Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders engaged Thursday in their sharpest debate yet as they battled over claims of coziness with banks and presidential qualifications and judgment.
In the prime time debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard just five days before New York’s presidential primary, the two Democratic presidential contenders wasted no time getting in one other’s face, New York style.
“This is a phony attack designed to raise questions when there is no evidence or support,” Clinton said, firing back at Sanders when he couldn’t name one Clinton vote or decision influenced by big banks.
“Secretary Clinton called them out. Oh my goodness, they must have been crushed by this,” the Vermont senator said sarcastically after she said she fought big banks by criticizing them publicly. He added: “And was that before or after you accepted very large” contributions from them?
The prickly exchanges reflected the importance of Tuesday’s primary. Clinton, with a large delegate lead, has asked Democrats to take her “over the top” and clinch the Democratic nomination with a big New York victory. Sanders, who has won seven straight primaries in smaller states, is looking to pull a surprise that could significantly boost his chances of ultimately prevailing.
Clinton and Sanders also clashed over Israel. Sanders said the United States needed to be more evenhanded in trying to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.
“There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, there we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all the time,” Sanders said, referring to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Clinton said she didn’t believe Netanyahu was always correct, but she said peace talks are difficult for Israel “when there is a terrorist group embedded in Gaza that doesn’t want to see you” exist.
“All that I am saying is that we cannot continue to be one-sided,” Sanders concluded.
The sparring in the debate had begun almost immediately.
Clinton accused Sanders of pursuing a “phony” attack against her in saying she is beholden to leading financial institutions and big money donors. She also criticized his record on gun control. She essentially called him a critic who lacked solutions.
“He has a tough time” providing answers “even on his core issues,” such as how to break up big banks, Clinton said minutes into the prime time event. Continuing, she said he criticized U.S. efforts in the Middle East and on terrorism but provided no answers.
“I think you need to have the judgment on Day One to be both president and commander in chief,” Clinton said.
“Let’s talk about judgment and let us talk about the worst foreign policy blunder in our modern history,” Sanders countered, referring to Clinton’s vote, as a New York senator, to support invading Iraq.
He then attacked her for accepting donations from big-money political action committees.
“Do we really feel confident about a candidate saying she is going to bring change when she is so dependent” on those contributions? Sanders asked. “I don’t think so.”
Sanders criticized Clinton for accepting large sums for making speeches to investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, among others. He attacked her for supporting natural gas drilling and charged she changed her position to support a $15 per hour minimum wage after it caught on in several states and cities.
Sanders questioned her judgment. Clinton implied he lacked knowledge. He asked her to release transcripts of her paid speeches. She said he should release his income taxes. Each said the other was falsely portraying his or her record. At one point, CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer tried to tone it down by telling them the audience couldn’t hear if they didn’t stop trying to yell over one another.
In closing remarks, Sanders delivered a call for Democrats to “stand up, fight back” against dominant forces, while Clinton tapped into her connections to New Yorkers.
“I believe that this country has enormous potential, if we have the guts to take on the big-money interests that dominate our political and economic life,” Sanders said. If Americans “do not let the Trumps of the world divide us,” he said, we can create a government “for all of us, not just the 1 percent.”
Clinton thanked New Yorkers for taking “a chance on me in 2000” and re-electing her senator in 2006.
“I tried to have your back, and time and time again you had mine,” Clinton said, invoking the Sept. 11 attacks and asking primary voters to back her again. “Together, we won’t just make promises we can’t keep. We will deliver results.”
With Paul Larocco