Full Transcript: Bernie Sanders Sits Down With Rachel Maddow

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday about Donald Trump’s comments on abortion, indicating the GOP front-runner’s comments were “beyond comprehension.” He also discussed the state of the presidential race and criticized the media’s fascination with Trump.

The interview will air on a special edition of The Rachel Maddow Show on Wednesday at 10 p.m., after Maddow’s separate interview with Sanders’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.

0330_Bernie_Sanders_Rachel_Maddow_interview_01 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a town hall event in Appleton, Wisconsin, on March 29. A day later, he sat down with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow for an extended interview. Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters

Below is a full transcript of Maddow’s interview with the Vermont senator:

MADDOW:  Welcome back to this super-sized edition of "The Rachel Maddow Show" tonight.  Senator Bernie Sanders is riding high today, in today's presidential politics.  Just a few days after his huge double-digit wins over the weekend in Alaska, and Hawaii and Washington State.  Bolstered by those huge margins he got in the caucuses in those states this weekend, the Sanders campaign appears to now be feeling its proverbial oats.  They're e not de demanding more debates with Hillary Clinton.  The Sanders campaign is now calling Secretary Clinton a weak Democratic front-runner.

The Sanders campaign is also committing to campaign heavily at some of the big states coming up, including New York State, where Senator Sanders will be tomorrow, and in the great state of Wisconsin, which votes on Tuesday, and where Senator Sanders has already been holding some big rallies.

A brand new poll from Marquette University just out today puts Bernie e Sanders ahead of Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin by four points.  Looking down the barrel at that it is a good day to be Bernie Sanders.

Today the senator held a big town hall event at the Orpheum (ph) Theater in Madison, Wisconsin.  And the senator joins us from backstage at that theater now.

Senator Sanders, thank you so much for being here.  Really appreciate  your time tonight.

SANDERS: Good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So congratulations on this big weekend that you had, not just wins in those three caucuses, but blowouts.  Now there aren't that many more caucuses on the calendar, even though you've done some well with them.  The next big state is Wisconsin on Tuesday.

Do you expect that you're about to win Wisconsin as well?

SANDERS:  Well, this is what I think -- I think that if there is a large voter turnout, if working-class people who have given up on the political process come out the vote, if young people who have never participated come out to vote, if there's a good turnout, we will win.  If there's a low turnout, we'll probably lose.  So we're doing everything that we can to create a high voter turnout.

MADDOW:  Senator Sanders, I'm not going to ask you to play pundit.  I am going to ask you about some stuff going on in the Republican field in just a second.

But before we do that, I was struck by the cover story that "Rolling Stone" had recently, where they put you and Secretary Clinton on the cover. They called it "the good fight," basically contrasting the fight between you two with what's happening on the Republican side, saying that the Democratic primary has been policy driven, and decent and intelligent.  It's been an argument to be proud as a country.

They also said it's been "game-raising" for both of you, basically that it's made you both better candidates.

I wanted to know if you agree with that, if you think this has been a good fight to be proud of thus far and if you think it has changed you over time?

SANDERS:  Well, Rachel, let me say that comparing us to the Republicans, you know, the bar -- that's a pretty low bar to overcome.  Uh, and I think what is really a -- a national disgrace -- and I think this is not just what, you know, average Americans are saying, but what many sane Republicans are saying.  This country faces enormous crises.  You know, massive levels of income and wealth inequality, a declining middle class, climate change, uh, the pay equity issue for women.

And what Republican candidates have now stooped to is to starting attacking each other's wives.  I mean this is an international embarrassment.  I think people around the rest of the world think we are pretty crazy.

So I think compared to that, at least, you know, what Secretary Clinton and I are trying to do, and while we have very different points of view, we are trying to discuss the real issues facing the American people and I think most objective Americans appreciate that a lot more than the kind of circus that is taking place on the Republican side.

MADDOW:  I had a chance to speak with Secretary Clinton earlier today and I asked her this question, as well.  I'm going to -- I'm going to ask you because I think it is possible that you two might have a difference of opinion on this.

Um, last night the Republican candidates gave up on what had been their previous pledges that they would all support their party's eventual nominee in the fall.

Because of that, I think whether or not the Republicans nominate Donald Trump, there are plenty good odds now that are good portion of the Republican Party won't support whoever that party runs for president.

Now, as a -- as somebody who's running in the Democratic -- for the Democratic nomination, do you look at that on the Republican side and say basically, you know, good riddance, it's about time for the Republican Party in this country to blow up...

