Clinton, Sanders spar over trade deals, auto industry bailout
March 6, 2016 11:24 PM
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., stand on stage before a Democratic presidential primary debate at the University of Michigan-Flint, Sunday.
By Margaret Talev and Arit John / Bloomberg News
Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders agreed that Michigan’s Republican governor must go over the Flint water crisis, but clashed over their stances on corporate bailouts and trade deals, with Ms. Clinton saying the American auto industry would have collapsed if Mr. Sanders had succeeded in blocking its rescue.
The two contenders also addressed concerns over fracking while ratcheting up the rancor in a debate that was seen as having a marked change in tone for the two Democrats, signaling Mr. Sanders’ increasingly difficult effort to slow the party’s front-runner ahead of Michigan’s vote Tuesday.
Ms. Clinton said in the CNN presidential debate that Michigan’s two senators supported the rescue plan in January 2009, and “I went with them, and I went with [President] Barack Obama, and you did not, and if everyone had voted the way he did, I believe the auto industry would have collapsed, taking 4 million jobs with it.”
Their sparring about taxpayer bailouts after the 2008 financial collapse grew so heated that at one point that Mr. Sanders waved his hand and raised his voice at Ms. Clinton, insisting, “Excuse me, I’m talking,” while Ms. Clinton shot back, “If you’re gonna talk, tell the whole story.”
Ms. Clinton also said she has a lot of conditions that must be met when it comes to fracking. Mr. Sanders says he outright opposes it.
Ms. Clinton said she would not support fracking if there was local opposition, if methane was released or water contaminated or unless those fracking explain what chemicals they are using.
“So by the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place,” said Ms. Clinton.
Mr. Sanders was brief: “My answer is a lot shorter. No, I do not support fracking.”
Mr. Sanders, meanwhile, defended his vote last year with Republicans to oppose Export-Import Bank reauthorization, saying that the other name the bank is also known derisively as the “Bank of Boeing” because Boeing gets 40 percent of the money and 75 percent overall goes to large, profitable corporations. “I don’t want to break the bad news: Democrats are not always right,” Mr. Sanders said of Democrats’ support of the bank.
Ms. Clinton said she supported the bank because “we’re in a race for exports” and “China, Germany, everybody else supports their businesses” and that the bank had helped hundreds of small businesses in Michigan.
The Democrats also sparred over trade agreements, with Mr. Sanders, a Vermont senator, saying Ms. Clinton has supported deals that sent jobs overseas and hurt the middle class. Ms. Clinton recently said she opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by Mr. Obama. “I’m very glad Secretary Clinton has found religion, but it’s a little too late. Sen. Clinton has supported virtually every one of these trade agreements written by corporate America,” Mr. Sanders said.
The disagreements came after Ms. Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, said that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, should resign or face a recall vote for his failure to protect the citizens of Flint, Michigan, from contaminated water.
“I know the state of Michigan has a rainy-day fund,” Ms. Clinton said at the open of the debate, being held in Flint. “It is raining lead in Flint and the state is derelict in not coming forward with the money that’s required.”
In his opening statement, Mr. Sanders reiterated his call for Mr. Snyder to resign — prompting an “Amen to that” from Ms. Clinton. Ms. Clinton went further, saying voters should rise up and push Mr. Snyder out of office if necessary. Ms. Clinton had not before tonight called for Mr. Snyder’s removal.
Both candidates said more must done to rid lead from water systems nationwide. “We will commit to a priority to change the water systems, and we will commit to in five years remove lead everywhere,” Ms. Clinton said. “I will do everything I can. Water, soil and paint — we’re gonna get rid of it.”
Asked if he would fire the head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency if that person had failed to protect Flint, Mr. Sanders said, “President Sanders would fire anybody who knew about what was happening and did not act appropriately.”
Their disagreements were clear, but still the debate’s tone was nothing like that of the Republican debate in Detroit just three days earlier, a four-way face-off that was marked by a steady stream of personal attacks, insults and even sexual innuendo.
The debate, a late addition the Democratic National Committee’s sanctioned list, comes two days ahead of Michigan’s presidential primary election. It also comes at a critical time for Mr. Sanders’ campaign, as Ms. Clinton pulls away from him in the delegate contest for the nomination. While Mr. Sanders has prevailed in several smaller states with mostly white electorates, Ms. Clinton has won in larger states and ones with significant minority populations. Ms. Clinton was leading Mr. Sanders by 20 points in Michigan in an average of five polls tracked by the Real Clear Politics.
The Democrats tussled over whether gun manufacturers should be legal liable when their weapons are used in crimes — with the former first lady saying giving immunity to gun makers and sellers “was a terrible mistake” and noting that the Vermont senator was on an opposing side of the debate — but both criticized former President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill, which has been criticized for ushering in an era of mass incarceration.
Just a few minutes after the debate started, The Associated Press declared that Mr. Sanders had won the Maine Democratic caucuses, gaining his eighth win over Ms. Clinton in 19 nominating contests. With 25 Maine delegates at stake, Mr. Sanders is assured of winning at least 14 while Ms. Clinton stands to gain at least six.
It won’t make much of a dent in Ms. Clinton’s lead. Prior to the contest in Maine, Ms. Clinton had at least 1,123 delegates to Mr. Sanders’ 484, including superdelegates — members of Congress, governors and party officials who can support the candidate of their choice. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the Democratic nomination.
The Sanders campaign has dubbed Ms. Clinton “outsourcer-in- chief” because she for years supported the Obama administration’s 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which she now says she opposes, and because of her husband President Bill Clinton’s free-trade legacy including the North American Free Trade Agreement.
And Flint’s water remains undrinkable. The city has been under a state of emergency after high levels of lead and copper were discovered following a switch in its water supply in 2014 to the polluted Flint River from treated Lake Huron water. The city has struggled since the 1980s with poverty and crime after the closure of large automotive plants.
Ms. Clinton was the first presidential candidate to make Flint’s rescue a campaign priority, while Mr. Sanders also has embraced the cause. In a Feb. 7 visit to Flint, Ms. Clinton said she was making a “personal commitment” to solving the water crisis and called on Congress to provide $200 million for a fix. In his own visit late last month, Mr. Sanders took part in a community forum on the water crisis.
During the debate, Ms. Clinton also applauded Mr. Obama for pushing for the resignation of a regional administrator because of Flint’s water crisis and says he was right to expand Medicaid to help people there. She also says health and education interventions must be done to help Flint children with elevated lead levels.