By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Big-screen at debate-watching party hosted by the Sanders campaign in San Diego at a Hillcrest theatre, where a crowd of about 500 people turned out.
October 15, 2015 (San Diego)—The first Democratic Presidential candidates’ debate held Wednesday differed sharply from two earlier Republican candidate debates in both the range of topics discussed and the generally civil tone among competitors. While Republicans focused largely on plans to slash taxes and shrink government, Democrats emphasized issues facing working families, minorities, and income inequality. While Democratic candidates showed clear policy differences, they largely refrained from personal attacks.
CNN and Facebook hosted the debate held in Las Vegas. Five candidates participated: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, ex-Massachusetts Governor Martin O’Malley, Virginia Senator Jim Webb, and ex-Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee. (Vice President Joe Biden did not appear, despite widespread speculation that he is considering entering the race.)
The spotlight and lion’s share of questions focused mainly on the two front-runners, Clinton and Sanders. Major post-debate polls showed Sanders winning the debate, followed by Clinton, with the other three candidates trailing in single-digits, though many media pundits placed Clinton ahead. Moderator Anderson Cooper and other CNN journalists peppered candidates with questions challenging their perceived vulnerabilities as well as stances on key issues. CNN also posed questions from voters across the country. Here are highlights:
Sanders made his case for addressing America’s shrinking middle class, noting that “millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, and yet almost all of the new income and wealth being created is going to the top one percent.” He criticized a “corrupt” campaign finance system in which millionaires and billionaires are funding super-PACs to elect candidates representing special interests, not the people. If elected, he wants to address climate change and shift our energy system away from fossil fuels, as well as putting money into “education and jobs for our kids” instead of having the highest percentage of people in jail of any nation on earth and high unemployment rates among African-American and Hispanic youths.
Clinton touted her experience not only as a Senator, First Lady and Secretary of State, but asa the granddaughter of a factory worker and now, a grandmother of a one-year-old.. “I think about what we need to do to make sure that opportunity is available not just for her but for all of our children,” she said. Clinton said the center point of her campaign is “how we’re going to raise wages” going beyond raising minimum wage to find ways for companies to share profits with workers. She calls for tax-cuts for middle class families, equal pay for women and paid family leave as every other major nation already provides. She also said work remains to be done to reduce inequality including the racial divide and discrimination against the LGTB community “so that we work together and yes, finally, fathers will be able to sayt o their daughters you, too, can grow up to be president.”
O’Malley touted his experience as an “effective leader” as ex-mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland, where he said he helped raise the minimum wage, make public schools “the best in America”, passed marriage equality, a DREAM Act to aid immigrants, and gun safety legislation. He views the shrinking middle class as a pressing issue, along with high college costs and the need to address climate change.
Webb, a veteran and former Assistant Secretary of Defense under Reagan, touted his support for veterans including authoring the post-9/11 G.I. bill. His priorities would be working people, security overseas and “common sense foreign policy.”
Chafee, a former mayor, senator and governor, says he brought labor peace to his city and kept taxes down. In congress, he cited his “courageous votes” against the Bush-Cheney tax cuts favoring the wealthy and his vote against the Iraq War. He added, “I have high ethical standards.” He says he aims to address income inequality, climate change, and “I believe in prosperity through peace. I want to end these wars.”
Opening questions: challenging candidates on flip-flops and economic views
The first questions challenged candidates on perceived vulnerabilities. Clinton defended her changed stances on key issues by saying she absorbed new information. On the recent Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal, she said she concluded it would not provide new, good jobs for Americans. Pressed on her values, she said she is a “progressive who likes to get things done” working across the aisle to work with Republicans where needed.
Sanders was asked about his self-proclaimed democratic socialism. “How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?” Cooper asked.
Sanders responded that “what democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of one percent in this country own almost 90 percent…when you look around the world, you see every other major country pro viding health care to all people as a right, except the United States. You see every other major country saying to moms that, when you have a baby, we’re not going to separate you from your newborn baby because we are going to have medical and family paid leave, like every other country on earth.” He cited Denmark, Sweden, and Norway as examples of countries that have positive accomplishments for working people.
