Debating from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire Saturday evening, Gov. Martin O’Malley, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Bernie Sanders took to the stage to exchanges barbs—and occasional agreement—on a number of issues, including terrorism, foreign policy, refugees, taxes, education, and more.
Below are some highlights from the debate.
The Data Breach
The hosts didn’t waste any time in addressing the controversy that arose Friday over a Sanders staffer allegedly taking advantage of a firewall issue that let them have access to Clinton voter information, which Matt detailed earlier today.
Sanders admitted his staff was in the wrong and that as soon as they learned of it the person responsible was fired. He also called for an internal independent investigation from both his camp and Hillary’s, as he explained in his response that on two prior occasions there were breaches of information on their computers from the Clinton campaign. In the end, Sanders issued an apology to Hillary and to his supporters.
The candidates were asked about gun control in the wake of the San Bernardino terror attack. The moderators noted that a recent poll found that more Americans believe arming people is the best defense, thus, they wanted to know if the candidates thought they were wrong.
Clinton stated that in her opinion she feels guns in and of themselves won’t make Americans safer. “Arming more people to do what? It’s not the appropriate response to terrorism,” she said, before adding that the first line of defense against radicalization is in the Muslim community. “I worry greatly the rhetoric coming from Republicans, especially Donald Trump, is sending the message that there’s this clash of civilization, that there’s a war against Islam.” This, she said, only fans the flame for radicalization. In a later question about Trump calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country, Clinton claimed that the real estate mogul is becoming a recruiting tool for ISIS propaganda videos.
Sanders, when asked if he’d discourage people from buying guns, stated that it’s the right of the people. He primarily discussed his support for strengthening gun safety regulations.
O'Malley stirred the pot a bit during his response, calling out Sanders for voting against the Brady Act, and Clinton for changing her position on the issue of gun control every election.
The moderators wanted to know if we should halt the process until we can figure out proper vetting. Clinton responded, “no.” Instead, she proposed increased vetting and screening—a time consuming process, she admitted, but one that should move forward anyway. “I don’t think a halt is necessary,” she added.
O’Malley is a big proponent of accepting refugees and felt there are “wider [security] vulnerabilities than when it comes to refugees.”
Hillary was asked whether she was prepared for a bigger war to achieve her goals on ISIS. She made the argument for putting together a coalition, and a no-fly zone in Syria.
Bernie pressed her on the issue, noting that their differences here were deep. In a memorable quote from the evening, Sanders said he “worr[ies] too much that Clinton is too much into regime change and too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences might be.” He went on to discuss taking out Saddam Hussein, which destabilized the region, and killing Qaddafi, which led to a security vacuum in Libya. In terms of Assad, he admitted he was a “terrible dictator” but that the U.S.’s primary focus should be on getting rid of ISIS.
The debate then shifted gears to focus on domestic issues. Hillary was asked whether corporate America should love her. “Everybody should!” she responded cheerfully. She followed up by saying she wanted to make sure the wealthy pay their fair share, and that she also wanted to create jobs and partner with the private sector.
“Corporate America won’t love a President Sanders,” the senator followed up. “CEOs of large multinationals may like Hillary but they won’t like me, Wall Street will like me even less.” He then gave his usual spiel about greed and how it’s destroying the economy.
O’Malley suggested there was a “better way forward” than what his rivals offered, noting that socialism was not the right way, nor is submitting to crony capitalism. He called out Hillary’s “cozy relationship” with Wall Street and went on to discuss how he would break up the big banks and push for a modern day Glass-Steagall Act.
Clinton countered by arguing that only about 3 percent of her donations come from the finance world. More of her donations came from students and teachers than people associated with Wall Street, she argued.
On Obamacare, Hillary wouldn’t say what was wrong with it or how she would fix it. Only that she would “build on its successes,” whatever that means. Meanwhile, Sanders sang praises about a single payer system.
Of course Bernie went on and on about free college. When pressed how that’d happen he said he would put a speculation tax on Wall Street. He also said he’d lower interest rates on debt. Hillary, for her part, said she didn’t believe in free tuition. “We need to be thoughtful about how we’re gonna afford what we propose, including college,” she said.
Hillary was firmly against raising taxes on the middle class and went so far as to promise she wouldn’t. “We’ve got to go back to where people can save money again,” she said. “A middle class tax shouldn’t be part of anybody’s plan right now.”
The socialist disagreed. And O’Malley refused to make a pledge that he wouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class either.
Finally, I’ll leave you with one of the more memorable exchanges of the evening—when Martha Radditz pressed Hillary on Libya.
Raddatz: Secretary Clinton, I want to circle back to something your opponents here have brought up. Libya is falling apart. The country is a haven for ISIS and jihadists with an estimated 2,000 ISIS fighters there today. You advocated for that 2011 intervention and called it “smart power at its best.” And yet even President Obama said the U.S. should have done more to fill the leadership vacuum left behind. How much responsibility do you bear for the chaos that followed elections?
Clinton: Well, first, let’s remember why we became part of a coalition to stop Gadhafi from committing massacres against his people. The United States was asked to support the Europeans and the Arab partners that we had. And we did a lot of due diligence about whether we should or not. And eventually, yes, I recommended and the President decided that we would support the action to protect civilians on the ground and that led to the overthrow of Gadhafi. I think that what Libya then did by having a full free election which elected moderates was an indication of their crying need and desire to get on the right path. Now, the whole region has been rendered unstable, in part because of the aftermath of the Arab Spring, in part because of the very effective outreach and propagandizing that ISIS and other terrorist groups do. But what we’re seeing happening in Libya right now is that there has been a fragile agreement to put aside the differences that exist among Libyans themselves to try to dislodge ISIS from Sirte, the home town of Gadhafi, and to begin to try to create a national government. You know, this is not easy work. We did a lot to help. We did as much as we could because the Libyans themselves had very strong feelings about what they wished to accept. but we’re always looking for ways about what more we can do to try to give people a chance to be successful.
Raddatz: Secretary Clinton, I want to go back. That government lacked institutions and experience. It had been a family business for 40 years. On the security side we offered only a modest training effort and a very limited arms buy-back program. Let me ask you the question again. How much responsibility do you bear for the chaos that followed those elections?
Clinton: Martha, we offered a lot more than they were willing to take. We offered a lot more. We also got rid of their chemical weapons, which was a big help. And we also went after a lot of the shoulder-fired missiles to round them up. you know, we can’t–if we’re not going to send American troops, which there was never any idea of doing that, then to try to send trainers, to try to send experts, is something we offered. Europeans offered, the U.N. offered, and there wasn’t a lot of responsiveness at first. I think a lot of the Libyans who had been forced out of their country by Gadhafi who came back to try to be part of a new government, believed they knew what to do and it turned out they were no match for some of the militaristic forces inside that country. But I’m not giving up on Libya and I don’t think anybody should. We’ve been at this a couple of years.
Raddatz: But were mistakes made?
Clinton: Well, there’s always a retrospective to say what mistakes were made. But I know that we offered a lot of help and I know it was difficult for the Libyans to accept help. What we could have done if they had said yes would have been a lot more than what we were able to have done.