Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sat down with “Morning Joe” for a live, in-studio interview. He told the co-hosts he was “very moved” by the invitation to speak at the Vatican, saying, “I am a big, big fan of the Pope.”
“Obviously there are areas where we disagree on women’s rights or gay rights,” he said.
Sanders added, “There are people who think that Bernie Sanders is radical—read what the Pope is writing.”
Below are excerpts and the rush transcript of the interview. Mandatory credit: MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
On his invitation to visit the Vatican:
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: I don’t know if this is new. Have you heard that he’s going to the Vatican? Has anyone—
BERNIE SANDERS: You have the story, Mika. Tell the world.
BRZEZINSKI: Tell me. You’re going to be going to the Vatican to talk about how to create a moral economy that works for all people rather than the top one percent. How did this come about?
SANDERS: It was an invitation from the Vatican.
SANDERS: I was very moved by the invitation, which just was made public today. I am a big, big fan of the Pope. Obviously there are areas where we disagree on women’s rights or gay rights. But he has played an unbelievable role. An unbelievable role of injecting a moral consequence into the economy. And here’s what he is saying. There are people who think that Bernie Sanders is radical. Read what the Pope is writing. What he is saying is not only that we have to pay attention to what he calls the “dispossessed.” And again, we don’t talk about it enough. These are the children who have no jobs all over the world. Youth unemployment is off the charts. The elderly people who are watching this program now who are trying to get by with $11,000 a year. We don’t talk about that. But you know what else he’s even doing—he’s talking about the idolatry of money. The worship of money. The greed that’s out there.
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On Hillary Clinton:
SANDERS: How often have I talked about Hillary Clinton’s emails? Have you heard me? Not a word. How often have I talked about the Clinton Foundation’s fundraising? Have you heard me say one word about it during the campaign? // I am trying to stay away from personal attacks on Hillary.
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JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: Let's bring in right now Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. You know what I loved about Wisconsin is you won by 13 points, right? Huge win, and then you had a couple days to just kind of sit back and relax. Just take it all in, Bernie. Take it all -- Isn't that crazy? You win there, a huge win, but then you're catapulted straight into the big apple.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, what I liked about Wisconsin is we won in almost every county in the state, right across the board. That was pretty good.
SCARBOROUGH: What happened there? What worked there that worked in Michigan as well?
SANDERS: It is a smaller state, not a very small state. We had the opportunity to go out and talk to tens of thousands of people. Last week alone we had rallies with 35,000 people came out. So I think we do well when we can speak to people in a -- in a meaningful way, not in a three-second soundbite. We're up there for an hour talking to people and answering questions. It works pretty well.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC HOST: You get to stay focused, too. You don't have to go to fundraisers, you don't have to deal with that whole side of things.
SANDERS: Lets me say that we don't do a whole lot of those fundraisers. We've been extraordinarily lucky. I have not done a quote/unquote fundraiser once.
SCARBOROUGH: We have a joke that you cough and you raise a million dollars.
SANDERS: Excuse me, time out. (COUGHING) Berniesanders.com.
BRZEZINSKI: There you go. Look -- a million dollars.
SCARBOROUGH: Let me just say, as a former colleague, I did it as a favor. I just got you a million dollars.
BRZEZINSKI: It's incredible. All right. So let's get -- First of all, there will be no questions about -- Now his wife said last night we are moving on. Okay?
SCARBOROUGH: About what?
SANDERS: If my wife says it, what can I say?
BRZEZINSKI: Oh, we're moving on.
SCARBOROUGH: Can you say I'm not qualified all the time.
BRZEZINSKI: Well no -- Exactly. But here's the deal, everyone is saying, oh, this riff between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders continues, but then you show the soundbite and it's reporters asking the questions continuing it --
SANDERS: Oh, Mika, you just discovered something!
BRZEZINSKI: Hello! So stop it. Now listen, there are -- I think there -- I think a lot of people turned heads a little bit with "The Daily News Interview." The interview with "The New York Daily News." Some answers they felt you came up short with, especially on your main message. So I'm going to re-ask those questions. I'm literally taking "The Daily News" interview and borrowing from this great interview. All right. By what authority and how would you go about breaking up the largest financial institutions in the country?
