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Updated 8:30 PM |

What Went Down At The CNN Democratic Debate

Filed under 2016 Election


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Clare Malone 11:30 PM Good Night!

As they say in the business — the debate business, I suppose — tonight’s tete-a-tete was spirited, sometimes just for kicks, it seemed; “We are in vigorous agreement,” Clinton said at one point.

Sanders seemed a bit more aggressive tonight, laughing at points when Clinton talked. He hit Clinton hard on her Wall Street speech transcripts — it remains a bugaboo with many voters that she won’t release the documents. Clinton’s argument, a tepid one, was that it’s not the kind of thing, like tax returns, that presidential candidates are generally expected to release. Sanders, sensing an opening, cheekily said he would release his paid Wall Street talks (nota bene: the avowed Democratic Socialist doesn’t have any). Overall, the Brooklyn crowd seemed pretty Sanders-friendly, and Clinton had to wait for cheers of “Bernie! Bernie!” to die down before she could give her closing statement.

Clinton looked strong in the foreign policy portion of the debate, often invoking President Obama’s name — something that Sanders called out at one point — and hit the Vermont senator hard on his gun control position, which is to the right of most Democratic voters. She’s a strong debater, typically a pretty controlled presence on the stage, although she and Sanders had one back-and-forth moment that ended with Wolf Blitzer pleading for calm, à la a GOP debate.

Most polls show Clinton with about a 10-percentage-point lead in New York at this point, and it’s unclear if Sanders did much to make up ground in this debate. He was testy and still didn’t seem all that confident when conveying a more detailed outline of his plans to break up the banks — not a great look coming on the heels of an interview with the New York Daily News’s editorial board in which he seemed to lack a solid grasp of his marquee policy plan.

But the voters will decide Tuesday! Thanks for spending the evening with us, and we’ll hopefully see you back here when we live-blog the results of New York’s primary.

Andrew Flowers 11:06 PM

Speaking of paid family leave! The city of San Francisco and New York state recently passed the most generous paid family leave laws in the country. But as I wrote last week, it’s actually dads who come out as the biggest winners. Compared with other rich countries, these new laws are relatively more generous for dads, offering six weeks of paid leave.

Julia Azari 11:03 PM Is Sanders A Democrat?

When asked if he’s a Democrat, Sanders touted his electability and mentioned his appeal to independents, although he noted that he is pursuing the nomination, of course, as a Democrat. The issue has come up before during this primary season. It opens up some questions about how we define political parties in the U.S. We do it pretty loosely, as evidenced by nomination rules that open up the process to candidates like Sanders and Trump — and, in some states, to independent voters. What it means to be a Republican or Democrat is generally in the eye of the beholder.

I’ve generally argued that since Sanders caucuses with the Democrats, any distinction about his party ID is mostly semantic. But fundraising is an issue. Connections to other candidates are important. And so is ideology. Modern Democrats have generally embraced capitalism and business, and this has come up in debates. What does it mean for Sanders’s critique of capitalism for him to join the Democratic Party at last?

David Firestone 11:02 PM

Despite Sanders’s denials just now, Democrats have been annoyed that he has not raised more money to help the party’s down-ballot candidates, as Politico reported on Wednesday. (If he is elected, he would need scores more Democrats in Congress than are in office now in order to get any of his policies passed.) But Sanders has agreed to raise money for three Democratic House candidates. What sets them apart from the larger pack is that they have endorsed him.

Clare Malone 11:01 PM

Sanders is making an argument at the end of the debate that the primary season was front-loaded with states in the Deep South that were bad for him but that things are going to look up in the next couple of months. I’ll quote here from good ole Harry Enten’s welcome post for this live blog:

“Voting in the Democratic race has largely followed demographic lines, and the primary calendar in the second half of April shifts to the Northeast, which is more favorable terrain for Clinton — she’s favored to add to her lead in pledged delegates in states like Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York.”

Carl Bialik 10:58 PM

I’ve found several Quora responses, a Monkey Cage post and a Reddit thread, but no reported news article, on why debate moderators don’t have the power to cut off candidates’ microphones when they go over their allotted time.

Twitter 10:58 PM

Twitter 10:57 PM

Carl Bialik 10:54 PM

Sanders is right that he does better than Clinton in hypothetical head-to-head general-election polls against the three Republican candidates — but those might not be realistic predictors of what would happen if he were to win the nomination. Clinton’s criticism of him would likely seem very tame compared with the full force of the Republican Party attacking his policy positions and record.

