September 27, 2019

Michael Bloomberg

Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg joins Firing Line to discuss House Democrats’ decision to launch an impeachment inquiry into Pres. Trump. Bloomberg talks about two of his signature issues, gun safety and climate change, and explains how he sees businesses working alongside government to address global threats. He explains why he isn’t running for president in 2020, and weighs in on the field.

Read Full Transcript EXPAND

He’s a billionaire businessman and politician who will be a major force in 2020. This week on Firing Line.

BLOOMBERG SOT: I’ve devoted my life and all my net worth to trying to make the world a better place. 

He’s no longer the mayor of New York City but Michael Bloomberg is still banking on his political capital

Donations montage. 

Pouring millions into Democratic races and causes and making his case for businesses to step in during this era of polarization. 

BLOOMBERG SOT: We’ve only scratched the surface of what we can achieve when government and businesses work together on climate change.

Many thought Michael Bloomberg would run against another New York City billionaire that he’s known for decades. 

BLOOMBERG SOT: The bottom line is: Trump is a risky, reckless, and radical choice. And we can’t afford to make that choice.

What does Mike Bloomberg say now.

Firing Line with Margaret Hoover is made possible by…The Margaret and Daniel Loeb Foundation.

Additional funding is provided by… Corporate Funding is provided by…Stephens Inc.

HOOVER: Welcome to the firing line, Mayor Bloomberg. 


BLOOMBERG: Thank you for having me.


HOOVER: Thank you for having us here at the Global Business Forum.


BLOOMBERG: Thank you. Thank you. 


HOOVER: I first have to ask you about the dramatic turn of events this week. After months of hesitation, Speaker Pelosi has changed course and has now called for an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Do you support this action? 


BLOOMBERG: I think Congress has an obligation to investigate legitimate claims of impropriety or malfeasance or whatever. And this probably does get to that standard. I will say, I’ve always thought that we should allow the public to decide whether a president stays in office. That’s what elections are all about. We’ve got an election coming up in a year and a half and impeachment, even if it gets through the House, it’s never going to get through the Senate. So you’re gonna be in the same situation when Clinton was impeached but stayed in office. Trump through this would stay in office.Look I didn’t suggest that we vote for Donald Trump. I gave a speech saying I did not think it was the right person for the job. And I have disagreed with him many, many times. But nevertheless, it shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It’s a political issue. That’s what impeachment is. It’s a political thing and I would rather let us look at whoever the next president should be based on what they’ve accomplished and how much confidence I have they will do something in the future.


HOOVER: Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 65…


BLOOMBERG: I haven’t talked to him recently.


HOOVER: You haven’t? 1788. OK. You’re looking very good. But the idea that impeachment is exactly what you say. It is an inherently political act.




HOOVER: That it, it divides the country along the lines of predictable faction and that the outcome is an administration of political strength rather than justice.


BLOOMBERG: Yes, and if I were in favor or against I’m not so sure that I’d be able to predict which it’s going to be. 


HOOVER: So, if that’s the case, is pursuing an impeachment inquiry the right course of action for the Democrats?


BLOOMBERG: I think at some point in time Pelosi has an obligation — whether it’s the right course for the Democrats or not — she has an obligation to investigate. And she didn’t recommend impeachment, she recommended a study of whether or not there might be an impeachable offense. And so let’s see what this study shows.


HOOVER: The transcript, the so-called transcript, which is actually a memorandum that transcribes the essence of the conversation between the president of Ukraine and President Trump. According to the transcript President Trump said, there is a lot of talk about Biden’s son that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that. So whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution. So if you can look into it, it sounds horrible to me.


BLOOMBERG: So there’s two issues here. What Trump will try to make it is, Biden did something wrong. What the Democrats will try to make it is that the president did something wrong. That will provide fodder for both liberal and conservative columnists for the next few weeks. Great. I know what we’re going to be talking about.


