Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are facing off Thursday night in their final Democratic debate in Brooklyn, five days before New York’s presidential primary on Tuesday.
Sanders was asked if Obama should be able to nominate a new Supreme Court justice even though he is in a lame-duck year.
“A third grader in America understands a president has a right to nominate someone to the Supreme Court,” Sanders said of Republican opposition to Obama’s nominee. But Sanders said the nominee must oppose the Citizens United court decision that allowed huge amounts of money brought into campaigns.
Clinton complained that there had been no debate questions were about abortion.
Then Sanders and Clinton agreed they were each fully in support of abortion rights and federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Sanders was asked if he, a self-described Democratic socialist, is a Democrat.
“Why would I be running for the Democratic nomination for president?” Sanders said.
He then cited polls that showed he can beat Trump most soundly by attracting independent voters.
Sanders was asked why he hasn’t raised money for Democrats, as Clinton has.
Sanders countered that he and his colleagues raised “a huge amount of money … so that is just not accurate.”
He noted he has drawn young people into the political process.
“The future of the Democratic Party is not simply by raising money from wealthy campaign contributors,” Sanders said.
“I’ve gotten more votes,” than Sanders and Trump.
“I have put in a very broad based coalition,” she said.
“I do think it is absolutely critical that we have so many young people involved in the process. I applaud the people who are applauding you, Sen. Sanders,” Clinton said. “But it is important we unify the party … and I know something about that.”
She referred to her loss to Barack Obama, and her support of him after he won the nomination.
“I think we’re going to win this nomination to tell you the truth,” Sanders said. He wouldn’t say if he would take the fight to the Democratic National Convention.
He said “we got murdered” in the South, but he’s got the momentum with victories in eight of nine of the last state primaries.
“And I believe we are going to obliterate Donald Trump,” Sanders said.
Clinton then rattled off the states she’s won.
“I’m going to work my heart out here in New York until the polls close … and when we end up with the number of delegates we need we will unite the party,” Clinton said.
Sanders said he’s winning young voters because “people are understanding establishment politics … is never going to address the crises” facing the country.
He said voters know you can’t take money from Wall Street and then take on Wall Street.
In his closing statement, Sanders talked of growing up in Brooklyn, the son of Polish immigrants with “never a nickel in their pocket.”
“I believe this country has enormous potential if we have the guts to take on the big money interests,” Sanders said.
He said he doesn’t believe Clinton can take money from Wall Street and serve working families.
He called for “millions of people to stand up and fight for an economy that works for all of us.”
In her closing statement, Clinton said she was grateful to New Yorkers for electing her senator in 2000 and again in 2006 by a large margin.
“I tried to have your back and time and time again; you had mine,” she said. “We took on the challenges of 9/11 together.”
“We stood up time and time again against all sorts of powerful interests,” she said. She said she would “take those New York values to the White House.”
She talked about taking down more barriers, such as prejudice.
“Together we won’t just make promises we can’t keep we’ll get results,” Clinton said.
Sanders said he will get his plans for health care and free college tuition for all through Congress and it will be affordable.
He said his ‘Medicare for All’ program would reduce health care costs through efficiencies.
Tuition-free college education? “Damn right,” Sanders said.
He said his proposed tax increases on the wealthy will pay for his health care program after decades of increasing concentration of wealth.
“Again, I absolutely agree with the diagnosis,” Clinton said, saying Obamacare has worked and will become more effective.
“If you make proposals and you run for president you should be held accountable on whether the numbers add up,” Clinton said.
She said most studies show Sanders’ proposals aren’t affordable even with massive tax increases.
He said other countries have found a way to provide health care and college education more cheaply than in the U.S.
“Please do not tell me we can’t do what every other country is doing,” Sanders said.
He said a president must stand up to special interests.
“I have stood up to the special interests,” Clinton said. She said rather than install a new health care system, the U.S. should continue to improve Obamacare.
“Interesting answer, but she didn’t answer the question,” Sanders said when Clinton was asked about Social Security reform.
Clinton talked over her, insisting she had responded.
Sanders said Clinton refused to say if she would lift the cap on Social Security so the wealthy paid more.
“I have supported it, we are in vigorous agreement here, senator,” Clinton said. Then she criticized Republican candidates for their views.
“If I hear you correctly, you are now in favor of lifting the cap,” Sanders said. “If that is the case, welcome on board.”
“I didn’t say anything different tonight,” Clinton said. Then she said, “I happen to support Democrats,” and said she needs a Democratic Congress to pass legislation to lift the income cap on Social Security.
“I have said yes, we need a combination,” Clinton said.
“If Sen. Sanders doesn’t agree with you are part of the establishment,” and exasperated Clinton said.
“You are a member of the establishment,” Sanders said in a sharp exchange.
A moderator confronted Sanders with a past comment in which he opposed further funding of the NATO alliance that protects Europe from Russia.
“Yes, I do believe the countries of Europe should be picking up more of the cost,” Sanders said.
Sanders said the United Kingdom, France and other countries “are doing pretty well” and “you’ve got to put up your fair share … nothing wrong with that.”
Clinton agreed Europe needs to pay more for NATO defense.
