In a wide-ranging chat with CNBC’s John Harwood, Sen. Bernie Sanders discusses his recent heart attack and his economic agenda. He also criticized rival candidate Elizabeth Warren for her past work for corporations and said fossil fuel and pharmaceutical executives were "criminals."
Sanders compared fossil fuel executives to tobacco companies, saying: "They have known, for a very long time, the executives of Exxon Mobil and other fossil fuel industries knew that the product that they were producing was causing climate change and in fact helping to destroy this planet... If you are producing a product and you don’t know that it’s causing harm, that’s forgivable. But if you are like the tobacco industry — we go before Congress, we swear that all of our research has shown that there is not a problem with tobacco causing cancer or heart disease. They lied. My father died because he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Millions of people are in the same boat. These are liars. These are criminals. By the way, they’re still selling their bloody products all over the world. Same thing with fossil fuel."
you never know how health setbacks may affect people afterward— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) October 29, 2019
but in our Speakeasy interview over green smoothies in Des Moines, Bernie Sanders was more congenial, engaged and energetic than I’ve ever seen himhttps://t.co/rRtx4pAh1O
Sanders on Warren:
John Harwood: You recently distinguished yourself from Senator Warren — she’s a capitalist to her bones, and you’re not.
Bernie Sanders: That’s how she has defined herself.
John Harwood: Is that just a marker of you being a little more progressive, or do you think that has real practical significance?
Bernie Sanders: I think it does, in a couple of ways. At this particular moment in history — where the average worker has not seen a real inflation accounted for wage increase in 45 years despite an explosion of technology and productivity, where you have a political system which is totally corrupt and owned by billionaires, where you have massive amounts of corporate corruption, I think the time is now, if we’re going to save this country, for a political revolution.
It’s not just more regulation. It’s about involving millions of people, working people, young people, people who believe in justice, in the political process, to tell the corporate elite that enough is enough. We’re going to change the system politically, economically. We’re going to change the value system of this country. We’re not going to worship corrupt billionaires anymore, we’re going to respect teachers and child care workers and cops and firefighters and small business people. That’s what our campaign, uniquely I believe, is about.
John Harwood: Do you have any problem with the work that she’s done in the past, advising corporations — Dow Corning, Dow Chemical — on legal problems?
Bernie Sanders: I’ll let the American people make that judgment. I have never worked for a corporation myself. I’ve never carried their baggage in the United States Senate.
People have the opportunity to look at my record. It’s not last year, not two years ago — I was for “Medicare for All” when I was mayor of Burlington in the 1980s. During my career, I have taken on every powerful corporate interest, whether it’s the drug companies, the insurance companies, fossil fuel, Wall Street. I’ve been doing this for 30 or 40 years. These are not new ideas for me.
John Harwood: You identify as a democratic socialist. You got the endorsement of Representative Ocasio-Cortez over the weekend. How far do you think you can take the United States of America toward democratic socialism?
Bernie Sanders: It depends on what we mean by democratic socialism. What I am trying to do, in many ways, is pick up where Franklin Delano Roosevelt left off. In a not widely publicized State of The Union speech he gave in 1944, this is what he said in so many words: “We have political rights. You have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion. All of that’s great, but what we don’t have are guaranteed economic rights.”
So you could vote, but you also have the privilege of sleeping out on the street. You can protest, but you also have the freedom to work 60 or 70 hours a week at starvation wages. You have the freedom not to have health insurance, not to be able to send your kids to college. What I’m trying to do in this campaign is say that economic rights must be considered as human rights.
Sanders on regulation:
John Harwood: On Wall Street reform, you say you want to end “too-big-to-jail.” You said the other day that Sherman Act violations by monopolists ought to have the potential for criminal indictments. I wonder if you think that principle also applies to cases like the Boeing CEO. He’s been stripped of his position as board chairman, the head of the Max airplane was fired. Is that the kind of case that criminal law is relevant to?
Bernie Sanders: This is the kind of discussion that we need as a nation, and that will take place when I’m president. I’ll give you three examples.
In 2008, Wall Street drove this country into the worst economic recession in modern history. Wall Street has paid tens and tens of billions of dollars in fines for their illegal activity. Wasn’t a mistake. They were selling subprime mortgages that they knew were worthless.
How many of these Wall Street executives went to jail?
John Harwood: I don’t think any.
Bernie Sanders: No, and that is why the American people are disgusted with what goes on in Washington, D.C. They see a kid selling marijuana, gets picked up by the cop. That kid will have a criminal record the rest of his life. And a Wall Street executive that causes a massive tragedy for our economy, no punishment.
Another example — the pharmaceutical industry. They’re not only greedy, they are corrupt. They are engaged in collusion and in price-fixing. Right now, as you know, state attorneys general are mounting a massive lawsuit against the opioid manufacturers. What they are saying is, these guys knew exactly what they were doing. They were selling an addictive product all over this country. Many have died. How do you define that behavior? I call it criminal.
One more example. How do we define, how do we describe the behavior of the fossil fuel industry?.
John Harwood: You tell me.
Bernie Sanders: All right, I will tell you. They have known, for a very long time, the executives of Exxon Mobil and other fossil fuel industries knew that the product that they were producing was causing climate change and in fact helping to destroy this planet.
John Harwood: You put them in the same category as tobacco executives.
Bernie Sanders: Exactly. If you are producing a product and you don’t know that it’s causing harm, that’s forgivable. But if you are like the tobacco industry — we go before Congress, we swear that all of our research has shown that there is not a problem with tobacco causing cancer or heart disease. They lied. My father died because he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Millions of people are in the same boat. These are liars. These are criminals. By the way, they’re still selling their bloody products all over the world. Same thing with fossil fuel.
We need as a nation to do something we have never done before, and say to these corporate executives who have so much power, we’re tired of your greed and we are tired of your corruption. I support and respect business people who produce new products, create jobs. God bless them. I do not respect or support criminals who are killing people, who are harming people, and are lying about what they’re doing.