SANDERS: All right. You ready for the answers?
BRZEZINSKI: I'm ready. I want to hear it.
SANDERS: You do it in a couple of ways. One is you use Section 121 of the Dodd-Frank legislation. And No. 2, better, and I would prefer it, is pass my legislation. And what my legislation -- the legislation that I've introduced says that the secretary of the treasury will have the authority to investigate and determine which banks pose systemic risks to our economy, i.e., if they're too big to fail, they can bring down a significant part of the economy, and then within a period of time the secretary can break them up.
SCARBOROUGH: So let me ask you that. I mean -- by definition -- I'm going to upset a lot of my friends -- but Bank of America, J.P. Morgan, you can go down the list, Citi.
SCARBOROUGH: If any one of those banks went under tomorrow, I don't care what anybody says, we'd be bailing them out again. I don't care what the legislation says. You've been there, I've been there, they stick a gun to your head and say you either vote yes or the entire economy will have to -- why are we still in that position eight years after 2008?
SANDERS: Why are you asking me the question? This guy gave a better answer than I did.
BRZEZINSKI: I'm sorry.
SCARBOROUGH: Now why are we still on that position? It's maddening.
SANDERS: By the way, Joe, three out of the four largest banks in this country today are bigger than they were when we bailed them out because they were too big to fail. So that's point No. 1. Point No. 2 is that when you have six financial institutions that today have assets of about 50 -- equivalent to about 58 percent of the GDP of this country, they issue two-thirds of the credit cards and one-third of the mortgages, don't you think that's a hell of a lot of economic and political power?
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. Nobody is going to let them go under.
BRZEZINSKI: I don't disagree. So another "New York Daily News," the great paper's question, what does a bank like J.P. Morgan look like in year two of the Sanders administration?
SANDERS: And what I said is after they're broken up, that is their decision to reconfigure how they want to do it. It's not the government's business. We tell you you can't be this big, you're too much of a danger -- go from there -- this is how big you can be. That's all. I'm not going to run J.P. Morgan.
SCARBOROUGH: Is there a parallel between what the government did to the bells back in the '70s and '80s and what you do to the banks?
SANDERS: Right. I think so. Just say you're too big. And -- yep.
WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC HOST: Would you concede, Senator Sanders, that Wall Street banks, though, do play an important role in the United States economy, no matter what their size are in terms of employing people, managing people's public pensions -- ? So how do you -- how do you reconcile your position that they ought to be broken up with the important role they play in the economy?
SANDERS: Well, they play -- When they are that big, if they issue, the top six banks issue two-thirds of the credit cards and a third of the mortgages, by definition they play an enormous role. But I think what we have got to say is that -- are they playing the kind of role that we need for small to medium-sized businesses in terms of providing the affordable credit that those businesses need to expand? And I think the answer is no.
Much of what Wall Street is about is figuring out how they can make more profits for themselves and in many ways they're an island unto themselves, like all these esoteric crazy rules that nobody really understands to make more money for themselves. The goal -- you know -- and in this one I guess I'm pretty conservative and I believe in old-fashioned boring banking. You make a deposit, you make a loan. The small or medium sized businesses, the consumers who want to buy a home, want to buy a car. That's kind of my definition of what banking should be about.
GEIST: Do you think it's good to have Wall Street banks managing public pensions, for example?
SANDERS: I think that's an important role for them to play.
MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: On another issue, gun litigation. Yesterday Governor Cuomo of New York, with regard to your position, says what he does is take a political stance on a moral issue. So the question is why -- What other industry in this country receives immunity from litigation other than the gun industry?
