Saturday, December 19, 2015

Democratic debate: Clinton, Sanders spar over ISIS, taxes and Wall Street

Democratic debate in New Hampshire
"Thank you, good night and may the force be with you," is how Hillary Clinton wrapped up her closing statement in Saturday night's Democratic debate.
Really.
Clinton, confident enough to wink at the new "Star Wars" movie, played up the differences between Democrats and Republicans, arguing that gains in gay rights, voting rights, funding for Planned Parenthood and more would be reversed if the GOP took the White House.

"This is a watershed election. I know how important it is that we have a Democrat succeed President Obama in the White House," Clinton said at the ABC debate in New Hampshire.
    Martin O'Malley, meanwhile, focused on his argument for generational change atop the Democratic Party, casting himself as a clean break from a divisive era of politics.
    And Bernie Sanders told the story of his mother's dream -- moving out of their 3.5-room rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, New York, and into a home her family owned -- as he focused on income inequality.
    "This great country and our government belong to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires," Sanders said.
    [Updated at 10:49 p.m. ET]
    Hillary Clinton, speaking at the third Democratic debate, defended her role in ousting Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi -- a point Republican presidential rivals have hammered her on in recent months.
    "I am not giving up on Libya and no one should," Clinton said on Saturday night, later adding that she's "not saying Libya is as far along as Tunisia."
    She has taken heat from Republicans for a comment about Obamacare.
    Clinton characterized rising premiums and deductibles on the health insurance plans offered under President Barack Obama's signature health care law as "glitches" in a law still being implemented -- and actively undercut by Republican governors -- which drew quick fire from her GOP opponents during the ABC debate in New Hampshire.
    Clinton is being criticized for claiming that "finally we are where we need to be" in the fight against ISIS.
    Her comment came as she touted her calls to arm moderate opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- which Obama resisted during Clinton's tenure as secretary of state.
    [Updated at 10:13 p.m. ET]
    Hillary Clinton hit Bernie Sanders for proposing a universal tax hike to foot the bill for his paid family-leave program -- and Sanders shot back that "$1.61 (a week) is a pretty good investment."
    Clinton, at the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire, was criticizing Sanders for backing a proposal to impose a 0.2% payroll tax -- deducted from checks much like Social Security and Medicare -- to cover his plan.
    She also made a firm commitment not to raise taxes on the middle class.
    "That is off the table as far as I am concerned. That is a pledge that I am making," Clinton said in the ABC debate.
    She said that she'd cover the cost of paid family leave with higher taxes only on the wealthy.
    Sanders, though, responded that his plan is backed broadly by Senate Democrats. And he said Clinton's criticism of payroll taxes is out of step with Democratic giants such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who oversaw the creation of Social Security, and Lyndon B. Johnson, who shepherded Medicare into law.
    "What the legislation is is $1.61 a week. Now you can say that's a tax on the middle class. It will provide three months of paid family and medical leave," Sanders said, arguing it was well worth it.
    [Updated at 9:51 p.m. ET]
    Hillary Clinton drew laughs -- but a bit of a rebuke from Bernie Sanders -- when asked about her ties to corporate leaders.
    ABC debate moderator David Muir asked: "Should corporate America love Hillary Clinton?"
    A smiling Clinton responded, to cheers: "Everybody should."
    "I have said, I want to be the president for the struggling, the striving and the successful. I want to make sure the wealthy pay their fair share, which they have not been doing. I want the 'Buffett rule' to be in effect, where millionaires have to pay 30%," Clinton said.
    But Sanders gave a much different answer when Muir asked whether corporate America would love him.
    "No, I think they won't," Sanders said.
    He added that "Wall Street will like me even less."
    [Updated at 9:47 p.m. ET]
    The Democratic presidential debate's transition to the economy started with an awkward moment when Hillary Clinton was late returning from a break.
    ABC moderator David Muir said he expected Clinton back momentarily, and started a question for Bernie Sanders.
    But before Muir could finish the question, Clinton walked on the stage to applause from the crowd gathered in Manchester, New Hampshire.
    Clinton stepped to the podium and said only: "Sorry."
    [Updated at 9:38 p.m. ET]
    Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sparred over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- and regime change more broadly -- during Saturday night's Democratic presidential debate.
    Sanders said Clinton is "too much into regime change and too aggressive without knowing what the consequences may be."
