In the first Democratic presidential debate of the 2016 campaign, five contenders squared off last night in Las Vegas: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee. It was the first of only six debates scheduled for the Democrats this election cycle. The debate covered contentious topics from gun control to climate change to the 2003 vote to invade Iraq. Throughout the night, Senator Bernie Sanders focused much of his message on inequality and the economy. In one of the most tweeted-about moments of the night, Sanders also criticized the media for focusing too much on the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was serving as secretary of state. We speak to Jill Stein, the 2016 presidential candidate for the Green Party; Les Payne, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former editor at Newsday; and D. Watkins, columnist for Salon and author of the new book, "The Beast Side: Living (and Dying) While Black in America."
Unlike during the first two Republican presidential debates, one of the key issues in the first Democratic debate was racial inequality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Candidate Martin O’Malley came under fire early in the night for his record of ramping up policing in Baltimore while he was mayor. CNN’s Anderson Cooper pressed O’Malley on statistics showing that during at least one year, there were more than 100,000 arrests in a city of 640,000 residents. O’Malley contended that the police crackdown was in order to protect black lives. “Martin O’Malley’s love for African Americans surprised me,” said D. Watkins, who grew up in Baltimore while O’Malley was mayor. “I didn’t feel that.”
Another topic of debate during the first Democratic presidential debate was the issue of immigration reform and whether undocumented immigrants should have access to Obamacare. Clinton said she would support states who open up access to Obamacare to undocumented people, while O’Malley called for everyone to have access to the program and pledged to go “even further than President Obama” on the issue of immigration. Neither candidate, however, raised concerns about the unprecedented rise in deportations under the Obama administration. For more, we’re joined by Zaid Jilani, staff writer at AlterNet, in Atlanta.
Arguably the most contentious moment of the night was the presidential candidates’ debate over gun control, which has become a major campaign issue in the wake of deadly school shootings in Oregon and beyond. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley both criticized Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ track record on gun control, which they said was not tough enough.
On the foreign policy front, the candidates debated the U.S. invasion of Iraq as well as a possible no-fly zone in Syria. "I will do everything that I can to make sure that the United States does not get involved in another quagmire like we did in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country," Sanders said. Clinton backs a no-fly zone in Syria, a move opposed by Sanders and O’Malley.
Democratic candidates sparred on Tuesday about what should happen to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. "He stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands," said Hillary Clinton. "So I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music." Lincoln Chafee praised Snowden’s actions: "What Snowden did showed that the American government was acting illegally per the Fourth Amendment. So I would bring him home."
During the debate, Senator Bernie Sanders defended democratic socialism and declared he was not a capitalist. "Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little, by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy?” Sanders said. "No, I don’t." Hillary Clinton responded by saying the country needs to "save capitalism from itself."
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