Interview with Al Sharpton of MSNBC’s “Politics Nation”

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Hillary Clinton

SHARPTON: First of all, thank you for joining us. What will distinguish a Hillary Clinton presidency if elected from a Barack Obama president?

CLINTON: I think where we are today is due in large measure to the tough decisions that President Obama had to make. I really like to take people back through the history and point out that, when President Obama took office, we were losing 800,000 jobs a month, and we could have literally fallen into a great depression, not just a great recession. And because of the hard work of the American people and the president’s leadership, we got out of that big ditch. So we are standing again.

But now we have to build on what we’ve accomplished. We have to raise incomes. People are not seeing the results of that recovery in their pockets yet and that’s something the president and I have talked about a lot. We have to continue and win the fight to raise the minimum wage because it’s disgraceful the people that work full time in America are still in poverty.?

We have to win the fight on equal pay for equal work for women. We have to incentivize more profit sharing so the productivity that leads to profitability doesn’t just all show up in the paychecks of CEOs but is shared broadly. And then of course we have to continue the fight against climate change, create millions of new jobs from clean renewable energy and have an infrastructure program. I like an infrastructure bank that will put more people to work.

So we have a very robust agenda that builds on top of layers on top of the progress that we have made under President Obama. And the worst thing that could happen to our country, in my opinion, is for the Republicans to rip away that progress and to do a big U-turn back to trickle-down economics to slam the door in the face of hard working people, whether it’s working women or minorities of any sort or the LGBT community, to basically begin to marginalize and you know, dismiss the contributions of so many of our fellow Americans.

SHARPTON: In 2008, president, now President Obama then senator Obama got 18 million votes. You did as well. What do you say to the eight million that didn’t vote for you in 2008, why they should support Hillary Clinton now?

CLINTON: Well, they are coming to me. I mean, the amount of support I have from people who supported then senator Obama in my race against him in 2008 and then others who have been supporting him ever since is really very gratifying to me. A lot of people are very appreciative of the work I did as secretary of state. They view the fact that I joined the cabinet as the senior cabinet member for my former opponent which I think is what you’re supposed to do in our country was a very important statement of values about who we are and our democracy and how we get things done.

So I think the number of people both in my campaign and on the ground, around the country who are supporting me who were first and foremost supporters of President Obama speaks very well to their understanding of how hard this job is and how they need to elect somebody, a Democrat, who can build on the successes of the Obama presidency, and that’s what I am pledged to do.

You know, everywhere I go to speak around the country, I talk about the mess that President Obama inherited from his Republican predecessors, not unlike although much worse than what my husband inherited from his Republican predecessors. And what I say is I’m not running for President Obama’s third term or for Bill Clinton’s third term. I’m running for my first term. But I know what works and I know how important it is to stand up for our values, to stand up for our interests and our security in a way that makes sense which is smart.

So people who have supported President Obama are, you know, very enthusiastic and I’m grateful for that in support of my candidacy.

SHARPTON: The debates, the democratic debates s start on the 13th. How do you distinguish yourself from your opponent its, Senator Sanders and Governor O’Malley without the theatrics we’ve seen on the Republican side. What is the distinguishing factors that you see between you and your opponent?

CLINTON: I don’t think there’s any comparison between, we on the Democratic side and the Republicans. All of the Democrats are saying is we want to continue to improve the lives of hard working Americans. And we have different ways of going about it, about how we want to make college affordable, how we’re going to deal with the affordable care act. We have differences, and that’s what the debate will be about. But what I want viewers and voters to understand is that the real challenges to the progress we’ve made are coming from the Republican candidates.

So whatever differences we have on the Democratic side, which we will be exploring in the debate to give people a chance to make up their minds among us, it is really not at all the kind of gulf between us and the Republicans.

SHARPTON: Any surprises that we can look for in the debate? Just between us.

CLINTON: Just between us, well, you know, I don’t know. You never know. I’m going to start kind of getting geared up and getting prepared. There are always surprises. You never know what you’re going to be asked. You know that so well. And sometimes in the heat of the moment you might not know what you’re going to say, but I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be terrific for our campaign.

