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Bernie Sanders Can't Explain How He'd Break Up Big Banks, Among Other Things

Sanders' interview with the New York Daily News editorial board is feeding the Clinton campaign's narrative that he's big on ideas, but scant on specifics.
Photo by Peter Foley/EPA

Bernie Sanders is as often lauded for his ability to attract record-breaking crowds as he is panned for his lack of solid proposals on how he plans to achieve his promise of revolutionary change.

On Tuesday, an interview with New York Daily News editorial board reignited questions about whether Sanders can offer up specifics on how to carry out his vision.

The grilling interview at times left Sanders apparently speechless, telling members of the paper's editorial board that he did not have an answer or would need to do more research on topics like trade, combatting ISIS, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and even his campaign's central promise to break up banks that are deemed "too big to fail".


To Sanders supporters, the interview was yet another attack from corporate media determined to dredge up attacks from Hillary Clinton over his apparent inexperience — one her campaign has exploited thoroughly as the pair move into the second half of the Democratic primary contest.

But the editorial interview reinforces a narrative long pushed by Clinton's campaign: That Sanders has big ideas, but is short on specifics as to how he would accomplish them.

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Thus far in the campaign, Sanders hasn't been pressed much on the specifics of how he will accomplish his policy goals. During campaign events, Sanders repeats his talking points in stump speeches that are so similar that his adherents can shout along with key phrases. And he has been criticized for doing the same thing in debates, turning questions into opportunities to repeat those lines. But the Daily News interview went much further, pressing the candidate to lay out the details of his plan to accomplish those goals.

In a sign of how damaging the interview could be, the Clinton campaign emailed out the full, unannotated transcript with the simple comment that it is "a must read for those covering or following this race." Clinton campaign aides were more specific in their attacks on social media on Tuesday.

"At some point, you have to have actual details. How you'll break up the banks. Pay for your college and health care plan. Win the nomination," Clinton Deputy Communications Director Christina Reynolds tweeted.


In the interview, which was published Tuesday, Sanders evaded the question of how he would break up big banks within the first year of his administration and prosecute fraudulent bankers, something he has repeatedly promised to do as president.

When asked what authority he had to break up banks like JPMorgan Chase, Sanders deflected and launched instead into a rationale of why the banks should be broken up.

"Let's talk about the merit of the issue, and then talk about how we get there," Sanders said.

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When pressed on what authority Sanders would have to break up the banks, and whether the Secretary of the Treasury currently has the ability to determine that the banks are "too big to fail," he said he didn't know "if the Fed has it. But I think the administration can have it."

Later, Sanders insisted that although he thought the administration had the authority to break up big banks, that he wouldn't tell them how to do it if he becomes president, noting that "the president is not a dictator."

The Daily News asked about cases like the government's attempt to bring Metropolitan Life under federal regulation, which was blocked by the courts, questioning how that failure would impact Sanders' own plans to regulate big banks. But Sanders said he had "not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that."


And although Sanders said he believes that Wall Street executives should be jailed for their involvement in the 2008 financial crisis, he could not name laws that they had broken or statutes that he would use to indict bankers.

"Do I have them in front of me, now, legal statutes? No, I don't… When a company pays a $5 billion fine for doing something that's illegal, yeah, I think we can bring charges against the executives," he said.

Sanders is not a legal scholar, but as one member of the Daily News editorial board pointed out immediately after he gave that answer, breaking up big banks is one of the main focuses of the Sanders campaign. And it's an issue that he's highlighted consistently since 2008, even before he decided to seek the White House.

"I'm only pressing because you've made it such a central part of your campaign. And I wanted to know what the mechanism would be to accomplish it," a member of the Daily News editorial board said.

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Sanders also had difficulty answering questions when the topic turned to one of his biggest weak points (and one of Clinton's strongest) in the 2016 campaign: Foreign policy.

Pressed repeatedly on his vision for a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, Sanders demurred. Although he said that he believes "100 percent" in the need for a free and peaceful state of Israel and that the US should work with the Palestinians as well, Sanders repeatedly declined to say what Israel should do in the region.


"I'm not going to run the Israeli government. I've got enough problems trying to be a United States senator or maybe President of the United States," Sanders said. Adding later: "You're asking me now to make not only decisions for the Israeli government but for the Israeli military, and I don't quite think I'm qualified to make decisions."

Asked if President Obama was right to move the US drone program from the hands of the CIA to the US military, Sanders said: "I don't know the answer to that."

And when pressed on whether a President Sanders would hold terrorist prisoners at Guantanamo Bay or in another location, Sanders said: "Actually I haven't thought about it a whole lot."

The Vermont Senator went on to say that he would hold prisoners "somewhere near the locale where that person was captured" where they could be safely secured. But added that that could include the United States.

One Daily News editorial board member pointed out that Sanders sounded like Donald Trump when discussing trade, one of the biggest issues the Sanders campaign has used to hammer Clinton. The trade message is a particularly important one for Sanders in the Midwest, where the senator credits his victory in Michigan in part with his message on trade, and is hoping for a repeat performance in tonight's Wisconsin primary.

"[Trump] also says that, although he speaks with much more blunt language and says, and with few specifics, 'Bad deals. Terrible deals. I'll make them good deals,'" the Daily News said. "So in that sense I hear whispers of that same sentiment."


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Sanders said that he agreed with Trump that trade deals like NAFTA are "bad," but argued that he is more specific in his approach to fixing them. Sanders argued in favor of fair trade deals in which foreign workers are operating in an environment with "roughly equivalent… wages and environmental standards [to] the United States."

But the Daily News wasn't alone in making a connection between Sanders and Trump. Former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, Dan Pfeiffer, compared Sanders' comments to the New York Daily News to an interview that Trump gave to the Washington Post editorial board last month, for which he was widely panned for his lack of specifics.

The Transcript of Sanders' meeting with the Daily News Ed Board is almost as damning as Trump's with the WaPo — Dan Pfeiffer (@danpfeiffer)April 5, 2016

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