Cooper fired back by asking Sanders his views on capitalism. Sanders replied, “Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don’t. I believe in a society where all people do well, not just a handful of billionaires,” he added, drawing applause.
Clinton interjected that when she thinks about capitalism, she thinks about all the small businesses started because “we have the opportunity and the freedom in our country for people to do that” adding, “we are not Denmark.”
Sanders clarified, “I think everybody is in agreement that we are a great entrepreneurial nation. We have go to encourage that. Of course, we have to support small and medium-sized businesses, the backbone of our economy, but we have to make sure that every family in this country gets a fair shake.”
Cooper noted that Chafee has been an independent and a Republican before becoming a Democrat two years ago. Chafee insisted he has not changed on issues such as the environment, a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage, fiscal responsibility, aversion to foreign entanglements and using government to help those in need. “The party left me,” he said, adding that the GOP has no place for a liberal or moderate Republican anymore.
Racial unrest and gun control
O’Malley’s challenge question dealt with recent racial unrest in Baltimore, where he was formerly mayor. He noted that arrests had fallen to a 38-year low until the Freddie Gray death made headlines, long after he left office. He said his policies put the city on a path to reduce violent crime more than any other major city over the next 10 years, saving “a lot of lives.”
Webb drew a grilling over his 2006 statement calling affirmative action “state-sponsored racism” and a 2010 editorial saying it discriminates against whites—statements that seem out of step with a Democratic party that is nearly half minorities. Webb said he decided to run as a Democrat because the party gives voice to those who lack power and said he has always supported affirmative action for African-Americans, but not for everyone “of color”, citing hardships faced by poor whites in places like Appalachia.
Guns and how to stem mass shootings was the next topic.
Sanders, put on the defensive over voting against the Brady Bill, noted that “Bernie Sanders has a D-minus voting record from the NRA [National Rifle Association] and has supported a ban on assault weapons. He has also backed instant background checks and closing the gun show loophole. But he added that mental healthcare is also needed for people who are suicidal or homicidal, but can’t get help because they lack insurance or are poor. “I believe that everybody in this country who has a mental health crisis has got to get mental health counseling immediately.”
But Clinton, asked if Sanders is tough enough on guns, replied “No, not at all…We lose 90 people a day from gun violence…It’s time the entire country stood up against the NRA.”
O’Malley noted that while he was Governor, Massachusetsts passed comprehensive gun safety legislation. He wants to see the same done at the federal level—action supported by President Barack Obama, who has been unable to get such measures passed due to opposition from a Republican controlled Congress as well as some Democrats against it.
Webb, by contrast, once held an “A” rating from the NRA and has said that gun violence goes down when more people are allowed to carry guns, Cooper noted. Webb said he supports background checks but “we have to respect the tradition in this country of people who want to defend themselves and their family from violence.”
Chafee has an “F” rating from the NRA and wants to bring in the gun lobby and legislators to try and find common ground for “common sense” gun legislation.
Foreign policy and use of military force
Cooper asked Clinton how she would respond to Russian aggression in Syria and asked if as Secretary of State, she underestimated the Russians.
Clinton cited accomplishments prior to Vladimir Putin’s administration, including a nuclear arms deal and Iranian sanctions. As for Putin, she said, “We have to stand up to his bullying,” adding she supports the Obama administration actions to engage in talks with the Russians to try and end the “bloody conflict” and make clear that his actions in Syria are not acceptable.
Sanders called Syria a “quagmire in a quagmire” due to both civil war and ISIS conflicts. As past chair of the Senate Veterans Committee, he said, “I learned a very powerful lesson about the cost of war, and I will do everything that I can to make sure that the United States does not get involved in another quagmire like we did in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country.” He wants the U.S. to build a coalition of Arab countries to lead efforts in Syria but made clear “I do not support American ground troops in Syria.”
Clinton stated, “Nobody does, Senator Sanders.”
