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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

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BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for coming in. Let me get right to this "Occupy Wall Street" demonstration that's going on around the country right now. What do you think about this?

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, I applaud them. I think the president is right. They're speaking to the real anger and frustration that millions of Americans feel at a time when the middle class is collapsing, poverty is increasing.

The people on top are doing phenomenally well and the people, Wolf, who cause this damn recession in the first place, the folks on Wall Street because of their greed and illegal behavior, you know what their punishment has been?

They're now making more money than they ever made before. So what the demonstrators are saying there is something wrong with picture and they're exactly correct.

BLITZER: The president at the news conference today was asked about all the Wall Street bankers in 2008 and 2009. You say illegal activity. No one as far as I know has gone to jail let alone even been charged with any illegal activity in causing this crisis. Do you know of anyone who's been charged with a crime?

SANDERS: Well, I think there are some investigations that I think, you know, hopefully they will lead to criminal charges. But what I think the average American is saying if a kid smokes marijuana, that kid can end up in jail.

These people, because of their activity, destroyed the economy, millions of people lost their jobs, their homes, their life savings and now they're making more money than they ever did before. So I applaud what the folks, the Wall Street demonstrators are talking about.

But now what we have to do is put some meat on that bone. We have to come up with some specific ideas in terms of how you deal with Wall Street. I'll give you one example, Wolf. Many people don't know this.

The sixth largest financial institutions in this country have assets the equivalent of 60 percent of the GDP of the United States of America, 60 percent of our GDP, some $7 trillion. In my view, everything being equal, they will once again, because of their reckless activity, come back before Congress in a too big to fail situation.

They will need to be bailed out again. In my view, we have got to break up these financial institutions right now, bring some competition to the financial industry. Furthermore, you have large banks, Bank of America, the others. They're charging interest rates on people's credit cards of 25 or 30 percent.

That's called usury. We have to regulate interest rates and demand that the fed take that kind of action. So we need some real specific wall street reform which pro tech the American people.

BLITZER: You want to share with us who's being investigated right now for criminal activity on Wall Street?

SANDERS: Well, I think -- no. I think something has been in the front pages of the papers. So I've nothing more to -- than that.

BLITZER: Is the Obama administration MIA when it comes to all these problems because it's been a business now for almost three years. SANDERS: If you're asking me do I believe there should have been a thorough Wall Street investigation, that there should have been prosecutions two or three years ago, the answer is absolutely. If you're asking me is the Obama administration been bringing onboard financial advisers who are too close to Wall Street, absolutely.

So, you know, I think we should have been much more aggressive in going after Wall Street. I'll give you another example. We found out -- I got a provision in Dodd-Frank, which showed the fed during the financial crisis, the fed provided $16 trillion on a revolving basis of low-interest loans to every large financial institution in America, central banks all over the world, many large corporations.

Right now in America, you have small businesses desperately in need of affordable capital. They can't find it. Why is not the fed responding to the needs of American small business people who want to expand, who want to grow jobs in the same -- with the same sense of urgency that they responded to wall street in their moment of crisis in.

BLITZER: The president's jobs bill, it's going to come up next week in the Senate. You're a senator, but a lot of people are suggesting why is the president proposing legislation that he knows is not going to -- not even pass, forget about the House of Representatives?

But even some of your fellow Democrats, if you will, I know you're an independent. But even some Democrats say they can't vote for the president president's plan.

SANDERS: I'm not so sure that that's the case. I think what the president has got to do and what the media has got to do is appreciate the urgency of the moment. And we don't.

The reality is unemployment in America today, Wolf, is not 9 percent. Real unemployment including those who have given up looking for work and working part time when they want to work full time is 16 percent, 25 million Americans.

What the president has got to do is come up with a bold jobs program. I would go further than he did. I would put more emphasis on rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, transforming our energy system. But the president has got to the American people. We need to create millions and millions of jobs.

And if any Republican out there does not want to support job creation, you have to hold that person politically accountable. That is the issue of the moment, 16 percent unemployment, young people getting out of high school, getting out of college can't find jobs. Older workers seeing their wages go down. We need to rebuild this economy.

BLITZER: I want you to listen, Senator Sanders, to Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaking out today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you interview somebody that happens to be rich, that you call a fat cat, go and get rich instead of expecting them to walk outside of their office and write you a check. That's not the way America works. Work for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, you want to respond to Herman Cain?

SANDERS: Yes, I think Mr. Cain got it wrong. That's exactly how America works. Historically, what we have said is especially in a moment when the wealthiest people are becoming wealthier and we have the most unequal distribution of income and wealth.

What we have historically done is say yes to the wealthiest people in this country, you have to pay more in taxes and especially at this moment when the real effective tax rate for the very rich is the lowest it's been in decades.

Of course, they're going to have to contribute to help us get this economy moving and create the millions of jobs that we desperately need.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, did President Obama do the right thing in ordering the killing of an American citizen, Anwar Al-Awlaki?

SANDERS: That's a long discussion probably longer than the amount of time we now have.

BLITZER: Go ahead, give me 30 seconds.

SANDERS: Well, the answer is that I, you know, think that when you have an American citizen killed by the United States government, it raises some real questions. On the other hand, when you have somebody that is a terrorist and at war with the United States, that's the other side of that equation.

BLITZER: Senator Sanders, thanks very much for coming in as usual.

SANDERS: Thank you.

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