This afternoon, I got a chance to interview Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-avowed socialist from Vermont, who has announced he is entering the Democratic presidential primary.
Sanders confirmed to me that his campaign has raised $1.5 million in the 24 hours since yesterday’s launch, with an average donation of $43.
Sanders also laid down a hard marker against Hillary Clinton, saying flatly that her ties to Wall Street should raise concerns about whether she is willing to stand up to Wall Street’s “incredible wealth and power.”
Sanders also said the eventual Democratic candidate should embrace a robust climate change agenda that goes considerably farther than the policies President Obama has embraced. A lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation follows.
THE PLUM LINE: Do you think the next Democratic nominee should embrace a reinstatement of Glass-Steagall and a financial transactions tax, and pledge to actually prosecute bankers who commit crimes?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Point number three, absolutely. Point number two, I see that not only as a progressive way to raise revenue, but also to dampen the speculative activities of Wall Street. In terms of prosecuting criminals, every place I go in this country, people ask me, “How does it happen that these financial institutions whose greed and recklessness and illegal behavior caused so much damaged — how come none of these guys are in jail?”
In terms of Glass-Steagall, when I was in the House, I voted against all of this stuff. I predicted that by deregulating Wall Street and allowing a handful of these mega-financial institutions to grow and to merge that it would be disastrous for the economy. Of course I believe in reestablishing Glass Steagall. But let me go further. I do not believe that, given that six financial institutions have assets today around $10 trillion — 60 percent of the GDP of the United States — I do not believe that Congress has the capability of regulating Wall Street. I believe that Wall Street regulates the Congress and that you gotta break these guys up.
PLUM LINE: Should we be concerned that Clinton’s longtime ties to Wall Street — and the large number of her big donors who have come from Wall Street — might keep her from being aggressive enough on these fronts?
SANDERS: Yes. Let me back up and tell you I’ve known Hillary for 25 years, and I like and respect Hillary. I think it is fair to say that when the industry was deregulated by Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Alan Greenspan during the Clinton administration, and the Secretary has received a lot of support from Wall Street, I think it is fair to say there might be a tendency to be less than vigorous in standing up to their incredible wealth and power.
PLUM LINE: Clinton’s populist rhetoric so far has been impressive. But she hasn’t taken specific stands on some of these key issues. Will you be aggressively challenging her to be clearer and more specific on them?
SANDERS: No. I will be aggressively raising the issues and demanding the American people work with me to say enough is enough. This is not about Hillary Clinton. The American people do not want an economy dominated by a handful of gigantic Wall Street firms who live in their own world….These guys have engaged in a whole lot of illegal activity and highly complicated financial tools designed to enrich themselves. That has gotta be broken.
PLUM LINE: You say this isn’t about Clinton. But don’t Democratic primary voters deserve to hear you challenge the front runner on these issues?
SANDERS: I am prepared to do that when I find out what her position is going to be.
PLUM LINE: About your longtime crusade against Wall Street money in politics: What limits will you place on your own fundraising?
SANDERS: Let me give you some interesting news. I announced yesterday. In 24 hours, 100,000 people have signed up to join the campaign. We have received 35,000 donations. You know what the average donation was? $43. We raised a million and a half dollars in 24 hours with an average donation of $43.
That is where most of our money is going to come from.
PLUM LINE: No Super PAC money of any kind?
SANDERS: I will not encourage — I will not be part of any Super PAC.
PLUM LINE: No Wall Street money?
SANDERS: Throughout my career I have not taken any corporate PAC money. That will remain for this race as well.
PLUM LINE: You not only oppose “fast track,” but also the underlying Trans-Pacific Partnership, correct?
SANDERS: Yes…I’ve opposed NAFTA. I’ve opposed CAFTA…I’m opposing these agreements because the evidence is overwhelming. What they have done is allow corporations to shut down plants in America, move jobs to China and other low wage countries, and engage us in a race to the bottom, where American workers are forced to compete against people making pennies an hour. To me, this is kind of a no-brainer.
Fast track and TPP are nothing less than a continuation of disastrous trade policies that is one of the reasons why the middle class in America is disappearing. It ain’t hard. Either you’re for the agreement or you’re not for the agreement.
PLUM LINE: What does running a campaign these days without a Super PAC or three or four on your side look like these days? What’s the path?
SANDERS: In asking that question, what you are already conceding is the fact that we are losing the foundations of American democracy. What you’re basically saying is, Senator, do you think it’s possible to compete in a national election with billionaires buying candidates? And the answer is, I don’t know…It is a very sad state of affairs. What you are implying — which is true — is that it may be too late, that the billionaire class has taken over the political process.
Can I raise a billion dollars? Probably not. But the question is, can I raise enough money to run a grass roots campaign and utilize millions of people? I think we can raise that kind of money.
PLUM LINE: Climate change: Hillary has pledged to protect all of Obama’s actions, which would appear to mean not only his new EPA rules but also any international climate treaty. Is that far enough? Where should the Democratic nominee be on climate change?
SANDERS: Not only is climate change real and caused by human activity, but it is already causing devastating problems in America and around the world. In terms of the kind of planet we are going to leave our kids and grandchildren, the scientists tell us that if we do not get our act together, this planet may be five to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the end of this century. Just think of all the cataclysmic impacts that will mean.
It is not only supporting what the president has done; it is saying we’ve got to lead the world.
PLUM LINE: Should the Democratic nominee offer a platform that goes considerably farther than what the president has done?
PLUM LINE: What would that look like?
SANDERS: It would look like a tax on carbon; a massive investment in solar, wind, geothermal; it would be making sure that every home and building in this country is properly winterized; it would be putting substantial money into rail, both passenger and cargo, so we can move towards breaking our dependency on automobiles. And it would be leading other countries around the world.
PLUM LINE: You think the Democratic nominee should campaign on a platform like that?