RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Senator Bernie Sanders is sharpening his case for why he should be the Democratic presidential nominee.
BERNIE SANDERS: There are differences of opinion - significant difference of opinion - between Hillary Clinton and myself.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Sanders said that during a long conversation here in Washington. He was in his Senate office, in a room with a Vermont tourism poster on the wall.
MONTAGNE: The presidential candidate had a summer of dramatic news. The self-described Democratic socialist drew huge crowds with his attack on billionaires and corporations.
INSKEEP: He's had an autumn of subtle disappointment, wrong-footed more than once by the party's frontrunner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Do you feel that you're on a path to win?
SANDERS: I do.
INSKEEP: Sanders insists he has raised the money and enthusiasm to overcome Clinton's huge advantages. Yet, as we talked, it was clear Sanders knows the question for voters is why it should be him instead of her.
SANDERS: I have tried to run a very, very positive campaign because I respect Hillary Clinton. And I like Hillary Clinton. I've known her for 25 years. And I do not want this to look like the Republican campaign, where it looks like a food fight. And they look like children. We have real issues. And we have real differences. For example, I believe that our current campaign finance law makes the campaign finance system in America today corrupt. I made a decision. It wasn't an easy decision. I said, if I am going to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, I am not going to have a super PAC. And that means essentially giving up millions of dollars that I could have raised. But I can't go forward to the American people saying, you've got a corrupt campaign-finance system, but I have a super PAC. Contribute, millionaires, to my super PAC, not the other guys. So that's one; I don't have a super PAC. Hillary Clinton does.
INSKEEP: You, in a speech the other day, pointed out that you were opposed to the Iraq War before it began. You went on to say that you were in favor of gay marriage years and years ago, whereas other people, as you put it, were trying to rewrite history about their own past, which seemed to be a clear reference to Secretary Clinton.
SANDERS: Did you think?
INSKEEP: And you're smiling as I say that. If you're on roughly the same position now, what should it signify to voters that you were on a position before she was?
SANDERS: See, I think that's an important question. Look, we live in a very difficult and complicated and crazy world. And nobody - certainly not Bernie Sanders - has any magical answers to the very serious problems that we face. But I think when people consider a candidate, it is important to understand their history, how they responded in crisis situations, how they responded when the decisions that they made were not necessarily the popular decision. Now, in 1996, I voted against this disastrous, homophobic DOMA legislation.
INSKEEP: The Defense of Marriage Act.
SANDERS: The Defense of Marriage Act. And everybody knows what it was, right wing Republicans pushing legislation that they knew was popular at that time. And there were some very good people, whom I knew, who in their hearts knew this was bad legislation but looked around and said politically, you know, I got to vote for it. I voted against it. So I don't want to sit here and tell you that I've been one of the great leaders in the world in gay marriage and stuff like that. But when I saw a piece of legislation coming down the pike which was a real attack on our gay brothers and sisters, even though it was not a popular vote, I voted against it.
INSKEEP: Although, people can say, if they support Hillary Clinton, look, she's on approximately the same view as you are today. What difference does it make when she came to that view...
SANDERS: You can say that.
INSKEEP: For voters today.
SANDERS: But I think the important thing is what happens tomorrow. When the going gets rough, who is prepared to take the right decisions, even though they may be unpopular decisions? So I think if you look at my record, I remember like it was yesterday the war in Iraq. I remember almost every editorial page in America saying, yeah, we should go to war. The Bush administration, public opinion polls say, yeah, let's go to war. I voted against it. Hillary Clinton voted the other way on that issue.
INSKEEP: She wouldn't make hard decisions against public opinion?
SANDERS: I'm not generalizing this. I'm just saying the record. I gave you several examples.
INSKEEP: You're traveling to South Carolina this weekend.
SANDERS: I am.
INSKEEP: Where the black vote is particularly significant in the Democratic primary.
INSKEEP: African-Americans, if you look at leaders who've endorsed Hillary Clinton, if you look at polls, they are powerfully for...
INSKEEP: Hillary Clinton.
INSKEEP: If we ticked off a list of major issues, is there a particular difference between you and Secretary Clinton on anything that would be of special interest to black voters?
SANDERS: I think there is. First of all, you're absolutely right. I think if the elections were held today just among the African-American vote, we would lose. But I think we have a real path to winning the support of a lot of folks in the African-American community for two reasons. Number one, I'm just not well-known in the African-American community. I think people will tell you that's just simply the truth. So we have got to do a lot better job in discussing, number one, my record, which in the United States Congress is one of the strongest records of any member in terms of civil rights. Number two, I think even more importantly, unfortunately, but as everybody knows is the case, the African-American community and the Latino community are struggling in a nation in which our middle class is struggling. It turns out that in a nation which has more people in jail than any other country on Earth, it is disproportionately black and Latino. So I think the issues that we are focusing on, rebuilding the economy and in the process creating up to 13 million decent-paying jobs, many of those jobs will be for minority communities. Making public colleges and universities tuition-free will benefit everybody in America, but even more so the African-American community.
INSKEEP: You mentioned the sheer number of people in prison in the United States. Somebody will surely note that you voted in favor of the 1994 crime bill, which included stiffer penalties for many crimes...
INSKEEP: And is linked to the prison population in the United States.
SANDERS: Yeah, that's true. But somebody - if I had voted the other way, somebody would have noted that I voted against the Violence Against Women Act, which was also in that and voted against a bill banning certain types of assault weapons. This is an example of a bill which had a lot of stuff in it. As you well know, sometimes in big pieces of legislation, everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into it. No matter what you do, people can criticize it.
INSKEEP: Were the stiffer penalties that were part of that law, in retrospect, a mistake?
SANDERS: Yes, of course they were. And I think if you check my record on that, going way back when, I have had real concerns about policies which resulted in hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of lives being destroyed for nonviolent crimes.
INSKEEP: That is part of our talk with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in his office here in Washington.
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