In a Friday afternoon on the first day of South by Southwest 2018, CNN’s Jake Tapper and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had time to stretch out in front of a live audience.
Addressing a over-full Ballroom D at the Austin Convention Center on Friday afternoon, Sanders and Tapper sparred and covered a wide range of political issues that largely focused on Sanders’ frustrations with President Donald Trump and his efforts to get more citizens voting, running for office and participating in the electoral process.
Sanders came out to a standing ovation and stated at the outset that he wanted to go beyond the 10-12 minutes he and Tapper usually have to discuss issues on the CNN show “State of the Union.”
“We don't talk about the most important issues facing the working people of this country: the collapse of the middle class, wealth inequality, the country’s move to an oligarchy, the Koch brothers. Those issue we often don't talk about on television and I want to do that today,” Sanders said.
What followed was a quick-hit sprint through recent news topics, from a recent banking industry deregulation bill that Sanders opposes to recent anti-Semitic remarks from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Of the banking bill, Sanders said that large banks are more powerful today than when they were bailed out by the government 10 years ago and that he would prefer deregulation of smaller banks and credit unions, not banks with assets up to $250 billion.
Sanders disavowed racism, sexism and homophobia, but did not really address Tapper’s question about why Democratic leaders aren’t taking a harder stance on Farrakhan.
Instead, Sanders reserved his ire for the Trump administration, which he said is led by a man who unlike every prior president is “working day and night to try to divide us up based on the color of our skin or where we are from.”
Sanders called Trump’s border wall “One of the stupidest ideas in the history of the world” and said that immigration action on the DACA/Dreamers issue has been difficult because “he lies all the time,” so a proposal on it from Trump can’t be taken too seriously.
On gun control, Sanders seemed to indicate that a sea change might be happening with U.S. citizens. “Maybe the American people are shaking their heads and saying they're sick and tired of this,” he told Tapper.
Sanders said he would be spending time in conservative areas such as San Antonio and Lubbock to try to sway Trump voters for future elections. “I don’t believe most people who voted for trump are racists, sexists or homophobes,” he said. “These are people who are hurting” and need to be heard.
Sanders was asked in a online question from the audience whether he’ll run for president in 2020, a question he chided Tapper about as it’s one he gets asked all too frequently.
Sanders said he’s focused on increasing voter turnout, and declined to answer whether he could have beaten Trump if he’d been the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.
"I'm not a great fan of looking back,” he said, but did acknowledge that there are problems with how candidates are chosen.
The presentation ran smoothly, at least in the room, up until an awkward moment after Sanders brought up adult star Stormy Daniels, who alleges she had a sexual affair with Trump, and who has been featured quite a lot on CNN. At one point, Sanders invoked the name as a joke and it went like this:
"Stormy Daniels," Sanders said.
"You keep mentioning her name," Tapper said.
"Not as much as CNN does," Sanders replied.
Sanders said later that it’s definitely a story worth covering, but suggested that CNN should also be covering other major issues just as much such as campaign finances.
As for crowds who turned out to see Sanders, not everyone got to see the whole presentation. As reported by Austin360’s Peter Blackstock, the simulcast in the overflow room for the Sanders talk had some technical issues:
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