The third debate for Democratic presidential candidates was conducted in Manchester, New Hampshire. The participants were former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
The debate was sponsored by ABC News and the New Hampshire Democratic Party.
In closing, Sanders went back to his major theme: a growing economic inequality. He talked about his Polish immigrant father and his family living in small rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, struggling to make ends meet.
Sanders concluded by saying he was “committed to bring about a political revolution” where people stand up and say “Enough is enough. This government belongs to all of us,” not just the billionaires.
O’Malley said he was the voice of a new generation of politics — and was the lone Democrat to mention climate change and energy in his closing remarks.
Clinton focused on what she said were the consequences of electing a Republican in 2016: advances in women’s rights and gay rights would be at risk, Planned Parenthood would be defunded and Social Security could be privatized.
“This is a watershed election. I know important it is to have a Democrat succeed President Obama,” she said before bidding goodbye to the Manchester audience with a Star Wars reference: “May the force be with you.”
In a light moment, the candidates were asked what they envisioned their spouses doing while they were in the White House.
Clinton said she would still pick out the china for state dinners but would seek the advice of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, about the growing the economy.
Sanders took the moment to “thank” Clinton for “redefining” the role of First Lady by pushing important initiatives.
Both Sanders and O’Malley praised their wives and said it would be up to them what role to take. O’Malley noted his wife’s career as a lawyer. Sanders said his wife served as foster mother to many and ran successful after-school programs.
Clinton faced tough questions and criticism about her role as secretary of state when Libya dictator Moammar Khadafy was overthrown and the country slid into chaos.
“In this case, we probably let our lust for regime change get ahead of our practical concern for stability,” O’Malley said.
“It is very easy for a powerful nation to overthrow a dictator, but it’s very hard to” predict the aftermath, Sanders said.
“I know there’s always a retrospective” about possible mistakes, Clinton said. “I know we offered a lot of help” that the Libyans didn’t want.
Taking on a national issue that has hit New Hampshire especially hard, each Democrat called for tougher efforts to combat heroin addiction.
Sanders said the first step is to tell physicians and pharmacists “we can’t have these large numbers of opiates out there . . . with people getting hooked and then turning to heroin.”
He said drug abuse should be treated as an addiction, not a crime.
O’Malley agreed that “we need to rein-in the overprescribing” of opiates. He said every level of government needed to step up.
“What would we do if it were Ebola,” O’Malley said, adding “so many people have died” through either opiate or heroin addiction.
Clinton said she has met people “all over New Hampshire” whose families have been affected by this “major epidemic” and supports a multipronged approach including more treatment.
Again taking a different direction that the Republican debate, Democrats began the final segment addressing the unrest from deadly police-civilian clashes
“We have systemic racism and injustice . . . in our justice system that must be addressed,” Clinton said. “Trust has been totally lost in some places.”
O’Malley said when he was mayor of Baltimore he was able to “put it on track” for a record reduction in crime by bringing communities, local leaders and police together.
“There wasn’t a single day when I was on the job whether I was making good on my promise to police the police,” O’Malley said.
Sanders said police shouldn’t be “shooting unarmed” Americans and said the nation needed to rethink the “war on drugs.” He also called for more diversity in urban police forces saying they needed to “look more like the people they are policing.”
Clinton promised not to raise taxes on families earning less than $250,000 annually.
Clinton took a shot at Sanders, saying his proposals for single-payer health care and free college tuition could go too far — and would require “more taxes from middle class families.”
“I don’t believe in free college tuition for everybody,” Clinton said, saying she supports “debt-free” tuition.
Sanders said national health care would be cheaper than the current system that relies on private insurance. He said another plan to pay for “paid family leave” would cost families just $1.61 per week.
O’Malley said he wouldn’t make a promise like Clinton’s, but that, unlike his opponents, he actually had to put together and balance a budget as an executive.
Moving to health care, Clinton said the Obamacare has eliminated the problem of people with “pre-existing conditions” from getting insurance and extended coverage to young adults living at home.
But asked about problems with the Affordable Health Care Act, Clinton said, “Out-of- pocket costs have gone up too much and prescription drug costs have gone out of the roof.”
She added there isn’t “enough competition” for coverage and not enough oversight of insurance companies.
Sanders renewed his push for single-payer health care. He couldn’t give a figure for the cost, but said it would be offset by not having to pay for private insurance any longer.