HOOVER: We just came off an election cycle in 2018 where you put in more than one hundred million dollars. 




HOOVER: You supported 24 candidates. Twenty one of them won.


BLOOMBERG: Correct. 


HOOVER: Nineteen seats that you flipped. Is this how you want to see those new members of Congress spending the next year in the House of Representatives? 


BLOOMBERG: I’d prefer that they focused on the serious issues facing the country. Having said that, I worked very hard and gave a lot of money to flip the House because the Republican House was not giving the oversight that I think the Constitution requires them to do. I wasn’t making a judgment about what that oversight would be and what their conclusions would be.


HOOVER: We’re here the Global Business Forum and one of the topics you are most focused on is climate change…




HOOVER: …and how businesses can step into the fray and help fill the void where the federal government, or governments, are not taking responsibility for addressing the climate crisis.


BLOOMBERG: Well businesses fill the void, the public fills the void, and private philanthropy fills the void. It would be nice if you had the federal government along with you, but I think we’ve shown by closing 297 of the 530 coal-fired power plants in the last few years… We’ve been closing power plants in America at the same rate when Trump was president, than when Obama was elected, which says that the federal government can help and that can hurt,  but at the margin. 


HOOVER: Is that what you mean by the federal government isn’t all that important…




HOOVER: …when it comes to the battle of climate change.


BLOOMBERG: Yes. Companies do what’s in their own interests. If their stockholders tell them they want to be environmentally friendly, if their employees tell them they want their employer to be environmentally friendly, if their customers say I want who I buy products from to be environmentally friendly they will do it. That’s the capitalist of incentives for them to do it. For individuals, it is: I want to live longer so I want to breathe cleaner air and drink cleaner water and that sort of thing. I want to have better schools my kids. I want to have a lower energy bill and that’s what drives them. And philanthropy has its incentives. I want to change the world and I think this is one of the things we can make a difference. Federal government, you’ve got to stop and say what was their incentive to do some of these things. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Trump administration has this interest in rolling back things that any person with any common sense would say good for the country and good for the environment worldwide, but also has already been implemented and businesses don’t want them to roll it back. So why are they doing that? It makes no sense. I guess just for politics or maybe for sport. Who knows?


HOOVER: Let’s talk about the costs. I mean one of your goals is to close every coal fired power plant.




HOOVER:  You’ve pledged to donate 500 million dollars to this effort, which is [laughs]


BLOOMBERG: We’ll spend a lot of money. I don’t think is any question because it gets harder to do the more modern power plants that are somewhat cleaner.


HOOVER: What ends up happening to the cost of energy in the meantime?


BLOOMBERG: Well, cost of energy is going down, they’re going to continue to go down. Renewables have enormous potential. And they’re already at the same price without government subsidies. They’re already cheaper than using the old fossil fuels. So you’re going to see big improvements. And the technology’s there and it’s really working. So we are making very big progress in that the cost of energy will clearly continue to come down. 


HOOVER: So the United States currently accounts for about 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 




HOOVER: China accounts for roughly 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.




HOOVER: How do we, even if we get to net zero, and we’re doing our part, how do you account, and how do you get China, India and the other countries to be good partners?


BLOOMBERG: China is doing a lot. India is doing some. But I think China is doing a lot. Yes, they’re still building a bunch of coal fired power plants–


HOOVER: And they’re still burning coal.


BLOOMBERG: Yes they are. But they are now moving plants away from the cities. The Communist Party wants to stay in power in China and they listen to the public. When the public says I can’t breathe the air… Xi Jinping is not a dictator. He has to satisfy his constituents or he’s not going to survive. 


HOOVER: He’s not a dictator?


BLOOMBERG: No he has to, he has a constituency to answer to.


HOOVER: He doesn’t have a vote. He doesn’t have a democracy. He doesn’t get [crosstalk] held accountable by voters.


BLOOMBERG: That doesn’t mean he can survive. If his advisers– 


HOOVER: Is the check on him just a revolution? 


