Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday he is “not happy” he voted for the controversial 1994 crime bill.
“No, I’m not happy I voted for a terrible bill,” the 2020 presidential hopeful said when asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” in an exclusive interview if he was glad he voted for the bill. But, he said, “I am happy I was honest with the people of my state.”
The Vermont senator running for the Democratic nomination said the bill had a ban on assault weapons and a provision that addressed violence against women, which he said he had campaigned on in 1988 and 1990. In a large bill, he said, with “many features in it, many provisions in it, you have to make a choice.”
In 1994, Sanders made a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives raising concerns about the bill and mass incarceration. He said, “We are dooming today tens of millions of young people to a future of bitterness, misery, hopelessness, drugs, crime and violence.”
Sanders told Tapper on Sunday since then, “I’ve been doing my best helping to lead the effort for real criminal justice reform, so that we end the disgrace of having more people in jail than any other country.” Sanders said he has also helped lead the effort against the “terrible war on drugs.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, played a large role in the passage of the crime bill. The presidential hopeful helped write the bill as a senator from Delaware.
Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey — both presidential candidates themselves — have been sharply critical of Biden over his role in the passage of the bill, which incentivized states to implement tough sentencing laws with mandatory minimums, and said it did contribute to mass incarceration.
Biden will face off against Harris and Booker at the CNN presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, on July 31. Sanders was selected in a live draw to debate the night before.
Sanders previously defended his vote in favor of the bill to CNN, but conceded to CNN’s Brooke Baldwin in April that the legislation included “very bad stuff.”