Chafee, the only Republican to vote against the Iraq War in the Senate, has said Clinton should be disqualified from the presidency because she voted in favor of that war. He agreed it was “the worst decision in American history” and noted, “ there was no real evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—I know, because I did my homework, and so that’s an indication of how someone will perform in the future. And that’s what’s important,” he added, drawing applause.
Clinton fired back that she debated that issue with Obama on the campaign trail and that after he won the election, “he asked me to become Secretary of State. He valued my judgment,” she noted, to applause.
She agreed a coalition should be created that includes Arabs and does not want U.S. troops on the ground in Syria, but said she worries that ISIS is gaining territory and poses a threat to U.S. allies in the region. She also noted that she was an advisor to the President when he made tough decisions such as going after Osama bin Ladin.
Sanders also voted against the Iraq War and also against the Gulf War. So correspondent Dana Bash asked, “Under what circumstances would a President Sanders actually use force?”
Sanders said he believes a no-fly zone in Syria is “very dangerous” and defended his vote in 2002 against the Iraq War. He invited voters to visit berniesanders.com to hear his speech in 2002 adding that the destabilization he predicted with happen did occur.
But Sanders added that he did vote to hold bin Ladin accountable in the Afghanistan war and to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. “When our country is threatened, or when our allies are threatened, I believe that we need coalitions to come together to address the major crises of this country. I do not support the United States getting involved in unilateral action.”
Asked if Clinton has been too quick to support military force, O’Malley said no president should take the military option off the table but that it should be a last resort. But he agreed with Sanders and Chaffee in their assessment that the Iraq war was a blunder, caused by the Bush administration misleading Congress with “false pretenses” in an era when “war fever” and polls may have influenced some legislators to vote for the war. “As president I would onto be so quick to pull for a military tool,” he said, adding that he, too, believes a no-fly zone in Syria is a mistake since it must be enforced; “with the Russian air force in the air, it could lead to an escalation because of an accident that we would deeply regret.”
Clinton said the no fly zone should be on the table to help provide leverage to bring the Russians to the bargaining table diplomatically.
Webb, after complaining he was not getting to speak, said three failings led to Russia being in Syria: the invasion of Iraq that destabilized the nation and empowered Iran, the Arab Spring that created vacuums in Libya and Syria, allowing terrorists to move in, and the Iranian deal that may enable Iran to gain a nuclear weapon. But he added, “the greatest strategic threat that we have right now is resolving our relationship with China” citing China’s aggression in the region and how they treat their own people, as well as cyber warfare against “tens of millions of American citizens.”
Clinton, asked if she should have foreseen the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, noted the tumultuous times: a “murderous dictator, Gadhafi who had American blood on his hands” and made massacre threats against the Libyan people, European allies asking the U.S. to intervene, and the Arab people in Libya asking for help against Gadhafi. As for Benghazi, in which American diplomats were killed, Clinton said there is always danger when diplomats are sent into any place that is dangerous.
Sanders, a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war, was asked why he could be a comamnder-in-chief. Sanders applauded Webb’s service as Marine and made clear that he and Webb worked together to pass “the most significant veterans education bill in recent history.” Later, Sanders said his leadership helped enact the most significant veteran’s health care legislation in modern history. Noting he is no longer a young man, he said that as a young man he did oppose the policy that led us into Vietnam but not the “brave men” like Webb who fought in that war.
Sanders noted that he supported the Afghanistan War, the effort to end ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and air strikes in Syria. “I am not a pacific,” he made clear. Though he believes war should be the last resort and that diplomacy should be exercised, he added, “I am prepared to take this country into war if that is necessary.”
Asked to name the greatest national security threat, Clinton cited the threat of nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands. Sanders called climate change the greatest crisis, noting that the scientific community warns if we don’t shift from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, our planet may become uninhabitable. Chafee said chaos in the Middle East is the biggest threat. O’Malley cited nuclear Iran, climate change and the threat of ISI, while Webb sees cyber-warfare from China and the Middle East as the most serious concerns.