In contrast, all the Republican candidates have said they would work to repeal Obamacare.
Clinton sought to battle her rivals’ criticism that she’s too tight with Wall Street.
Clinton contended that “hedge-fund billionaires” were running ads against her in New Hampshire and that “I have more donations from teachers and students” than Wall Street.
She then pivoted to say all three Democrats favored similar economic policies and that they all had greater differences with Republicans.
Sanders said he received no donations from Wall Street and fought President Bill Clinton and the Federal Reserve over allowing large financial institutions become even larger.
“No, I think they won’t,” Sanders said, when asked if big business would like a “President Sanders.”
Sanders said the biggest financial institutions are bigger now than when some were bailed out in 2008 “because they were too big to fail.” He said he would “break up” the large financial institutions.
“The greed of the billionaire class . . . is destroying this economy,” Sanders said.
O’Malley said wages won’t go up by trying to replace capitalism with socialism — a shot at Sanders. And he criticized Clinton’s “cozy” relationship with Wall Street. He too blasted the “concentration of the big banks” and, like Sanders, said they should be broken up.
The Democratic candidates were asked “how to raise incomes for middle-class families?”
“We recognize we have a rigged economy,” Sanders began. “First thing we do is tell the billionaire class they can’t have it all. They must pay their fair share of taxes.”
He went to support a $15-per-hour minimum wage, equal pay statutes, infrastructure rebuilding and tuition-free higher education at “certain colleges and universities.”
O’Malley touted his record of raising the minimum wage and investing more in “clean energy.”
“You’re not going to hear anything like this from any of the Republicans running for president,” Clinton said, largely agreeing with her party mates. “They don’t want to do anything to raise wages.”
“This is the kind of debate we have to run against Republicans in the fall,” Clinton said.
In a lighter moment, when an ABC moderator asked Clinton if big business should love her, she replied: “Everybody should.”
O’Malley said the United States needed to “leave behind that sort of Cold War” thinking regarding “regime change.” He said it wasn’t Americans’ role to determine who leads a nation or when a “dictator leaves.”
The former Maryland governor said he would bring a “new generation” of thinking to foreign affairs and regime building.
Clinton said O’Malley was trying to simplify a complicated problem.
“If the United States doesn’t lead, there isn’t another leader and there will be a vacuum,” Clinton said.
Sanders repeated his stance that the United States shouldn’t be the “world’s policeman.”
Earlier, on the Middle East, Sanders said of Clinton: “Our differences are fairly deep on this issue.”
“I worry too much that Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change,” Sanders said. He cited destabilization in Iraq and Libya. He said the “primary focus in Syria should be on destroying ISIS,” not removing Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Clinton agreed, then fired back that Sanders “backed regime change” in Libya.
She also slightly disagreed with Sanders, saying the United States and United Nations “wouldn’t get the support” from Syrians if they didn’t also look to remove Assad.
Clinton sought to distance herself from her rivals by invoking her experience as secretary of state, working with coalitions through most of President Obama’s tenure.
“I know these are difficult issues,” Clinton said. “I’ve been dealing with them a long time.”
Sanders replied that “Assad isn’t attacking the United States. ISIS is. Assad isn’t attacking France. ISIS is.”
Sanders made the strongest comments against deploying a large number of American ground troops in the Middle East.
“The United States cannot be seen or thought of as the policeman of the world,” Sanders said. He said he doesn’t want other countries to have the mindset of “just call the United States” and expect the nation to support a war for “20 or 30 years.”
Sanders said he would tell India “instead of spending $220 million on the World Cup” soccer tournament, it should “pay attention to ISIS, which is on their doorstep.” Similarly, he said Saudi Arabia should be helping fight ISIS rather than Yemen.
Clinton said they have to employ Sunni and Kurdish troops to fight ISIS. She said it would be a mistake to commit just American troops — saying that’s exactly what ISIS wants.
“They want Americans back in the Middle East,” Clinton said. “It would give them more targets and a great recruiting tool.”
She said she a plan of “specific tasks” would be most effective, including, leading an “air coalition,” rebuilding relations with tribal sheiks and getting Turkey to focus more on ISIS.
Clinton said the United States needed to improve screening of refugees, especially from Syria, but not block them from trying to flee war-torn nations to come here.
“I don’t think a halt is necessary,” Clinton said. “We have a history and tradition that is part of our values . . . we don’t want to turn into a nation of fear instead of a nation of resolve.”