SHARPTON: There is always this looming question of whether vice president Biden is going to enter. Do you expect that he enters? And if he does, how will that, if at all, alter your strategy in terms of denomination?

CLINTON: You know, I have said repeatedly that this is a very hard time for the vice president for all the obvious reasons any of us can understand. And he has to have the space and time to make up his mind about what he wants to do and I respect that. I don’t comment on it. I want him to do whatever he thinks is right for him and his family.

I’m going to run my campaign. I’m going to keep rolling out my policies. I’m going to keep standing up to the Republicans. I think they have really sort of showed their hand. They’re really worried about running against me so they want to keep knocking me down. I kind of view that as a badge of respect actually, because they know that I will never give in to their, you know, very poor ideas about the economy or anything else. So I’m going to run my campaign and make my case to the American people.

SHARPTON: The fact that you are running and we are seeing different polls say different things, Iowa, New Hampshire, can you lose Iowa and New Hampshire and still win? Is there a path?

CLINTON: Well, that certainly has been the case in the past but I’m not going to lose. I’m going to work as hard as I can to make the case in the Iowa caucus and then in the New Hampshire primary. People didn’t think I could win the New Hampshire primary last time after I didn’t win the Iowa caucus.

It’s very unpredictable. It is fast moving. But I think at the end of the day when I put forth, you know, my views about what the country should be doing and it is in conjunction with my experience and I think my ability, my determination, my tenacity to get things done, people will respond to that, caucus for me and vote for me.

SHARPTON: I’m going to say two words to you, Donald Trump. What do you think?

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SHARPTON: I’m going to say two words to you, Donald Trump. What do you think?

CLINTON: You know, Reverend Al, he has been stalking prejudice and paranoia. He has been really appealing to the worst instincts of human nature. I think it’s dangerous, his demagoguery is no longer amusing.

SHARPTON: He called you shrill.

CLINTON: Well he has called me a lot of things. Now that he’s running against me. Before he called me a great senator and great secretary of state. That’s what a demagogue does, right? They say whatever they need to say to try to stir up the passions of people. So I hope that he is certainly, you know, someone who people begin to evaluate more carefully, but I will add this.

A lot of what he has said has either been echoed or not repudiated by all of the other Republicans. He may be the flamboyant front-runner, but his views on immigration, his views on women, his views on Muslims, his views on a long list of issues are not that different from the either stated or unstated views of everybody on the Republican side.

SHARPTON: Jeb Bush said in addressing an issue about why there weren’t a lot of blacks at a particular gathering he was addressing, and he, among other things said, they were offered free stuff by Democrats, how do you respond to that?

CLINTON: You know, I find that so insulting, so demeaning and condescending, it’s the kind of language we’ve heard not only from Jeb Bush, we heard it from Mitt Romney. We’re hearing it from Donald Trump. It’s insulting in the most fundamental way because when we as Democrats say, hey, we want equal pay for equal work, we want to raise the minimum wage, we want to make sure people get the best education they can, that college is affordable, that’s to build people up. That’s to give everybody a chance to be successful in America.

There’s nothing free about that. That’s the way we’re supposed to be working in our country, where we want people to live up to the God-given potential that they have. And for Republicans to keep saying that, driving edges, dismissing the legitimate aspirations, the talent and the hard work of Americans or anybody else in our country shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what America is and should be. It needs to be rejected. I don’t hear any Republicans rejecting it. But, you know, I had a Facebook Q&A a few days ago. I was just outraged about it. And I’m outraged again when you ask me.

SHARPTON: Let me bring you back. When you were a U.S. senator, you and I and others worked in New York around the [inaudible] case. And there are a lot of cases that has happened over the last year calling for police reform and calling for criminal justice reform. What would a president Hillary Clinton do to deal with the police reform question and to deal with the question that many of us are raising on how we have these matters looked at fairly and that families understand that they’re getting a fair shot at justice?

CLINTON: Absolutely. You know, first speech I gave in this campaign was at former mayor Dinkins’ Colloquium at Columbia University. And I addressed systemic racism and failures of our justice system, and called for body cameras on every police officer, called for an end to mass incarceration. And I am continuing to talk about the issues. And I think that President Obama’s policing commission has a good set of recommendations that I would certainly urge that we follow and implement.