Clinton e-mails and credibility
Cooper pressed Clinton on the controversy surround emails on her private server while she was Secretary of State, currently a target of Congressional and FBI probes. Clinton said the has “taken responsibility” for “a mistake” and wants to testify before Congress in a hearing open to the public, which Republicans have opposed. She said she turned over 55,000 pages of e-mails , but that “this committee is basically an arm of the Republican National Committee. It is a partisan vehicle, as admitted by the House Republican majority leader, Mr. McCarthy, to drive down my poll numbers,” she said. She noted that multiple similar efforts to investigate her handling of the Benghazi controversy resulted in seven committee reports, none of which found any wrongdoing on her part.
Clinton added that she wants to talk about issues such as how to make college affordable and get healthcare for everybody.
Sanders drew strong applause when he told Clinton she was right, and that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.” Clinton responded “me too” and shook Sanders’ hand.
Sanders added, “Let me say something about the media as well.” He noted that the middle class is collapsing. “We have 27 million people living in poverty. We have massive wealth and income inequality. Our trade policies have cost us millions of decent jobs. The American people want to know whether we’re going to have a democracy or an oligarchy as a result of Citizens United. Enough of the e-mails! Let’s talk about the real issues facing America,” drawing thunderous applause.
Chafee, prodded by Cooper, said he thinks there is an “issue of American credibility” after the U.S. invaded Iraq based on claiming Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when he did not. “We have repair work to be done. I think we need someone that has the best in ethical standards to be president.” Clinton declined to respond to Chafee’s criticism.
O’Malley voiced gratitude that the Democrats are finally having a debate to talk about the issues such as making college affordable and converting to 100 percent clean electricity by 2050.
Black lives matter
Asked if black lives matter or all lives matter, Sanders spoke out against the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police. “We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system,” he said, adding, that the U.S. has more people in jail than China. “I intend to tackle that issue, to make sure that our people have education and jobs rather than jail cells,” he added, drawing applause.
O’Malley called the Black Lives Matter movement a very legitimate point in a society that undervalues black lives and people of color. He recalled running for mayor of Baltimore, when “we were burying over 350 young men every single year, mostly young and poor and black.” He told the legislature that if these were white young men, “we would be marching in the streets” adding thtat he also supports reform of the criminal justice system in America.
Clinton supports not only reforms in criminal justice, but also the recommendations of a commission Obama set up on policing She also wants to tackle “mass incarceration, and this may be the only bipartisan issue in the Congress this year. We actually have people on both sides of the aisle who have reached the same conclusion, that we cannot keep imprisoning more people than anybody else in the world.” Further, she wants to do more to help “every child to live up to his or her God-given potential” through early childhood education, good schools and housing, as well as “a New Deal for people of color.”
Income inequality and the banking industry
With the gap between rich and poor the widest since the 1920s, Sanders was asked what he could accomplish that President Obama could not.
Sanders noted that when Bush left office, the U.S. was losing 800,000 jobs a month. “My Republican friends seem to have some amnesia on this issue,” he quipped, adding that the world’s financial markets were on the verge of collapse. “Are we better off today than we were then? Absolutely.” But he said to rebuild the middle class, he supports creation of “millions of jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, raise the minimum wage to $15 hour, pay equity for women workers” as well as an end to “disastrous trade policies that have cost us millions of jobs” and making all public colleges and universities tuition-free.
Cooper noted that the Clintons are “part of the one percent” and asked about her credibility to help the middle class. Clinton noted that she and Bill did not come from wealthy families and worked hard most of their lives. She touted a five-point economic plan to help ease the inequality challenge but added, “If you look at the Republicans versus the Democrats when it comes to economic policy, there is no comparison. The economy does better when you have a Democrat in the White House…”
O’Malley called for reinstasting the Glass-Steagall Act to regulate commercial banking. He said while he supported Clinton last election, since then “a Wall street crash…wiped out millions of jobs and millions of savings for families, and we are still just as vulnerable…”
Senator Sanders wants to break up the big banks, but Clinton has not, Cooper noted. Clinton, whose biggest contributors are Wall Street financial interests, has also opposed reinstating Glass-Steagall. Clinton insisted that her plan would put executives in jail.