She said that entry should take longer and that she would prioritize orphans and widows.
In contrast, O’Malley said, “If this human rights crisis continues,” the United States should accept more refugees.
“We need to act like the great country we are,” O’Malley said, invoking the Statue of Liberty.
Sanders said this a “very dangerous moment in American history,” citing not only terrorists attacks but a struggling economy.
“You know what they are anxious about?” Sanders began. “They are working harder. They’re working more hours . . . and they are saying the rich are getting richer. They’re saying ‘I’m getting poorer. What are you going to do about it.’
“Then someone like Trump comes along,” Sanders continued, “saying we have to hate the Mexicans . . . we have to hate the Muslims. . . . Meanwhile the rich get richer.”
He said Americans shouldn’t let Trump and others “divide us by race.”
Striking a contrast with Republicans, the three Democrats all voiced strong support for gun control in the wake of the spree of mass shootings across the country.
Guns won’t make us safer against terrorist attacks like in San Bernardino, California, Clinton said.
“Arming people is not the right approach to fighting terrorism,” Clinton said. “The rhetoric coming from Republicans, particularly Donald Trump . . . “fans the flames of radicalization” and falsely creates a picture of a “clash of civilizations.”
O’Malley bashed both his opponents as not tough enough on guns — even accusing Clinton of changing her position every election cycle.
“Let’s calm down a bit, Martin,” Sanders chided after O’Malley criticized his record on guns.
Moving on to terrorism, all three Democrats said they had plans to defeat ISIS, varying only slightly in their responses.
Clinton said the United States had to “deny” ISIS “the territory they currently occupy in Syria and Iraq,” and disable their global network.
But she made a point of working “more closely with Muslim communities . . . not demonizing them as the Republicans are doing.”
O’Malley blasted a “lack of investment” in intelligence gathering and analysis and, in a reference to former President George W. Bush, “toppling dictators without any idea of what comes next.”
Sanders used the question to highlight his vote against invading Iraq — in contrast to Clinton.
Sanders attributed the breach of the Democratic Party voter database to a DNC “staffer who screwed up” and said a similar database breakdown had occurred two months before. He said he fired a staffer who inappropriately looked at the Clinton data.
He said that when the earlier breach occurred, “We didn’t run to the media.”
Prompted by the ABC News moderators, Sanders apologized. But he also called for an “independent investigation” into “all” the data breaches. He said he wasn’t sure that Clinton may have been able to access his campaign data — hence the need for a review.
Clinton said the party should “move on” and that the “American people” aren’t interested in the subject.
O’Malley used the topic to jump in, saying it was superfluous to the key issues of the debate — security and the economy.
“People want more high-minded politics,” O’Malley said.
Front-runner Hillary Clinton opened the Democratic debate, saying she had a strategy to defeat Islamic terrorists “without getting us involved in another ground war.”
Clinton said she wanted to “prevent Republicans from rolling back the progress we’ve made,” citing the establishment of Obamacare. She also blasted GOP candidates for favoring “continuing letting people on the ‘no fly list’ to buy guns.”
Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley squared off in the last presidential debate of 2015 and just seven weeks before the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, which is especially key to Sanders. And with the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus fast approaching, Sanders and O’Malley have a short window to stem Clinton’s momentum.
O’Malley said he would fight to oppose racism and “fascist billionaires” who have too much influence on the economy.
Sanders said he was fighting to improve the economy for the working and middle classes. He too vowed to fight ISIS without getting the United States involved in a “ground war.”
The debate came less than 24 hours after a flap involving a Democratic Party voter database. A few of Sanders’ staffers extracted some of Clinton’s voter data in a database controlled by the Democratic National Committee.
The Clinton campaign accused the Sanders campaign of stealing critical voter information. The DNC suspended Sanders campaign from using the database — prompting the Vermont senator to accuse the committee of aiding Clinton and trying to sabotage him.
Clinton rivals also have accused the DNC of trying to rig the nomination for Clinton by holding far fewer debates than the Republicans and by moving many of the forums to Saturday night — a low TV ratings night.
Though Clinton has a huge lead in national polls — like she did eight years ago when competing against now-President Barack Obama for the party nomination — Sanders held a steady lead in New Hampshire.
Last week, a CNN poll found 50 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire back Sanders, 40 percent Clinton, 1 percent O’Malley. A Boston Herald poll, however, gave Sanders merely a 48-46 lead.