“Yes, they should pay more, but that doesn’t mean if [they] don’t, we leave,” Clinton said.
“With Russia being more aggressive … it is not in our interest” to reduce NATO, Clinton said.
Regarding the Gaza conflict, Sanders was asked if Israel should be allowed to defend itself.
“Of course Israel has a right to defend itself,” Sanders said. But he said Israel made a “disproportionate attack” on Gaza.
“If ever we are going to bring peace to that region ... we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity,” Sanders said.
He said he is “100 percent pro-Israel,” has lived in Israel and has relatives there. He said his approach “paves the way for peace in the Middle East.”
Clinton said she negotiated agreements with Israel.
“I have been right there with Israeli officials for 25 years … they do not invite these attacks,” she said.
“I don’t know how you run a country when you are under constant threat ... you have a right to defend yourself,” she said.
But she called for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Sanders said no one thinks Israel “invites” conflict.
“You evaded the question,” Sanders said. “The question was, ‘Was their response disproportionate?’” He said it was.
Clinton said she did answer that by saying “precautions must be taken.”
Sanders said he read her speech on the issue and saw no concern for the Palestinian people.
He said the U.S. “has to play an evenhanded role” to bring peace in the Middle East.
“Again, describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it,” Clinton said.
“I was absolutely focused on what was fair and right for the Palestinians,” Clinton said. “As president, I will be able to continue to make progress … that is fair.”
Sanders said that if the U.S. wants peace, we must accept that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is not always correct.
“We cannot continue to be one-sided,” Sanders said.
Sanders said Clinton has supported hydrofracking to extract natural gas in New York and other states. Sanders called fracking an environmental threat.
Clinton defended the multination greenhouse gas agreement forged in Paris that she said allows for significant action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She then defended Obama, who still has strong support among Democrats.
“I’m getting a little bit concerned here because I really think the president has a done a great job against great odds,” Clinton said. “It’s easy to diagnose a problem” but harder to act, she said.
“We have a crisis of historical consequence here ... and incrementalism and little steps are not enough, not on climate change,” Sanders said. “Secretary Clinton supported fracking around the world.”
Clinton said she only supported fracking as a bridge away from coal burning.
Clinton again said she supports Obama and his actions on climate change.
“I don’t take a back seat to your legislation that you haven’t been able to get passed,” Clinton said to Sanders.
Sanders argued that his measure would protect workers, although some fossil fuel jobs will be lost.
“But we have got to move urgently and boldly,” he said.
Sanders said he would “phase out” fossil fuels and nuclear power, though “not tomorrow.”
He said other jobs would be created for mass transit and to retrofit buildings.
He compared the long-term, urgent approach needed to that of fighting Nazi Germany in World War II.
Clinton defended her work as Secretary of State in trying to bring democracy to Libya.
But she said “we were caught in a very difficult position” because Libya didn’t want the U.S. to provide security, but was unable to provide it.
Sanders criticized Clinton’s support of “regime change” that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, and Clinton had no plan for the day after.
Clinton said the Obama administration, supported by Sanders, followed the recommendations of the United Nations.
Sanders said his Senate vote wasn’t for regime change “without thinking about the day after.” He said the vote was simply to encourage democracy in Libya.
“The decision was the president’s,” Clinton said. She said her role was to provide intelligence, “but at the end of the day that is the decision of the president.”
Sanders said Clinton got involved in regime change without approval by Congress.
“I know you keep talking about Barack Obama here,” Sanders said, but noted that Clinton supported a no-fly zone over Syria that could “suck us into” a confrontation with Russia.
“Right now, our crisis is to stop ISIS now,” Sanders said, and then to change the regime in Syria.
Clinton said Obama didn’t always follow her recommendations on Syria. “That’s how it works,” she said.
Sanders said he has a D-minus voting record for the National Rifle Association even though he is from a state with “virtually no gun control.”
“I believe I am the best-qualified candidate to bring together that consensus which is needed in this country,” Sanders said.
Clinton said Sanders had promised the NRA not to support waiting periods for gun purchases.
“He has been a largely, very reliable supporter of the NRA,” Clinton said.
“What we need to do is everything we can to make sure guns don’t get into the hands of people who should not have them,” Sanders said. He said his concern is that a rural gun shop owner who sells a legal weapon can be sued if a gun is used to kill people. But he does think a gun shop owner or maker allows or contributes to misuse of firearms.
Sanders was asked if he owes an apology to Sandy Hook families for saying they shouldn’t be able to sue manufacturers of legal guns.
“I don’t think I owe them an apology … they have a right to sue, and I support them and anyone else to have a right to sue,” Sander said.
Clinton said Sanders and other NRA “supporters in the Congress” blocked tougher gun control.
Sanders replied: “In a rural state with no gun control, Bernie Sanders said let’s ban assault weapons.”
Clinton said her support of a crime bill in the Senate needs to be revisited to end long, mandatory sentences that have sent so many members of minority groups to prison.
“I am sorry for the consequences that are unintended,” she said when asked if she regrets voting for the measure.
“I want white people to recognize there is systemic racism … it is in the criminal justice system,” Clinton said.