BLOOMBERG: You’re not going to have a revolution. Nobody, no government survives without the will of the majority of its people. Okay? The Chinese Communist Party looks at Russia and they look for where the Communist Party is and they don’t find it anymore and they don’t want that to happen. So they really are responsive. And he is making changes. It would be better if China did more. It would be much better if India did more. But Europe is doing a number of things–


HOOVER: But would that make a real difference in 100 hundred years to–


BLOOMBERG: Well, let’s assume it doesn’t. But. But if I, if you give me from 50 to 100, another 50 years to live, I’ll take that, thank you. I’d rather have more than that to live. But to say if we can’t do a solution forever to the environmental problem, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. 


HOOVER: I don’t think anybody is saying the United States shouldn’t try if China is not going to meet us there.  I think the United States absolutely needs to do our part. But how do we get these foreign partners to do their part too, if–


BLOOMBERG: Well number one, you lead by example. If we can show that we can do it then they can,… their people can go to their government and say, if American can do it, why can’t we do it. 


HOOVER: I mean the idea that the Chinese government is responsive to sort of a democratic expression of fresh air, of clean air. 


BLOOMBERG: Oh come on. Of course they are. 


HOOVER: I mean, I, I’m looking at the people in Hong Kong [crosstalk] who are protesting and I…


BLOOMBERG: Go back and read the press the days…


HOOVER: …and I’m wondering if the Chinese care what they have to say. 


BLOOMBERG: ..go back and read the press – the days.when you have big pollution in Beijing and they’re doing something about it. That’s that’s ridiculous. They are very responsive to it. The trouble is you can’t overnight move cement plants and power plants just outside the city that are polluting the air, and you have to have their product. So some of it takes time. And that’s why, if you listen to the young Millennials, let’s go in and solve the problem overnight. Yeah. That would be great if you didn’t have to fund it and get it through legal things and all the legislation…


HOOVER: And this is what’s so interesting about India, right? I mean you were on with Prime Minister Modi.




HOOVER: He is, understands the problem of climate change. You all spoke about it. But he’s met with this fundamental tension of how to bring his population into modernity.


BLOOMBERG: If you kept reducing the cost of energy generated by renewables. And in India there’s a bunch of it where it really is cheaper than in the surrounding countries – you will just let capitalism take over and they will close even brand new power plants if they could build one next door that is much more efficient and they make more money. Capitalism is a wonderful thing.


HOOVER: There’s an idea that conservatives can’t possibly be environmentalists.


BLOOMBERG: I have no reason to believe that’s the case. Conservatives will be environmentalists if they think being pro-environment provides a benefit that outweighs their fear, or their belief that oh government should never be involved in anything.


HOOVER: Well I want to–


BLOOMBERG: Which is ridiculous. 


HOOVER: I agree with you and so does William F. Buckley Jr. In 1969 he had this to say about why conservatives could be environmentalists. Let me show you.


CLARE BOOTHE LUCE: This question is also closely connected with all the problems of the urban sprawl, of pollution, of the air and of our inland waterways.Now how these problems will be handled short of tremendous government control, I do not see. And I have heard nothing, unfortunately, from the conservatives about those problems.


BUCKLEY: I have never understood it to be a tenet of the conservative faith that one has a right, an undisputed right, to pollute an atmosphere which is a common property. So I think that conservative theory can very easily cope with that particular problems, which makes me slightly more optimistic.


LUCE: Even though it may mean cracking down on the automotive industry?


BUCKLEY: Oh absolutely. In fact, they already have in California.


HOOVER: Trump administration just last week, revoked a California waiver which was passed. 


BLOOMBERG: Yes. An outrage. 


HOOVER: At the time that was actually spoken about in this program. 




HOOVER: They revoked that waiver. EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler said we embrace federalism and the role of states but federalism does not mean that one state can dictate the standards for a nation. Why is it an outrage? 


