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Michael Bloomberg on why he’s a better choice for president than other 2020 Democrats

Michael Bloomberg was New York's Republican mayor from 2002 to 2013 and is now vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Although he entered the race relatively late, Bloomberg has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into political advertising. Bloomberg sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss COVID-19 preparation, management experience, surveillance of Muslim Americans and more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This morning, I sat down in Houston with former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg as he was making his Texas swing today.

    Our wide-ranging conversation delved into his campaign and his 12-year record as mayor.

    But we began with an urgent issue that's playing out as we speak, the U.S. government's response to the coronavirus outbreak.

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg, thank you very much for talking with us.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The coronavirus, rising concerns here in this country, spreading rapidly around the world, Japan closing down its schools.

    You have been very critical of President Trump. You have said he's buried his head in the sand. He let go the entire team that was supposed to be working on this.

    Yesterday, he named Vice President Pence, who critics say doesn't have particular expertise in this area, to oversee the effort.

    But my question to you, as somebody who knows something about it, as you have said, as mayor, is, would you appoint a czar to oversee the coronavirus response, if you were president?

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    No, I would have a czar in place all the time to address issues like this.

    You can't just bring in somebody. The vice president, I have met him once, nice guy. When I met him, we shook hands. That's the only time I have ever met him.

    But he was one of those people who said smoking has nothing to do with cancer. He just doesn't have the knowledge to do this job.

    And what I did in New York City is, I had a person, a whole department that was there to address issues like swine flu and the air after 9/11, when people were breathing that air.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    And a lot have come down with cancer, a whole bunch of things, and Hurricane Sandy.

    These are things you don't just all of a sudden respond to. You put people in place. You practice. You have plans of what you do if this or that happens. You test out your strategies, communications, for example. Or what do with people with special needs or, let's say, seniors in a home?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    How do you evacuate them?

    It's just — it's the wrong ways to go about it.

    Now, he dismissed, as you point out, all the people that were there before. I think the numbers are 1,600 scientists have left the administration since he came into office. There's nobody there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The congressional Democrats are now asking for $8.5 billion to deal with this. The administration said $2 billion.

    What's the right number?

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Well, we shouldn't be arguing about the amount. The issue is, what do you want to do?

    I can tell you what the number is, if you can tell me what you want to put in place, what people, which agencies are going to run it, how they're going to respond. And then you look to see what the cost is.

    And it's the health of America. So, whatever the number is that you need to do it, that's the number you have to come up with.

    But we go about these things backwards. We're arguing about money, when we should be arguing about how you save lives.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No question it's very serious.

    I want to ask you about the campaign.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I think the general consensus is, with all due respect, you did better in the second debate.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    The way I phrased it, I joked about — I was afraid they would be afraid of debating me because I did so well in the first. No, I didn't.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Were you ill-prepared for those questions in the first debate?

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    No. I certainly knew what we were talking about.

    But what I was prepared for is to discuss an issue, to tell you what we should do and what my knowledge is, and how I would be able to do it. And I get there, and it was my first debate. And, instead of that, it turns out it's who can yell at each other and say the same thing the most.

    In this last debate, where I supposedly did better — and I certainly felt more comfortable, because I was more knowledgeable of what they're trying to do — Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had the same answers to every single question.

    No matter what question the moderators asked, they came back with their talking points at whoever they wanted to hurt, the other one or me or somebody else.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Bernie Sanders is leading right now, as you know. You're coming up on…

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    It's an effective strategy so far.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Super Tuesday comes right after South Carolina.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's next Tuesday, 1,344 delegates at stake.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How well are you going to do? Can you come out ahead of Bernie Sanders?

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    I think he's very popular out there. And he's been campaigning out there.

    Remember, Bernie has been…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meaning around the country.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Yes. Well, Bernie — and in California. There's a lot of millennials there. He does well among the younger people. And so he should do well there.

    The issue is how many votes he gets. But I think he will certainly get more than anybody else.

    From my point of view, I have just got to work in every single one of these states, get as many delegates as I can, explain to people what I have done in the past. The reason to vote for me is, if you like what I did in 12 years as mayor of New York City, and if you think that tells you that I would be able to do the job if I was elected.