    Clinton swung back in the ABC debate, saying that Sanders had voted for regime change in Libya. She said that she had advocated a process to pursue the political ouster of Assad, saying it should operate on the same track as the U.S. fight against ISIS.
    She also warned against any policy that would allow Iran to increase its role in Syria, equating such a move to "asking the arsonist to come and pour more gas on the fire."
    But Sanders stated, "We have got to get our foreign policy and our priorities right. It is not Assad who is attacking the United States -- it is ISIS."
    [Updated at 9:10 p.m. ET]
    All three Democrats had sharp words for Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump in Saturday night's debate.
    "He is becoming ISIS' best recruiter," Hillary Clinton said, pointing to the billionaire businessman's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
    "He thinks low wages are a good idea," Bernie Sanders said, directing his remarks at attendees of Trump rallies.
    And former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said that the United States "must never surrender our American values to racists, must never surrender them to the fascist pleas of billionaires with big mouths."
    [Updated at 9:04 p.m. ET]
    The candidates once again struck different tones on gun rights -- with Clinton saying more citizens purchasing firearms wouldn't help matters and Sanders focusing on a search for "consensus" on gun regulations.
    "Guns in and of themselves, in my opinion, will not make Americans safer. We lose 33,000 a year already to gun violence. Arming more people -- to do what? -- is not the appropriate response to terrorism," Clinton said.
    Sanders, though, pointed to his state -- Vermont -- and said more than half of its residents own guns.
    "I'm not going to say that everybody's in agreement -- it's a divided country on guns. But there is a broad consensus on gun safety regulation," Sanders said, calling for background checks for potential gun owners and the closure of loopholes that allow easier purchases at gun shows.
    O'Malley took a big swing at both candidates, saying that, "Secretary Clinton changes her position on this every election year, it seems."
    "What we need on this issue is not more polls. We need more principle," O'Malley said.
    The other candidates hit back -- with Sanders interjecting, "Whoa, whoa, whoa."
    "We can do all the great speeches we want, but you ain't gonna succeed" without broad-based support, Sanders said.
    [Original story, posted at 9 p.m.]
    Bernie Sanders, at the start of the third Democratic debate, apologized to Hillary Clinton for his staff's exploitation of a Democratic National Committee computer vendor's glitch to access her campaign's proprietary voter files.
    "This is not the type of campaign that we run, and if I find anybody else involved in this, they will also be fired," the Vermont senator said in response to Saturday evening's first question from ABC.
    Sanders did take several shots at Clinton before apologizing, however, saying that "I am not convinced that information from our campaign may not have ended up in her campaign."
    "Don't know that," he added, while touting an agreement for an independent investigation.
    He also complained of "many press releases from the Clinton campaign of late."
    Clinton, though, ignored those shots and dismissed the issue.
    "Now that, I think, you know, we've resolved your data, we've agreed on an independent inquiry, we should move on, because I don't think the American people are all that interested in this -- I think they're more interested in what we have to say about all of the issues facing us," the former secretary of state said.
    After addressing the data issue, the candidates quickly pivoted to terrorism, and issue they also each touched on in their opening statements.
    Clinton took a shot at Republican contenders, saying that "despite all their tough talk about terrorism, (they) continue to let people who are on the no-fly list buy guns."
    Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley touted his recent visit to a Northern Virginia mosque and took a swing at Republican candidate Donald Trump, saying that the country must "must never surrender them to the fascist pleas of billionaires with big mouths."
    Sanders said he's running for president because he wants a new foreign policy -- "one that does not get us involved in perpetual warfare in the quagmire of the Middle East."
    But it was the data imbroglio that shaped the political environment in the hours leading up to the debate.
    The encounter comes with Clinton in a dominant position after she survived House Republicans' inquiries into her private email use during a hearing on the Benghazi attacks and Vice President Joe Biden's decision not to make a late entry in the race. Sanders is fading from his summer high, struggling to broaden his appeal in a campaign increasingly focused on foreign policy, and O'Malley has failed to break out of the low single digits.
    The timing seems unlikely to help Sanders, whose campaign is irked that the DNC slated it for a Saturday night, when viewership is lower than the weeknight bouts that have drawn massive audiences to the Republican debates.

