LAS VEGAS — Hillary Clinton, facing a challenge from the left from Democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders, used the first Democratic presidential debate to reassure liberals she’s no moderate.
When CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Clinton to clarify at the beginning of the debate whether she considers herself a “progressive or a moderate,” the former secretary of state said: “I’m a progressive. I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.”
Added Clinton: “I don’t take a back seat to anyone when it comes to progressive experience and progressive commitment.”
“I don’t think we should confuse what we have to every so often in America, which is save capitalism from itself,” Clinton said. “And I think what Sen. Sanders is saying certainly makes sense in the terms of the inequality that we have.”
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley sought to portray himself as an authentic progressive in the race in contrast to Clinton.
“Whether it was raising the minimum wage, making our public schools the best in America, passing marriage equality, the DREAM Act, and comprehensive gun safety legislation, I have learned how to get things done because I am very clear about my principals,” O’Malley said.
But Clinton rebutted O’Malley’s insinuation that she’s not an adequate progressive by pointing out that he endorsed her campaign in 2008.
Sanders, as he does in speeches across the country, railed against the wealthy and political establishment in his pitch to the liberals in the Democratic party.
“I think most Americans understand that our country today faces a series of unprecedented crises,” Sanders said. “The middle class of this country for the last 40 years has been disappearing. Millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, and yet almost all of the new income and wealth being created is going to the top one percent.”
Unlike Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb sought to portray himself not as a progressive, but as as different type of Democrat focused on the working class.
“You may be sure that in a Webb administration, the highest priority will be the working people who every day go out and make this country stronger at home, and who give us the right reputation and security overseas under a common sense foreign policy,” he said.
Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an unknown figure nationally whose campaign has not yet gotten much attention, took a not-so-subtle shot at Clinton during his opening remarks.
“I’m very proud that over my almost 30 years of public service, I have had no scandals,” Chafee said. “I’ve always been honest. I have the courage to take the long-term view, and I’ve shown good judgment. I have high ethical standards.”
Clinton, taking part in her first debate since her ill-fated 2008 primary against Obama, referenced the historical implications of her campaign, saying that by being elected president, “finally, fathers will be able to say to their daughters, you, too, can grow up to be president.”
- Asked the greatest national security threat to the United States, Sanders said climate change. “The scientific community is telling us that if we do not address the global crisis of climate change, transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, the planet that we’re going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren may well not be habitable,” he said. “That is a major crisis.”
- On the email scandal, Clinton said: ‘What I did was allowed by the State Department, but it wasn’t the best choice.”
- Clinton dismissed the Benghazi committee, of which she is about to testify, as “basically an arm of the Republican National Committee.” “It is a partisan vehicle, as admitted by the House Republican majority leader, Mr. McCarthy, to drive down my poll numbers,” she said. “Big surprise. And that’s what they have attempted to do.”
- Sanders defended Clinton over the focus on her emails. “Let me say something that may not be great politics,” he said. “I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.”
- The candidates were asked to say whether “All lives matter” or “black lives matter.” Sanders and O’Malley said “black lives matter.” Clinton said “we need a new New Deal for communities of color.” Webb said “as a President of the United States, every life in this country matters.” Chafee didn’t get to answer the question.