SANDERS: Let me just say this. So let's set the record straight. No. 1 -- and I do get a little bit upset at this. The Clinton campaign has been on this gun business from day one. I have a D-minus voting record from the NRA. Okay? D-minus. No. 2, I come from a state that has virtually no gun control. You know something about --
SANDERS: Okay. No. 3, and this is important to understand. In 1988, before I was elected to Congress, I was in a race, three-way race. The gun lobby was against me in that race because I said in 1988 that we should not have assault weapons sold or distributed in this country. I lost by three percentage points by running as an independent, Republican won, Democrat came in third place. I lost that race because I said in 1988 let's ban assault weapons in this country. So to keep attacking me, I think, is unfair.
Now to answer your question, let me put it back to you. I am a gun shop owner in a rural area. You come in, you go through the instant background check, I sell you the gun, you flip out, go do something, you go out and shoot somebody. Should I be held responsible for having sold you a legal product?
BARNICLE: Is that the point of the litigation, though?
BARNICLE: The point of the litigation, it would seem to me, is massive sales of guns in bulk.
SANDERS: Okay -- If that's the case, then of course my position is then that gun -- if you walk in and say, hey, Bernie, give me 10,000 rounds of ammunition or I want to buy 47 assault weapons. Should I be held responsible for selling you that? The answer is yes.
SCARBOROUGH: I want to flip what the governor of New York said around a bit and look at it in the other direction. He said that you were taking a political position. It seems to me in the Democratic primary on guns, the safe political decision would have been to change your position and actually tell "The Daily News" what "The Daily News" wanted to hear. Why didn't you do that?
SANDERS: Well, I didn't because I try to be honest. But here is the issue, and I want to pick this up. If a gun manufacturer -- and there are instances of this -- are selling guns to gun shops and we know that those guns are ending up in the hands of criminals, you know what? Hold that manufacturer liable. But don't hold a gun shop owner who legally sells a product to somebody else liable because that person did something crazy.
SCARBOROUGH: Just to make sure, and we've been debating this since Newtown -- You do support a ban on gun shows without background checks, right?
SANDERS: Of course I do.
BRZEZINSKI: There is definitely --
SCARBOROUGH: You want background checks --
SANDERS: Let's go for the --
SCARBOROUGH: ...on selling over the internet just for people that don't know all of your positions, let's get them out on guns. You support stronger background checks. You support background checks at gun shows over the internet, et cetera, et cetera.
SANDERS: And the straw man provision so that if you walk in legally and buy a gun and then you sell it to criminals, that should be against the law. I very strongly support what President Obama is trying to do. But I want to reiterate that back in 1988, I lost an election because I did not think it was a wise thing to have assault weapons being sold throughout this country.
BRZEZINSKI: So, you would be the first Jewish president, and I'm looking here at -- I don't know if this is new, have you heard he's going to the Vatican? Has anyone -- this been revealed?
SANDERS: You have the story here, Mika. Tell the world.
BRZEZINSKI: So, tell me -- tell me, you're going to be going to the Vatican to talk about how to create a moral economy that works for all people rather than the top 1 percent?
How did this come about?
SANDERS: It was an invitation from the Vatican.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, that's pretty good.
BRZEZINSKI: That's kind of impressive.
SANDERS: It is. Look, let me...
BRZEZINSKI: It is. I like that.
SCARBOROUGH: Mike, has the pope invited you -- has the pope invited you?
BARNICLE: The pope has not invited me.
BRZEZINSKI: I got not no invitation.
BARNICLE: And he has invited Senator Sanders. I am kind of offended, because I've been going to 8:00 o'clock children's mass now for...
BRZEZINSKI: Last time I checked, you're a Catholic, too.
SCARBOROUGH: So you've been invited by the Vatican to go over and speak?
SANDERS: Yeah. And I was very moved by the invitation, which just was made public today. I am a big, big fan of the pope. Obviously there are areas where we disagree, on women's rights or gay rights, but he has played an unbelievable role, an unbelievable role of injecting a moral consequence into the economy.
And here's what he is saying. You know, people think Bernie Sanders is radical. Read what the pope is writing. What he is saying is not only that we have to pay attention to what he called the dispossessed, and again, we don't talk about it enough. These are the children who have no jobs all over the world, youth unemployment is off the charts. The elderly people who are watching this program now, who are trying to get by on $11,000 a year.
