal attacks, that kind of works.

So I think this is more of an indictment of the media, actually, than it is of Trump.

CUOMO: Yes, I don't see it.

Look, do we cover him more?

Yes, why?

He's number one in the polls. He's highly relevant. He drives the discussion.

SANDERS: But, Chris, Chris, but, Chris, explain to me how he becomes number one. He boasts of the fact -- this is what he says, he says, hey, I don't even have to pay for commercials. The media's going to put me on all of the time.

Explain to me -- and I know CNN may been different here. And you have been, you know, very generous with me. But you explain to me how a major network in the evening news has 80 minutes of Trump, 20 seconds of Bernie Sanders.

Does that make sense to anybody?

CUOMO: Well, look --

SANDERS: In many ways, I think it's fair to say -- yes, go ahead.

CUOMO: There's no question that Trump drives ratings and that's always an influence in everything that we do. Or if you weren't as handsome and charismatic as you are, Senator, maybe you wouldn't get the time that you get.

But you can't just wipe off all of this popularity that he has with a growing base of the GOP. They're putting him first in the polls.


CUOMO: They're say they hate the media. They just love Trump.

SANDERS: Chris, this is what I think is going on. I think that Trump is very effectively playing to the fears and the anxieties that millions of people in this country have -- and have legitimately so.

We're all concerned about the possibility of a terrorist attack against this country. We're all concerned about ISIS. We're all concerned about a disappearing middle class.

You have in this country people who don't understand why it is that with increased productivity and technology, they're working longer hours for low wages. They're worried to death about their kids. They're worried about the economy.

And Trump comes along and he says I've got the solution. And what the solution is is Mexicans coming into this country. Let's throw them all out. That will solve all of our problems. It's Muslims, they're all terrorists. We have to hate them.

Well, that is not the solution to our problems. That is simply scapegoating minorities, playing one group off against another. It's what demagogues have always done.

But what we have got to do as a people is come together and say, yes, why is it that the middle class is in fact disappearing and almost all new wealth and income is going to the top 1 percent?

Let's talk about it.

And sometimes, Chris, to be honest with you, it can't be done in a 6-second sound bite.

Why is it that we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on Earth?

Why is it that we have more people in jail than any other country on Earth?

Why is it that we're the only nation on Earth that doesn't have health care for all people as a right?

These are the kind of debates that we have to have. And I would urge and beg the media to allow us to have that debate and not just pick up on Trump's one-liners.

CUOMO: Well, Senator Sanders, as you know, that's what we're doing right now. That's what NEW DAY is about. We always appreciate you being on the show.

SANDERS: And I do know that, Chris.

Chris, I do know that and I appreciate the good work you're doing.

CUOMO: You're not easy to get. I've got people hashtag, #FeelingTheBern, coming after me, saying you don't have Sanders on enough. I can't get you on. You're too busy running around the country.

Tell your people, lay off.

SANDERS: Well, all right. We will -- we will do our best to be with you.

CUOMO: You're always welcome to talk about what matters on this show. Senator, best to you and the family. Thank you for being on NEW DAY.

SANDERS: All right and a happy -- Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays to everybody.

CUOMO: Appreciate it.

Bernie Sanders, Interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN's "New Day" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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