Clinton and Sanders spar - but not on Iran

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley gather for final Democratic debate before Iowa caucus.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Presidential candidates (L-R) O'Malley, Clinton and Sanders at debate
Presidential candidates (L-R) O'Malley, Clinton and Sanders at debate

Several issues sparked a war of words between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at Sunday night’s Democratic presidential candidates' debate, hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute in Charleston, South Carolina.

Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley gathered to discuss key issues at the final debate before the Iowa caucus.

All three were asked to start the debate what their top three priorities would be in their first 100 days in office.

Sanders called for the United States to have health care for every man, woman and child, raise minimum wage, and work to rebuild the country's crumbling infrastructure.

Clinton replied by saying she would work quickly to present to Congress a plan that will see more jobs being created, raise the minimum wage and work to pass legislation guaranteeing women get equal pay for equal work.

O'Malley said he would lay out an agenda to make wages to go up again, work on immigration reform and raise the minimum wage.

Following the introductions came the back and forth, particularly between Sanders and Clinton.

The first issue of contention was gun control. Asked about Clinton's statement that he is "a pretty reliable vote for the gun lobby," Sanders hit back, saying the statement was "very disingenuous."

"What I have said is that the gun manufacturers liability bill had some good provisions," he said when asked on his 2005 vote for the legislation and added, "What I said was I would re-look at it. I am going to re-look at it."

The comments came a day after Sanders announced he would support legislation to roll back the 2005 immunity bill.

Clinton, meanwhile, charged that Sanders "has voted with the NRA and the gun lobby numerous times" and added, "I am pleased to see that Senator Sanders has reversed his position on immunity."

O'Malley, for his part, called himself the only consistent voice on the stage when it comes to gun laws, citing the tough laws he signed as governor.

Another issue of contention between Clinton and Sanders was health care, with Clinton being asked whether her criticism saying Sanders wanted to “tear up Obamacare” was justified.

Clinton replied by saying, “We finally have a path to universal healthcare, we’ve accomplished so much already. I don’t want to see us start over again with a contentious debate. I want us to defend and build the Affordable Care Act and improve it.”

Sanders then fired back, saying that the Clinton campaign has tried to tar and feather him with the suggestion that “he wants to end Medicare, end Medicaid … that is nonsense!”

He also noted that “right now what we have to deal with is that 29 million people still have no health insurance. We are paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs and still getting ripped off.”

Clinton then took a shot at Sanders and said, “Are we talking about the plan you introduced tonight or the plan you introduced nine times in Congress?”, a reference to the fact that two hours before the debate Sanders introduced a new health plan.

And if this issue wasn’t enough, Sanders and Clinton also sparred over the influence of Wall Street on popular Democrats.

Sanders hinted at his doubts regarding Clinton, saying “I have doubts when people receive huge amounts of money from Wall Street…I do not want Wall Street’s money, I will rely on the middle class.”

Clinton responded by saying, “I have a plan that most commentators is tougher and more effective and comprehensive,” adding her plan builds on the Dodd-Frank regulatory scheme and would go after the financial institutions, such as the successors of Lehman Brothers, who “were as big a problem as what caused the great recession”.

The topic of Iran and the implementation of the nuclear deal also came up at the debate, with the candidates being asked whether it is time to re-establish ties with Iran and re-open the American embassy.

Sanders said the deal was a “positive step” but added, “Do I think we should open an embassy in Tehran tomorrow? No.” He added, however, that the United States should be “a little warmer” to Iran.

Clinton said she was “very proud” of the agreement and spoke of her part in pushing Iran to the negotiating table.

“We still have to carefully watch them. We’ve had one good day in 36 years and I think we need more good days before we move towards any kind of normalization,” said Clinton, who added that Iran needs to be monitored for its other “bad behavior” in the region.

The debate turned to the Syrian civil war and the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group.

Clinton said she was against American troops on the ground in Syria, adding, “We support the Iraqi army, Sunni militias and the Kurds. We’ve got to disrupt terrorists’ supply chain and finances. So I’m very committed to fighting ISIS but also a diplomatic course to begin to slow down the end of the carnage.”

On this issue, the candidates seemed to agree, with Sanders adding, “I like [President Barack] Obama’s plan of trying to figure out something diplomatic and not getting American men and women stuck in a perpetual quagmire disaster.”

“We should learn from King Abdullah of Jordan, one of the few heroes of a very unheroic place,” he added. “This is a war for the soul of Islam, let’s get other Muslim countries in the war to truly end it.”

Meanwhile, O’Malley also supported Obama’s strategy and added, “Also I like that us here with the Democrats don’t use the term ‘boots on the ground’ – voters don’t like hearing that their kids are footwear.”