The liveliest portions of Sunday’s Democratic debate, the last before Iowa’s caucuses Feb. 1, were sparked by gun control and Wall Street regulation.
The charges and counter-charges, particularly between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, were spirited. But were they accurate?
Clinton accused Sanders of flip-flopping on the issue of immunity from lawsuits for gun manufacturers. On the eve of Sunday’s debate, Sanders said he would support a bill introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., that would reverse a 2005 measure that Sanders voted for that shielded gun manufacturers from liability when their weapons were used in crimes.
“I am pleased to hear that Senator Sanders has reversed his position on immunity and I look forward to him joining with those members of congress who have already introduced legislation,” Clinton said. “There is no other industry in America that was given the total pass that the gun makers and dealers were and that needs to be reversed.”
Sanders insisted he’s been consistent on the issue.
“What I have said, is that gun manufacturer’s liability bill has some good provisions among other things, we’ve prohibited ammunition that would’ve killed cops who had protection on,” Sanders said. “We have child safety protection work on guns in that legislation. And what we also said, ‘is a small mom and pop gun shop who sells a gun legally to somebody should not be held liable if somebody does something terrible with that gun.’ ”
Sanders also defended his record on gun control, saying he’d been given a D-minus rating by the National Rifle Association, a rating the lobbying group reserves for “an anti-gun candidate who usually supports restrictive gun control legislation and opposes pro-gun reforms.”
Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, the third candidate on the stage, have both been given F grades by the NRA, a rating the NRA says it reserves for a “true enemy of gun owners’ rights.”
RAISING MINIMUM WAGE
O’Malley and Sanders expressed support for the “Fight for $15” movement, which calls for doubling the federal minimum wage. Republican candidates have argued employers can’t afford it, and that it will cost jobs.
But a study published last January by the University of Chicago’s Booth School suggested it would be consumers who would pay for the higher wages in higher prices. Employers in high-cost states or low unemployment states already have workers making above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Clinton didn’t address the topic.
REVAMPING WALL STREET
Clinton went after Sanders for voting for a financial deregulation bill in 2000 that critics believe gave Wall Street the rope it used to hang the economy in the 2008 financial crisis.
The criticism was unfair given that the bill was signed by a Democrat in the White House, her husband Bill Clinton.
Sanders and O’Malley both criticized the Obama administration’s landmark revamp of financial regulation, called the Dodd-Frank Act.
The two suggested the legislation failed to give regulators the power to break up big banks, and Clinton rightly noted it in fact does.
Clinton defended herself against a charge by Sanders that she had received $600,000 in speaking fees from Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs, suggesting that GOP strategist Karl Rove and financial firms called hedge funds are teaming up to run ads against her. In blasting hedge funds, she failed to mention that her son-in-law, Marc Mezvinsky, runs one. He also worked at Goldman Sachs for more than eight years.
Foreign policy and national security issues didn’t come up until well over an hour into the debate, and even then the moderators spent only about 10 minutes on the issues, skimming over the Syrian conflict, the fight against Islamic State extremists, diplomacy with Iran and relations with Russia.
Only O’Malley, in his closing statement, mentioned the wave of migrants fleeing violence in Central America. There was no mention at all of the United States’ gradually warming relations with Cuba.
There was also no discussion of Libya, where chaos has reigned since a Clinton-backed intervention helped to topple leader Moammar Gadhafi, and scant mention of Yemen. Clinton referred to Yemen only as a place where the Iranians were meddling, but she failed to note the merciless bombing campaign that U.S. ally Saudi Arabia has waged there, to the outrage of international human rights groups.
BALTIMORE HOMICIDE RATE
O’Malley was pressed by NBC’s Lester Holt about tough-on-crime measures he implemented as mayor of Baltimore, measures that several critics said contributed to rioting following the death of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody.
O’Malley said “When I ran for mayor in 1999, Lester, it was not because our city was doing well. It was because we were burying over 300 young, poor, black men every single year. And that’s why I ran. Because black lives matter.”
O’Malley added: “We were able to save a lot of lives, doing things that actually work to improve police and community relations.
The Baltimore Sun reported in November that the city had more than 300 homicides before the end of 2015, its deadliest year, per capita, in history.
Hannah Allam, Vera Bergengruen and Kevin G. Hall contributed.