We don't talk about that. But you know what else? He's even going -- he is talking about the idolatry of money, the worship of money, the greed that's out there, how our whole culture is based on, "I need more and more and more, and I don't have to worry about veterans sleeping out on the street, or elderly people who can't afford their prescription drugs."
And he's trying to inject a sense of morality into how we do economics.
BRZEZINSKI: Trying to put a conscience into it.
SANDERS: Absolutely. And we need that absolutely desperately, so.
GEIST: I assume you think part of that morality, economically is raising the minimum wage.
GEIST: And we've been talking about that a lot in New York at $15, and California as well, $15.
SANDERS: Yes. Oregon.
BRZEZINSKI: New York, right?
GEIST: The governor of the state of Massachusetts, Oregon, New York have all been talking about that.
What do you say, though, to the small business owners and other people who say, "if I've got to pay 15 bucks an hour I'm either going to have to lay people off or shut down my business all together?"
SANDERS: Well, first of all, everybody is going to have to be paying -- you know, it's one thing if I say to him if you pay $15, and you're paying $8 an hour. But it goes up to the whole country, that is number one.
GEIST: Up to $15, Senator?
SANDERS: Yes. If I had my way -- and I want to say a couple things about this. Number two, when we raise the minimum wage to a living wage, you're putting money into the hands of people, who in many instances, don't have any disposable income right now. He's now getting $15, before he got $11, he has money to go shopping in her store and buy some goods and she can now hire somebody to do that.
I understand the conservatives argue that point, and there may -- I'm not going to tell you that there will not be some small businesses that will be impacted, but I think overall for the economy, putting cash into the hands of people who desperately need it will be a plus for the economy.
I want to make a second point, though, if I could, on this $15 minimum wage. If we were sitting here -- and let's be honest about this -- five years ago, Willie, you said, "I think we should raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, because $7.25 is starvation wage."
Would anybody here have believed that in a period of five years, California, Oregon, New York state and other cities would have done it? Nobody would have believed that.
SANDERS: All right, here's my point. When I am criticized for being too ambitious, talking about free tuition to public colleges or universities, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, moving toward a Medicare for all, I'm criticized -- it's too big an idea, too radical an idea.
But what happens when an idea catches fire? When people see the justice of that idea, it moves very, very quickly.
What happened with the $15 an hour minimum wage is people in the fast food industry, the McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, they went out on strike, they raised the issue. And suddenly I have governors and city councils all over the country saying, "That's right."
What my campaign is about is trying to inject that sense of urgency and bringing people together to say, we can deal with incumbent wealth inequality. We can deal with pay equity for women. We can deal with the fact that we have more people in jail than any other country on Earth -- if we get our act together, if we stand up and take on the big money and trusts that have so much power, we can change America.
SCARBOROUGH: Let's go to foreign policy and talk about an issue that matters a lot to people -- well, in my home state of Florida, but also here in New York and across the country -- and that is Israel.
Do you believe, like many diplomats, that the only way to at the end strike peace -- strike a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians is moving back to pre-1967 borders?
SANDERS: What I believe, first of all, is there are good people on both sides and there are political opportunists on both sides. Got to say that.
Number two, what I believe is, as somebody who is Jewish, who has lived in Israel for a few months when I was a young man, who has family in Israel is that of course, the security of Israel, the independence of Israel, the right of Israel to live in peace and security is paramount. But you have to recognize the plight of the Palestinians.
And I know that in America, in politics, that maybe is not something that is said very often. But we're not going to have lasting peace unless we recognize that in Gaza, for example, what the current situation there is deplorable. I mean, people living with horrific levels of poverty in an area that has been the -- just annihilated.
SANDERS: So what I think is, Joe, you need a two-state solution and we'll argue about the details of that.
SCARBOROUGH: But do you have an opinion on the pre-'67 borders?
SANDERS: Not at this point.
SCARBOROUGH: Not right now, OK.
GEIST: Do you believe, quickly, Senator, that that plight of the Palestinians you talk about was brought on in part by Israel?