BLOOMBERG: Well, if you’re really a conservative I wouldn’t think you’d want the government, the federal government, to dictate rules for all 50 states. The problem is we really would like to have one standard for the whole country because it’s good for industry. Industry wants strong regulation. Okay? They don’t want weak regulation because then they get each state doing different. The people in California want the higher standards. There’s nothing that Buckley said that I disagree with. In fact, he seemed to say if they want to do it, why shouldn’t we let them do it. 


HOOVER: Why climate change become such a partisan issue then?


BLOOMBERG:  I’m not even sure it is. It’s become, all of a sudden… We have this conference here and all we talk about is climate change. 


HOOVER:  In the last week or so,  new national polls have come out that have changed the dice. Suggest a changing trend the dynamic of the 2020 race where Elizabeth Warren has emerged as a top tier candidate. And Joe Biden’s numbers are weakening but they still the two of them remain in the top tier. Elizabeth Warren has railed against ultra millionaires. You have called her tax, probably unconstitutional. You have dismissed her – 


BLOOMBERG: Wealth tax. 


HOOVER: -wealth tax and her Medicare for All proposal as… 


BLOOMBERG: Economic. Doesn’t work.


HOOVER: …just not practical. If there is a progressive who is leading the Democratic field, will there be an opening if Joe Biden is not able to go the distance for somebody of a more moderate bent to step into the race? 


BLOOMBERG: Well it would be virtually impossible from now going forward for anybody to come in if they had to raise money. They’d never remotely catch up to Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. Let’s not rush to judgment. Joe Biden going from 20 points over Elizabeth Warren to tied with Elizabeth Warren overnight in one poll is suspicious.


HOOVER:  But there are three polls and there’s a trend. 




HOOVER: And you know a lot about polling, you do a lot of polling. 


BLOOMBERG: Yes, there’s some. Polling in a macro sense really does work if you have good pollsters.


HOOVER: Are you polling right now?




HOOVER: Will you go in the field soon?


BLOOMBERG: No, we don’t know. We don’t know the plans, we did. Course I look to see, I think it would be a great opportunity to be President of the United States, I think. Twelve years, people think I did a good job. I’m super pleased about that obviously. *Could I do a good job as president? Nobody really knows that. I can make a big difference with the philanthropy to be in my company and that sort of thing. But you can make more difference as the leader of the free world. No argument about that. 


HOOVER: Right, right.


BLOOMBERG: But the polls said that I am too moderate for the likely voters in a Democratic primary. And so I could not win. And Joe, in all fairness, would be somewhat similar. Certainly more similar to my views than Elizabeth Warren is. 




BLOOMBERG: And I just said look, you’ve got to understand what you can do, what you can’t do, and then make a decision and then live with the decision.


HOOVER: Yeah, there’s still a little bit of window though, you have to see. I mean, there might be an opening in Joe Biden’s slot if he is wavering. And there is a lot of concern that he’s not going to be able to go to the distance.


BLOOMBERG: Look, I know Joe Biden 


HOOVER: And you won’t have to raise the money. 


BLOOMBERG: I won’t have to raise money. Joe Biden is a principled guy. He was a good vice president. He has ideas and he’s a credible candidate. I think he can say the same thing about Elizabeth Warren. She’s genuine she’s smart she’s very well-prepared and she’s a good campaigner. And has an enthusiasm when she gets up on the stage and shakes up the troops. 


HOOVER: You think you have until November to still consider it? 


BLOOMBERG: November would get to be pretty hard to do. I don’t know. If Joe Biden were to make a decision today, which he’s not going to do, you’d have to think about it, I suppose. But that’s not going to happen.


HOOVER: You’re here at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum. You are hosting this business forum with heads of state in the middle of the U.N. General Assembly week. 




HOOVER: It has been rumored that you considered potentially being a Secretary of State…




HOOVER: consideration…  potentially in a Hillary Clinton presidency. 


