Clinton, Sanders tussle over Wall St, gun control, chemical weapons in pres debate

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and rival candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speak simultaneously at the NBC News - YouTube Democratic presidential candidates debate in Charleston, South Carolina January 17, 2016.  © Randall Hill
Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders gave frontrunner Hillary Clinton a piece of his mind in the most vigorous of their four presidential debates, accusing her of cozying up to Wall Street and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from big banks.

"The first difference is I don’t take money from big banks,” Vermont Senator Sanders said. “I don’t get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs. I have huge doubts when people receive money from Wall Street," he added.

According to a detailed summary of Clinton's financial and health record campaign, she received a total of $675,000, for three separate speeches to Goldman Sachs in 2013 (in South Carolina, New York and Arizona).

Sanders began to try Clinton's patience when he said: “I find it very strange that a major financial institution that pays $5 billion in fines for breaking the law: not one of their executives is prosecuted while kids who smoke marijuana get a jail sentence.”

That took the biscuit.

“You’re the only one on this stage that voted to deregulate the financial market in 2000, to take the cops off the street, to make the SEC and the communities – the Commodities–Futures Trading Commission - no longer able to regulate swaps and derivatives, which were one of the main cause of the collapse in ’08. So there’s plenty,” Clinton replied.

“The final thing I would say, we’re at least having a feverish debate about reining in Wall Street,” she noted.
Clinton pounced on Sanders for voting repeatedly with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and welcomed his weekend reversal of position to support legislation that would deny gun manufacturers legal immunity. She mentioned a list of provisions that she claimed Sanders had supported in line with the NRA.

Sanders said Clinton’s assertion that he supported the gun lobby was “very disingenuous.”

“I have a D-minus voting record from the NRA” he pointed out.

I have supported from day one an instant background check to make certain that people who should not have guns do not have guns. And that includes people with criminal backgrounds, people who are mentally unstable.

I support what President Obama is doing in terms of trying to close the gun show loopholes,” Sanders added.

Discussing national security, both Sanders and Clinton voiced support for Obama’s diplomatic decisions on Iran and his opposition to sending US ground troops into Syria.

Moderator Andrea Mitchell asked whether the US president was right not to act on his “red line” vow regarding his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad and the use of chemical weapons.

“I know from my own experience as secretary of state that we were deeply worried about Assad's forces using chemical weapons because it would have had not only a horrific effect on people in Syria, but it could very well have affected the surrounding states - Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey. So getting those chemical weapons out was a big deal,” Clinton said.

She said the United States had a “very big interest in trying to help stabilize the region.”

“If there is any blame to be spread around, it starts with the prime minister of Iraq, who sectarianized his military, setting Shia against Sunni,” she noted.

Clinton acknowledged that Russia-brokered deal to get chemical weapons away from Assad was an “opportunity to build on.”

I think that the president's decision to go after the chemical weapons once there was a potential opportunity to build on when the Russians opened that door resulted in a very positive outcome. We were able to get the chemical weapons out,” Clinton said.

When asked whether she would give another ‘reset’ button to Vladimir Putin, Clinton replied evasively.

“It would depend on what I got for it.

“I can tell you what we got in the first term, we got a New Start treaty, to reduce nuclear weapons between the United States and Russia. We got permission to resupply our troops in Afghanistan by traveling across Russia. We got Russia to sign on to our sanctions against Iran and other very important commitments.”

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Clinton mentioned that when Putin reassumed the presidency, he accused her of fomenting dissent.

How would she describe her relationship with Mr. Putin these days?

“It’s interesting,” Clinton laughed. “It’s one, I think, about respect. We’ve had some very tough dealings with one another. I know that he’s someone you have to continually stand up to, because like many bullies he is somebody who will take as much as he possibly can unless you do.”