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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

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And the independent senator from Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders, is joining us now.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: My pleasure.

BLITZER: You are a very blunt guy. You and always tell us what's on your mind. How do you think the president did in the debate last night?

SANDERS: Poorly, no question about it. I think he was listless.

But on the other hand, while clearly Romney won from a performance point of view, from a policy point of view, from an honesty point of view, Romney was a failure as well.

BOLDUAN: But, Senator, so much is being made about the performance last night and this initial reaction today. What do you think was the problem with President Obama last night? Was it a problem of preparation or do you think he's off his game?

SANDERS: Well, Kate, let me just say this.

I think these guys are not auditioning for the "American Idol." They're not singers. We're not electing great singers and actors. We are electing people who presumably are going to give us policy to protect the middle class and working families of this country.

If you look at the policies that Romney is talking about, first of all, they are a disaster for the middle class. Second of all, what he did last night has totally transformed his campaign from what he has been saying for the last year-and-a-half, what he's been telling us forever.

And this speaks to his Etch A Sketch, is that he is going to lower taxes for the wealthiest people in the country. He supports the Ryan budget transforming Medicare away from where it is right now into a voucher program, massive cuts in Medicaid, education and virtually every program that working people depend upon.

Also, he's going to increase defense spending. Yesterday, last night, he suddenly became a raving moderate. Oh, he's not going to cut -- he's not going to cut Medicaid. He is not going to cut education. He is not going to give tax breaks to the wealthy if it adds to the deficit.

That is total hypocrisy because that is what he has been talking about for the last year-and-a-half.

BLITZER: And that's why so many liberals, so many Democrats, so many of the president's supporters are very concerned because the president had numerous opportunities to make some of those points that you just made.

Instead, we got something very different. Let me play a few clips of what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Governor Romney and I both agree that our corporate tax rate is too high. We both agree that we have to boost American energy production and it appears we have some agreement that a marketplace to work has to have some regulation. I suspect that on Social Security we have got a somewhat similar position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You understand what he was trying to do there? Because I got a bit confused.

SANDERS: Yes, I do. Well, I think you're right, Wolf.

And I think that is a disastrous approach. The truth of the matter is, Mitt Romney right now is the head of a right-wing extremist party called the Republican Party. Wasn't always that case. That's what they are today. And if the president cannot differentiate himself clearly from right-wing extremism, we have got a lot of problems as a nation and he has got a lot of problems as a candidate running for reelection.

In terms of Social Security, in terms of Social Security, it is absurd for the president to say that he and Romney are coming down in the same way. Social Security today has a $2.7 trillion surplus. Social Security hasn't contributed one nickel to the deficit, can pay out benefits for the next 21 years.

The president should be saying now what he said four years ago. He is not going to cut Social Security, while Romney and Ryan certainly are.

BOLDUAN: Now, Senator, one thing that I think is puzzling Democrats and supporters of the president as well today is both men had a chance at closing arguments last night. That was one of the things that they know was coming their direction. Listen in part to what President Obama had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Four years ago, I said that I'm not a perfect man and I wouldn't be a perfect president. And that's probably a promise that Governor Romney thinks I have kept.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Why specifically point out the flaws? Was that a good choice?

SANDERS: Well, I think not.

I mean, I think -- here's what I think the position of the president should be. Look, everybody knows the economy is in a lot of trouble today. We all know that. Everybody knows that the rich are getting much richer, the middle class is shrinking, poverty is much -- that is the simple truth.

But what he should remind people over and over again is that Romney's proposals, Romney's policies are exactly what George W. Bush's were. And at the end of the Bush era, when Obama was coming in, we were losing 700,000 jobs a month as a result of the deregulation of Wall Street, and Romney wants more deregulation.

Not only was the American financial system on the verge of collapse. So was the entire world, heading us into a tremendous recession -- depression, not a recession, a depression. That's where we were four years ago.

We are not in great shape now. But the idea of going back to Bush's policy, more deregulation, more tax breaks for the rich, cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, more unfettered free trade, so that we continue to lose decent-paying jobs, manufacturing jobs in this country, that is a prescription for disaster. The president should say, sorry, we were there for eight years, it failed, we are going to move in a very different direction.

BOLDUAN: All points though that he had an opportunity to, but not make last night, Wolf.

BLITZER: He did have some good opportunities. He never even mentioned, as you know, the 47 percent comment that Mitt Romney had made at that closed-door fund-raiser back in May down in Florida.

Here's the bottom line question. Who deserves the blame for that performance last night? Would you blame the president himself or his aides and advisers who supposedly were preparing him for this first debate?

SANDERS: Hey, Wolf, you know, all of us in public life like to blame our staff when things go bad.

But you know what? At the end of the day, it's the president. It's the United States senator. It's the congressperson. We have to take responsibility. The president should have gone in there swinging, differentiating what a progressive policy position is, as opposed to an a extreme right one, put Romney on the defensive.

How dare you give tax breaks to the richest people in this country when we have the most unfair distribution of wealth and income of any major country on Earth? How dare you throw children off of Medicaid, when we got 50 million people without any health insurance today? Put him on the defensive, instead of saying, oh, I agree with you on this, I agree with you on that.

So, you have got to take responsibility, and the responsibility is with the president.

BLITZER: Senator Sanders, we will see if he follows your advice in the next debate and the one after that. We will stay in close touch with you.

Thanks very much for joining us.

SANDERS: My pleasure. Thank you.

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