Bernie Sanders

Interview with Chuck Todd of NBC News' "Meet the Press"

January 17, 2016

TODD: Let me start with one of the issues that is likely to come up tonight at the debate and that's the issue of gun safety. Last night in what the Clinton campaign is referring to as a debate-eve conversion you came out in favor of essentially repealing immunity for gun manufacturers when it comes to being held liable for gun deaths. That's a switch of your positions. What brought you to this conclusion?

SANDERS: Well, not really. You know, I understand that Secretary Clinton and her campaign understand that, you know, they're losing ground. We've started this campaign off at 3 percent in the polls and now we're closing in, in Iowa. And we're doing really well in New Hampshire. So I think in the next few weeks you're going to see a lot of nonsense being thrown around.

Look, I have --

TODD: This is nonsense -- I mean you did change your position on this.

SANDERS: What I said -- what I said Chuck -- what I said several months ago, having a D-minus voting record from the NRA having voting to ban assault weapons way back in 1988, yes, that was a piece of legislation that I wanted to relook at.

But what that legislation had among other things is a prohibition on armor-piercing ammunition designed to kill police officers. It had language in it for a child lock safety for our kids -- important provision. There were things in it that I did o not like and I was willing to rethink. We have rethought it. There's a bill apparently being introduced, I like that bill, it makes some good changes and we will be supportive of it.

TODD: All right. Another thing that's going to come up on the issue of gun safety is the issue of a waiting period. The Clinton campaign is hitting you for supporting only a three-day waiting period or instant background checks and not being in favor supportive of something longer like a five-day or seven-day window. And the reason this is being brought up is that if Dylann Roof -- the man who killed those nine folks in Charleston last year -- if there had been a longer waiting period he might have been prevented from buying a gun.

SANDERS: Look, what we saw here in Charleston is a tragedy of unspeakable dimensions. I sit in prayer with people that takes out a gun and shoots nine people. I hope we don't have to politicize that issue. I believe very strongly in instant background checks. I think we have to expand it. I think we have to make sure 100 percent that we keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have that, people with criminal backgrounds, people who are mentally unstable. That has been my view from day one.

But you know, Chuck, I think the reason that the Clinton campaign is getting defensive is they see that we have the momentum. They see that the issues that we are talking about, a disappearing middle-class and almost all new income and wealth going to the top 1 percent, a corrupt campaign finance system where people like Secretary Clinton can raise millions of dollars through super PACs. Those are kind of issues which they don't want to discuss.

So tonight we're going to be discussing a lot of issues and the main issue for me is why the rich get richer, almost everybody else gets poorer and the fact that we have got to stand up to the billionaire class and change those dynamics.

TODD: So you're not in favor of a longer background check? A five, seven-day background check?

SANDERS: We are willing to look at anything that makes sense that keeps guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. But I'm not going to be defensive on that issue.

I lost an election in 1988, probably lost an election because I had the courage back then to say that assault weapons should not be sold in America.

TODD: Let me ask you quickly about the Iran deal. Is Iran still an enemy of the United States given what's going on? The improved diplomatic relations?

SANDERS: Well, you know, it's funny. If you think back to I think it was 2007 during the campaign in which Secretary Clinton ran against Barack Obama. She was critical of him, a question was asked to Obama and said would you sit down and talk to the Iranians? And he said yes, I would. The point being that you talk to your adversaries, you don't run away from that.

Secretary Clinton I think called him naive -- turns out that Obama was right. Mo clearly we have many, many issues and many concerns with Iran but clearly also we want to improve our relationship with this very powerful country.

I think the agreement to make certain Iran does not get a nuclear weapon was a huge step forward. The fact we had the prisoner release today was a good important step forward. So I hope that we can continue to go forward to improve relations with Iran.

TODD: All right. Senator Sanders -- I'll leave it there. We look forward to seeing you, Secretary Clinton and Martin O'Malley on stage tonight on NBC. Thank you, sir.

Bernie Sanders, Interview with Chuck Todd of NBC News' "Meet the Press" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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