BLOOMBERG: Never. No.  


HOOVER: That was reported. Is there any circumstance where Mike Bloomberg…


BLOOMBERG: Never discussed.


HOOVER: No, no. It was reported that you would consider it if you were asked. Is there any circumstance where Mike Bloomberg would consider being, serving as the Secretary of State?


BLOOMBERG:  I can’t imagine any president of the United States asking somebody who’s never worked for anybody for the last 35 years to come in, and go and be the messenger for a foreign policy that comes out of the White House, and they’re sitting in Foggy Bottom. No, I wouldn’t do it and nobody would want me to do it. And it’s and I’ve never had a discussion about that. I’ve heard rumors, you want to be Secretary of Defense. And I happen to be friendly with Jim Mattis. I did a book party for him recently and I think it’s a phenomenal job. I’m a pilot. I’m interested, I read Aviation Week and Space Technology every week. That might be fun for a day. But no that’s not what I’m gonna do. 


HOOVER: And not Energy either, huh?


BLOOMBERG: Certainly not Energy either. 


HOOVER: We know that you’ll campaign, we know that you’ll help on independent expenditures with respect to guns in 2020.

BLOOMBERG: One of my issues, in fact the 24 people that we supported, 21 of them won, I looked at their positions on guns and the environment. You’re never gonna agree with every position anybody has. So if you had this litmus test like you have to check all the boxes not going to do that. Those were two important issues. That’s the basis on which we picked the 24 people to support and I certainly expect them to do what they said. And they’ll probably come around looking for money and it’s a business we’ve got to raise money every two years and we’ll see what happens.


HOOVER: I want to get your reaction Beto O’Rourke in the last Democratic, Democratic debate. He said essentially, what gun owners across America fear, is that you bet I’m going to come for your automatic weapons. 


BETO O’ROURKE: In Odessa I met the mother of a 15 year old girl who was shot by an AR 15 and that mother watched her bleed to death over the course of an hour because so many other people were shot by that AR 15 in Odessa and Midland there weren’t enough ambulances to get to them in time. Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR 15. Your AK 47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against fellow Americans anymore. 


BLOOMBERG: That’s why I won’t be a candidate of the Democratic Party because it’s so impractical and I don’t know how you’d even do it. It would be such a rallying cry for people that say they are overstepping their bounds. What we should do–


HOOVER: So you’re saying that is not the way to win this issue? 


BLOOMBERG: That is not the way to end this issue. First thing AK 47 are, should not be in the hands of individuals. There are guns built not for hunting, they’re guns built to kill the maximum number of people as quickly as you can. And we shouldn’t have them. So you can go after the gun manufacturers and get them to stop it. But how you would go and get those back And if you look in the newspapers there’s a massacre every single day. It’s just spread across the country and you have one off things in the newspaper and people don’t think about it. But his idea is so impractical and I think – 


HOOVER: The fear is that it will mobilize the opposition. 


BLOOMBERG: And there’s no question about it. When Barack Obama was president the gun deal, the gun manufacturers worked 24/7 okay. And then the other fact that’s interesting is while Obama was president the percentage of households that have guns went from 35 to 25. So you say my god if you do a third fewer families have guns but they were manufacturing them 24/7, where’d the guns go? People that have guns tend to have lots of guns. And the theory is somebody is going to come to the front door, rape my women and take my guns. That’s what they believe. And to exacerbate it and give them more ammunition just isn’t all that productive.


HOOVER: it goes to this idea that the line is divided. People are on both sides.


BLOOMBERG: That is unfortunately what’s happened to us. The Republicans, the Democrats don’t even sit together in the Senate or House dining rooms anymore. They they used to come and they used to live next to each other and the kids went to the same schools and so they built relationships. And you also had earmarks which was a very useful thing to run the railroad. If you’re going to control the House you have to be able to horse trade a little bit because you have a bunch of different viewpoints and you’ve got to get enough together in order to pass a piece of legislation. We took that away in the interest of under the argument of good government and I remember thinking back then that’s not good government there’s nothing wrong with being able to move a few things around to help people out when they help you. That’s the way we, that’s the way we work together in our families, in our churches and synagogues and mosques. That’s the way we work together in our schools and in our offices and in our government.


