The latest Democratic Debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton definitely brought out some aggressiveness in both candidates, leaving me wishing once again that there could be at least one debate among all the remaining candidates. I understand the process the weeding out the fields in both camps, but at this point, it would be wonderful to see both sides put into the ring and see how their answers change.
In the most aggressive and contentious Democratic debate so far this primary season, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton squabbled on Wednesday night over immigration and the economy. The debate, co-moderated by Univision and the Washington Post, took place in Florida, where a substantial Hispanic population has helped to make immigration a critical issue during the presidential race.
The moderators doggedly interrogated the candidates throughout the night with several short, point-blank questions. On immigration, which took up a large portion of the first hour, Univision’s Jorge Ramos got both Clinton and Sanders to promise not to deport children or immigrants without a criminal record, a significant shift from current policy.
Both Clinton and Sanders have name-checked President Barack Obama often throughout this race, a tactical move considering how popular the current president remains among Democrats. But during Wednesday’s debate, Clinton and Sanders separated themselves from the current administration when it came to deportation.
An InsideGov analysis found that, according to the most recent data available from Homeland Security, Obama has overseen more than 2 million deportations during his time in office. The actions create a stark contrast to campaign promises Obama made in 2008, when he first ran for president and assured voters he would enact comprehensive immigration reform and stop the break-up of families by deportation.
During Wednesday’s debate, Clinton and Sanders both drove a wedge between themselves and Obama on the issue. Sanders said that although he agrees with Obama on many issues, the president is “wrong on this issue of deportation.” Clinton, who has invoked Obama’s name relentlessly on the campaign trail, was more calculated with her language on Wednesday, saying, “I do not have the same policy as the current administration does” about deportations. She said her priority would be to deport violent criminals and terrorists, but to end the immigration raids and round-ups that have led some to call Obama the “deporter in chief.”
The debate also featured audience questions, which were delivered in Spanish and then translated for the candidates onstage. A particularly memorable moment came early on in the evening when a Guatemalan immigrant woman in the audience asked about reuniting families where someone had been deported. Through a translator, the woman explained that her husband was deported three years ago and that she and her five children haven’t seen him since then. Sanders told the woman he would do everything he could to unite her family while Clinton used the exchange to express her support for programs that exempt from deportation people who came to the U.S. when they were young or who have children who are American citizens.
According to polling data from RealClearPolitics, Clinton currently holds a 30-plus point lead in Florida, with one specific poll calling attention to her support among Hispanics and African-Americans. But that all doesn’t guarantee her a win in the Sunshine State’s fast approaching primary.
Wednesday’s debate came just 24 hours after Sanders scored a surprise win in the Michigan primary on March 8. Polls had him down by an average of 20 points, but he ended up winning Michigan by almost 20,000 votes. The Vermont senator, clearly buoyed by the recent victory, approached this most recent debate with an extra bit of spunk, delivering a handful of witty and memorable quips about Clinton’s record and her paid speeches to Wall Street banks.
It remains to be seen whether Sanders can convert the momentum from his upset Michigan win and a solid debate performance into victories on March 15, the next big day in the primary calendar. There are 792 total Democratic delegates up for grabs that day when primaries take place in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.
• Former secretary of State Clinton and Sen. Sanders disagreed over whether Sanders had supported the Minutemen on the southern border. Sanders voted for an amendment in 2006 designed to protect the civilian border patrol group, but he argued that it merely codified existing policy.
• Clinton made the misleading claim that Sanders “would delay implementing” theClean Power Plan. In fact, Sanders supports it and has proposed changes that could cause a delay but would broaden the measure.
• Sanders exaggerated in saying that when Central American children illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014 Clinton said “send them back.” She said she wouldn’t deport children with a claim for asylum or those that would “face some terrible danger” by returning home.
• Clinton said the Supreme Court “took away a presidency” when it ordered an end to the 2000 Florida recount. But a study commissioned by eight news organizations determined George W. Bush probably still would have won if the court had allowed the limited statewide recount to continue.
• Clinton said that “everybody” who got bailout funds paid them back. While the government made a net profit overall, some institutions didn’t pay back the funds, and the auto bailout portion was a loss.
• Sanders repeated the claim that Americans are working “longer hours for lower wages,” which relies on a mixing and matching of two different data sets. And he repeated his exaggerated claim that “almost all new income and wealth [is] going to the top 1%.”
• When asked about her use of a private email account and private server as secretary of state, Clinton repeated the claim that “my predecessors did the same thing.” But only Colin Powell used a private email account, and he didn’t have a private server in his home.
The Democratic presidential candidates met in Miami for the March 9 debate hosted by Univision and the Washington Post, and conducted partially in Spanish.
