Bernie Sanders and Spike Lee Discuss the Black Vote, Gun Control, and Trump

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When Bernie Sanders recently hosted his first elections rally in New York City in advance of the April 19 primary, he met fellow Brooklynite, supporter, and towering social presence himself — Spike Lee — for the first time in person. The Hollywood Reporter brought them together as part of their “New York Issue” to have the acclaimed director interview the candidate about what New Yorkers need to know about Sanders — and about what Sanders needs to do to win the primary in a state that still seems to favor former Senator Hillary Clinton. (Though he’s catching up to her in the polls.) Lee has also directed a campaign ad for Sanders, which will air on Friday, April 8. The interviews were posted on the publication’s website today (click here to read in full).

The two wax poetic about Brooklyn and the cultural influence of its residents, as a sort of grounding technique and ice-breaker, before more overtly talking politics (though even the Brooklyn discussion is politically tinged — with emphasis on Brooklyn’s historical importance as an center for immigrants.) Spike Lee — though a clear supporter — asks Sanders the challenging questions that’ll actually help him strengthen the aspects of his candidacy that’ve been seen as weaknesses by Hillary supporters. Spike Lee asks him how he intends to get the votes of older generations of African-Americans in New York, who “know the Clintons for 20-some years.” Sanders responds:

We’re doing phenomenally well with all of the young people — white, black, Latino, you name it, Asian-American. And we’re getting killed, frankly, not just with older African-Americans but also older whites, older Latinos. It’s the weirdest thing in the world. And what really bothers me is I spent half my life in Congress helping to lead the effort for senior citizens: We led the effort against cuts to Social Security — we want to expand Social Security; we took on the drug companies who are doing terrible things to elderly people. You know seniors are cutting their prescription drugs in half. So we have a lot of work to do in terms of reaching out to seniors, not just African-Americans, but seniors all across the board. We’re figuring out how you get the message out there.

Lee also notes how Hillary’s seemingly close political relationship to President Obama poses an obstacle to Sanders, and asks about his own relationship with the President. Sanders says:

It’s a good relationship. But let me be very straight about this: This president will go down in history as one of the smartest presidents. Brilliant guy. And especially the more people hear from the Republicans, the smarter they think he is… He came to Vermont to campaign for me way back in 2006. I worked on his elections in 2008 and 2012 and just was in the Oval Office a couple of months ago. So we have a very positive and, I think, friendly relationship. Is he closer to Hillary Clinton? I suspect. She was his secretary of state for four years.

The director continues, posing questions about gun control — the one area in which Sanders has seemed somewhat less progressive (though he’s changed his position a bit recently) — and emphasizing the difference between Vermont and “Bed-Stuy, do or die; the boogie-down Bronx; Chi-raq; Killadelphia; Bodymore, Murderland.” Sanders responds that “we have got to do is get a handle on this horrific gun violence. There’s no question about that.” He asserts that he was never on the side of the fanatical likes of the NRA, saying that he has a “D-minus voting record” with them and that he lost a congressional election in 1988 because he opposed the distribution and selling of military-style assault weapons. He discusses the need for tightened background checks and ending the gun-show loophole.

After these more deliberately challenging questions, Lee asks him a few things that he’s guaranteed to answer quite well — Sanders speaks about the country reaching the end of establishment politics and needing to form “a coalition, based on the trade union movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay community movement and bringing people together to tell the billionaire class that they cannot have it all.” When asked what Black Lives Matter means to him, he says that that “young people in African-American communities are harassed by police officers, where police departments are not there to be supportive but are in many cases oppressive, and that’s an issue that has to be addressed.” Finally, they of course get to Trump, and the fact that — like Sanders — he uses anti-estabishment rhetoric, albeit rhetoric that’d lead the country in a frighteningly oppositional direction “of scapegoat[ing] blacks, Latinos, gays, anybody, Jews, Muslims, any minority out there” rather than the billionaire class. Sanders explains that Trump is “an entertainer by and large” who “knows the media very, very well.” Despite saying that we shouldn’t “underestimate him,” he reassures: “Donald Trump is not going to become president of the United States. That I can say.”

Watch a large portion of the interview:

Watch the two discuss Trump:

Check out Sanders and Lee on the cover for THR’s New York issue: