SXSW is in full swing and on its first official day of programming, the film-tech-music confab started off with a slate of panels with one of them featuring Senator Bernie Sanders. In his first appearance at SXSW, the 2016 presidential candidate took the stage with CNN’s Jake Tapper to talk about a list of pressing issues including gun control, DACA, whether or not there will be a Sanders 2020 campaign, the future of the country, and, obviously, Trump.
Appropriately, the Vermont senator was introduced with the question, “Are you ready to fill the ‘Bern’?” To which the crowd erupted with cheers. As soon as Tapper and Sanders walked out, the audience stood on their feet and a mix of applause and smartphones filled the air.
The conversation was equal parts entertaining, informative, and at times felt like Sanders was campaigning (we’ll get to that question later). Tapper covered tons of ground in the hour talk beginning with a question about the Senate bank bill that has been making headlines as of late — but Sanders interjected as soon asked the question.
“Before I get to that, what I want today is a little different,” said Sanders. ” I want to talk about things that aren’t usually talked about on mainstream media.” And by that he meant a whole laundry list of social and political issues that haven’t been making headlines such as the “collapsing of the middle class, how the country is headed towards an oligarchy,” and how “The Koch brothers are undermining society.”
He did put in his two cents on the bank bill, but then went on to talk about gun violence and the legislation surrounding it in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
“American people are sick and tired of this,” he said in regards to gun violence. “On issue after issue, the truth is that American people are, by and large not divided when it comes to social and economic issues.”
When it comes to gun violence, Sanders stresses the expansion of background checks; doing away with gun show loopholes where people can buy guns without background checks; banning strawman purchases where criminals can get guns; and making provisions banning the sale and distribution for assault and military weapons.
Tapper brings up the topic of immigration with a focus on Trump’s DACA deal.
“One of the many problems with Donald Trump is that he lies all the time,” said Sanders almost instantly. What he says on Monday is not what he will say on Tuesday.
Sanders said that there was legislation that would give legal status to those under DACA that would give them path to citizenship. This would be in exchange for money to build Trump’s much-talked-about wall which Sanders said is the “stupidest idea.” Even so, he “reluctantly” voted for that legislation because he was “deeply concerned for these young people facing deportation.”
Throughout the conversation, Sanders says that he stresses his concern for legal protection of DACA and said, “This is a country that has struggled from its inception that has hated from its beginning. We’ve got to oppose anyone who tries to divide us. We are strongest when we are working together for all of us, not just the people on top.”
At one point, Tapper, a consummate professional, shifted the conversation saying, “Let me bring something up.”
To which Sanders half-jokingly chimed in, “Stormy Daniels?”
Tapper, caught a tad off guard, teased, “You keep bringing her name up.”
Sanders clapped back, “Not as much as CNN does.”
“We’ll get to her in a minute,” Tapper said.
After Sanders fielded questions about Louis Farrakhan’s anti-semitic remarks (he was against them obviously) as well as Trump’s upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un — which he hopes won’t be a reality TV show, but a legitimate discussion to end a very dangerous nuclear program — Tapper circled back to Stormy.
When it comes down to it, Sanders says that the story of an adult film star suing POTUS is a legitimate story, but there is excessive coverage of it — and it’s not just CNN.
“A lot of what you do is good,” he said.
“Like the Town Halls with you,” said Tapper.
“That’s when the ratings go off the charts!” exclaimed Sanders with his hands in the air.
He then goes back to Stormy saying that it is an issue, but there is sensationalism tethered to it. “In this country, we have a lot of people who are in pain — single mothers, people who can’t afford college — they want to see something that reflects their reality.” And obviously, a president suing an adult film star isn’t that.
During the Q&A portion from the audience (done through an app called Slido, appropriate for the tech-driven confab), he was asked how we could stop the re-election of Trump.
“We have the least qualified person as a president of the United States now —probably in the history of America,” he said.
He continues, “The way we defeat Trump is that every person in this room needs to get involved in the political process like you have never done before.” He also points out that communication and talking to those who voted for Trump is key. “Our job is to talk to people respectfully,” he adds. “Not most [Trump supporters] are racist, sexist or xenophobes. They are hurting and want change — change to the middle class and not the one percent. Everyone in this room has to participate.
Then the “Berning” question was asked: Will there be a Sanders 2020 campaign?
“As you and I have discussed 800 times,” he said to Tapper, “we are a long way from 2020.”
He somewhat evades the question by saying his main concern right now is traveling to conservative cities (after Austin he’s headed to San Antonio and then Lubbock) rallying the working class and getting them behind them behind the progressive agenda. He adds, “If we can raise voter turnout, Democrats can win Texas and every other state in this country.”
So that wasn’t a yes…but it wasn’t a no either.