Interview with Dana Bash of CNN's "State of the Union"
BASH: Clooney's next-door neighbor, a Sanders supporter, hosted a dueling fund-raiser for him with tickets priced at $27.
Joining me now is Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
And, Senator Sanders, you heard Clooney there. He almost sounds like he's feeling the Bern. [laughter]
SANDERS: Well, I have a lot of respect for George Clooney's honesty and integrity on this issue.
He is right. One of the great tragedies of American life today is the degree to which big money is buying elections, in which elected officials become responsive to the needs of Wall Street and wealthy campaign contributors, rather than the needs of ordinary people.
And, Dana, I'm so proud that, in this campaign, we have now raised almost seven million individual contributions averaging $27 apiece. That is unprecedented in American history.
BASH: But you realize, Senator, that he just raised millions of dollars for your opponent. So, is he backing the wrong horse here?
SANDERS: Well, I think he is. But he is honest enough to say that there is something wrong when few people, in this case wealthy individuals, but in other instances for the secretary, it is Wall Street and powerful special interests, who are able to contribute unbelievably large sums of money.
That's not what democracy is about. That is a movement toward oligarchy. And that is why we have got to overturn Citizens United and why I have run this campaign on the basis of saying we're going to make it on contributions averaging 27 bucks apiece, rather than being dependent on big money.
But this is the issue of American politics today. Do we have a government that represents all of us or just the 1 percent? And you're not going to have a government that represents all of us so long as you have candidates like Secretary Clinton being dependent on big-money interests.
BASH: Senator, you just visited the Vatican, where you had a meeting with the pope. Vice President Joe Biden was asked about your trip.
I want you to listen to what he said.
[begin video clip]
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: I just think that Bernie making a trip is a good thing. But to suggest that the pope would -- embraces Bernie's policies, I don't think that's the case. I don't know. I doubt it.
[end video clip]
BASH: Senator, what's your response to that?
SANDERS: Well, you know, I love Joe, and no one is suggesting that the pope is embracing my policies.
What I will tell you is, I was very proud to have been invited by the Vatican to an important conference dealing with morality in economics. And, in my view, that is exactly the issue of the day. We have got to create an economics which is based on morality, dealing with the needs of working families and the elderly and the children and the sick and the poor, rather than an economy which is based on greed and the needs of Wall Street and big corporations.
And the fact that I was invited there was very -- for me, a very moving experience. And that's the fight that we are going to continue to wage. We have levels of income and wealth inequality in this country. The rich are getting richer. Almost everybody else is getting poorer. We have got to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We need to create millions of decent-paying jobs.
And I have been so impressed ever since Pope Francis came into power of his willingness to take on special interests, to talk about climate change, and the need to transform our energy system.
So, you know, I have probably been one of the members of Congress talking more often about the extraordinary role that Pope Francis is playing in raising issues that so rarely get discussed.
BASH: Senator, let's return to what you were talking about before, money in politics.
At this week's debate in Brooklyn, I asked you to name one decision Hillary Clinton made as senator that shows she was influenced by the donations she got. You really didn't answer the question.
So, let's try it again. Can you point to a decision that Hillary Clinton made as senator that shows she favored banks because of the donations she received?
SANDERS: Well, as a matter of fact, she voted for a bad bankruptcy legislation. But -- and whether that is a result of contributions from Wall Street or elsewhere, you know, no one can say that, Dana.
But what I would also repeat to you is, the most important issue is, what is your stand on Wall Street? And I think, to me, when you have it being very clear that Wall Street's greed and illegal behavior -- you know, Goldman Sachs just paid a $5 billion settlement with the government. When you have that kind of greed and illegal behavior, bringing our economy into the worst economic recession since the '30s, I think the immediate response must be to break up these large financial institutions.
SANDERS: That is my view. That is the view of a number of leading economists. That is not Hillary Clinton's position.
BASH: Now, also at the debate, you were asked about Sandy Hook families who want to sue gun manufacturers. You said -- quote -- "They have the right to sue."
But just last week, you told "The Daily News" the opposite. Listen.
[begin audio clip]
SANDERS: Do I think the -- the right...
SANDERS: ... of a crime with a gun should be able to sue the manufacturer. That's your question?
SANDERS: No, I don't.
[end audio clip]
BASH: So, Senator, what changed?
SANDERS: Well, what changed is, I think -- I think, if you go into that interview a little bit longer, you will see the nuance of that interview.
Of course they have the right to sue. Anybody has the right to sue. And they just won an initial decision in their favor last week. But if you go into that discussion a little bit longer, do I end up believing that, if a gun store owner, a small gun store owner in rural Vermont or anyplace else, sells you a weapon legally, you come in with all the proper identification, you pass the instant background check, you legally purchase the gun, and you go out and you shoot somebody, that that small gun store owner should be held liable?
No, I don't. I really don't. But I have got to tell you also, on this issue of these assault weapons, let's be clear. Back in 1988, in Vermont, I likely lost an election because I alone stood up to the gun people and said, no, I don't think that assault weapons should be sold and distributed in America. That was my view then.
That's the type of weapon that caused that horrific tragedy in Sandy Hook. Those weapons should not be made available in the United States of America. So, in that sense, I agree with the Sandy Hook parents. But it's a question of how you go forward.
BASH: Let's talk about something in the news that will be on your plate as a sitting U.S. senator. Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars of American assets if Congress allows the Saudi government to held -- to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the 9/11 attacks.
How do you intend to vote as a senator?
SANDERS: Well, I need more information before I can give you a decision.
But, clearly, I have, as you have heard me say, a whole lot of concerns about the role that Saudi Arabia has been playing for many, many years, not just the individuals who came from Saudi Arabia who attacked us on 9/11, but their support for ISIS and other terrorist organizations. The Saudi family is a huge family, many hundreds, if not thousands of people in the ruling family worth many hundreds of billions of dollars.
BASH: But if I may, Senator, in general, should Saudi Arabia be -- should it be possible to hold them liable in U.S. courts?
SANDERS: Well, you're going to hear -- you're asking me to give you a decision about a situation and a piece of legislation that I am not familiar with at this point.
And I have got to have more information on that. So, you have got to get some information before you can render, I think, a sensible decision. But I do have a lot of concerns about the role, in general, that Saudi Arabia has played and the royal family has played in supporting Wahhabism, which is the extreme right-wing Islamic movement, which is part of what ISIS and al Qaeda are about.
BASH: And, finally, Senator, on Friday, you released last year's tax returns. Secretary Clinton has posted her tax returns from the past eight years. So, will you do the same?
SANDERS: We will post more of them. Yes, we will.
I mean, I don't have -- to be honest with you, our tax returns showed us that we made more money -- we made less money in a given year than Secretary Clinton made in one speech. We don't have a bunch of -- Jane and I don't have a bunch of accountants working for us. We will get it out.
I think we have all that information, and we will get them out as soon as we can, which...
BASH: By when, sir?
SANDERS: ... which will be very soon. We got out one. We will get out more.
BASH: Like this week?
Senator, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it. Good to talk to you.
SANDERS: Thank you, Dana.
Bernie Sanders, Interview with Dana Bash of CNN's "State of the Union" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/323516