    And the other candidates on that stage, none of them can say, look at my past, because none of them have ever — have any management experience. They're all — with the exception of Pete, who was, in all fairness, mayor of a small city, and went through a Bloomberg training program. So I know — and he did very well.

    But the others are all legislators. And they have no idea of how to run things and how to address the real issues and how to get teams together and how to make decisions when there is no right answer. And to most of these things, there is no right answer. That's what management is all about. That's why it's hard.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some of your television ads in this campaign depict you as with being very close with President Obama.

    And yet there's no record of your having endorsed him in 2008. And it was only apparently in the final days of the campaign in 2012 when you endorsed him.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Well, that's true.

    But if you take a look, in 2009, I was a big proponent of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, test — gave speeches before the National Conference of Mayors urging the mayors all to get behind it.

    I didn't agree with everything that President Obama did. Nobody would agree with what any other person does 100 percent of the time. But I voted for him twice. I voted for Hillary. I spoke to the Democratic National Convention in favor of Hillary.

    If you take a look at all the money…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so why are you running a lot of ads with you and President Obama?

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Because the vice — one of the things is, the vice president keeps saying that he did all these things. And I'm running against the vice president. I'm not running against Barack Obama. I'm running against Joe Biden, as well as others.

    And that's what ads do, point out the difference. I was out there doing things. Joe did good service for the country, but not running things. That was not — that's not what the vice president does.

    The president and the president's chief of staff do the things, the implementation and making policy, and the vice president is a spokesman for the country.

    And Joe, I think, did a good job doing that. But it's not the same thing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, just quickly, the ads, you're saying, are a correct portrayal of your relationship with President Obama?

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Yes, we did a lot of things together over eight years, yes. And he's a friend. And I have talked to him a number of times since then, socialized.

    But he ran the country. And I was the mayor of New York City. And New York City and the federal government, given the size of New York, you do, do a lot of things together.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As mayor, you were getting high marks for many of your appointments, policy job appointments.

    My question — including — and you appointed a number of people, including high-powered Wall Street executives. My question is, would you appoint some of those same types of individuals as president?

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Well, absolutely. I want people…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    From Wall Street?

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    You want people that have expertise.

    If you are going to pick a secretary of the treasury, you want somebody that understands international finance. You don't want to pick somebody who has no knowledge whatsoever. You want to go to where — if — for example, in public health, we were talking about earlier, I appointed Tom Friedman — Frieden, brought him all the way from India to take over.

    He was the — he went on to run Centers for Disease Control. He was the world's expert in infectious diseases. That's what we needed. Of course I would appoint somebody like that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You are being criticized by some in the American Muslim community for your actions.

    2011, the Associated Press…

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … reporting on a secret police surveillance program that targeted Muslims…

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    It was.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … focusing on places where they worked, prayed and socialized.

    At one point, undercover officers were sent with a student on a rafting trip. You said later the surveillance was justified in order to keep the country safe.

    But there have been independent reviews since that showed not a single arrest was made…

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Well, that's good.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … that could be attributed to this surveillance.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    OK.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So…

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Number one, remember, you're talking about right after 9/11, when everybody was petrified about another terrorist attack.

    We were super careful to always obey the law. Number one, it was the right thing to do, and, number two, you knew people would be looking at it. We went — we sent some officers into some mosques to listen to the sermon that the imam gave.

    The courts ruled it was exactly within the law. And that's the kind of thing we should be doing. I don't remember the rafting trip story whatsoever, but I do remember that.

    And we were very careful. And the authorities that looked at us said, yes, you complied with the law.

    But we had every intention of going every place we could legally to get as much information to protect this country. We had just lost 3,000 people at 9/11. Of course we're supposed to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think it was necessary to single out Muslim Americans that way? And would you do that as president?

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Whether — whether or not we looked elsewhere, there were lots of places we looked. We have an intelligence department in the police department, which is, I think, one of the finest in the world. I assume it still is. I have been away from it now for three, four years.

    But we put an enormous amount of work into — and coordinating with federal intelligence agencies and state intelligence agencies to try to keep this country safe.

    And there's no question about where the people who committed the terrible atrocities of the three airplane crashes and all the people getting killed, where they came from.

