Without mentioning his opponent by name, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders chose a key campaign event Saturday night in the crucial caucus state of Iowa to make a stand against the Democratic front-runner.
“I will govern based on principle, not poll numbers,” Sanders said at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner before detailing his staunch opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, the Iraq war, and major trade agreements—all examples that highlight Hillary Clinton's shifting positions over the years. His attack echoed then-Senator Barack Obama’s assertion at the same dinner in 2007 that Democrats have “made the biggest difference in the lives of the American people when we led, not by polls, but by principle.”
When Clinton spoke, she took only one swipe in return.
“I've been told to stop shouting about ending gun violence,” Clinton said, referring to comments Sanders made during last week's Democratic debate. She hasn't been yelling, she said, but “when a woman speaks out some people think it’s shouting.”
“I won't be silenced,” she said.
Like Obama eight years ago, Sanders sought to knock down Clinton’s current positions with reminders of where she first stood on the issues.
In 1996, Sanders said, he faced a “fork in the road” with DOMA and sided with the gay-rights movement, voting against the bill in the House. “It was not a politically easy vote,” he recalled, but he made it. The bill drew overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers and was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton.
Hillary Clinton said in an interview Friday with MSNBC that her husband signed DOMA into law as a “defensive action” to prevent a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but Sanders said that answer didn’t satisfy him.
“Today, some are trying to rewrite history by saying they voted for one anti-gay law to stop something worse. That’s not the case,” he said. “There was a small minority opposed to discriminating against our gay brothers and sisters. Not everybody held that position in 1996.” (Clinton, as first lady at the time, was not in a position to vote on the bill.)
Sanders reminded the crowd of more than 6,000 Democratic activists that he voted against the Iraq War. “I came to that fork in the road I took the right road even though it was not the popular road at that time,” he said. Clinton famously voted to authorize the use of military force in Iraq along with 28 other Democratic senators and 48 Republicans.
He also highlighted his opposition to the North America Free Trade Agreement, which Bill Clinton signed into law, and to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. TPP “is not now nor has ever been the gold standard of trade agreements,” Sanders said, invoking a term that Clinton used in 2012 while serving as secretary of state. Earlier this month, she announced that she could not support the final deal.
Speaking between Clinton and Sanders, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley took swings at both candidates but also offered some praise, calling them “two people for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect.”
While Clinton wasn't aggressive in responding to Sanders, some of her allies were on Twitter.
“Speaking of difficult political decisions, is the gun laws portion of Bernie's speech coming up soon?” asked Guy Cecil, co-chair of the pro-Clinton Priorities USA Action super-PAC.
Her press secretary, Brian Fallon, tweeted another zinger even before Sanders finished speaking: “Can you tell @HillaryClinton has had a very good month?”