Bernie Sanders: Obama sounds like Bush and Clinton on trade

Olivier Knox
·Chief Washington Correspondent

Bernie Sanders: Obama sounds like Bush and Clinton on trade

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., all but confirmed in an exclusive interview on Wednesday that he will announce tomorrow that he plans to enter the 2016 presidential race. Sanders also accused President Barack Obama of having embraced the same “disastrous and unfair” free-trade agenda championed by George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

“I promised the people of Vermont that we’d make an announcement by the end of this month, and tomorrow is the last day of the month,” Sanders told Yahoo News on POTUS Sirius XM Channel 124 when asked about his 2016 plans.

Sanders, once a self-described socialist, served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, before heading to the House of Representatives and then on to the Senate. He is expected to announce Thursday that he will run as a Democrat, directly challenging Hillary Clinton from her left flank. While the 73-year-old would be a long shot, Sanders could essentially play the role that liberals had hoped Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., would play before she ruled out a run for the White House: critic of a system they see as rigged for the wealthy and large corporations.

“While we are better off economically today than we were six and a half years ago, when Bush left office and the economy was on the verge of collapse, it is no great secret that for the last 40 years the American middle class has been disappearing,” Sanders said. “The disparity of income and wealth indicates that you have an economy that works for the people at the very, very, very top while everybody else is hurting, and those are issues that must be addressed.”

Sanders of late has led the charge against Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade talks with Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and a host of other countries.

“The function of these trade agreements is to force American workers to compete against desperate people in low-income nations,” he said. “For corporate America, it’s a great idea: You can continue to shut down plants in America, move to Vietnam, hire hard-working people there at 56 cents an hour.”

Sanders hit back at Obama, who recently accused critics of TPP of being “dishonest” about the negotiations.

“I agree with President Obama on a number of issues, but on trade he is dead wrong,” Sanders said. “He is following in the footsteps of George W. Bush; he’s following in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, of Bush I, of Ronald Reagan.

“All these presidents have told us how great these trade agreements would be … how many jobs NAFTA would create, and how many jobs permanent normal trade relations with China would create,” Sanders said, citing two trade accords ratified under Clinton. “Well, you know what? Didn’t quite turn out that way. What in fact turned out is that we lost millions of decent-paying jobs.”

Asked how businesses in Vermont would get their products to overseas consumers, Sanders declared, “I’m not for building a wall around America. …

“Trade is a good thing; trade is a very positive thing,” Sanders said. “But trade has got to work for the workers who are involved; it cannot only lead to large corporate profits.”

And “what we have right now is a disastrous and unfair trade policy, which primarily benefits the wealthiest and large corporations,” he said.

“What our goal has got to be, among other things, is to create not free trade but fair trade,” Sanders said.

Turning to the unrest in Baltimore, the senator backed requiring body cameras for police but said that a long-term strategy is needed to revitalize poor communities suffering from high unemployment and poor schools and infrastructure.

“We have seen, for many, many years now, people — often African-Americans — in police custody not coming out of that custody alive. And that’s what happened to Freddie Gray,” he said, referring to the 25-year-old black man who died of a spinal injury on April 19 while held by the police.

“I think there is growing consciousness about how police treat people who are held in custody,” Sanders said.

“You need a short-term strategy in which police are held accountable for their own safety and for their own well-being,” Sanders. “There are a lot of police officers — and I speak as a former mayor — who do a very good job under very difficult circumstances. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to be a cop is sorely mistaken. So I think the idea of cameras makes a lot of sense.

“But second of all, you can have every police officer in America [be] a Harvard Law School constitutional scholar, and you will still have problems,” the lawmaker added. “Because when you’re looking at unemployment rates that are off the charts and people have no hope, no opportunity, they are going to lash out, most likely.”

Sanders called for “a massive jobs program” and noted that he has called for spending $1 trillion over five years to boost employment, notably through infrastructure improvements.

“We can put a whole lot of people back to work,” he said.