Dispute Over ‘Minutemen’
Clinton claimed that in 2006, Sanders “stood with the Minutemen vigilantes in their ridiculous, absurd efforts to, quote, ‘hunt down immigrants.’ ” Sanders vehemently objected, saying he did “not support vigilantes” and that Clinton’s accusation was “horrific” and “unfair.”
Sanders accused Clinton of unfairly cherry-picking “pieces” out of larger bills to distort his record. But in this case, Sanders voted in favor of a stand-alone amendment proposed by Minutemen-friendly Republicans. Sanders argued that the legislation merely codified existing policy, but it was opposed by a majority of Democrats.
At issue is Sanders’ vote for a fairly obscure amendment that sought to prohibit theU.S. Border Patrol from tipping off the Mexican government about the whereabouts and enforcement efforts of the civilian border patrol known as the “Minuteman Project.”
Whether that was actually happening is a matter of some debate and speculation, according to BuzzFeed News. Nonetheless, Republican Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia was worried enough about it that he offered an amendment to a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that stated “[n]one of the funds made available by this Act may be used to provide a foreign government information relating to the activities of an organized volunteer civilian action group … operating in the State of California, Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona, unless required by international treaty.”
Kingston and other Republicans made clear from the floor of the House that the amendment was designed to protect the activities of the Minutemen.
Kingston, June 6, 2006: “Mr. Chairman, what this amendment does is it clarifies Congress’ position on a Border Patrol practice or a practice of the U.S. Government that tips off illegal immigrants as to where citizen patrols may be located. As we know, we had lots of testimony and lots of visits from people along the border, and we have seen lots of cameras and lots of videos about just the total lawlessness of people coming illegally over the border at night.
“As a response in that area, a group has sprung up called the Minutemen Project, and the Minutemen Project is definitely not politically correct in Washington, D.C. However, they filled a void which the government was unable to fill. There are over 7,000 volunteers in the Minutemen organization, and I am sure, like any other group of 7,000 people, you could find a bad apple or two. Yet, at the same time overall, their help has been productive and good. …
“What my amendment does is simply says that the U.S. Government cannot tip off the Mexican officials as to where these folks are located. Plain and simple, nothing fancy about it. I am sure the Border Patrol will say, oh, no, we are not doing that, and yet one of the Web pages of the Secretary of Mexico had the information very explicit, and we just do not believe that is a good practice. So what we wanted to do is confirm Congress’ position in an amendment.”
Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, a Minnesota Democrat and ranking member on the Committee on Homeland Security, said he had no objection to the amendment because that was already federal policy, and therefore the amendment “apparently does nothing.”
Sabo, June 6, 2006: “Mr. Chairman, we are told by Customs and Border Patrol that this amendment has no effect on its operation because it only shares information when it is required by international treaty, the same as what this amendment says. So to the best of my knowledge this amendment simply restates what is policy. If people want to put it in the bill, I guess that is okay because it apparently does nothing.”
The amendment passed 293-107. It was supported nearly unanimously by Republicans, and while a majority of Democrats opposed it, a sizable number — 76 –went along with it. Sanders, at the time a member of the House but running for the Senate, voted for it. It ultimately was not included in the DHS funding bill passed by the Senate.
“People put forward nuisance amendments all the time,” Michael Briggs, Sanders’ top communications strategist and longtime aide, told BuzzFeed News. “In this case, the Customs and Border Patrol [according to Sabo] said it was a meaningless thing and [Sanders] and Sabo voted for it.”
To recap, here’s what Clinton said during the debate: “And in 2006, when Senator Sanders was running for the Senate from Vermont, he voted in the House with hard-line Republicans for indefinite detention for undocumented immigrants, and then he sided with those Republicans to stand with vigilantes known as Minutemen who were taking up outposts along the border to hunt down immigrants.”
Moments later, Clinton reiterated that Sanders “stood with the Minutemen vigilantes in their ridiculous, absurd efforts to, quote, ‘hunt down immigrants.’ ”
When a debate moderator asked Sanders if he supported the Minutemen, Sanders responded, “Of course not. There was a piece of legislation supported by dozens and dozens of members of the House which codified existing legislation. What the secretary is doing tonight and has done very often is take large pieces of legislation and take pieces out of it. … No, I do not support vigilantes, and that is a horrific statement, an unfair statement to make.”
We’ll let readers decide if Clinton goes too far when she equates Sanders’ support for the amendment with “[standing] with the Minutemen vigilantes in their ridiculous, absurd efforts to … hunt down immigrants.” Certainly some of the amendment’s supporters saw it as at least symbolic support for the Minutemen’s efforts. But Sanders makes a plausible argument that he believed he was voting for a do-nothing amendment that was merely codifying existing policy — indeed that was the view of the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Homeland Security at the time. But as for Sanders’ defense that Clinton was cherry-picking his support for a larger bill, in this case, the Kingston amendment was voted on as a stand-alone amendment.