Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton spent much of Thursday’s Democratic debate yelling over each other in front of a boisterous Brooklyn crowd during what was their most contentious debate yet.
So much so that, at one point, CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer had to tell them to play nice.
“If you’re both screaming at each other, the viewers won’t be able to hear either of you, so please don’t talk over each other,” he asked the candidates.
The Vermont senator and the former secretary of state did not pull any punches in what was the candidates’ last major chance to leave an impression on Democratic voters ahead of Tuesday’s New York primary.
Clinton is leading in the state, which she represented for eight years in the Senate, by nearly 14 points, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average of several recent polls.
The very opening of the debate produced fireworks, after Blitzer asked Sanders about a recent suggestion the Democratic candidate made about Clinton possibly not being “qualified” for the presidency.
Sanders said that “of course” Clinton has the experience to be president. But he added that he does “question her judgment” because she voted for the Iraq war and supported trade agreements.
“And I question her judgment about running super PACs that are collecting tens of millions of dollars from special interests, including Wall Street,” Sanders said.
Clinton fired back, bringing up Sanders’ interview with the New York Daily News, for which he was widely criticised.
“We have disagreements on policy, but if you go ahead and read Sen. Sanders’ long interview with the New York Daily News, where he had problems answering questions about his core issues, breaking up the banks,” she said.
When asked, he could not explain how that would be done, and when asked about a number of foreign-policy issues, he could not answer about Afghanistan, Israel, counterterrorism unless he had a paper in front of him. I think you need to have the judgment on day one to be both president and commander in chief.
Sanders circled back to his attack over Clinton’s vote for the Iraq war and the super PACs supporting her campaign.
Clinton responded, saying that attacking her for having super PACs is an attack on President Barack Obama as well.
Many in the crowd appeared to groan at the statement. It was the first example of a lively audience that expressed its collective opinion throughout the debate.
“You may not like the answer, but I’ll tell you why,” she said. “Obama had a super PAC, Obama took tens of millions from contributors. And he wasn’t influenced.”
“This is a phony attack that is designed to raise questions when there is no evidence,” she added.
Clinton was booed again in another exchange in which she was asked about her refusal to release the transcripts of speeches she gave to Wall Street firms.
Sanders repeatedly slammed her for refusing to release the transcripts.
“If there’s nothing in those speeches that will change voters’ minds, why not just release the transcripts and put these speeches to bed?” CNN moderator Dana Bash said as audience members cheered.
As Clinton was about to launch her response, the rowdy crowd booed.
“If everybody agrees to do it — there are other speeches from money on the other side, I understand that,” Clinton said.
Feeding off the energy of his supporters, Sanders continued mocking Clinton for saying she called out Wall Street while serving as senator.
“Hillary Clinton called them out. They must’ve been really crushed by this,” he said. “Was that before or after you received huge sums of money after by giving speaking engagements behind closed doors?”
“They have must’ve been very upset,” he added.
The tension between the candidates only ratcheted up from there, as the candidates engaged in a spirited back and forth over raising the minimum wage.
Chaos ensued, with Blitzer asking the candidates to calm down. Here’s a glimpse at some of that exchange:
Clinton: No, wait a minute, wait a minute.
Sanders: That’s just not accurate.
Clinton: I have stood on the debate stage. I have stood on the stage with Senator Sanders eight different times.
Sanders: Excuse me, Wolf?
Blitzer: If you’re both screaming at each other, the viewers won’t be able to hear either of you, so please don’t talk over each other
Sanders: When this campaign began, I said we have to end this starvation minimum wage of seven and a quarter and said let’s raise it to $15. Secretary Clinton said let’s raise it to $12. There’s a difference. […]
Clinton: All right. I have said from the very beginning that I supported the fight for $15. The minimum wage at the national level right now is $7.25, right? We want to raise it higher than it ever has been, but we also have to recognise some states and some cities will go higher, and I support that.
Next up on the docket was gun control. Coming off the exchange over minimum wage, Clinton was more than prepared to strike Sanders on an issue she perceives him as being out of step with the Democratic base.
The exchange began as Blitzer asked Clinton about a recent comment she made that claimed Vermont supposedly has the highest per-capita number of guns that end up being used in crimes in New York.
Blitzer painted that statement as untrue, saying that a very small percentage of guns used to commit crimes in New York come from the state. He asked Clinton if she believed her statement or if it was simply an attempt to slam Vermont and Sanders.
“Of course not,” she said, adding that gun control was simply an issue where she has “a lot of difference” with Sanders.
Sanders chuckled while Clinton gave the answer.
“This isn’t a laughing matter,” Clinton shot back. “Ninety people on average are killed or commit suicide or die from accidents with guns [every day] — 33,000 people a year. I take it really seriously.”
Late in the debate, Sanders had a chance to fire back when he was asked by NY1 moderator Errol Louis about a highly controversial statement Clinton made in a 1996 speech.
He didn’t hold much back.
Louis asked Sanders why he recently called out former President Bill Clinton — Hillary’s husband — for defending his wife’s use of the term “super predators” to describe gang members.
Bill defended Hillary’s past language and the controversial 1994 crime bill — the Violent Crime Control Act — in a heated exchange with Black Lives Matter activists last week in Philadelphia.
Sanders, in some of his sharpest language to date, accused Hillary Clinton of using a “racist term.”
“It was a racist term,” he said, “and everyone knew it was a racist term.”