Fight Night

Clinton Clashes With Sanders Over Immigration, Wall Street, Economy

The Vermont senator looks to build on an impressive victory in the Midwest.

Clinton and Sanders Spar Over Immigration at Debate

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed heatedly Wednesday over their records on immigration, the former secretary of state's links to Wall Street and how to reinvigorate the U.S. economy.

In their second debate in four days, and their last joint appearance before a five-state round of primaries next Tuesday, the two candidates zeroed in on the themes that each hopes will drive Democrats to the polls.

Clinton and Sanders both cited their records of supporting liberalizing immigration laws, while accusing the other of flip-flopping on stances to appeal to Latinos in an election year.

Sanders criticized Clinton for defending President Barack Obama's deportations of children who arrived at the U.S. border, while Clinton questioned Sanders' opposition to a 2007 immigration reform proposal. 

"In 2006, Senator Sanders supported indefinite detention for people facing deportation and stood with the Minutemen vigilantes in their ridiculous, absurd efforts to, quote, "hunt down immigrants,'' Clinton said at the debate Wednesday night in Miami.

Sanders shot back: "No, I do not support vigilantes, and that is a horrific statement, an unfair statement to make.''

"I will match my record against yours any day of the week,'' he said.

Sanders' upset victory over Clinton in the Michigan primary on Tuesday set the stage for a more intense debate between the two Democrats. Sanders is looking for a way to replicate that successful campaign, in which he hammered Clinton on trade, in the three other Midwestern states—Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio—that will be holding primaries on March 15.

Florida also is holding a primary next week and it's a crucial swing state in the general election with an electorate that is 18 percent Hispanic. The four remaining Republican candidates will have their debate in Miami on Thursday.

As he has in the past, Sanders called on Clinton to release transcripts of her paid speeches she gave in private to banks and other financial institutions.

"When you get paid $225,000, that means that that speech must have been an extraordinarily wonderful speech,'' Sanders said.  "I would think that a speech so great that you got paid so much money for, you would like to share it with the American people.''

Pressed on whether Sanders believed Clinton was saying one thing in public and another in the Wall Street speeches, Sanders replied, "that is exactly what releasing the transcripts will tell us."

Clinton responded that she has a long, public record of standing up to big banks and that she has the "most comprehensive plan to go after Wall Street. And not just the big banks, all the other financial interests that pose a threat to our economy.''

They each competed to deliver the toughest approach to the financial industry.

"I am proud that the gentleman who is head of Goldman Sachs, now he didn't give me $225,000 for speaking fees, he said I was dangerous and he's right. I am dangerous for Wall Street,'' Sanders said.

Asked about the increasingly urgent financial crisis in Puerto Rico, Clinton reiterated that she wants Congress to pass legislation that would allow the island's government to restructure its debt as U.S. states can.

“Puerto Ricans are citizens of America,'' she said. "They deserve to be treated as citizens.”

Sanders blamed "vulture capitalists'' for causing Puerto Rico's problems and said they will need to lose "a little bit of money in this process.''

Clinton got tough questions from the debate moderators about her use of a personal e-mail server while secretary of state and whether she was truthful with the families of the four Americans killed in an attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

She dismissed any possibility she would be indicted over her use of personal e-mail, refusing to answer a question about whether she would drop out of the race if she were.

"Oh for goodness—that is not going to happen,'' Clinton responded to a query from a moderator. "I'm not even answering that question.''

Clinton on E-Mail Indictment: That’s Not Gonna Happen

Clinton again said her use of personal e-mail while she served in the Obama administration was a mistake, but said it was not unusual or prohibited.

"My predecessors did the same thing,'' she said during the debate hosted by the Washington Post and Univision. She said that the controversy over whether secret or confidential information passed through her e-mail server was the result of over-zealous classification by government agencies.

On Benghazi, Clinton was asked whether she lied to the families of those killed. One mother was shown on video saying the then-secretary of state blamed an anti-Muslim video for the attack at the same time she was telling others that it was a terrorist attack. The question drew boos from the partisan audience.

"I certainly can't even imagine the grief that she has for losing her son, but she's wrong. She's absolutely wrong,'' Clinton replied.

Sanders didn't use the opportunity to criticize Clinton over the e-mails of Benghazi, which has been the subject of multiple hearings in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Michigan jolted but didn't upend the dynamic in the Democratic presidential race since Clinton and Sanders last debated, just four days ago in Flint. 

While Clinton has amassed 68 percent of the delegates awarded so far -- a lead so large that Sanders would need dramatic wins in big states to come close to catching up -- Tuesday's result points to her weakness in attracting the young voters, working class whites and liberals that any Democrat will need in November.

It also delayed her attempt to pivot toward the general election and go on an early offensive against Republican front-runner Donald Trump. 

Sanders is focusing on Ohio and Illinois as spots to gain delegates next week. But he's also dedicating time and resources in Florida, despite a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showing Clinton leading by 30 points.

Polls in Florida and the other four states voting March 15 have consistently shown Clinton with wide leads. But that also was true in Michigan, where the RealClearPolitics average of three polls gave Clinton a 21 percentage point edge. She lost by 1.5 percentage points.

Clinton now has 1,221 of the 2,383 delegates needed to claim the nomination. That includes 760 pledged awarded in primaries and caucuses and 461 superdelegates, Democratic party and elected officials who are free to back any candidate. Sanders has 546 pledged delegates and 25 superdelegates.

—Arit John and Margaret Talev contributed to this report

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