SANDERS:  Well...

MADDOW:  -- I hope they come back with something better?

Or are -- are you concerned, because our party -- party has a two party system and we need both parties to be strong and -- and sane in order to make this system work?

SANDERS:  Well, uh, first of all, I don't necessarily take at value -- face value what they say.  I think at the end of the day, they probably will come together.

But the other point, I think the more -- the deeper point, Rachel, is the Republican Party today has moved very, very far to the right.  Uh, they are way out of touch with where the American people are.

And I think if we had a media in this country that was really prepared to look at what the Republicans actually stood for rather than quoting every absurd remark of Donald Trump, talking about Republican Party, talking about hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the top two tenths of 1 percent, cuts to Social Security and Medicare, Medicaid, a party which with few exceptions, doesn't even acknowledge the reality of climate change, let alone do anything about it, a party which is not prepared to stand with women in the fight for pay equity, a party that is not prepared to do anything about a broken criminal justice system or a corrupt campaign finance system, I think, to be honest with you -- and I just don't, you know, say this rhetorically, this is a fringe party.  It is a fringe party.  Maybe they get 5, 10 percent of the vote.

What you really need in this country is a progressive party standing with the working class and the middle class of this country.  And yes, a conservative party that, you know, has, you know, is more fiscally conservative.  That is where we should be as a country.

But the Republican Party today now is a joke, maintained by a media which really does not force them to discuss their issues.

So that -- that's my two cents on that.

MADDOW:  Well, if the -- let me try to get three cents out of you on that.

If they're a -- a fringe party and a joke and they're no longer the conservative party that they appear to be, they're being propped up by a media that doesn't call them on what it is they're actually offering, does that mean that you would applaud if the Republican Party really did blow up?

I mean some people say that the nomination of Donald Trump and the process they're going through now by which they -- they might nominate him is enough to maybe destroy that party, maybe end the Republican Party.

Do you think that would -- that would be a good thing?

SANDERS:  Well, I'm not going to give the Republican leadership, you know, really any ideas on how they can reorganize their party.  All I can tell you is that it is absolutely imperative for the future of this country and for future generations that we do not have a Republican in the White House, whether it is Trump or Cruz or anybody else.

And one of the things that I'm proud of, Rachel, uh, and it hasn't gotten, I think, quite the attention that it deserves, is that in national poll after national poll, what you find is that, uh, I am leading, you know, people like Trump -- a poll came out a few days ago, CNN, by 20 points and a significantly larger number than Hillary Clinton is.

So I think one of the points that we're trying to get across is if Re -- if the Democratic Party wants a strong candidate that will defeat Trump or some other Republican and beat them badly, I think I am the candidate, because we appeal not only to Democrats, but to a lot of Independents and actually some Republicans, as well.

MADDOW:  Your campaign has talked about those head-to-head match-ups, those hypothetical match-ups in November, uh, as essentially the case that you might make to the super delegates.  And you -- you and I have talked about this, uh, before.

But since we last spoke about it, your campaign has gone into more -- to more detail about this.

Tad Devine, uh, said to Greg Sargent at "The Washington Post" this week that your campaign would try to convince super delegates to support you at the convention on this -- on the strength of what you just said there, that you have a better chance in the general election, that they would try to flip those super delegates to support you even if, at the convention, you're behind both in the pledged delegates and in the popular vote.

Um, I felt...

SANDERS:  Well...

MADDOW:  -- I thought that was surprising.  I just wanted to find out if that really is your campaign strategy.

SANDERS:  Well, look, I don't want to get into -- too deeply into process here.  First of all, we hope to be ahead in the delegate count.  That's the important thing.

Uh, but what I do believe is that, uh, there are a lot of Republican -- a lot of super delegates who have signed onto Hillary Clinton a long, long time ago, uh, and then you have other super delegates who are in states where we have won by 20, 30, 40 points.  And the people in those states are saying you know what, we voted for Bernie Sanders by 30 or 40 points, you've got to support him at the convention.

So we'll see what happens down the line.  But our main task right now is to, in fact, come out of this whole process after California with more delegates, uh, than Secretary Clinton.

MADDOW:  Are you working now on -- on lobbying some of the super delegates?

We should say super delegates...

SANDERS:  We are...

MADDOW:  -- (INAUDIBLE) elected officials and -- and party leaders.

Are you working now on...

