A Saturday-night political forum involving three candidates who are not Donald Trump was never going to be as lively as the GOP debates, but the second Democratic debate had an even more somber tone due to last night’s terrorist attack. CBS News and the Des Moines Register announced that the three remaining Democratic candidates — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley — would also be asked about foreign policy in light of events in Paris, and the debate opened with a brief moment of silence.
Sanders and O’Malley used the opportunity to criticize Clinton for initially supporting the Iraq War and for actions taken on her watch when she was secretary of State. That put Clinton on the defensive, but she tried to demonstrate that she has a much deeper understanding of the nuances of foreign policy than her two rivals.
Moderator John Dickerson also picked at Sanders’ previous statements on foreign policy, asking if he still believes climate change is the biggest threat to U.S. national security.
“Absolutely,” he replied. “In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism. And if we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say, you’re going to see countries all over the world – this is what the CIA says – they’re going to be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops ask you’re going to see all kinds of international conflict.”
After about half an hour on foreign affairs, the debate shifted back to its original focus: the economy. Dickerson asked Clinton why voters should trust that she’ll “level the playing field” when some of her biggest donors hail from Wall Street. She said it’s “pretty clear” from her record in the Senate, and her current platform that she’s committed to reform.
And what did Sanders think of that response? “Not good enough.”
“I have never heard a candidate never, who has received huge amounts of money from oil, from coal, from Wall Street, from the military industrial complex, not one candidate say, oh, these campaign contributions will not influence me. I’m going to be independent. Well, why do they make millions of dollars of campaign contributions? They expect to get something,” Sanders continued. “Everybody knows that.”
In one of their harshest exchanges yet, Clinton complained that Sanders used his answer to “impugn my integrity.”
The first part of her rebuttal drew applause: “You know, not only do I have hundreds of thousands of donors, most of them small. And I’m very proud that for the first time a majority of my donors are women, 60 percent.”
But her bizarre pivot to 9/11 was immediately panned on Twitter. She said: “So, I represented New York, and I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked. Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.”
In a first, the moderators used Twitter to add substance to the debate, asking Clinton about the backlash to her invoking 9/11. She elaborated a bit, but the connection still didn’t make much sense. “I worked closely with New Yorkers after 9/11 for my entire first term to rebuild. So, yes, I did know people,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of folks give me donations from all kinds of backgrounds say, I don’t agree with you on everything, but I like what you do. I like how you stand up. I’m going to support you, and I think that is absolutely appropriate.”
The prize for most surprising shout-out of the night goes to the 34th president of the United States. When asked how high he would raise the top tax rate, Sanders said, “We haven’t come up with an exact number yet, but it will not be as high as the number under Dwight D. Eisenhower, which was 90 percent.” He added, “I’m not that much of a socialist compared to Eisenhower.”
Ike is having a bit of a moment in the 2016 campaign. He also came up in this week’s Republican debate when Donald Trump cited his Operation Wetback as a model for his “deportation force.”
While there were sharper exchanges between the three candidates on Saturday night, Sanders clarified that he actually wasn’t walking back his denunciation of Emailgate when he told The Wall Street Journal that there are “valid questions” about her correspondence.
“That’s just media stuff,” he said. “I was sick and tired of Hillary Clinton’s email. I am still sick and tired of Hillary Clinton’s emails.”
Clinton’s response: “I agree completely.”