Clinton and Sanders clash on health and gun control in Democratic debate
HILLARY Clinton and Bernie Sanders went head to head in a Democratic Party presidential debate over who is tougher on gun control and Wall Street and how to steer the future of healthcare in America.
The debate was the last showdown before primary voting begins next month and both sides were eager to get stuck in as polls showed the race tightening in the states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Ms Clinton targeted Senator Sanders (inset), from Vermont, for voting repeatedly with the powerful gun lobby, and then welcomed his weekend reversal to support legislation that would deny gun manufacturers legal immunity.
Mr Sanders, in turn, said Ms Clinton's assertion that he kowtowed to the gun lobby was "very disingenuous".
On healthcare, Mr Sanders released his plan for a government-run single-payer plan just hours before the debate, and used his opening statement to call for healthcare "for every man, woman and child as a right."
Ms Clinton, by contrast, urged less sweeping action to build on US President Barack Obama's healthcare plan by reducing out-of-pocket costs and control spending on prescription drugs. She suggested Mr Sanders's healthcare plan would impose a heavier tax burden on the middle class.
The two also clashed over financial policy, with Mr Sanders suggesting Ms Clinton won't be tough enough on Wall Street, given the big contributions and speaking fees she has accepted. Ms Clinton, in turn, faulted Mr Sanders's past votes to deregulate financial markets and ease up on federal oversight. Ms Clinton worked aggressively to associate herself with Mr Obama, claiming credit for her role in the run-up to the Iran nuclear deal as well as praising the healthcare law.
Turning to national security, both Mr Sanders and Ms Clinton voiced strong support for Mr Obama's diplomatic overtures to Iran and opposition to sending US ground troops into Syria. Ms Clinton defended her outreach to Russia early in her term as secretary of state, but hesitated when asked to describe her relationship with Vladimir Putin, whose return to the Russian presidency heralded the worsening of US-Russian relations.
"My relationship with him - it's interesting," Ms Clinton said to laughs in the debate hall. "It's one, I think, of respect." But she added it was critical to constantly stand up to Mr Putin, describing him as a bully who "will take as much as he possibly can."
Ms Clinton also shed some light on what role her husband, former President Bill Clinton, would play in her administration. Kitchen table adviser, perhaps?
"It'll start at the kitchen table - we'll see where it goes from there," she said with a laugh.
Mr Sanders was asked about his previous criticism of Bill Clinton's past sexual behaviour. He called the former president's behaviour "deplorable" but said he wants to focus on issues "not Bill Clinton's personal life." Ms Clinton maintained a tight smile throughout that exchange, and nodded as Mr Sanders said the focus should be on issues.
Gun control has emerged as a central theme in the race, with Clinton citing the issue as one of the major differences between the candidates.
The third participant in the debate, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, tried persistently to insert himself into the conversation. He focused on his record as Maryland's governor and accused both Ms Clinton and Mr Sanders of being inconsistent on gun control.