Sanders int4erjected, “Secretary Clinton, you do not—Congress does not regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress.”
O’Malley chimed in that repealing Glass-Steagall in the late ‘90s led to six banks controlled 65 percent of our gross domestic product, up from 15 percent before. He said a president needs to be “willing to protect the Main Street economy from reckless on Wall Street.”
Sanders said he opposed the Wall Street bailout paid for by taxpayers. “I want Wall Street now to help kids in this country go to college, public colleges and universities, free—with a Wall Street speculation tax,” drawing applause.
Webb said he introduced a windfall profits tax on executives of financial companies earning over $5 million to make the remaining money they made with “the nurses and the truck kdrivers and the soldiers who bailed them out.”
Chafee, put on the spot over his vote to repeal Glass-Steagall, blamed it on being his first vote in Congress after replacing his late father. He added he would favor adding a top tier to the tax bracket to generate $42 billion in revenues
Sanders noted in the ‘90s he fought against bank mergers and led deregulation efforts. He repeated his call to break up banks that are “too big to fail.”
Clinton said as a Senator from New York “I represented Wall Street” and said she went to Wall Street in 2007 before the big crash and said “Cut it out, quit foreclosing on homes. Quit engaging in these kinds of speculative behaviors.”
College affordability, Social Security and Medicare
A student on Facebook asked how candidates would make college affordable.
Clinton opposes making college free for “Donald Trump’s children.” She would make college free for some and require students to work part time.
Sanders said under his plan “Donald Trump and his billionaire friends under my policies are going to pay a hell of a lot more in taxes” to make college free for everyone. “I don’t think we need a complicated system.” He also aims to lower interest rates on existing college debt through taxing Wall Street speculation.
Sanders also wants to expand Social Security and give all Americans Medicare. He said when Republicans and some Democrats in Congress were talking about cutting benefits for Social Security and disabled veterans, “I founded a caucus called the Defending Social Security Caucus.” He said millions of people are struggling to get by on $11,000 to $13,000 a year, so Social Security should be expanded, not cut. “And the way you expand it is by lifting the cap on taxable incomes so that you do away with the absurdity of a millionaire paying the same amount into the system” as someone making less. “You do that, Social Security is solvent until 2061 and you can expand benefits.”
Clinton does not support expanding Social Security benefits for all, but would support enhancing benefits for the poorest recipients such as widows who never earned much income. She added, “the most important fight we’re going to have is defending it against continuing republican efforts to privatize it.” She said healthcare is important but was vague on details, stating, “we agree on the goals, we just disagree on the means.”
Juan Carlos Lopez, anchor for CNN Español, asked Sanders about a vote for immigration reform in 2013, after voting against it in 2007. Sanders said he opposed the earlier bill because it has guest worker provisions that “the Southern Poverty Law Center talked about being semi-slavery” adding that other progressives also opposed that bill. “My view right now is, and always has been, when you have 11 million undocumented people in this country, we need comprehensive immigration reform. We need a path toward citizenshwip. We need to take people out of the shadows.”
O’Malley supports opening up Obamacare to undocumented immigrants and their children. Clinton said she would support states that expand healthcare to include undocumented children and other immigrants, but stopped short of backing a federal mandate. She did, however, support opening up opportunites to allow immigrants to buy into Affordable Care Act exchanges, but said to go beyond that “would be very difficult to administer; it needs to be part of comprehensive immigration reform.”
O’Malley wants to go “further than President Obama” on immigration reforms such as DACA and DAPA. “I am for a generous, compassionate America that says we’re all in this together,” he said, adding that our country is “stronger in every generation by the arrival of new American immigrants.”
Webb noted that his wife is a Vietnamese immigrant. He supports a pathway to citizenship as well as “defining our borders.”
