Democratic debate: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton face off in New York

Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton shake hands before the start of the Univision News and Washington Post Democratic U.S. presidential candidates debate in Kendall, Florida March 9, 2016. © Javier Galeano
Tonight's raucous Democratic presidential debate was glittered with cheers and boos, and dealt with a wide array of differences between Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders and former New York senator Hillary Clinton, ahead of the New York primary on Tuesday, April 19.

With 2,383 delegates needed to secure the nomination, New York's upcoming April 19 primary offering up 247 delegates could prove to be the most important primary of the whole campaign. Sen. Sanders has 1,069 delegates and former Secretary of State Clinton has 1,758, a commanding lead.

In his opening statement in the CNN debate, Sanders highlighted 7 million recent donations to his campaign, which averaged "$27 a piece," which is a talking point known well enough that Sanders' supporters in the audience chimed in in synchronicity.

Clinton praised New York values, promising to take them to Washington, DC and to "knock down those barriers that in any way" hold back the potential of individuals and the country.

Wall Street dominated the first exchange

Sanders, right off the bat, went on the offensive, going after Clinton's vote to authorize the Iraq War, her support of "disastrous trade agreements," and her judgment in "running Super PACs" raising millions of dollars, "including from Wall Street."

Clinton fired back saying her own judgment credentials were approved by New York voters twice, and questioned Sanders for not being able to explain in a recent newspaper editorial interview how he would break up the big banks.

Clinton received some boos in an answer regarding banking regulations when she said she "was glad" that Sanders has begun talking about the Dodd-Frank Act. She added that she would "go further" in regulating financial institutions.

Continuing on the issue of how to hold Wall Street accountable, Clinton said, "I believe strongly that executives at any of these organizations should be financially penalized."

Asked for an example of how Clinton was influenced by Wall Street donations, Sanders noted her speeches to Goldman Sachs for "$250,000 a piece," which took place while he was pushing legislation to break up the banks, Sanders said.

Asked why not release the transcripts and "put [the issue] to bed," Clinton answered, "There isn't an issue. I did stand up to the banks. I did make it clear that their behavior would not be excused," blaming Sanders for de-regulating credit default swaps.

Pressed further on the issue, Clinton promoted her transparency with regard to releasing her tax returns, which she used to steer the topic to Donald Trump, who has not done so. Pressed further still, Clinton said she wouldn't release her transcripts until all candidates, including Republicans, do so.

Sanders promised to release transcripts of his speeches to Wall Street firms "from behind closed doors," of which there are none, he said. Then Sanders promised his tax returns would all soon be released, including the 2014 return on Friday.

Minimum wage

Moving to the subject of Sanders' stance on the Verizon strike, which he attended this week, the Vermont senator said that not only would he force those jobs to come back from overseas, but that the minimum wage would be raised to $15 an hour. "A few cents more" for a McDonald's burger would be worth the price, he said.

"History has outpaced Secretary Clinton," Sanders said, claiming she only "suddenly" tonight expressed support for a $15 minimum wage.

Clinton claimed support of the unions leading the Fight for 15, but Sanders repeatedly hit her on previously supporting a $12 minimum wage. 

"We need a president who will stand up against the gun lobby," Clinton said, "And what we have here is a big difference," hitting Sanders' votes on liability for gun dealers who sell firearms used in crimes and voting against the Brady bill five times.

1994 crime bill

Clinton was asked if the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was a "net positive or a mistake."

Clinton noted the Violence Against Women Act portion of it was positive, however, "on the other side there were decisions that were made that we need to revisit," she said, noting that Sanders voted for the 1994 crime bill as a congressman.

"I'm sorry for the consequences," Clinton said when pressed on whether she regrets her support for the bill.

A question was then posed to Sanders about his condemnation of Clinton's use of the term "super predator" to describe young black criminals in a 1996 interview related to the crime bill.

"It's a racist term and everyone knew it was a racist term," Sanders said.

The environment

Speaking on the "extraordinary threats climate change poses to our country and the world," Clinton implied she was the candidate with the "fastest track possible to clean energy."

"This is a global environmental crisis of unprecedented urgency," Sanders said, speaking of climate change, saying only he supports a tax on carbon.

"I don't think I've changed my view," Clinton said when asked about her position on fracking, calling natural gas a "bridge fuel" away from coal.

Sanders said Clinton had "actively supported fracking around the world," and pushed for her to outline her plan to address the "crisis" of climate change.

National security and foreign policy

On the regime change operation in Libya, which President Obama recently said he did not do enough to prepare for, Clinton said, "we were caught in a very difficult position," and promised to "not to walk away from that" and to "keep trying" to reform the country.

Sanders called the thinking that went into the Libya invasion "the same" as what led to the Iraq War.

"Regime change often has unintended consequences," Sanders added. 

Clinton countered by pointing out that Sanders voted in favor of the Libya operation in the Senate, which Sanders said was "a totally different issue" and that he was simply supporting "democracy" for Libya.

On Syria, Sanders told Clinton her support of a no-fly zone runs against Obama's policy, and that it "runs the risk" of putting the country into a perpetual war, potentially with Russia.

Clinton maintained her no-fly zone support to protect Syrians trying to escape Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but Sanders stressed that ISIS was the first target while taking out Assad was "second."

On NATO, Clinton said it "has been the most successful military alliance in history," adding it needs to be "modernized."

"Think of how much it would cost if Russia's aggression was not deterred," Clinton said, contrasting with Sanders who conceived that leaving NATO was a possibility.

On Israel, Sanders called himself "absolutely 100 percent pro-Israel," but did call Operation Cast Lead a "disproportionate" reaction to terrorism.

Clinton said, "the rights and the autonomy that [Palestinians] deserve" lies in a two-state solution, which she said Palestinians walked out on when her husband was president.

Health and Education

Sanders promoted his "Medicare for all, single-payer program," denying criticism from economists and claiming it will save middle class families "many thousands of dollars."

Sanders also promised free college, saying, "damn right" he would get it done.

Clinton also promised to get the country to "100 percent [healthcare] coverage," but said Sanders' plan would pose "an incredible burden."

Social Security

"I am going to make the wealthy pay into Social Security to extend the Social Security trust fund," Clinton said when asked if she would lift the cap on taxable income.

"Interesting comment, but you didn't answer the question," Sanders retorted.

Supreme Court nominations

"I am not going to contradict the president's strategy on this," Clinton said when asked if she would ask Obama to withdraw his Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

"I would ask him to withdraw," Sanders said, in order to "make crystal clear" that Citizens United is overturned.

After cross-talk that briefly touched on abortion and LGBT rights, Sanders was asked about his Democratic credentials.

"Why would I be running in the Democratic primary?" Sanders rhetorically asked when confronted with his registration as an Independent in Vermont.

Sanders drew loud cheers when he predicted he would win the nomination, saying the Deep South states that favored Clinton have voted and that the states ahead favor him.

"Where we stand today is we are, in this campaign, very confident and optimistic," Clinton said, adding, "I'm not taking anything for granted."

Closing statements

"I believe that this country has enormous potential if we have tg to take on the big money interests," Sanders said in his closing statement, blasting Clinton one last time for taking Wall Street donations. "We can do that when millions of people stand up and fight back."

In contrast, Clinton spoke specifically to New York, noting, "you had my back," during her Senate term. "We won't make promises we can't keep. We'll get results."

Whether viewing from home or in person at the venue, spectators are showing their excitement, or lack thereof, on Twitter.