SANDERS:  Well...

MADDOW:  -- on trying to persuade them?

SANDERS:  -- yes, we are.  We -- we are.  We have started off by going to those states, you know, states like Utah, uh, states like Hawaii, uh, states, um, that have given us, uh, very large, uh, victories and trying to get to those people and say you know what, your state voted overwhelmingly for us, listen to what your state has to say.

MADDOW:  Senator Sanders, I have -- I promise I won't ask you only process questions here, but I do want to ask you about something, uh, that arose this week from your campaign that I, um, I -- I disagree with on factual grounds.  And I'll tell you what it is.

Your campaign said this week that Secretary Clinton is leading overall basically because you chose not to compete, um, in eight states -- in Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, Virginia, Tennessee.

Uh, and the reason I say I take factual issue with that is because, you know, I -- I saw the footage of your rallies in -- in Texas and Virginia, at least.

SANDERS:  Right.

MADDOW:  We reported you were first on the ground ahead of Clinton...

SANDERS:  Right.

MADDOW:  -- in Alabama, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee.

Why is your campaign now saying that you...

SANDERS:  Well, I don't -- look...

MADDOW:  -- simply didn't try in those states?

SANDERS:  Rachel, you're talking -- you say you don't want to talk about process, this is exactly what we're talking about.  One person said that.  I don't know the context of that.

Once we were in Texas.  We had great rallies in Dallas, in Houston, uh, and in Austin.  Of course we campaigned there.

I think perhaps what Tad meant by that is we did not put a lot of money into TV advertising that we know those states would be difficult states for us and we used our resources elsewhere.

But to be honest with you, we put a lot of money into South Carolina and we did poorly.

So of course we did compete in Mississippi, Alabama, not a whole lot, to be honest with you.

But I think what Tad was meaning is that we did not put a lot of resources into those states.

MADDOW:  You told me, uh, in -- in January, you articulated it a few other places, that the Democratic Party really needs to run a 50 state strategy and that people in places like South Carolina...

SANDERS:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  -- and Mississippi specifically...

SANDERS:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  -- need strong Democratic campaigns there so that their voices get heard.

How do you say that with...

SANDERS:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  -- with not running that hard in a place like Mississippi?

SANDERS:  Well, I will tell you how.  If there were -- if we had a -- a lot longer time, that's exactly what I would do.  But the difficult choices you have to make -- right now, I'm in Wisconsin.  Well, you know what, I should be in New York, I should be in New Jersey, I should be in California.

But what you had to do in the midst of a campaign is to say where is our time, where are our resources?

Let's allocate it if we're going to win this thing.  Truthfully, we knew from day one we were never going to win in Mississippi or Alabama.

But the point you make is a different point.  It is the correct point.  I believe that starting yesterday, the Democratic Party has got to start planting flags in all of those states.  Now, they may not win it in 2016 or 2018.  But you're never going to win it unless you begin somewhere, unless you mobilize the grassroots in those states, come forward with good, strong candidates.

So it's really not a contradiction.

I do believe very strongly if elected president, I will create a situation where the DNC is a 50 state party.  You cannot ignore half the states of America, including those states who are -- have the poorest people, the highest levels of unemployment, the worst health care system in the country.  Democrats have got to pay attention to all 50 states.

MADDOW:  Senator Sanders, will you stay with us for just a moment?

I have -- I have more to ask you, I promise.

SANDERS:  OK.

MADDOW:  My conversation with Senator Sanders continues in just a moment.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Joining us once again from Madison, Wisconsin is Senator Bernie Sanders.

Senator Sanders, thank you again for being with us tonight.

Appreciate it.

So, sir, you Tweeted today, uh, that it was, quote, "shameful" -- that was the word you used -- when Donald Trump said this to my colleague, Chris Matthews here on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  How do you ban abortion?

How do you actually do it?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, you know, you'll go back to a -- a position like they had, where people will perhaps go to illegal places...

MATTHEWS:  Yes!

TRUMP:  But you have to ban it.  The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.

MATTHEWS:  For the woman?

TRUMP:  Yes.  There has to be some form.

MATTHEWS:  Ten days or 10 years?

TRUMP:  (INAUDIBLE) I don't know.  That I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  After, uh, the word spread that Donald Trump had made those remarks today about abortion, that a woman needs to be punished, uh, if she seeks an abortion and abortion should be banned, you said today that was shameful.

What is shameful about it?

