DURHAM, N.H. Tensions rising, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed in sometimes personal and biting fashion Thursday in a final, hastily scheduled debate before the first primary of the Democratic presidential contest.
The two candidates were far more aggressive in their fifth debate – snapping at each other over who is the voice of the party’s liberal, or progressive, wing, and who is the voice of the establishment. He worked to tar her with Wall Street connections. She at one point accused him of a smear.
The faceoff was the first to feature Sanders and Clinton going one on one – Martin O’Malley dropped out earlier this week – and it came as they find themselves locked in a protracted race for the nomination. Democrats are split between a more established candidate who says she wants to work with both sides and a onetime fringe candidate who has received the backing of many Americans disillusioned by Washington.
Clinton was combative from the start, pushing back on a series of criticisms from the independent Vermont senator in recent days on her decision to accept money and speaking fees from Wall Street, and questioning whether Sanders could deliver on his grandiose promises.
He was equally confrontational, describing the former secretary of state as an establishment politician, and not backing down – as he has done time and time again in previous debates – on one of her biggest vulnerabilities, the controversial decision to use private email for government business.
Progressive vs. moderate
Sanders and Clinton renewed a days-long clash over whether Clinton qualifies as a “progressive,” with the former secretary accusing the senator of appointing himself a “self-proclaimed gatekeeper.”
She defended her record as a liberal Democrat, saying that under Sanders’ criteria, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who backs Obama’s trade pact, would all fail to make the cut.
“I am a progressive who gets things done,” Clinton said, before lashing back at Sanders’ voting record.
“I don’t think it was particularly progressive to vote against the Brady Bill five times,” she said about Sander’s moderate record on gun control.
But Sanders noted that it was Clinton herself who said last year that she was moderate.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a moderate,” he said, but added that a candidate can’t be progressive and moderate at the same time.
Clinton called his remarks an attack and said that “every step along the way I have stood up to fight, and have scars to prove it.”
Wall Street money
Sanders renewed his criticism of Clinton’s campaign for benefiting from a super political action committee and for accepting donations and speaking fees from Wall Street, including Goldman Sachs.
“There is a reason why these people are putting huge amounts of money in our political system,” Sanders said, arguing the money was “undermining American democracy.”
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Just a day earlier, Clinton had been hammered for saying she did not regret accepting $675,000 for three speeches from Goldman Sachs. “Well, I don’t know. That’s what they offered,” she said Wednesday.
She was better prepared for the criticism at the debate Thursday, blasting Sanders for using “innuendos” to insinuate that she is beholden to Wall Street.
I think it’s time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out.
Clinton said Sanders acted as if “anyone who ever took donations or speaking fees from any group has to be bought.”
“I don’t think these kind of attacks by insinuation are worthy of you,” she said.
Clinton acknowledged that she had failed to do an adequate job explaining her record of pushing back on the financial services industry even before the recession, while charging that Sanders had voted for a bill that contributed to the crash.
Clinton and Sanders described starkly different philosophies on national security and how to wage war against terrorism, a rift magnified by Americans’ growing fears.
Clinton takes a more hawkish and interventionist approach, advocating that the U.S. should be aggressive in helping to resolve disputes around the globe. She suggested that Sanders’ foreign policy experience is limited and his policy misguided. She contends that foreign policy experts have raised concerns about several comments Sanders has made, including asking Saudi Arabia and Iran to work together.
“You’re voting for both a president and a commander in chief,” she said, adding, “You’ve got to be ready on Day One. There is too much unpredictability to say, ‘I’ll get to that when I can.’ ”
Sanders, who does not generally favor international intervention, said Clinton had more experience than he did in foreign policy. But he added, “experience is not the only point; judgment is.” He touted his role in leading the effort against the war in Iraq, saying that when it had come to authorizing the war, “one of us voted the right way, and one of us didn’t.” He voted against the war; Clinton voted for it, but has since said her vote was a mistake.
Sanders, who has served in Washington for decades, sought to paint Clinton as part of the “establishment” after she noted that she was proud to have the support of several officials from his home state, including the current governor and former Gov. Howard Dean, who she said “want me as their partner in the White House.”
Sanders shot back: “Secretary Clinton does represent the establishment. I represent ordinary Americans.”
Clinton interjected, saying she was amused by Sanders’ characterization: “Sen. Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me, a woman running to be the first woman president, as exemplifying the establishment,” she said.
Hillary Clinton: “I am not making promises I cannot keep.”
Bernie Sanders: “All the ideas I am talking about, they are not radical ideas.”
Hillary Clinton: “I don’t think these kind of attacks by insinuation are worthy of you.”
Bernie Sanders: “There is nothing wrong with being a moderate but you can’t be a moderate and a progressive.”