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Highlights from the Second Democratic Debate


On Saturday, candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley met in Des Moines, Iowa, for the second Democratic presidential debate. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on Paris, the focus of the debate shifted at the last minute to foreign policy. Read the highlights below and follow along in real time with our staff at Minutes

Bernie Sanders Ties Hillary’s Iraq War Vote to the Rise of ISIS

In response to a question about the Iraq War, Bernie Sanders called it “one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of the United States,” arguing that “the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability that we are seeing now.”  

The point was a direct critique of Clinton. Sanders voted against the Iraq War in 2002, while she voted for it. That vote has dogged her ever since, with Barack Obama most famously taking advantage of it in 2008 to win the Democratic nomination.

Until now, Sanders has largely refrained from attacking Clinton on the campaign trail. He “has always hated personal attacks in politics,” writes Suzy Khimm in the New Republic. Now, faced with plateauing poll numbers, Sanders seems to be increasingly willing to go after her record.

The Candidates Agree on Syrian Refugees

When moderator John Dickerson questioned the candidates about the number of Syrian refugees they would welcome into the United States, especially in light of the November 13 Paris attacks, Sanders declined picking a “magic number,” saying that it’s “impossible to give a proper number” of refugees. Sanders did, however, appeal to the “moral responsibility” of the United States—along with European and Gulf countries—to secure refugee resettlement. “When people leave countries like Afghanistan and Syria with nothing more than the clothing on their back, then of course we reach out.”

Both O’Malley and Clinton stuck to their previous commitment of accepting 65,000 Syrians into the country, a high bump from Obama’s promise of only 10,000. Clinton cautioned that we should use whatever resources it takes to carefully screen all refugees entering the country. “I do not want us to in any way inadvertently allow people that wish us harm to come into this country,” she said.

The Democratic position is likely to be highlighted by Republicans, who are already pointing to the Paris attacks as evidence that more refugees should not be let in.

Martin O’Malley Calls Donald Trump a Carnival Barker

Martin O’Malley had a punchy line about immigration midway through the debate. “Net immigration from Mexico last year was zero,” he said, when asked whether he would compromise on comprehensive reform for border security. “If we want wages to go up, we’ve got to get 11 million of our neighbors out of the book shadow economy and into the full light of an American economy.”

He also took aim at Donald Trump, who he called an “immigrant-bashing carnival barker.”  

Clinton quickly chimed in with a line about letting immigrants “come out of the shadows,” demonstrating that the Democrats largely support comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. Nonetheless, O’Malley may succeed in setting himself apart from his rivals. As Steven Cohen wrote in the New Republic this week, “There are meaningful contrasts to draw between him and the other candidates on immigration.” That, he writes, “may just be enough to rouse the Democrats from their creeping sense of complacency on the issue.”

Sanders on Clinton’s Position on Financial Reform: “Not Good Enough”

In response to a question about whether she is too close to Wall Street, Clinton said her actions and policies have showed her independence from the banking industry, despite the fact that many of her campaign contributions come from the world of finance. “I’ve laid out a very aggressive plan to rein in Wall Street,” she said. “But I went further than that. … My proposal is much more comprehensive than anything else that has been put forth.”

Sanders took the opportunity to pump his anti-big money platform. Dickerson asked the senator: “You’ve said that donations to Secretary Clinton are compromising, so what do you think of her answer?”

“Not good enough,” Sanders responded.

“Let’s not be naïve about it. Why over her political career has Wall Street been the major campaign contributor to Hillary Clinton?” Sanders said. “It ain’t complicated.”

In ending his response, Sanders called for reestablishing the Glass-Steagall Act, which prevented commercial banks from participating in investment banking.

Bernie and Hillary Tussle Over Universal Health Care

While the Republicans are launching a unified attack on Obamacare, the Democratic candidates have showed some division. The debate moderators asked Sanders about his plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with universal health care, which he acknowledged is a lofty goal: “It will not happen tomorrow but when millions of people stand up. ... It will happen, and I will lead that effort.”

But Clinton disapproved of Sanders’s position. “We now have this great accomplishment known as the Affordable Care Act,” she said, “and I don’t think we should have to be defending it against Democrats.” Clinton also criticized Sanders’s plan for handing the administration of health care over to the states. “I have to tell you, I would not want, if I lived in Iowa, Terry Branstad administering my health care,” she said. According to the Des Moines Register, Democrats in Iowa have accused the Republican governor of “rushing to turn over Iowa’s $4 billion Medicaid program to private companies.”

Bernie Sanders Calls Dwight Eisenhower a Socialist

Asked how high he would raise the corporate tax rate, Sanders said it would be less than 90 percent, the level it was during the Eisenhower administration. “I’m not that much of a socialist as Eisenhower,” he said.

Jeet Heer, writing for the New Republic tonight, called Dwight Eisenhower “the dead POTUS with the biggest shadow in the 2016 election.”

“Donald Trump justified his plan to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants by citing (although not naming) the example of ‘Operation Wetback,’ an Eisenhower policy that led to the deportation of nearly a million Mexican immigrants in the 1950s,” Heer wrote.