Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders pledged Tuesday to tackle long-standing racial divisions in the United States during their final joint event before Saturday’s Democratic primary in South Carolina, where 60 percent of likely voters are African Americans.
Sanders accused Republicans, including GOP front-runner Donald Trump, of leading a racist effort to try to de-legitimize the nation’s first black president by questioning Barack Obama’s birthplace. Sanders noted his father came from Poland, but that "nobody has asked for my birth certificate. Maybe it’s the color of my skin."
“Do I think that, at least in some parts of that Republican base, there is race involved in that? Absolutely.” he said.
Clinton pledged to work to overcome systemic racism that she says permeates society, including the criminal justice system, housing and employment.
“When I talk about breaking down all the barriers that stand in the way of people's ambitions and dreams, racism, along with economic issues, educational issues, and all the rest, have to be addressed,” she said. “Otherwise, we are never going to be the nation we should be. We're never going to overcome our legacy — dating back to slavery, segregation, Jim Crow.”
Sanders lost black voters in Nevada, 76- 22 percent, according to entrance polls.
Sanders and Clinton appeared at the two-hour town hall broadcast on CNN, fielding questions, some posed by undecided South Carolina voters in the audience, about healthcare, gun control and foreign policy.
Sanders blasted Republicans for opposing Obama at every turn, including blocking his decision to appoint a new Supreme Court justice before his term ends.
“What you are seeing today in this Supreme Court situation is nothing more than the continuous and unprecedented obstructionism that President Obama has gone through,” Sanders said.
Senate Republicans announced Tuesday they will not hold a confirmation hearing for any replacement Obama nominates to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat after his sudden death. “This decision ought to be made by the next president, whoever is elected,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier.
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Clinton won narrow victories in Iowa and Nevada while Sanders beat her overwhelmingly in New Hampshire. Sanders trails Clinton by about 20 points in South Carolina polls. She is also expected to do well on Super Tuesday, where she leads in most of the 11 states that have contests next week.
I'm taking no vote, no place for granted. We have had three contests. We have about 47 to go. And I'm going to work hard in each and every one of them Hillary Clinton
Knowing what the polls in the state show, Sanders is spending the next two days in other states, including Ohio, Missouri and Oklahoma.
It is kind of mind-blowing, the progress that we've made over the last nine months...When it began, we were 3 percent in the polls. And to be honest, most people considered us a fringe campaign, never going to go anyplace Bernie Sanders
Sanders sought to defend himself against Clinton’s campaign charges that his proposal to make tuition free at public colleges and universities could harm private historically black colleges and universities. Sanders didn't say how the schools would be affected by his plan, but pledged that his administration would "not only sustain, we will substantially increase funding" for the historically black schools.
Sanders renewed his criticism of Clinton, her campaign and a super political action committee benefiting from Wall Street donors. She has been dogged for weeks about whether she would release transcripts of her speeches, including those that she gave to Wall Street firms, that earned her millions of dollars before she launched her second presidential run.
In response to a question from the moderator, Sanders said: “I am very happy to release all of my paid speeches to Wall Street. Here it is.... There ain't none.”
Clinton, who appeared on stage after Sanders, said again she would release the transcripts if all other candidates who have given paid speeches also did. “Why is there one standard for me and not for everyone else?” she asked.
Both said they supported Obama's efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but sidestepped the question of whether South Carolina’s Naval brig could be used to house detainees.
"Obviously if people are terrorists, they need to be confined, and we need to make sure they stay in jail until whatever happens," Sanders said. "But I think the president is right. I think we should shut down Guantanamo. I think in the long run it will help us significantly."
Clinton said Obama hadn't yet made a decision about where the transfers would go, but said "where they end up should be a matter of negotiation."
She said there were several places in the country, including maximum security facilities in Colorado and in Illinois, that hold dangerous detainees, among them mastermind of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.
Clinton said that she was not worried about any issues arising from her decision to exclusively use personal email routed through a private server while she was secretary of state.
A federal judge ruled earlier Tuesday that State Department officials and top Clinton aides could be questioned under oath about whether they violated open records laws by using or allowing the use of a private email.
“It is just not something that is going to have any lasting effect,” she said. “I am not at all worried about it.”