Mike Bloomberg tells 60 Minutes why he should be president

Mike Bloomberg entered the race for the presidency late in the game, but his seemingly bottomless wallet has made him a contender. Scott Pelley talks with the former New York City mayor about the issues facing the country and what he offers to voters.

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Suddenly, crisis management is an urgent issue in the presidential campaign. Coronavirus has infected world financial markets. And now, Wall Street is calculating the chances of a recession. Into this, a new name will appear on primary ballots for the first time. Michael Bloomberg, the 78-year-old billionaire and former mayor of New York City, skipped the early contests. But he's already spent almost $500 million, much of it aimed at this week's Super Tuesday. We spoke to Mike Bloomberg Saturday, and earlier in the week, about how he would lead, his reputation with women and minorities and the virus crisis.

Scott Pelley: How do you view this emergency?

Mike Bloomberg: I find it incomprehensible that the president would do something as inane as calling it a hoax, which he did [Friday] night in South Carolina.

Scott Pelley: He said that the Democrats making so much of it is a Democratic hoax, not that the virus was a hoax.

Mike Bloomberg: This is up to the scientists and the doctors as to whether there is a problem. And it is just ignorant and irresponsible to not stand up and be the leader and say, "We don't know, but we have to prepare for the fact that, if it is, we have the medicines and the structure and the knowledge to deal with it."

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Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg

Scott Pelley: The president's proposed budget would have cut 16% from the budget of the Centers for Disease Control, and about 8% from the National Institutes of Health.

Mike Bloomberg: I would have raised it rather than cut it.

Scott Pelley: I should say that the Congress didn't allow that to happen, so the cuts didn't happen. But what do you make of the effort to cut those budgets?

Mike Bloomberg: We have to spend money to make us safe and protect this country. It's like saying I'm not going to fund the military. "I'm not gonna fund the local fire department. We're not gonna have fires. I don't believe-- fires are hoaxes." This is about the level that he's talking.

Spending money is what the Trump administration has in mind now. It's asking for nearly $2 billion for a virus response led by the vice president. Despite that, markets plummeted about 10% last week.

Scott Pelley: What about Wall Street?

Mike Bloomberg: Wall Street does not do well with uncertainty. And it's-- the worst thing is nobody knows how bad this is going to get. I can just tell you, in my company, we're splitting in all our big offices into two different buildings, even if it's just a temporary thing. If this flu does strike, and strikes our employees, it won't strike all of them, because we have to continue to provide a service.

Scott Pelley: Friday evening, the president announced his selection for director of National Intelligence. His principal qualification for that job appears to be fierce loyalty to the president.

Mike Bloomberg: That's all of the president's appointees, have that one characteristic.

Scott Pelley: And I'm curious, how would you fill the top jobs in government?

Mike Bloomberg: Plain and simple: You get some experts. You put 'em in a room and say, "Okay, now who should we go hire to do this job? Who's the best person in the world?" We'll start there. Asking what party they're a member of, how they voted the last time, it is so nonsensical. If you are sick, do you really wanna go to a doctor who was politically correct? Or somebody that knew how to treat your disease? I'll rest my case.

Bloomberg is pressing his case after a late start and poor showing in his first debate last month. This past Wednesday, after a better, second debate, he slept three hours before heading to his Times Square headquarters to phone voters. He's opened more than 200 offices with 2,400 staff. 

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Bloomberg and Scott Pelley outside Bloomberg's childhood home.

That same morning, he met us for a flight to his boyhood home. 

Scott Pelley: You told everybody who would listen that you're not running for president.

Mike Bloomberg: I did.

Scott Pelley: What changed?

Mike Bloomberg: I started watching and listening to the candidates. And they had ideas that made no sense to me whatsoever. Donald Trump is gonna eat 'em for lunch.

That evening he would head to South Carolina and Texas. Bloomberg comes to politics like the electrical engineer he is, pragmatic not charismatic.
 
Mike Bloomberg: I have been training for this job for close to 20 years there is nobody else running that has any management experience whatsoever in any of these things, but you have to have somebody that's been there done that and will do it right and will guide us through the tough times particularly day one.

Scott Pelley: What does the data today tell you about the voter that leads you to believe that you can win?

Mike Bloomberg: A few years ago there was a revolution against the intelligentsia. People said, "You know, those people, particularly on the coasts, are trying to tell us what to do." They wanted a change. That explains Donald Trump. Now, people seem to have changed. This cycle, people want stability.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate In Charleston Ahead Of SC Primary
Bloomberg arrives on stage for the Democratic presidential primary debate in Charleston, South Carolina. Scott Olson / Getty Images

His political career began in 2001. He won the mayor's office three times as a Republican, then once as an independent. His strategy was the one he is using right now: he massively outspent his opponents in self-funded campaigns. In 12 years, Bloomberg helped rebuild Ground Zero, helped the city survive the Great Recession. He banned smoking in restaurants, improved schools and balanced the budget. But there was controversy. Bloomberg expanded a police tactic called stop and frisk. More than 80% of those stopped were minorities. Less than 1% were carrying guns. 

Scott Pelley: You defended stop and frisk right up to the point that you announced you were going to run for president. What have you learned?

Mike Bloomberg: We should've, in retrospect, been more careful and keep it from-- and keep the numbers from growing and we did not and for that I am very sorry.

Scott Pelley: It was a mistake, the way that it rolled out--

Mike Bloomberg: Well, yeah, there's no argument about it. It was a mistake. I erred. It was a mistake. I've took-- I haven't walked away from my responsibility for it. 

Bloomberg is divorced with two daughters and two grandchildren. He still owns his boyhood home in Medford, Massachusetts.

Scott Pelley: Your parents bought this house through an intermediary because the owner wouldn't sell to a Jew.