SANDERS:  Well, I think it is -- shameful is probably understating that position.  First of all, to me, and I think to most Americans, women have the right to control their own bodies and they have the right to make those personal decisions themselves.

But to punish a woman for having an abortion is beyond comprehension.  I -- I just -- you know, one would say what is in Donald Trump's mind except we're tired of saying that?

I don't know what world this person lives in.  So obviously, from my perspective, and if elected president, I will do everybody that I can to allow women to make that choice and have access to clinics all over this country so that if they choose to have an abortion, they will be able to do so.

The idea of punishing a woman, that is just, you know, beyond comprehension.

MADDOW:  And Mr. Trump has made -- is making headlines on -- on this issue today, obviously, because of what he said.  It's sort of, you know, taken the media day by storm.

Um, that said, I think there may be a case to be made -- and I'd love your -- just your response to this, your perspective on this, uh, that his opponent, Senator Ted Cruz, is more extreme on this issue.  And I say that, in part, because one of his national co-chairs on his Pro-Lifers for Cruz coalition, is a man named Troy Newman, who once wrote a book saying that abortion providers should be executed.

Is Ted Cruz even further out on this issue than Donald Trump is?

SANDERS:  Well, you -- you know, you're living in crazy world there.  And that is why, uh, you know, the Republican Party, if they continue in this direction, will be, as I mentioned a moment ago, a fringe party.

Uh, look, they have nothing to say.  All they can appeal is to a small number of people who feel very rabid, very rabid about a particular issue, whether it's abortion or maybe whether it's gay marriage.  That is their constituency.  They have nothing of substance.

You know, you mentioned a moment ago, Rachel, that the media is paying attention to Donald Trump.

Duh?

No kidding.  Once again, every stupid remark will be broadcast, you know, for the next five days.

But what is Donald Trump's position on raising the minimum wage?

Well, he doesn't think so.

What is Donald Trump's position on wages in America?

Well, he said in a Republican debate he thinks wages are too high.

What's Donald Trump's position on taxes?

Well, he wants to give billionaire families like himself hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks.

What is Donald Trump's position on climate change?

Oh, he thinks it's a hoax perpetrated, shock of all shock, by the Chinese.  You know, on and on it goes.

But because media is what media is today, any stupid, absurd remark made by Donald Trump becomes the story of the week.  Maybe, just maybe, we might want to have a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.  Donald Trump will not look quite so interesting in that context.

MADDOW:  Are you suggesting, though, that the media shouldn't be focusing on his call to potentially jail women who have abortions?  Because that's another stupid --

SANDERS:  I am saying that every day he comes up with another stupid remark, absurd remark, of course it should be mentioned.  But so should Trump's overall positions.  How much talk do we hear about climate change, Rachel?  And Trump?  Any?

MADDOW:  He said that he cares more about nuclear climate change, which is a term that he's invented.

SANDERS:  Nuclear climate change?

MADDOW:  That's just what he comes up with when he's asked on the subject.

SANDERS:  All that I'm saying is that Trump is nobody's fool.  He knows how to manipulate the media and you say an absurd thing and the media is all over it.  And my concern is that today in America, you've got millions of people who are struggling economically.  They want to know how we're going to expand the middle class.  Overwhelmingly, people think we should raise the minimum wage.  Vast majority of people think climate change is real and a threat to our planet.  They want to do something about that.  What do we do?  Vast majority of the people think the wealthiest people in this country should start paying their fair share of taxes.  But if we don't discuss those issues, it creates the climate for people like Donald Trump to do much better than he really has a right to do.

MADDOW:  Senator, you have been a fierce critic of the influence of the wealthy and big business on our politics, not just on who gets their way but who sets the agenda.  As Republican legislators and governors have recently been weighing new laws that are discriminatory, particularly against LGBT people in North Carolina, in Georgia, in Missouri and Indiana, big business, including Bank of America, today in North Carolina, has weighed in strongly against those discriminatory laws.  Do you think those businesses should butt out of those issues?  Is it inappropriate for them to try to wield political influence even when they do it in a progressive way?

SANDERS:  Well, look, they have -- when we look at politics in America, you have CEO's of major corporations who have children who are gay, who have friends who are gay, whose wives or daughters have had abortions -- they live in the real world and they're responding to the type of very right win reactionary policies and I understand that and I appreciate that.  When I talk about money in politics, what I talk about is the Koch brothers and billionaires spending hundreds of millions of dollars, along with Wall Street, to create a situation where politicians will be elected who represent the wealthy and the powerful.

