Clinton, Sanders clash on immigration at debate

Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders clashed vividly over immigration reform, health care and Cub
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the Democratic presidential debate hosted by Univision and The Washington Post at Miami-Dade College in Miami, March 9, 2016.
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the Democratic presidential debate hosted by Univision and The Washington Post at Miami-Dade College in Miami, March 9, 2016.

Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders clashed vividly over immigration reform, health care and Cuba during a contentious debate Wednesday as the two Democrats appealed to Hispanic voters and tried to outdo each other in assailing Donald J. Trump.

Clinton, bruised by her surprise loss in the Michigan primary a day earlier, was on the attack throughout the debate as she sought to undercut Sanders’ momentum before the next round of primaries. Aiming her remarks at viewers watching on Univision, a Spanish-language sponsor of the debate, Clinton threw Sanders’ past support for Fidel Castro and President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua in his face and repeatedly criticized him for opposing a 2007 bill that would have created a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the country illegally.

“We had Republican support,” Clinton said. “We had a president willing to sign it. I voted for that bill. Senator Sanders voted against it.”

She refused to let up when Sanders explained that he thought the guest worker provisions in the bill were “akin to slavery.” Clinton argued that she, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Hispanic groups would never have supported such a bill. Her broadsides finally became too much for Sanders when she accused him of supporting “vigilantes known as Minutemen” on the border.

“No, I do not support vigilantes — that is a horrific statement, an unfair statement to make,” Sanders said. “Madam Secretary, I will match my record against yours any day of the week.”

In their final debate before primaries in Florida, Ohio and other states Tuesday, the two Democrats were a study in contrasts as they made stark appeals to the demographic groups they have come to prize. Clinton repeatedly aligned herself with the needs and concerns of immigrant families and stuck to her promise to “knock down barriers” in employment and housing, hoping these priorities would inspire Hispanics and African-Americans and deliver her landslide victories in Florida and North Carolina.

Sanders’ rallying cries against the “rigged economy” and “establishment politics” were aimed at liberals, young people, working-class white voters and independents who could be decisive for him in Ohio, Illinois and Missouri, his top targets next week.

He appeared confident to the point of cocky at times, claiming at one point that Clinton had borrowed from his proposals to make public colleges free. “Thank you for copying a very good idea,” he said. He chortled when Clinton accused him of not supporting clean energy ideas, and he muttered “Come on” when Clinton refused to stop speaking.

He also showed he could throw a punch, such as when Clinton questioned the cost of his Medicare-for-all plan, saying: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

“What Secretary Clinton is saying is that the United States should continue to be the only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all of our people,” Sanders said, drawing a stern look from his opponent.

“I do believe in universal coverage,” she fired back. “Remember, I fought for it 25 years ago.”

The debate in Miami came just three days after the candidates’ last faceoff in Flint, Michigan, and one day after Sanders was declared the winner of that state’s primary. His unexpected victory infused his campaign with excitement and fundraising momentum: He was on track to raise $5 million in online donations in the ensuing 24 hours.

Sanders’ success in Michigan seemed to energize him Wednesday in countering Clinton’s attacks on immigration issues.

“Secretary Clinton prevailed upon the governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who wanted to do the right thing and provide driver’s licenses to those who were undocumented,” Sanders said. “She said, ‘Don’t do it,’ and New York state still does not do it.” He also noted that he had supported allowing children from war-torn Central American countries to enter the United States and asserted that Clinton’s view was “send them back.”

“That is something that is not fair about what I said,” Clinton said. “I did say we needed to be very concerned about little children coming to this country on their own, very often, many of them not making it, and when they got here, they needed, as I have argued for, legal counsel, due process, to make a decision.”

Both candidates, who consistently praise President Barack Obama on most issues, vowed to end the mass deportations of his administration. They both flatly promised not to deport children.

Each candidate sought to be perceived as the more formidable challenger to Trump, the Republican front-runner. Clinton argued that Trump was promoting “un-American views” and promised to “take every opportunity to criticize” him. Later, she mocked his centerpiece proposal to build “a very tall wall, right, a beautiful, tall wall.”

Sanders argued that he could convince Democratic Party leaders and elected officials that “Bernie Sanders is the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump.”

But Clinton and Sanders both sidestepped a direct question about whether they thought Trump was a racist, given his hostile comments about Mexicans and Muslims and his initial reluctance to disavow the support of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Sanders said he was confident that Americans would not elect Trump and pointed out that Trump had been a leading skeptic of whether Obama was born in the United States and eligible to be president. Sanders noted that no one had challenged him over the fact that his own father was born in Poland.

“Nobody has ever asked me for my birth certificate,” Sanders said. “Maybe that has to do with the color of my skin.”

Many of the questions to Clinton were provocatively worded, especially those from Jorge Ramos of Univision. After playing a video in which the mother of an American killed in Benghazi, Libya, questioned whether Clinton had told the truth about the attacks there, Ramos bluntly asked: “Did you lie to them?”

Clinton was taken aback. “She’s wrong. She’s absolutely wrong,” she said. “When we had information we made it public, but then sometimes we had to go back and say, we have new information that contradicts it.”

Ramos also pressed Clinton on whether she would drop out of the race if she were indicted on charges related to her use of a private email server as secretary of state. At first she ignored the question, but when the moderators followed up, she dismissed it curtly.

“Oh, for goodness — that is not going to happen,” she said. “I am not even answering that question.”

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