Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders share the stage for the first time since the Iowa caucuses at MSNBC’s New Hampshire debate on Thursday. It’s also the first debate in which they will face each other one-on-one, after Martin O’Malley dropped out of the race.
The dynamics will be much different than they were on Wednesday, when Clinton and Sanders each got an hour on stage to answer questions from an audience, and while they did offer some criticisms, the debate format almost demands more confrontation.
Sanders holds a sizable lead in recent polls, so the Clinton campaign is looking at the debate as a way of at least narrowing the gap.
Follow along below for live updates:
9:12 pm ET. ‘The numbers don’t add up.’ Clinton has started with a sharper series of attacks on Sanders than in past debates, particularly with the notion that his set of progressive proposals, like free college and single-payer healthcare, are not achievable.
“I also believe in affordable college. I don’t believe in free college,” Clinton said, adding, “How would you ever control the cost?”
“The numbers just don’t add up,” she said.
She also criticized Sanders’ health care proposal by claiming it would reopen a contentious debate over healthcare reform. Instead, she said she would like to improve Obamacare.
Sanders, however, got a laugh when Chuck Todd asked him why he’s been in Congress for so long yet has not achieved those goals.
“I haven’t quite run for president before,” Sanders responds.
But Sanders argues that such proposals as free public tuition and single-payer healthcare are common in other countries, and “I do not accept the belief that the United States cannot do that.”
They then go into an extensive back and forth over just who is a progressive, keyed to Sanders’ tweet earlier this week that someone cannot be a progressive and a moderate at the same time, a dig at Clinton’s centrism and perhaps shifting positions.
But there are also questions over Sanders calling himself an independent, not a Democrat, even though he caucuses with the party in the Senate.
9:27 pm ET ‘Artful smear.’ Clinton accuses Sanders of an “artful smear,” with attacks that “insinuate” that she has been bought by Wall Street donors. “I don’t think these attacks and insinuations are worthy of you. Enough is enough,” she says, before Sanders gives a grumbling sound, and they start to talk over each other. Clinton’s point: Just because I took money from sources like SuperPACs and speaking fees from Goldman Sachs doesn’t mean she has been “bought.”
But her statement gives Sanders an opening to, once again, focus on the corrupting influence on money in politics, affecting the way that politicians have voted on issues like financial deregulation climate change. The back and forth was heated — more so than in any other debate.
9:44 pm ET Breaking up the banks. Sanders makes an argument for breaking up the banks.
“If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, what he would say is, ‘Break them up.’ They are too powerful politically and too powerful economically.”
Clinton says that the Dodd-Frank financial reform package is a “law in place” to assess whether a bank is too big to fail. “President Obama signed [the legislation] even though he took money from Wall Street. You know why? Because he is a responsible president.” It’s another way for her to make her point that campaign contributions are not necessarily corrupting.
9:51 pm ET. Goldman Sachs speeches. Clinton is asked whether she would release the transcripts of her paid speeches, including those to Goldman Sachs. “I will look into it. I don’t know the status, but I will certainly look into it.” She defends taking hefty sums for speeches by saying that she “spoke to a lot of groups with a lot of different members.”
9:57 pm ET. Twitter marks. For the record, at the midpoint of the debate, Clinton is commanding 58% of the Twitter debate conversation versus Sanders with 42%.
10:05 pm ET. ‘If I could just add.’ Clinton sees a weakness in Sanders on foreign policy. In fact, Sanders’ campaign has not highlighted national security all that much, to the point where co-moderator Chuck Todd tells him, “No one knows who your foreign policy advisers are.”
Todd also asks Sanders about what he would do in Afghanistan, and whether he would keep the 10,000 troops who are still there. He shifts the focus to trying to prevent U.S. ground troops from getting “sucked into the perpetual quagmire of Iraq and Syria.” Pressed again to specially answer the question about Afghanistan, Sanders says, “You can’t simply withdraw tomorrow — I wish we could — and allow the Taliban to reclaim that country.”
Seizing on a perceived weakness, Clinton questions Sanders’ foreign policy judgments, noting statements of national security and foreign policy experts.
Sanders also criticized Clinton’s 2002 vote in favor of military engagement in Iraq, which he noted “created barbaric groups like ISIS.”
Clinton’s response: “A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS.”
10:30 om ET. Caucus audit. Bernie Sanders minimizes disputes over the count in the Iowa caucus. He says that he supports an audit of the results but says, “let’s not blow this out of proportion. This is not a winner-take-all thing.” He notes that Clinton got 22 delegates and he got 20, out of 2,500 needed to win the nomination. He says they think they may have two more delegates. Asked if she would support an Iowa Democratic Party audit, Clinton says, “Whatever they decide to do that is fine.”
“By the way I love and respect the caucus process in Iowa. I don’t have to say it, because they voted already,” he says.
10:35 pm ET. Those damn emails. Clinton says that she is “100 percent confident” that nothing will come of the FBI’s examination of her use of a private email service while she was secretary of state. She slams the government’s system of retroactive classification, which appears to have been the case with some of the emails she has received. Sanders is asked about the issue, but says he will not “politicize” it, just as he refused to get into it at the first debate in October.
10:43 p.m. ET. The death penalty. Clinton says that she still supports capital punishment, but only for “very particularly limited particularly heinous crimes.” She cites the case of Timothy McVeigh, sentenced to death for the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. She also says she disagrees with the way that “too many states are implementing it.”
Sanders does not support the death penalty, but he was hardly eager to counter Clinton on the issue. He says that “too many innocent people, including minorities, have been executed when they are not guilty.”
“In a world of so much violence and killing, I just do not believe the government should be part of the killing,” he says.
10:50 pm: TPP. Sanders slams recent free trade agreements, including the recently signed Trans Pacific Partnership, because they are written “by corporate America, for corporate America.” The Hollywood motion picture lobby pushed for the TPP because of its copyright provisions.
Clinton also opposes the TPP, even though she was in the Obama administration when it was being negotiated. She explains that she was not satisfied that the final results protected American workers.
But this is a topic on which Sanders is particularly adept at framing, as he attacks the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiated during President Bill Clinton’s presidency. “I don’t want American workers competing against people making 56 cents an hour,” he says.
11:02 pm ET. Sanders as VP. Clinton says it is “presumptuous” to talk about who she would choose as her running mate, but says that if she is the nominee, he will be “the first person I call” about “where we go.”
Sanders tries to minimize their divisions during the debate, saying that he respects Clinton and “on our worst days, I think it is fair to say, we are 100 times better than any Republican candidate.” The comment gets huge applause.
11:08 pm ET. The takeaway. This was the best Democratic debate so far — a testament to having just two candidates on stage rather than the hit-and-run atmosphere of up to 11 at the lecterns. The two candidate format made it easier for Todd and Rachel Maddow to ask specific questions and then hold the candidates to giving specific answers, rather then be pressed for time. The result was a substantive two hours — and a bit of wonderment at why the Democratic Party never scheduled a pre-New Hampshire debate in the first place. The debate was only recently organized by MSNBC and the Union Leader, smartly on a Thursday night rather than a weekend.
Clinton went in ready to take on Sanders, and was especially aggressive about his campaign tactics, but she did better when she highlighted her foreign policy experience, and how she grasps some of the nuances in the chaos of Middle East. Sanders, to no surprise, was better in talking about campaign finance and free trade, signature issues that have drive his unexpected rise in the polls. Sanders has been dropping in more personal details about his life, and was particularly strong in closing by talking about his father, a Polish immigrant. Given his lead in New Hampshire, the debate probably helps Clinton more than him.