Sanders said he recently called out former President Bill Clinton for using the term “superpredator” in pushing for the crime bill because it was a racist term.
“We have to rethink the system from the bottom on up,” Sanders said.
“We have got … to have the guts to rethink the so-called war on drugs,” Sanders said. “Too many lives have been destroyed.” He said he would remove marijuana from the federal list of the most serious narcotics.
He and Clinton then agreed to spent more money on schools and services for youth to help them avoid drugs.
Sanders said he would work with state governments to reduce prison populations, while also reducing the number of inmates incarcerated in federal prisons.
He said he wants to release people “under strong supervision” with job training.
“We can take it, if we want to be bold,” Sanders said.
Clinton said Sanders couldn’t point to any vote she took that could show her as beholden to Wall Street.
She said facts matter, even if they are not convenient to Sanders.
“I called them out,” Clinton countered.
“Secretary Clinton called them out? Oh, my goodness. They must have been crushed,” Sanders said.
Sanders asked if she Clinton called out Wall Street after she collected $250,000 for speeches to Goldman Sachs.
Clinton was asked to release transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street firms if there is no conflict.
“There is no issue,” Clinton said, and then talked about the causes of the Great Recession.
The moderator asked the question again: Would Clinton release the speech transcripts?
“I have said, if everyone agrees to do it” she would, Clinton replied.
Clinton said she has released her tax returns, and accused Sanders and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump of refusing to do so.
The moderator again asked Clinton about the speech transcripts.
“Let’s set the same standard for everyone,” Clinton said.
“I am going to do it,” Sanders said. “There were no speeches ... not for $250,000, not for 25 cents.”
Sanders said he would release “very boring” tax returns Friday.
“Unfortunately, I remain one of the poorer members of the United States Senate,” Sanders said.
Sanders was asked how he could encourage U.S. businesses after being such a critic of big corporations.
Sanders said that, in the case of the Verizon strike begun this week, he would first urge the CEO to talk with the unionized employees and not ship jobs overseas.
Sanders said he doesn’t have “contempt” for business as CNN’s Wolf Blitzer suggested in the question. Sanders said he is critical of companies that underpay their workers and ship jobs overseas to increase profits.
Sanders acknowledged “We may be paying a few cents more for a hamburger,” but the nation needs a $15 minimum wage and better trade agreements so jobs aren’t forced overseas.
“I have said from the very beginning that I support the fight for $15,” Clinton said, drawing boos.
“It happens to be true,” she responded.
Clinton said the $7.25 federal minimum wage needs to be increased carefully, rising to $12 at first.
“I think setting the goal to $12 is the way to go, encouraging others to go to $15,” she said.
Sanders said her statement was confusing.
“I supported legislation for $15 minimum wage, which is better,” he said. “I think we have to be clear, not equivocate.”
Asked about guns, Clinton said, “This is a serious difference between us.”
“We need a president who will stand up against the gun lobby,” she said.
Clinton criticized Sanders for saying the families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre shouldn’t be able to sue gun makers in court.
“What about the greed and recklessness of the gun manufacturers and dealers in America?” said.
“He questioned my judgment, well, the people of New York voted for me twice … and President Obama trusted my judgment,” Clinton said.
She referred to the New York Daily News interview in which Sanders “could not answer” how he would break up the big banks, as he has promised.
“Let’s talk about judgment and the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this nation,” Sanders said, referring to Clinton’s vote for the Iraq War. Sanders was one of the few votes against it.
“Make no mistake about it, this isn’t an attack on me, it’s an attack on President Obama,” Clinton said.
She said Obama took Wall Street money, too, but was never influenced.
“This is a phony attack,” she said of Sanders criticism of her Wall Street connections.
“I will appoint regulators who are tough enough to break up any bank” that violates federal laws, Clinton said.
“I spoke out against Wall Street when I was a senator from New York,” she said.
Sanders noted that Goldman Sachs this week agreed to a $5 billion settlement to end investigations of fraudulent mortgages, similar to settlements with other banks.
“They are just too big, too much concentration of wealth and power,” Sanders said. “We have got to break them up so they don’t pose a systemic risk.”
“Executives of any of these organizations should be financially penalized if there is a settlement,” Clinton said. “We’ve got to go after the people making the decisions in the institutions and make them accountable.”
Sanders blamed Clinton for supporting Wall Street after the Great Recession, rather than breaking up banks.
“Secretary Clinton was too busy giving speeches for $250,000” to Wall Street, Sanders said.
Clinton highlighted her eight years serving as New York’s junior U.S. senator.
“We faced some difficult challenges together, we faced 9/11, we faced rebuilding New York,” she said.
“And we worked hard to keep New York values … We will celebrate our diversity,” she said, promising “big, progressive” plans for the nation.
Sanders was asked about his comments in which he questioned Clinton’s judgment to be president.
“Does Sen. Clinton have the experience to be president? Of course she does. But I question her judgment,” Sanders said.
Sanders questioned her vote for the war in Iraq, trade agreements that he said cost the U.S. jobs and her acceptance of campaign contributions from Wall Street.