MADDOW:  On one of the issues that the Koch brothers and their networks have supported in a way that I think has been stealthy but very effective is an issue concerning veterans.  And you were the former chairman of the Veterans Committee in the senate, and in that capacity, you worked closely with Senator John McCain on a number of issues.  He's praised you in this campaign.  You've talked about your ability to work with him on veterans' issues.  But right now, Senator McCain is actually pushing a proposal to effectively privatize large parts of the VA, which is something that the Koch brothers and their networks have pushed.  What's your response to that?  Do you have plans to try to stop him on that, particularly given your past relationship?

SANDERS:  Of course.  Categorically disagree.  What you have is a group called The Concerned Veterans of America.  They appear on and have appeared on stations like CNN time and time again without being identified as being funded by the Koch brothers.  And what they are doing is taking legitimate criticisms of the VA and blowing them up and then coming to the conclusion that at least partially, if not totally, we should privatize the VA.

Look, this is an issue that I have dealt with.  And what I will tell you is having talked to the American Legion, the VFW and the DAV and the Vietnam vets and virtually every veterans organization, what they tell you is that once veterans get into the VA system, the care is pretty good.  It is pretty good.

The problem has been getting back -- getting into the VA system and also legitimately how people who live 50, 60, 100 miles away, 200 miles away from a VA facility.

Should they have to travel 200 miles to get their health care?

The answer is no, they should not.

But the idea of privatizing the VA would be, in my mind, a huge mistake and a great disservice to the men and women of this country who put their lives on the line to defend us.

MADDOW:  Do you feel like the way that veterans have advocated for themselves, the way that's changed since the Vietnam era and through to today's generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, do you feel like there's any lessons there, uh, in terms of bringing about social change in this country?

You talk about a political revolution and people getting their voices heard, particularly people who otherwise get boxed out of a system stacked against them.

Have -- have veterans, in a way, sort of shown us a way around some of those, uh, those structural barriers to political change?

SANDERS:  Well, I think you have organizations that do a very good job -- and obviously I know them all, because I was chairman of the committee -- who represent veterans' interests.

What I don't think we have at this point is the kind of grassroots activism at the local level that we should be having.  So there's a lot of good groups in Washington, the DAV, the VFW, the American Legion, the Vietnam vets and others who are really there, who are fighting for veterans rights.

But I would like to see more grassroots activism take place.

MADDOW:  One last question for you, Senator.  I know you're kind of tight today.  Uh, and it is about your prodigious fundraising.  After those huge wins this weekend in those three caucus states, we know that within something like 24 hours, your state had raised $4 million.  Um, you have shown an incredible ability to tap large numbers of people for small amounts of money that really, really add up and you've got, ostensibly, infinite resources to stay in this campaign as long as you want...

SANDERS:  Well...

MADDOW:  -- no matter what lese happens.

I have to ask, though, if you have thought about whether or not you will, at some point, turn your fundraising ability toward helping the Democratic Party more broadly, to helping their campaign committees for the House and the Senate and for other -- for other elections?

SANDERS:  Well, right now, Rachel, as you are more than aware, our job is to -- what I'm trying to do is to win the Democratic nomination.  And I'll tell you something, I never in a million years, Rachel, would have believed that we could have, uh, received over six million individual campaign contributions averaging 27 bucks apiece, a very different way of raising money than Secretary Clinton has pursued.

So right now, we are enormously appreciative.  You're right, without that type of support, we would not be where we are right now.  We would not be able to continue this campaign to the Democratic convention.  So I am just blown away and very appreciative of all of the kind of support that we have gotten from grassroots America.

MADDOW:  Well, obviously your priority is the nomination, but I mean you raised Secretary Clinton there.  She has been fundraising both for the nomination and for the Democratic Party.  At some point, do you think -- do you foresee a time during this campaign when you'll start doing that?

SANDERS:  Well, we'll see.  And, I mean right now, again, our focus is on winning the nomination.  Secretary Clinton has access, uh, to kinds of money, uh, that we don't, that we're not even interested in.  So let's take it one step at a time.  And the step that we're in right now is to win the Democratic nomination.

MADDOW:  Vermont senator, candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders.

Senator, thank you so much for your time tonight.

I know you're stretched very thin.

Thank you, sir.

SANDERS:  Thank you, Rachel.

Take care.

MADDOW:  All right.