Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders agreed that Michigan's Republican governor should leave office over the Flint water crisis, but clashed over their stances on corporate bailouts and trade deals, with Clinton saying the American auto industry would have collapsed if Sanders had succeeded in blocking its rescue.
Clinton said in Sunday's CNN presidential debate that Michigan's two senators supported the rescue plan in January, 2009, and “I went with them, and I went with Barack Obama, and you did not, and if everyone had voted the way he did, I believe the auto industry would have collapsed, taking four million jobs with it.”
Their sparring about taxpayer bailouts after the 2008 financial collapse grew so heated that at one point Sanders waved his hand and raised his voice at Clinton, insisting, “Excuse me, I'm talking.”
“If you're gonna talk, tell the whole story,” Clinton shot back.
The debate covered a litany of topics—from gun control to fracking–and even touched on the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican contest. Clinton said that Trump may have won 3.6 million votes in the Republican primaries but “there's only one candidate in either party who has more votes than him and that's me.”
She added, “I think Donald Trump's bigotry, his bullying, his bluster are not going to wear well on the American people.”
Sanders said a variety of polls on hypothetical general-election match-ups showed the same thing: “Sanders versus Trump does a lot better than Clinton versus Trump.”
“Our campaign is generating an enormous amount of excitement. We are exciting working-class people, young people,” Sanders said.
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 Sanders’ campaign, as Clinton pulls away from him in the delegate contest for the nomination. While Sanders has prevailed in several smaller states with mostly white electorates, Clinton has won in larger states and in ones with significant minority populations. Clinton was leading Sanders by 20 points in Michigan in an average of five polls tracked by the RealClearPolitics.
The two candidates clashed at the debate on the subject of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, with Clinton saying she would support the drilling process only if stringent regulations could be put in place. “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,” Clinton said.
As he had on a number of topics, Sanders’ response drew a starker ideological line. “My answer is a lot shorter. No, I do not support fracking,” Sanders said.
Sanders also defended his vote last year with Republicans to oppose Export-Import Bank re-authorization, saying that the other name the bank is known by is the “Bank of Boeing” because the airplane manufacturer 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,” Sanders said of Democrats’ support of the bank.
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 Sanders, a Vermont senator, saying Clinton has supported deals that sent jobs overseas and hurt the middle class. Clinton recently said she opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by President Barack Obama. “I'm very glad Secretary Clinton has found religion but it's a little too late. Senator Clinton has supported virtually every one of these trade agreements written by corporate America,” Sanders said.
The disagreements came after Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, said that Michigan Governor 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,” 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, Sanders reiterated his call for Snyder to resign—prompting an “Amen to that” from Clinton. Clinton went further, saying voters should rise up and push Snyder out of office if necessary. Clinton had not before tonight called for 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,” 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, Sanders said, “President Sanders would fire anybody who knew about what was happening and did not act appropriately.”
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. Clinton has called on Congress to provide $200 million for a fix. In his own visit late last month, Sanders took part in a community forum on the water crisis.
Just a few minutes after the debate started, the Associated Press declared that Sanders had won the Maine Democratic caucuses, gaining his eighth win over Clinton in 19 nominating contests. With 25 Maine delegates at stake, Sanders is assured of winning at least 14 while Clinton stands to gain at least six.
It won't make much of a dent in Clinton's lead. Prior to the contest in Maine, Clinton had at least 1,123 delegates to Sanders’ 484, including super-delegates—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.