Carl Bialik 10:53 PM

Clinton gets some of the loudest applause of the evening for voicing strong support for abortion rights, saying that she would only nominate to the Supreme Court a justice who believes Roe v. Wade is settled law. Importantly, she said “believes” — Sanders’s contention that he would nominate a justice who supports overturning the Citizens United decision on campaign funding indicated that he wanted his nominee to explicitly state this preference. Supreme Court nominees don’t typically announce plans to overturn Supreme Court decisions.

Clare Malone 10:52 PM

I’d have to go back through the archives to double check whether Clinton is right when she says there haven’t been any questions in the Democratic debates about abortion, but she got a big ole cheer from the audience when she said it. It was a way for Clinton to bring up Trump’s name, a not-so-subtle way of hinting at a pivot toward a general election mindset.

Twitter 10:51 PM

Andrew Flowers 10:49 PM

Clinton faces a conundrum. On the one hand, she’s pledged not to raise taxes on the middle class. Instead, she’ll raise taxes on the wealthy — who she has tentatively defined as households earning $250,000 or more. So lifting the payroll tax cap to better finance the Social Security trust fund, which is currently set at around $118,000, might put her in position of defending tax increases on those who are arguably in the middle class.

Julia Azari 10:49 PM Democratic Crack-Up?

One of the things that the Democrats — Clinton, Sanders and their supporters — have to start thinking about is what this contest will mean. Looking at the delegate math, it’s likely that Clinton will be the nominee, but Sanders will have a strong claim to having made an impact on the race and the party.

I’m not sure that the tone of the debate is connected to anything substantive. The candidates share some views and have not infrequently been on the same side of policy issues, but there are some significant differences. Thing is, we’ve had plenty of time to air them. The candidates differ on their foreign policy records and approaches. Clinton is connected to the establishment, the Obama administration, and the banks. Yup, we’ve got it.

Still, these are real differences, and Sanders might represent a real shift in the direction of the party. The Democrats have moved left since Bill Clinton left office, and inequality issues have moved to the fore. In some ways, I think Sanders is playing the same role that Ronald Reagan played in 1976 for the Republicans, signaling a movement that would eventually become the party mainstream.

But are the Dems headed for a crack-up? I would be surprised. (Of course, I’ve been kinda surprised by what’s happened with the Republicans.) Oddly, thinking back to what I’ve written about party splintering, the fact that there are real policy differences between the candidates is a good sign. Parties can contend with different factions, provided there’s some common ground. The Republicans are dealing with different candidates who claim to carry the true vision of conservatism — and one insurgent who’s challenged them all. The Sanders candidacy has been unexpected, but it’s premature to expect that it’s a signal of party weakness.

meghanag538 10:48 PM

Julia, here’s a question that is way too big to adequately answer in a live blog, but I’ll ask it anyway: With this debate getting pretty testy at times, and Sanders’s continued strength, are there reasons to think the Democratic Party could have structural problems down the line akin to the crack-up the GOP is currently undergoing?

David Firestone 10:47 PM

Clinton was sharply hawkish during that earlier exchange on the Palestinians, hewing much closer to the positions of the Netanyahu government than that of the Obama administration in which she served. Obama has been far more critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and Clinton refused several opportunities to suggest that Israel could deal more evenhandedly with the residents of Gaza and the Arab towns on the West Bank. It’s tempting to blame that on crass demographic politics prior to the New York primary, but in fact, the Middle East is one of the areas where Clinton has long taken a clear right turn away from the administration’s policies. As Sanders pointed out, she does support a no-fly zone in Syria, unlike Obama, and has pushed for a stronger military response to ISIS. By not calling on Israel to halt settlement construction or criticizing its military responses, she has made clear how much more centrist her approach to foreign policy is likely to be if elected.

Ben Casselman 10:45 PM

The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare,” has brought health insurance to millions of Americans. But millions more remain uninsured. Some of that is expected; some young people, for example, have declined to sign up for insurance, and many immigrants were intentionally excluded by the law. But nearly 4 million Americans fall into the “Medicaid gap” — they were meant to be covered under the law, but many Republican-led states declined to expand Medicaid as originally intended.

Clare Malone 10:44 PM

The Associated Press did a poll this winter and asked voters about Sanders’s proposed single-payer  health care plan. The survey “found that people’s initial impressions of Sanders’ single-payer plan are more favorable than their views of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul,” according to the AP. But when “asked whether they would continue to support Sanders’ plan if their own taxes went up, under a third of initial supporters of the plan would keep backing it. About 4 out of 10 flipped to opposition.”