Clinton drew strong applause by stating, “There is such a difference between everything you’re hearing here on this stage, and what we hear from the Republicans [who] demonize hard-working immigrants, who have insulted them.”
O’Malley passed a DREAM act in Massachusetts and gave in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants. He criticized “the immigrant haters like some that we’ve heard, like Donald Trump, that carnival barker in the Republican Party” drawing applause. In Massachusetts, O’Malley said he pushsed through a referendum in which the people voted to provide tuition to immigrants because “the more our children learn, the more they will earn…”
Clinton would support states that take that position, but did not voice support for a federal policy on tuition for undocumented immigrants.
Sanders, asked about his record as chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, noted he backed reforms of the Veterans Administration and a requirement to allow vets living 40 miles from a V.A. center to get healtehcare from a community health center or the private sector, adding, “we went further than any time in recent history in improving health care for the men and women of this country who put their lives on the line to defend them.”
Patriot Act, surveillance of citizens, and Edward Snowden
Senator Sanders was the only candidate to vote against the Patriot Act which established NSA surveillance of U.S. citizens. Asked if elected, would he shut the program down, he replied quickly, “Absolutely. Of course. I’d shut down what exists right now, which is that virtually every telephone call in this country ends up in a file in the NSA.” He called that unacceptable, along with government surveillance of e-mails. “If we are a free country, we have the right to be free. Yes we have to defend against terrorism, but there are ways to do that without impinging on our constitutional rights and our privacy rights.
Clinton and Chafee voted for the Patriot Act. Both said they don’t regret their votes in a post 9/11 era, but both later backed reforms to restrict warrantless surveillance.
Cooper asked candidates if Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor for leaking evidence of electronic surveillance.
Clinton, O’Malley and Chafee said Snowden broke the law and supported some jail time. Webb would leave Snowden’s fate to the legal system. Sanders noted, “Snowden played a very important role in educating the American people to the degree in which our civil liberties and our constitutional rights are being undermined.” While he supports a penalty for Snowden, he added, “What he did in educating us should be taken into consideration…”
Differences with the Obama administration
Candidates were asked by Cooper how their administration would not be a third Obama term.
“Ending the wars,” said Chafee, who said a new approach is needed in the Middle East, especially after we bombed a hospital and have drone strikes that hit civilian weddings.
O’Malley wants to “protect the Main Street economy from recklessness on Wall Street” by enacting a new Glass-Steagall Act and other reforms.
Clinton said “being the first woman president would be quite a change” but when pressed on policy differences, said she would build on the President’s successes but “go beyond”with her economic plan, how she would deal with prescription drug companies, and college education among other issues.
Sanders stated he believes the power of corporate America, Wall Street, drug companies and the corporate media “is so great that the only way we really transform America and do the things that the middle class and working class desperately need is through a political revolution when millions of people begin to come together and stand up and say `Our government is going to work for all of us, not just a handful of billionaires.” The crowd applauded loudly. He clarified that by revolution, he means large voter turnout. “We need the American people to know what’s going on in Washington in a way that today many of you do not know.”
Webb countered, “I don’t think the revolution’s going to come and I don’t think Congress is going to pay for a lot of this stuff.” He said he would differ from Obama in use of executive authority and working with both parties.
O’Malley would foment a “green energy revolution” to create 5 million jobs by 2050.
Insider or outsider?
Asked why voters should embrace a political insider like herself, Clinton touted her experience fighting for “kids, women, for families, fighting to even the odds” as well as her ability to “stand my ground…I have the commitment of a lifetime and the experience of a lifetime to bring together to offer the American people.”
But O’Malley said the nation needs “new leadership to move forward in an economy where “70 percent of us are earening the same or less than we were 12 years ago.”
Sanders noted that he is the only candidate who is not a biolionaire and hwo has raised substantial sums of money “and I do not have a superpac.” He noted that for the debate night, his campaign organized 4,000 house parties with 100,000 people watching the debate who want real change.