SANDERS: Look, Israel has a right to protect itself from terrorism. The idea that in Gaza, weapons, and missiles and bombs were being created is obviously unacceptable.
Do I think that Israel reacted in a disproportionate way? I do. And in that same interview, what I -- did not know the exact number, but it turns out that according to the United Nations, over 2,000 civilians were killed and some 10,000 people were wounded.
I think that is, you know, an understanding that there was a war, I think that was a disproportionate reaction.
BARNICLE: Paul Krugman raises an issue about the increasingly vitriolic tone of the campaign on both sides.
SANDERS: Well, I think vitriolic is probably too strong a word, but go ahead.
BARNICLE: Well, Mr. Krugman writes in part...
SCARBOROUGH: We've never known Paul Krugman, though, to overreach rhetorically.
BARNICLE: Recent attacks...
SCARBOROUGH: Not good at -- he's not good at debates.
BRZEZINSKI: Stop it! Stop. We have a minute.
SCARBOROUGH: He's not good at debates, but he can overreach rhetorically. But go ahead, I'm sorry.
BARNICLE: Well, we're going to get a reaction to whether he overreached or not.
"Recent attacks on Mrs. Clinton as a tool of the fossil fuel industry are plain dishonest and speak of a campaign" -- yours -- "that has lost itself ethical moorings."
SANDERS: Oh, man.
BRZEZINSKI: Wow, you're in trouble.
SANDERS: We get attacked every single day. I've been called a protector of the NRA. The Clinton campaign has said I want to dismember American health care and leave people without Medicaid or Medicare.
That I am attacking Planned Parenthood when I think Planned Parenthood is one of the great organizations in this country. It was a headline in the Washington Post just the other day, quote, "Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president."
To say that, you know -- how often have I talked about Hillary Clinton's e-mails? Have you heard me? Not a word. How often have I talked about the Clinton Foundation's fund raising? Have you heard me say one word about it during the campaign?
To say that I am running a vitriolic campaign...
SCARBOROUGH: Why haven't you?
BRZEZINSKI: I know.
GEIST: It'd be an argue -- you'd make our job easier.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, I mean, some of them are very good questions.
SCARBOROUGH: What? Well, I mean, some of them. Some of them.
BRZEZINSKI: Some of them are legitimate questions.
SANDERS: They are, but I am trying to stay away from personal attacks on Hillary.
You know, so when I get attacked for being unqualified, and when I respond by saying well, you know, Hillary Clinton voted for the war in Iraq, she voted for all these disastrous trade agreements, she's raising millions and millions of dollars from Wall Street and other special interests -- oh, my goodness, isn't that a vitriolic attack?
I don't think so.
GEIST: So, since you say that, Senator, that when she was up to be secretary of state, you said of her, "Clinton is one of the brightest people in Congress, she would be an excellent choice."
GEIST: At that point, she had already voted for the Iraq War and all those trade deals. What changed since then?
SANDERS: Well, she's running for president now, that's what changed.
And look, I think she is very bright, and I'm not going to get dragged into telling you something that is not true. I've known her for 25 years, I respect her.
But if I am being attacked day after day, after day, if what the Clinton -- what the Clinton campaign basically says, look, we lost in Wisconsin, we've lost six out of the last seven states, we have got to go negative on Sanders.
That is what their new strategy is. What am I supposed to do? Just sit back and say, hey, I come from a small state, we're really nice people, we don't -- we have got to fight back. And that is what we are trying to do.
I hope, though -- let me be clear on this, OK? Let's get back to the issues. Hillary Clinton and I have strong disagreements. I respect her. But let's start debating the issues, and that is what the American people want.
BRZEZINSKI: And there will be a debate, and Jane just pointing out -- we did not bring it up. We did not bring it up...
SCARBOROUGH: No, Jane, we didn't -- hi, Jane.
BRZEZINSKI: We didn't bring it up.
All right. Senator Bernie Sanders, thank you so much. Great to have you on the show.
SCARBOROUGH: Thank you, Bernie.
GEIST: Thanks, Senator.
SCARBOROUGH: Always great to see you.