HOOVER: It was the context of fiscal responsibility. But the irony is that conservatives were making that after having that money for the previous decade.


BLOOMBERG:  Well I’m always been found it so hypocritical. The Republicans are deficit hawks when they’re not in power but when they get there they spend. Democrats exactly reverse. My recollection is the last time we had a surplus it was Bill Clinton who was a Democrat I think. And I’ve always thought that the president, the governor and the mayor, those are management jobs and you want people with management experience. And I think most of these presidents we’ve had and most of the governors we’ve had and most of the Congress people and senators.


HOOVER: They’ve never been executives.


BLOOMBERG: They’re not that they never managed anything. And so they come up with these ideas and say we’re going to do it. Well but that’s not the real world.  How are you going to get people to take away the guns. Do you know how many people would vote against that. It’s so ridiculous.


HOOVER: But Trump’s a businessman. 


BLOOMBERG: No, he’s not. And I said that when I talked at the Democratic convention. He’s a real estate developer. Nothing wrong with being a real estate developer but he knew nothing about finance,  nothing about foreign policy and nothing about defense. Never managed anything, a small office of 100 people or something like that. And I’m not taking anything away from him. But I come back to, these are management jobs. You hire people for policy, the management is to set the tone, work ethic, how you deal with people, all those kinds of things. And that’s where I disagree with Donald Trump. A lot of his policies, Democrats agree with. I think that a lot of people think we should be very pro immigration, but decide who comes into the country rather than who shows up at the border. I understand that we have an obligation to the world to help those who are threatened. But that doesn’t mean you have to take them all in. And that’s I think the general view of the American public. I think most people think that we China was not being fair with us, People like the idea that we’re taking on China. I don’t think we do it in the right way. If I want something from you I first might kiss you and then ask for a favor. I wouldn’t hit you upside the head with a two by four and then ask you a favor and then people wonder why it didn’t work. 




BLOOMBERG: People think we should talk to North Korea. Winston Churchill said jaw jaw is better than war war. And even if nothing comes out of it better to try and better talk, he’s doing that. You know there’s a lot of things that he has done that Democrats are in a funny position because they can’t come out against them. But it’s the style.




HOOVER: Okay. You recently expressed concern about — in a opinion editorial which you wrote on your own site and it was reposted in The New York Post — on the assault of free speech, not just on campus but in the business community and in the public square. 




HOOVER: The argument you make is that viewpoint diversity is critical for the maintenance of liberal democracy.


BLOOMBERG: No argument about that whatsoever. 




BLOOMBERG: Because you have to find out — There’s two points of view, or more, for every single issue. And if you’re not exposed to all of the points of view, how do you pick the best one? And unfortunately on campus, we have triggers and safe spaces and microaggressions and that sort of thing. You’re not gonna be forced to read any literature that you don’t like. If you don’t like it, nobody else can hear it either. Universities particularly, but even the lower schools, should be places where you can express your views and have your classmates shoot them down or build them up. And then you can rethink it. And it’s in school where you make small mistakes so that, you know, you don’t make the big mistakes when you get out.


HOOVER: You said restoring the ability to disagree without becoming mortal enemies is new and urgent object civic imperative.


BLOOMBERG: Yes, and I think the schools have gone way overboard in the wrong direction. And it’s starting to happen in high schools and down the chain. 


HOOVER: And as you point out in the public square.




HOOVER: Mayor Bloomberg thank you very much for being on Firing Line.  You’ve been very generous with your time. 


BLOOMBERG: Thank you. Thanks for having me. 


HOOVER: Thank you.