Sanders calls Obama’s $400K Wall Street speaking fee ‘unfortunate’

Former President Barack Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders. (Photos: Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters, Matt York/AP)

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., may be fond of former President Barack Obama, but he’s still disappointed with his upcoming speaking engagement at a top investment firm on Wall Street.

Sanders, a fierce Wall Street critic, described Obama as a friend and said he represented the United States with intelligence and integrity. But he also said he wishes the Democratic leader had passed on the $400,000 offer to speak at Cantor Fitzgerald’s health care conference in September.

“I think at a time when people are so frustrated with the power of Wall Street and the big money interests, I think it is unfortunate that President Obama is doing this,” Sanders told “CBS This Morning” on Friday.

Obama spokesman Eric Schultz defended the paid speech. Schultz argued that the former president wanted to discuss health care reform and that he also accepted an unprecedented amount of campaign money from Wall Street while still passing legislation to rein in the industry.


During his CBS interview, Sanders pointed to former Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn becoming President Trump’s top economic adviser as just one example of the financial sector’s influence over Washington.

“Wall Street has incredible power, and I would’ve hoped that the president would not have given a speech like that,” Sanders continued.

Host Gayle King asked Sanders whether he would turn down a $400,000 payout to give a speech. Sanders did not categorically reject the prospect of accepting such a large fee for a speech, but he said he most certainly would if the money came from Wall Street.

“If Wall Street offered me that, yeah,” Sanders said. “But I must tell you, I really don’t have to worry about that too much. I haven’t gotten too many invitations from Wall Street.”

Sanders made similar comments to Bloomberg on Thursday. He bemoaned the influence of “big money in the political process” but noted that Obama is now a private citizen and can do whatever he wants.

While promoting her new book on SiriusXM’s “Radio Andy” Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also expressed concern about Obama’s decision to accept the speaking fee.

“Well, I was troubled by that,” Warren said. “One of the things I talk about in the book is the influence of money — I describe it as a snake that slithers through Washington — and that it shows up in so many different ways here in Washington.”

Sanders’ distrust of politicians receiving what he considers exorbitant paychecks for speaking to major investment banks is well known. He relentlessly criticized former rival Hillary Clinton for her speeches to Goldman Sachs — arguing that Wall Street had curried favor with his opponent — when they were vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination last year.

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