Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders offered some of his sharpest comments to date about his main rival for the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday, in a wide-ranging conversation that touched on the FBI probe into information on Hillary Clinton’s private computer server and how his campaign has handled accusations that he’s made sexist remarks.
His more aggressive posture toward Clinton is part of his strategy to draw clearer distinctions between his liberal record and her shifts on major issues including gay rights, the environment, and trade.
“I disagree with Hillary Clinton on virtually everything,” said Sanders during a meeting with the Boston Globe’s editorial board. “What is important is to look at is the record, the track record that Hillary Clinton has had for her long and distinguished career as a public figure.”
Sanders said he was “delighted” that Clinton, the former secretary of state, recently said she opposes the mammoth trans-pacific trade deal. But he noted that she remained silent earlier this year when liberals were trying to find the votes needed to help block legislation that limited Congress’s input to a yes or no vote.
He also pointed to her recent decision to oppose the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, an issue that was being studied by the State Department when she was in charge of it.
“How many years do you have to think about whether or not we excavate and transport the dirtiest fuel in the world?” he said. “It didn’t take me too long to think about that.”
Sanders’ insurgent presidential campaign has attracted tens of thousands of people to rallies in Boston and other major cities across the country. He’s also managed to nearly match Clinton’s fundraising figures by tapping into a vast reserve of small-dollar donors who give mostly online.
Still, his candidacy is hampered by a view among many Democrats that his views and desire for a “political revolution” are too extreme for the electorate and he’d fare poorly in a general election.
To counter that notion and introduce himself to votes, Sanders started airing biographical television spots in New Hampshire and Iowa, hoping to buoy poll numbers that have sagged in recent weeks as Clinton regained her footing on the campaign trial.
The 60-sescond spots include a tagline at the end: “Bernie Sanders, an honest leader.”
During the meeting at the Globe, Sanders pushed back on the notion that he inoculated Clinton to criticism over her use of private server during the first Democratic debate when he said “enough about your damn emails.”
“I didn’t let her off the hook,” Sanders said. “There is a process going on in this country. There is an investigation. The FBI is doing what it is doing.”
He added: “Whatever happens with the email thing will happen. I don’t know. I’m not an expert. Let it take place.”
He complained that he only had “twelve seconds” to make his point during the debate so didn’t have time to affirm the federal investigation.
But, Sanders reiterated his larger point that he believes the media and critics focus too much on the scandal.
“Twenty years from now, or thirty years from now, when people look back it will not be Hillary’s emails that are significant,” he said. “What will be significant will be how we stopped the decline of the American middle class.”
During his discussion with The Globe, he cited multiple examples of issues where has tried to defend the middle class by on taking powerful interests and casting unpopular votes.
They included his votes against both wars in Iraq, his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
“You asked me about the differences between Hillary Clinton and myself? I have taken tough votes throughout my entire life,” Sanders said. Later he circled back to the idea: “You are looking at a guy who cast difficult votes.”
One exception according to critics: Sanders’ stance on gun control.
He offered political reasons for his what critics call his moderate votes on the issue, saying repeatedly that he comes from a “rural state” with “virtually no gun control.”
Sanders voted against the Brady Bill that required federal background checks before purchasing a firearm and for legislation shielding gun manufacturers from liability when gun owners kill.
“Hillary Clinton has a checkered record on some of these issues too,” Sanders said.
He has voted to ban military-type assault weapons, said he wants buyers at gun shows to submit to background checks, and said that he wants to do more to prevent so-called straw purchases, in which a person prohibited from buying a gun legally circumvents federal background checks.
The Vermont Senator acknowledged that his campaign didn’t do a good job beating back charges leveled by Clinton’s surrogates that Sanders made sexist remarks during when he accused her of “shouting” about guns during the Democratic debate.
Clinton seized on his comments and, during an event in Iowa, said: “Sometimes when a woman speaks out, some people think it’s shouting.”
In the days afterward Sanders’ camp did little to point out his record of voting to support women’s issues.
“We let her get away with it,” Sanders said. “We didn’t handle it as well as we should have.”Annie Linskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.