Clinton, Sanders clash over Obama in presidential debate

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders squared off in Milwaukee debate, battling for backing of minority voters

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Democratic US presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens at the PBS NewsHour Democratic presidential candidates debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, February 11, 2016.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders clashed sharply in the sixth Democratic presidential primary debate on Thursday over their support for President Barack Obama as they battled for the crucial backing of black and Hispanic voters.

In the sharpest exchange of the night, Clinton who served as secretary of state during Obama's first term, accused Sanders for being too critical of the president.

"The kind of criticism that we've heard from Senator Sanders about our president, I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama," Clinton said, at the close of the two-hour debate in Milwaukee that was far more restrained and cordial than last week's contentious debate in New Hampshire.

"Madam Secretary, that is a low blow," Sanders said.

He noted that Clinton was the only one on the stage who ran against Obama in the 2008 presidential race, but said he did not always agree with him.

"Do senators have the right to disagree with the president?" Sanders added.

A supporter for US presidential Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders shows his t-shirt before a US Democratic presidential candidates debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States February 11, 2016.

With Clinton looking to rebound after her crushing 22-point loss to Sanders in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, the two also differed over healthcare and Wall Street.

Long viewed as the overwhelming front-runner in the Democratic race, Clinton hopes to rebound by winning the next two primaries in Nevada and South Carolina, which have sizable minority populations.

Clinton's campaign message has looked muddled compared to Sanders’ call for a "political revolution," and her connections to Wall Street have given Sanders the chance to link her to the systems his supporters want to revise.

"Why in God's name does Wall Street make huge campaign contributions? I guess just for the fun of it, they want to throw money around" Sanders said, referring to her Super PAC receiving $15 million in donations from Wall Street.

Clinton said the donations did not mean she was in Wall Street's pocket, adding that Obama had also taken donations from Wall Street during his campaigns.

The two also differed over healthcare, as Clinton accused Sanders of making unrealistic proposals that have drawn young people to his campaign, including his call for free tuition at public colleges and universities and a plan for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare system.

"Based on every analysis I can find by people who are sympathetic to the goal, the numbers don't add up," Clinton told Sanders. "That's a promise that cannot be kept."

Supporters for US presidential Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton show their support before a US Democratic presidential candidates debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States February 11, 2016.

Sanders backed his proposal saying he was simply moving to provide what most industrialised countries have - healthcare coverage for all.

“In my view, the government of a democratic society has a moral responsibility to play a vital role in making sure all our people have a decent standard of living," Sanders said.

As the presidential race shifted toward states with more minority voters, both candidates decried the high incarceration rate of African-Americans and called for broad reforms of the criminal justice system. 

At the end of my first term, we will not have more people in jail than any other country," Sanders said.

Clinton focused more on fighting racial inequality.

"When we talk about criminal justice reform we also have to talk about jobs, education, housing and other ways of helping communities of color," she said.

Both Clinton and Sanders agreed on the need for immigration reform and disagreed with raids authorised by the Obama administration to arrest and deport some people from Central America who recently came to the country illegally.

TRTWorld and agencies