But it’s bigger than this, Al. I mean, the real problems go to how we see each other, how we treat each other, whether we’re going to get back into respecting one another and that’s especially true when you have police who are warrant to protect certain communities and they don’t listen to those communities. They don’t work with those communities.

Now, the communities also have to respect the police. We understand that. But the initiative needs to come from changing a lot of the incentives in policing, changing the way police officers are trained, how they work. And I think with the policing commission that President Obama commissioned, we have good ideas on all of that, that shouldn’t just sit on a shelf, we should be implementing.

And I think that to a great extent, the movement for black lives matter has been essential in raising up these issue. A new generation has come to the forefront. I’ve met with some of them, I’ve certainly been made aware of all the meetings my staff has been having with a lot of the advocates, because we have to restore fundamental faith in our democracy and equal treatment under the law. And we know that doesn’t exist right now. And that’s a rebuke to all of us. And I’m going to do everything I can to restore trust and confidence and respect by changing behaviors and by holding them accountable, you know. We need to make sure that the civil rights division and the justice department is fully staffed and able to provide a clear look at any issue that needs to be referred to the federal government.

SHARPTON: President Clinton, former president Clinton said at the NAACP that when he did the crime bill the Omnibus crime bill that maybe things went too far. And I remember as you know I was active then, a lot of people forget a lot of us wanted something hard because of limp bias and other things that were happening, crack, I was painting crack houses if you remember trying to expose them.

How do we deal with violence without adding to the mass incarceration? What would be the Clinton plan? We are seeing these shootings this week in Chicago.

CLINTON: Right.

SHARPTON: I mean, we’ve got to deal with this without feeding into where it went “too far” in the words of former president Clinton.

CLINTON: Well, both you and he are right. You remember what we were facing in the 1980s and the early 1990s. And people of color, poor communities, lots of towns and cities, including this great city of New York, were under tremendous pressure because there was so much crime, gangs were warring in the streets, crack houses were endemic, crack babies were filling, you know, the wards of our hospitals. And so yes, we did have to take action.

But let’s remember some of the things that were done that we no longer do. We had a ban on assault weapons. I want us to get back to sensible, smart gun prevention of violence. I want us to have not just universal background checks, but I want us to really have the country rise up against the special interests lobby of the NRA that believes anybody should have a gun, regardless of their past history, regardless of whether they’re domestic violence abuser.

This is just unsustainable, and we need to stand against it and I’m willing to take them on. Because I know that guns are at the root of so much of the crime and the danger that stalks our neighborhoods.

Secondly, we do have to weed out the most violent offenders, you know, the repeat offenders, the guys who have no regard for human life. But our prisons and jails are filled with people who have mental health challenges, people who have substance abuse challenges. They should not be in jail or prison. I want a much more robust diversionary program. I want us to do more on treatment. I think I may be the first presidential candidate at least in a long time who has a whole policy on substance abuse because this is at the root, you know. And so many people with anxiety, with depression, with other mental health problems, they self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, and oftentimes they get off track. We shouldn’t punish them. We should help them.

I also think that the police have to understand that a lot of what we tried to do back in the day, back in the 1990s and the Clinton administration was to build those relationships between police and community, not to be in two separate camps but to be part of the same effort, to protect citizens, particularly the elderly, particularly the young, to have enough policing that people could feel safe, but not so much that it oppresses people and makes them feel that they are being singled out.

This is a hard path to walk, but I know we can do it. We’ve learned lessons. We have a lot that we now know especially when it comes to imprisoning low level offenders is not necessary to prevent crime on the streets. Let’s focus on the bad actors that we don’t want setting up crack houses again that you have to go and try to close or joining gangs that are so deadly people are dying across the streets in the country.

SHARPTON: Secretary Clinton, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

CLINTON: That went by fast. Thanks again. Good to be with you.

SHARPTON: Thank you. You and I work together on Sunday mornings usually in church.

CLINTON: That’s right. I’m glad you’re doing this early enough so people can watch before they go to church.

SHARPTON: That’s right. Thank you.

CLINTON: Thank you.