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Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

By The Situation Room - October 6, 2011

BLITZER: Protests against Wall Street are spreading today to a number of major U.S. cities including right here in the nation's capital. President Obama says the demonstrations are expressing the frustration that so many Americans feel right now about the economy, jobs and the fallout from the financial crisis.

Democrats are trying to harness the anger of the growing Occupy Wall Street movement that some see as sort of a left-wing answer to the Tea Party.

Joining us now, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He's an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Senator, thanks very much for coming in. Let me get right to this Occupy Wall Street demonstration that's going on around the country right now. What do you think about this?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, I applaud them. I think the president is right. They are speaking to the real anger and frustration that millions of Americans feel at a time when the middle class is collapsing, poverty is increasing, the people on top are doing phenomenally well, and the people, Wolf, who caused this damn recession in the first place, the folks on Wall Street, because of their greed and illegal behavior, you know what their punishment has been? They're now making more money than they ever made before.

So what the demonstrators are saying, there's something wrong with that picture and they're exactly correct.

BLITZER: Because the president at the news conference today was asked about all the Wall Street bankers in 2008, 2009. You say illegal activity. No one, as far as I know, has gone to jail let alone even been charged with any illegal activity in causing this crisis.

Do you know of anyone who's been charged with the crime?

SANDERS: Well, I think there is some investigations. And I think -- you know, hopefully, they will lead to criminal charges, but what I think the average American is saying if a kid smokes marijuana, that kid could end up in jail. These people, because of their activity, destroyed the economy. Millions of people lost their jobs, their homes, their life savings, and now they're making more than they ever did before.

So I applaud what the folks, the Wall Street demonstrators are talking about, but now what we've got to do is put some meat on that bone. We have to come up with some specific ideas in terms of how you deal with Wall Street.

I'll give you one example, Wolf. Many people don't know this. The sixth largest financial institutions in this country have assets the equivalent of 60 percent of the GDP of the United States of America. Sixty percent of our GDP. Some $7 trillion.

In my view, everything being equal, they will once again, because of their reckless activity, come back before Congress in a too-big-to- fail situation. They will need to be bailed out again. In my view, we have got to break up these financial institutions right now, bring some competition to the financial industry.

Furthermore, you have large banks, Bank of America, the others. They're charging interest rates on people's credit cards of 25 or 30 percent. That's called usury. We've got to regulate interest rates and demand that the Fed take that kind of action.

So we need some real specific Wall Street reform which protects the American people.

BLITZER: Do you want to share with us who's being investigated right now for criminal activity on Wall Street?

SANDERS: Well, I think -- no, I think something has been in the front pages of the papers, so I have nothing more than that.

BLITZER: Is the Obama administration MIA when it comes to all these problems? Because it's been in business now for almost three years.

SANDERS: If you're asking me, do I believe there should have been a thorough Wall Street investigation, that there should have been prosecutions two or three years ago, the answer is absolutely. If you're asking me, has the Obama administration been bringing on board financial advisers who are too close to Wall Street? Absolutely.

So, you know, I think we should have been much more aggressive in going after Wall Street. I'll give you another example.

We found out -- I got a provision in Dodd-Frank which showed that during the financial crisis, the Fed provided $16 trillion on a revolving basis of low-interest loans to every large financial institutions in America central banks all over the world, many large corporations. Right now, in America, you have small businesses desperately in need of affordable capital. They can't find it.

Why is not the Fed responding to the needs of American small businesspeople who want to expand, who want to grow jobs, in the same -- with the same sense of urgency that they responded to Wall Street in their moment of crisis?

BLITZER: The president's jobs bill, it's going to come up next week in the Senate. You're a senator. But a lot of people are suggesting, why is the president proposing legislation that he knows is not going to even pass -- forget about the House of Representatives, but even some of your fellow Democrats, if you will? And I know you're an Independent, but even some Democrats say they can't vote for the president's plan.

SANDERS: Well, I'm not so sure that that's the case. I think what the president has got to do and what the media has got to do is appreciate the urgency of the moment. And we don't.

The reality is, unemployment in America today, Wolf, is not nine percent. Real unemployment, including those who have given up looking for work and are working part time, and they want to work full time, is 16 percent. Twenty-five million Americans.

What the president has got to do is come up with a bold jobs program. I would go further than he did. I would put more emphasis on rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, transforming our energy system.

But the president has got to say to the American people, we need to create millions and millions of jobs. And if any Republican out there does not want to support job creation, you've got to hold that person politically accountable. That is the issue of the moment.

Sixteen percent unemployment, young people getting out of high school, getting out of college can't find jobs. Older workers seeing their wages go down. We need to rebuild this economy.

BLITZER: I want you to listen, Senator Sanders, to Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaking out today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you are envious of somebody that happens to be rich, that you call a fat cat, go and get rich instead of expecting them to walk outside of the office and write you a check. That's not the way America works. Work for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You want to respond to Mr. Cain?

SANDERS: Yes. I think Mr. Cain got it wrong.

That's exactly how America works. Historically, what we have said is, especially in a moment when the wealthiest people are becoming wealthier, when we have the most unequal distribution of income and wealth, what we have historically done is say yes, to the wealthiest people in this country, you're going to have to pay more in taxes, and especially at this moment when the real effective tax rate for the very rich is the lowest that it has been in decades. Of course they are going to have to contribute to help us get this economy moving and create the millions of jobs that we desperately need.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go. Did President Obama do the right thing in ordering the killing of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki?

SANDERS: That's a long discussion. Probably longer than the amount of time than we now have.

BLITZER: Go ahead. Give me 30 seconds.

SANDERS: Well, the answer is that I -- you know, I think that when you have an American citizen killed by the United States government, it raises some real questions. On the other hand, when you have somebody who's a terrorist and at war with the United States, that's the other side of that equation.

BLITZER: Senator Sanders, thanks very much for coming in, as usual.

SANDERS: Thank you. 

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