May 17th, 2015
09:52 AM ET

Exclusive: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on his case for the Presidency, the media and HRC

Today on CNN’s State of the Union exclusive with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), joined senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar to discuss his pathway to the Democratic nomination for president, how the media is covering Hillary Clinton and the other declared Democratic candidates, and his views on President Obama’s “fast track” trade negotiating proposal.   Text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below.

MANDATORY CREDIT FOR TRANSCRIPT REFERENCE: CNN’s “State of the Union”

HIGHLIGHTS

On whether Hillary Clinton should state her position on President Obama’s trade deal

“Absolutely.  You can’t be on the fence of this one.  You're either for it or you're against it.  No fence-sitting on this one. Here's the reality.  When we talk about why the middle class is disappearing and why the gap between the very, very rich and everybody else is growing wider, you've got - you have to talk about disastrous trade agreements that have allowed corporate America to shut down in this country and move to China, Mexico and other low-wage countries.”

On how the media is covering Hillary Clinton and the other declared Democratic candidates

“Of course I am prepared to engage in serious debate.  But let me throw it back to you.  I'll tell you something else.  The American people want to hear serious discussions on why they're working longer hours for low wages.  They want to know about why year after year we have these disastrous trade agreements, why the rich get richer and everybody else gets poorer.  Are you in the media prepared to allow us to engage in that serious debate?  Or do I have to get media attention by simply making reckless attacks on Hillary Clinton or anybody else?  I don't believe in that.  I believe in serious debates on serious issues.”

Full interview transcript below:

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Senator Bernie Sanders joining me now and, Senator, we are expecting your formal announcement into the race here in a little over a week.  You've acknowledged that you don't have the cash, that you don’t have the campaign infrastructure that Hillary Clinton, say, has and certainly as you enter the race, she is the one that you have your sights set on.

What's your path to victory?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I – VT):  Well, my path to victory is to talk about the issues that impact the lives of millions of Americans.  Brianna, the reality is that for 40 years, the American middle class has been disappearing; people today are working longer hours for lower wages while at the same time 99 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent and the top 0.1 of 1 percent owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

KEILAR:  Hillary Clinton talks a lot about income inequality, how you differentiate yourself on this from her?

SANDERS:  Well, it's one thing to talk about it.  It's one thing to act on it.  I have been helping to lead the fight for the American middle class for the last 25-30 years.  We have introduced legislation that would rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create up to 13 million new jobs.

In the Senate I'm leading the effort to raise the minimum wage up to $15 an hour so that people who work 40 hours a week will not be living in poverty.  We have presented legislation right now which will say to the wealthiest people and largest corporations you know what, you can't continue to avoid paying your fair share of taxes.

KEILAR:  Your candidacy was assessed by "U.S. News and World Report" like this.  It said, "Like Obama in 2008, Sanders can serve to help define Clinton and make her a stronger candidate.  Unlike Obama, Sanders can keep Clinton on her game without getting her tossed out of it."  You look at that assessment.  Are you a spoiler here?

Are you aiming to be a shaper of the debate?  Or do you think that you really have a pathway to victory?

SANDERS:  I think that there is more discontent with establishment politics, with the greed of corporate America than many people perceive.  I think we have a good - I'm not going to deny for one moment that I'm going into this race an underdog; Hillary Clinton will have a lot more money that we have.

But let me say this, even in terms of money, we've been in this race for a couple of weeks; we've raised over $4 million because people are sending on average not $1 million, not $10,000, $43 per contributor to berniesanders.com; we have now 100,000 contributions.

I think we can raise millions of those small contributions.

KEILAR:  I just wonder is this going to be a civil debate with Hillary Clinton?  Even if you're talking about issues and not personality or the fact that she's establishment, you have to go after a leading candidate with a hard edge.  Are you prepared to do that?

SANDERS:  Well, Brianna, let me turn it around to you, OK.

I've never run a negative political ad in my life.  People in Vermont know that I run in many, many campaigns.  I don't believe in ugly 30-second ads.  I believe in serious debates on serious issues.  I've known Hillary Clinton for 25 years.  Maybe I shouldn't say this.  I like Hillary Clinton.  I respect Hillary Clinton.  Will the media, among others, allow us to have a civil debate on civil issues?  Or is the only way to get media attention by ripping apart someone else?  I certainly hope that’s not the case.

KEILAR:  Trade a big issue -

SANDERS:  Trade is a big issue -

KEILAR:  - in the Senate and now we're looking towards the House, where Republicans, oddly enough, may not have the votes along with Democrats for this initiative of President Obama's, something you oppose.  You have come out and said this is a terrible idea.  Hillary Clinton has not.  She is on the fence.  Should she take a position?

SANDERS:
  Absolutely.  You can’t be on the fence of this one.  You're either for it or you're against it.  No fence-sitting on this one.

Here's the reality.  When we talk about why the middle class is disappearing and why the gap between the very, very rich and everybody else is growing wider, you've got - you have to talk about disastrous trade agreements that have allowed corporate America to shut down in this country and move to China ,Mexico and other low-wage countries.
KEILAR:  I want to ask you about George Stephanopoulos, the host of This Week, who has been in the news.  You appeared on his show on May 3rd and on that program he asked you about your concerns over the money raised by The Clinton Foundation.  You have said that The Clinton Foundation fundraising is a fair issue to discuss.  He had donated $25,000 over three years or $75,000 in total, $25,000 each year.  He didn't disclose those donations.  And to viewers, to superiors at ABC.  He didn't tell you either, even though you discussed it.

SANDERS:  Well, I think he should have made that public. (INAUDIBLE) what he should have done.  I have to file a financial disclosure reform - form and I think George should have done that.  I don’t – between you and me, I don’t think it’s the biggest deal in the world.

KEILAR:  If you take her at her word, Elizabeth Warren's not getting into this race; Are you looking to gain that pocket of support to Hillary Clinton's left?

SANDERS:  Elizabeth Warren is a good friend of mine.  I've known Elizabeth for many, many years.  She's doing a fantastic job in the Senate.
I think on many of the same issues, on many of the issues, Elizabeth Warren and I come out on the same page.

KEILAR:  Overall, I don't hear a lot of forcefulness from you; a lot of people who observe politics say this is a contact sport.  You have to have sharp elbows.  Even if it's not going fully negative in character assassination -

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS:  Brianna -

KEILAR:  - and there may be somewhere in between - are you -

SANDERS:  - Brianna, Brianna, you are looking at the most progressive member of the United States Senate.  I have led the effort in taking on Wall Street.  I have led the effort in taking on disastrous trade agreements.  I have led the effort in fighting for universal health care.  I have led the effort in terms of trying to reverse our approach toward climate change and move away from a fossil fuel society.

I've led the effort on many of those issues.  I've taken on every powerful special -

KEILAR:  But are you prepared to sharply point out where your Democratic opponents have not, in your opinion?

SANDERS:  Of course I am prepared to engage in serious debate.  But let me throw it back to you.  I'll tell you something else.  The American people want to hear serious discussions on why they're working longer hours for low wages.  They want to know about why year after year we have these disastrous trade agreements, why the rich get richer and everybody else gets poorer.  Are you in the media prepared to allow us to engage in that serious debate?  Or do I have to get media attention by simply making reckless attacks on Hillary Clinton or anybody else?  I don't believe in that.  I believe in serious debates on serious issues.

KEILAR:  Senator Bernie Sanders, thank you so much for being with us.  We appreciate it.

SANDERS:  Thank you, Brianna.

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