Climate change and energy policy
O’Malley wants to attack climate change with the gusto that America once aimed to put a man on the moon. He supports extending wind and solar tax credits, green building and more to create a 100 percent clean electric grid by 2050.
Webb, unlike the others, comes from a coal state and supports both coal and nuclear. “We are not going to solve climate change with the laws here,” he said, citing pollution in China and India.
Sanders quoted Pope Francis, calling climate change a “moral issue.” He backs a tax on carbon and campaign finance reform “because the fossil fuel industry is funding the Republican Party, which denies the reality of climate change,” drawing applause. He agreed that the U.S. must work aggressively with China, India and other countries to combat climate change.
Clinton touted her success with Obama in getting a secret meeting with the Chinese in Copenhagen in 2009 to get China to sign the first international agreement. She hopes an international meeting later this year will result in “verifiable commitments to fight climate change from every country gathered there.”
Clinton supports paid family leave. She was asked to react to GOP candidate Carly Fiorina’s criticism that this would force small businesses to hire fewer people. Clinton noted that California, where the company Fiorina headed is located, has had a paid leave program for years “and it has not had the ill effects that the Republicans are always saying it will have…This is typical Republican scare tactic. We can design a system and pay for it that does not put the burden on small businesses.”
She added, “It’s always the Republicans or their sympathizers who say, ‘you can’t have paid leave, you can’t provide healthcare. They don’t mind having big government to interfere with a woman’s right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood…I’m sick of it,” she added to applause. “I know we can afford it, because we’re going to make the wealthy pay for it.”
Sanders reiterated his support for paid family leave as other nations already have. “That is an international embarssment.”
O’Malley said Massachusetts expanded family leave and he wants to see that done nationally so women are not penalized when they have children.
Cooper asked Sanders if he would support a Nevada initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. Sanders said he probably would, adding too many lives are being destroyed for non-violent offenses that result in imprisonment. “We have to think through the war on drugs.”
Clinton declined to take a position on recreational marijuana legalization but said, “I do support the use of medical marijuana” but that more research is needed. She does want to stop imprisoning marijuana users.
Getting things done
A question from a voter asked how candidates would get things done given that Obama has had a hard time getting Republicans to compromise.
Sanders called the current Congress “total obstructionists” adding he hopes Republicans won’t be in control of the House and Senate after the 2016 elections. He said the only way to get things done is for millions of Americans to stand up and demand change, including college students and workers to say “We know what’s going on. You vote against us, you are out of your jobs.”
Each candidate was asked which enemies they are most proud of making.
Chafee picked the coal lobby. O’Malley said the National Rifle Association. Clinton listed the NRA, health insurance and drug companies, the Iranians and “probably the Republicans.” Sanders named Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry. Webb cited an enemy soldier who wounded him with a grenade.
Chafee listed many challenges but emphasized most his commitment to end the wars as a “proven peacemaker.”
Webb stressed his leadership experience and willingness to take on complicated, unpopular issues.
O’Malley observed that this debate is different from the Republican debate, noting that on the Democratic stage, nobody denigrated immigrants, women, or people of religious faiths. “What you heard instead on this stage tonight was an honest search for the answers that will move our country forward” he concluded, emphasizing his commitment to clean energy, attacking injustice, and rebuilding the economy.
Sanders said this is a “great country” but with serious problems such as the highest rate of childhood poverty and the biggest wealth and income inequality of any major country. “We should not be the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to all of our people as a right of citizenship” as well as parental leave, he said. “Here is the truth that very few candidates will say, that nobody up here, certainly no Republican, can address the major crises facing our country unless millions of people being to stand up to the billionaire class that has so much power over our economy and our political life.”
Clinton quoted her late mother, who said the issue is not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up. “America’s been knocked down,” she said, noting 9 million people lost jobs in the recession, 5 million lost homes, and $13 trillion in wealth disappeared. She said her mission will be to raise incomes for hard-working middle class families so that “if you work hard and you do your part, you should be able to get ahead and stay ahead…America’s best days are still ahead.”