Ben Casselman 10:43 PM

The non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates that Sanders’s tax plan would increase revenue by $15.3 trillion over the next decade. Pretty much everyone would pay more in taxes, but the rich would shoulder by far the largest burden, as Sanders has promised. But it isn’t clear that Sanders’s big tax hikes would cover the cost of his spending proposals.

ritchieking 10:42 PM

The candidates appear to have gotten the Iraq question out of the way early tonight. But Clinton’s 2003 vote has followed her through two Democratic primary campaigns. I’ve been struck by how much the legacy of the Iraq War has figured into both parties’ debates.

April 26, 2007 40
June 3, 2007 39
June 28, 2007 8
July 23, 2007 52
Aug. 7, 2007 50
Aug. 19, 2007 24
Sept. 9, 2007 32
Sept. 26, 2007 59
Oct. 30, 2007 44
Nov. 15, 2007 39
Dec. 4, 2007 26
Dec. 13, 2007 14
Jan. 5, 2008 25
Jan. 15, 2008 26
Jan. 21, 2008 27
Jan. 31, 2008 28
Feb. 21, 2008 12
Feb. 26, 2008 27
April 16, 2008 27
References to Iraq in the 2008 Democratic debates

Source: The American Presidency Project

Oct. 13, 2015 17
Nov. 14, 2015 25
Dec. 19, 2015 14
Jan 17, 2016 7
Feb. 4, 2016 16
Feb. 11, 2016 6
March 6, 2016 1
March 9, 2016 2
April 14, 2016 ?
References to Iraq in the 2016 Democratic debates

Source: The American Presidency Project

The tables here show how many times the word “Iraq” came up in the 2008 and 2016 Democratic nomination debates. Not surprisingly, we see a lot more of it in 2008, when it was the central foreign policy question. In 2016, other foreign policy issues — like ISIS, Russia and the aftermath of the Arab Spring — have also driven the discussion. But the early part of 2016 looks much like the end of the 2008 season in terms of the raw numbers of references. And both years display similar patterns: more Iraq references in the earlier debates and fewer mentions after the new year — and the start of the primary voting.

Twitter 10:39 PM

Twitter 10:37 PM

micahscohen 10:34 PM

The Israel portion of the debate is an important one, especially here in New York City, where 1.1 million of the city’s 8.5 million people are Jewish. (Jewish voters made up 16 percent of the state’s Democratic primary electorate in 2008.) American Jews are generally pretty liberal. According to a 2013 Pew survey of American Jews: “70% say they are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, while 22% are Republicans or lean Republican. Among Orthodox Jews, however, the balance tilts in the other direction: 57% are Republican or lean Republican, and 36% are Democrats or lean Democratic”

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, American Jews are less hardline than Israeli Jews.

Carl Bialik 10:31 PM

Clinton’s staunch support of Israeli policies would position her well for the general election: Israel gets consistently strong support from Americans in polls.

Twitter 10:30 PM

micahscohen 10:30 PM

Interestingly, while Sanders and Clinton debate their differing stances on Israel, The New York Times is reporting that Sanders has suspended his Jewish outreach coordinator over some comments she posted on Facebook that were critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ben Casselman 10:29 PM

New York’s chapter of the “Fight for $15” movement just put out a statement on Clinton’s and Sanders’s earlier exchange over the minimum wage:

“The Democratic candidates’ comments in the debate tonight over $15/hr shows that raising pay is a huge issue for voters in this election,” said Jorel Ware, who walked off his job at McDonald’s on Thursday as part of a union-organized strike. “By joining together and going on strike, we are literally changing the debate in this country on wages.”

It’s no surprise that the raise-the-wage movement is excited by the prominent role the issue is playing both tonight and in the campaign more generally. A couple of years ago, the minimum wage was hardly on the agenda. Now both Democratic candidates want a much higher federal minimum and $15 in many cities.

Andrew Flowers 10:24 PM

In 2015, the U.S. contributed $650 billion in defense expenditures to NATO, far more than any other alliance member. All European NATO members contributed just $234 billion that year. The extent to which the U.S. is carrying the load for NATO is also evident when expenditures are taken as a share of GDP: At 3.6 percent, U.S. expenditures are far and away the highest.

Clare Malone 10:20 PM

Clinton just said something that Donald Trump’s been saying lately — that other NATO members need to step up and foot more of the organization’s bill. Synergy!


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