    Clinton, a 2-to-1 front-runner in most national polls, has largely avoided punching down at Sanders throughout the campaign, rarely mentioning him at campaign events and taking carefully calibrated swings at him on issues like gun control.
    But the data breach left Clinton with a decision: give Sanders a pass, as he did with her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state, or tear into the Vermont senator over it during the debate, which takes place in New Hampshire and will air nationally on ABC.
    Sanders' campaign seized on a glitch in a DNC-housed program to access Hillary Clinton's proprietary data on early-state voters this week. In response, the DNC locked Sanders out of all voter data, including information gathered by his own campaign. So Sanders retaliated with a lawsuit seeking $600,000 per day. The two sidesannounced a settlement in the wee hours of Saturday morning, with Sanders' access restored.
    Clinton's campaign sent signals Friday that the daggers are out.
    Campaign manager Robby Mook called Sanders' team's actions "incredibly disappointing" on a call with reporters, playing up the significance of what Sanders' campaign had accessed.
    "This was a very egregious breach and our data was stolen. This was not an inadvertent glimpse into our data," Mook said.
    Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon similarly lashed into Sanders on CNN, saying the senator's campaign acted "like kids in a candy store and "went hog wild" downloading data.
    Clinton's campaign on Saturday also attempted to drum up focus on the data breach story by publishing an open letter to the Sanders campaign that directs four questions at the senator.
    Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton's communication director, says that while the data breach has been "disturbing to our campaign and the volunteers who worked hard to build a strong organization," it has also been "a distraction from the issues that the American people care about."
    Palmieri then went on to ask why the campaign said they didn't store any data, despite logs showing that they may have, and why the campaign claimed the breach "was an accident" when the Sanders aides "conducted 25 targeted searches" within the Clinton data.

    Comparing reaction to data access, Clinton emails

    The Sanders campaign, for its part, has pinned blame on the DNC for the data's accessibility. It has fired one aide, but has also accused national Democrats of overreacting.
    "The failings of one or three or four young people who have made misjudgments in campaign is not cause for them to issue a death penalty on the Sanders campaign," campaign manager Jeff Weaver told Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "The Situation Room."
    However, hours before Saturday night's debate, Weaver told CNN not to expect the same fire from the senator.
    "He is a very issue-oriented candidate. Always has been, always will be," Weaver said. "He will, given the opportunity, talk about the substantive issues facing middle class and working-class people. Period. That is what he will do."
    He did add, though, "Now, if the issue is raised, I think what he will say is that the DNC dropped the firewall between the candidates, some young staffers on our campaign, inappropriately took advantage of that and may have looked at some Clinton data. One of them has been fired, others are being investigated. There may be more discipline handed out to employees as a result."
    Weaver stressed, "There is no one saying what they did is not wrong; it was wrong and we have taken it seriously. We have been investigating it and we will deal with it."
    When asked whether Sanders will echo Weaver when he said the DNC "gave our campaign the death sentence" by shutting off voter file access, Weaver responded, "No."
    The Clinton campaign's criticism of Sanders' team, meanwhile, is starkly different from how Sanders has handled Clinton's use of a personal email address on a private server during her four-year tenure as America's top diplomat.
    Sanders said during the first Democratic debate that the American people are "are sick and tired about hearing about your damn emails" -- a line that won applause in the moment but diminished his ability to criticize Clinton on an issue that had hampered her campaign for months.
    Republicans have repeatedly seized on the issue to assail the Democratic front-runner as untrustworthy, and have redoubled their criticism as the FBI reviews whether any classified information was mishandled.

    Sanders challenges party establishment

    But the dust-up over the DNC data breach could give Sanders new openings.
    His campaign's relationship with the party establishment has always been strained -- and spats such as Sanders' criticism of the DNC's limited debate schedule, which Clinton's challengers view as designed to shield the front-runner, have spilled into the open.
    That powder keg of resentment has been ignited.
    The timing of the debate could bolster Sanders' argument. It's the second Democratic debate to be held on a Saturday night, with the audience likely to be smaller than the viewership that would tune in on a weeknight, when Republicans have so far held their debates.
    The debate comes as the 2016 race's focus increasingly shifts toward national security and terrorism in the wake of the attacks in Paris and California planned or inspired by ISIS.
    Sanders' campaign has focused largely on the issue of income inequality -- with Sanders latching Clinton to Wall Street and influential donors.
    While Clinton has maintained her large lead nationally, Sanders' message has resonated in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire -- which are both whiter and more liberal than the broader Democratic electorate.
    A Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa poll put Clinton ahead there by just nine percentage points -- with 48% to Sanders' 39% and O'Malley's 4% -- earlier this month.
    In New Hampshire, Sanders has at times led. An early December CNN/WMUR poll showed him with 50% support to Clinton's 40% and O'Malley's 1%.
    The debate is the best opportunity for Clinton's rivals to chip into her lead before campaigns slow for the holiday season. But one more Democratic debate is scheduled before any votes are cast in Iowa. It's set for January 17 in South Carolina.

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