    And it's a natural place to go, yes. But, remember, I was the one that defended building a mosque in New York City, which I got a lot of grief for, but I'm a believer in freedom of religion.

    And we certainly continue to this day, I assume, to keep our eyes and ears open and look wherever you can legally to make sure nothing that like this is going to happen again. These are lives we're talking about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One other thing I want to ask you about, but just to clarify quickly on that, you're saying it's OK to target Muslim Americans, as a religion?

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    No, it's OK to go where you think there might be information that would be useful in keeping us safe.

    And there were imams who publicly at that time were urging the terrorism. And, so of course that's where you're going to go.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last thing I want to ask you about, the…

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    It doesn't, incidentally, mean that all Muslims are terrorists or all terrorists are Muslim.

    But there was — the people that flew those airplanes came from the Middle East. And some of the imams were urging more of the same. And so, of course, we sent the police officers in. And we were so super careful, because you knew people would look at it, and I didn't want anybody to think we're targeting an ethnicity.

    We were just targeting a group where it's more likely, if you — we went to listen to the imams who reputedly were stirring things up. That's what you — that's what intelligence is all about.

    You have to keep the — you have to step back, Judy, and understand we had 3,000 people killed in one — a few minutes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it wasn't a religion that killed them.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    No, but all of the people came from the same place. And all that came were from a place. They happened to be one religion. And if they had been another religion, we would have done the same thing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last thing I want to ask you about, the nondisclosure agreements…

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Sure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … with the three women at the company accused you of inappropriate comments.

    You have apologized…

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … and said, MeToo movement, a good thing.

    My question is…

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Yes, I think what it's discovered is a good lesson for all of us. It should haven't happened, isn't happening. Hopefully, we have stopped it.

    And if that's — that's a contribution, that's a good outcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    My question to you, though, is, what has it meant to you personally?

    I have had — because I have heard women say, well, what was it about what people were saying and doing in the '70s and the '80s, and even the '90s, that they shouldn't be doing now?

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Well…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What has it said to you, as a powerful…

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Well, Diana Taylor, my girlfriend, was…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As a powerful man, what has it said to you?

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    My girlfriend the other day was out in California, I think, but someplace in the West, speaking, and somebody said something.

    And she said she had worked for three or four different Wall Street firms during her career, and she will tell you, it was a pretty rough world, and women were not treated fairly, and were — suffered from discrimination and from abuse and that sort of thing.

    And she expressed her views. Not everybody liked it, but her attitude was to put her nose down and — to the grindstone, and keep working and work her way through it, and fight back. And she came out OK.

    So, I guess it turned out fine. And she…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    She was quoted as saying, get — they should just get over it.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    That was her — that's her attitude.

    And I — I can't put myself in her position and see what — how she felt. But she certainly has a firsthand knowledge. And if anybody that I know has credibility to describe it to me, she certainly does.

    And would I have out with the same conclusion? I don't know. I wasn't there at the time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But — and you're also the father of two grown daughters.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Father of two grown daughters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And…

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    How much discrimination they have faced in life.

    I don't remember us having a specific conversation about that. My daughters are very dedicated and have their own views. Neither one is a shrinking violet. They stand up and fight for what they believe. And I'm very proud of them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, to you personally, you're saying that this is — that this change is what?

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    I think the world is a lot better.

    One of the things that I did is, I called my company, and said, you will not use nondisclosure agreements ever again any place in the company. We're the first large company in America to do that.

    Hopefully, that will start a trend. But, even if it doesn't start a trend, it's what I think, in retrospect, after listening to all of this, is right. And the three cases where — only one which resulted in a lawsuit, but the three cases, the — if I said things that offended people, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it in that context.

    We all say things we shouldn't have said. But I'm only talking about me in this case. And I apologize for it. I have tried to do something about it.

    And that's — you know, I — nothing else I can do, or make sure that they can forward, if they so choose. And whether they will or not, I have no idea.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg, thank you very much for talking with us.

  • Michael Bloomberg:

    Thank you for having me. Good.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you can watch my full interview with Mike Bloomberg, including his reaction to the controversial stop and frisk policy.

    That is on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

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