Mike Bloomberg: Correct. 1946, and the guy who sold it to us said his sister would never forgive him.

Scott Pelley: Do you think America's ready for a Jewish president?

Mike Bloomberg: Nobody's-- virtually nobody's mentioned it and I think in this day and age, yes. We've moved on. It's a better world than it was back then.

Mike Bloomberg Campaigns For President In El Paso
Cengiz Yar / Getty Images

Mike Bloomberg is the ninth richest person in the world, worth about $60 billion. His success began in 1981. Before PC's or the internet evolved, Bloomberg created a data and communications network for Wall Street. Today, the Bloomberg Terminal is the central nervous system of world finance. But he told us, if he wins the presidency, he'll sell the company.

Scott Pelley: What does a multibillionaire know about people who are living paycheck to paycheck and hoping that the car doesn't break down?

Mike Bloomberg: When I lived in this house my father made $6,000 the best year of his life. My parents took a mortgage out on the house, I think it was $11,000, if I remember, to help my sister and I go through school. I worked as hard as anybody. Not better. I wasn't any better or worse, I was luckier, I think than other people.

He has 20,000 employees. But in early years, some found the office harsh. Allegations by women have challenged his political campaigns. 

Scott Pelley: In 1990, as a tongue-in-cheek gift, your employees immortalized some of your sayings, in a booklet called, "The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Bloomberg."

Mike Bloomberg: I don't think I ever saw the book, but I do remember it.

Scott Pelley: One of them has you describing your Bloomberg Terminal, and the quote in the book is, quoting you, "It will do everything, including give you," a euphemism for oral sex--

Mike Bloomberg: Right, okay.

Scott Pelley: "I guess that puts a lot of you girls out of business."

Mike Bloomberg: Well, I didn't write the book. So--

Scott Pelley: Did you say these things?

Mike Bloomberg: I don't remember saying it. I can tell you that years ago on the trading room floors, things were different. I apologize for that, I'm sorry if somebody was hurt.

Scott Pelley: You don't remember.

Mike Bloomberg: If I annoyed somebody or hurt somebody I apologize. I can't go rewrite history. I can only tell you now it is a different world.

Scott Pelley: It's a different world, but the question is, is it a different man?

Mike Bloomberg: Oh, I think, for sure. You evolve with times. We're all a product of the world we live in. Shame on you if you don't learn and try to be better.

Bloomberg was named in lawsuits three times in the 1990's by female employees offended by his alleged comments. One suit was settled, two were dismissed.  

Scott Pelley: How can you be the standard-bearer for a party that claims the high ground on the rights of women and minorities?

Mike Bloomberg: Because I brought down the murder rate. I doubled the, or cut the gap between rich and poor education. I created 500,000 jobs, 175,000 units of affordable housing. We did all the things to reduce poverty that anybody could possibly do. And when I left, I think it's fair to say most people, women, minorities, they would say it was the best 12 years the city has had in modern memory.

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Since leaving City Hall, Bloomberg has been giving away his fortune. He has donated billions to reduce gun violence, smoking, and greenhouse gases. He spent more than $100 million helping Democrats in 2018 when they retook the house.

He's telling voters he would expand Obamacare while keeping employer-provided insurance. And provide eventual citizenship to the 11 million residents who immigrated illegally. He's for control of the borders but doesn't think a wall will do it. 

Scott Pelley: Who's gonna get a tax increase--

Mike Bloomberg: The wealthy.

Scott Pelley: --in your administration, and who's gonna get a tax cut

Mike Bloomberg: We're gonna have to raise taxes on me and people like me.

He means a 5% surtax on household incomes over $5 million and a roll back of President Trump's 2017 cuts for the wealthy.

Scott Pelley: You have already spent twice as much on this campaign as President Trump has raised. How much are you willing to spend?

Mike Bloomberg: Well, I'm making an investment in this country. My investment is I'm going to remove President Trump from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or at least try as hard as I can.

Scott Pelley: So it's a blank check? You'd spend $1 billion?

Mike Bloomberg: Well, I don't know if it's a blank check, but, when they come to me and they wanna spend more, I've so far said yes.

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He said 'yes' to starting a new company to analyze voter data for targeting ads and social media. This was President Trump's big advantage in 2016 and Bloomberg is spending heavily to catch up.

Scott Pelley: If you're not the nominee, will you support the nominee of the party?

Mike Bloomberg: it's an easy commitment for me to make because the alternative is Donald Trump, so yes, I would support the nominee--

Scott Pelley: If you don't finish in the top three on Super Tuesday is that it for you?

Mike Bloomberg: No, of course not.

Scott Pelley: You'll keep going.

Mike Bloomberg: Yeah, sure. There's an election seven or so days later. There's another one 14 days later. There's a number of elections after that.

Despite Joe Biden's win yesterday in South Carolina, Bloomberg believes Bernie Sanders is the candidate to beat. He's counting on voters to move toward a centrist who believes government should be effective and dull, not a blood sport for tv.

Mike Bloomberg: The middle of the road doesn't want extremism. They want evolution rather than revolution. And if Bernie Sanders is the candidate, Donald Trump will win. Donald Trump not only will win, but the House will go back to being in Republican hands, the Senate will stay in Republican hands. Downstream, a lotta the state houses will flip back Republican. And when that happens, you're gonna have gerrymandering at the local level and judicial appointments at the federal level that will last for decades. And so, what's really at stake here is the future of this country for a very long time. And that's why I'm running.

Produced by Maria Gavrilovic. Associate producer, Alex Ortiz. Broadcast associate, Ian Flickinger. Edited by Peter M. Berman and Sean Kelly.

  • Scott Pelley
    Scott Pelley

    Correspondent, "60 Minutes"