Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was hit by allied criticism on Saturday from her two remaining 2016 Democratic presidential primary opponents, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
O’Malley and Sanders teamed up on Clinton to rock her on everything from foreign policy to Wall Street, forcing multiple gaffes out of the Democratic frontrunner—as she displayed signs of unease throughout the entire CBS-broadcast Saturday evening affair.
In addition to O’Malley and Sanders criticizing Clinton for not being far-enough left on healthcare or the minimum wage, on foreign policy and on Wall Street policy, the two liberals bashed Clinton over and over again—with a lot of help from the moderators at CBS controlling the flow of the debate in Des Moines, Iowa.
Having two less candidates on stage–former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, also a former governor, both dropped out since the last debate–seemed to give O’Malley and Sanders a clearer shot at the frontrunner as they clearly and openly escalated their battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.
“The terror attacks last night [in Paris] underscored the biggest challenge facing the next President of the United States,” Face The Nation host John Dickerson, who served as chief moderator, opened his first question by asking.
“At a time of crisis the country and the world look to the president for leadership and for answers. So Secretary Clinton, I’d like to start with you, hours before the attacks, President Obama said, ‘I don’t think ISIS is gaining strength.’ 72% of Americans think the fight against ISIS is going badly. Won’t the legacy of this administration which is– which you were a part of– won’t that legacy be that it underestimated the threats from ISIS?”
In her answer, Clinton made her first of many gaffes that evening, suggesting that America shouldn’t be fighting against ISIS.
“Well, John I think that– we have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network. It cannot be contained, it must be defeated. There is no question in my mind that if we summon our resources, both our leadership resources and all of the tools at our disposal, not just military force which should be used as a last resort, but our diplomacy, our development aid, law enforcement, sharing of intelligence in a much more– open and cooperative way– that we can bring people together,” Clinton opened her answer with, before making the gaffe in the next line.
“But it cannot be an American fight,” she said, before completing her full answer:
“And I think what the president has consistently said–which I agree with–is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS. That is why we have troops in Iraq that are helping to train and build back up the Iraqi military, why we have special operators in Syria working with the Kurds and Arabs so that we can be supportive. But this cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential.”
Dickerson, unsatisfied with Clinton’s gaffe answer which dodged his original question, pressed her again.
“But, Secretary Clinton, the question’s about what–was ISIS underestimated,” Dickerson pressed Clinton again. “And I’ll–I’ll just ask–the president referred to ISIS as the ‘JV’ [team] in a speech, the council in foreign relations in June of 2014 said, ‘I could not have predicted the extent to which ISIS could be effective in seizing cities in Iraq.’ So you’ve got prescriptions for the future. But how do we know if those prescriptions are any good if you missed it in the past?”
Clinton’s response was clunky.
“Well, John, look, I think that what happened when we abided by the agreement that George W. Bush–made with the Iraqis to leave–by 2011 is that an Iraqi army was left that had been trained and that was prepared to defend Iraq. Unfortunately, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, set about decimating it. And then with the revolution against Assad– and I did early on say we needed to try to find a way to train and equip moderates very early so that we would have a better idea of how to deal with Assad because I thought there would be– extremist groups filling the vacuum. So, yes, this has developed. I think that there are many other reasons why it has in addition–to what’s happened in the region. But I don’t think that the United States– has the bulk of the responsibility. I really put that on Assad and on the Iraqis and on the region itself.”
From there, Dickerson turned to O’Malley to ask him if he’d like to “critique” the Obama administration’s response to ISIS—and he stuck the first of many knives he would all evening into Clinton’s back.
“I would disagree with—with Secretary Clinton, respectfully, on this score,” O’Malley said.
“This actually is America’s fight. It cannot solely be America’s fight. America is best when we work in collaboration with our allies. America is best when we are actually standing up to evil in this world. And ISIS, make no mistake about it, is an evil in this world. ISIS has brought down a Russian airliner. ISIS is now attacked the western democracy in– in France. And we do have a role in this. Not solely ours. But we must work collaboratively with other nations. The great failing of these last ten or 15 years, John, has been our failing of human intelligence on the ground. Our world in the world is not to roam the globe looking for new dictators to topple. Our role in the world is to make ourselves a beacon of hope, make ourselves stronger at home. But also our role in the world, yes, is also to confront evil when it rises. We took out the save haven in Afghanistan but now there is undoubtedly a larger safe haven. And we must rise to this occasion in collaboration and with alliances to confront it. And invest in the future much better human intelligence so we know what the next steps are.”
Dickerson kicked it over to Sanders next. He said he still believes that climate change is a bigger national security threat to America than ISIS or anything else, and then hit Clinton hard too. “Of course international terrorism is a major issue that we’ve got to address today,” Sanders said.
“And I agree with much of what– the secretary and—and the governor have said. Only have one area of– of disagreement with the secretary. I think she said something like, ‘The bulk of the responsibility is not ours.’ Well, in fact, I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely. And led to the rise of Al Qaeda—and to—ISIS. Now, in fact, what we have got to do—and I think there is widespread agreement here—’cause the United States cannot do it alone.”
Sanders added that he differs from Clinton in supporting the U.S. being the “lead” of an “international coalition” which includes “nations in that region” to “fight and defend their way of life.”
From there, the conversation turned to the war in Iraq that the George W. Bush administration led—a decision to go to war that Clinton voted for when she served in the U.S. Senate.
“I don’t think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability we are seeing right now,” Sanders said after asked about Clinton’s vote for it. “I think that was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of United States.”
In response, Clinton struggled to explain her vote for the war in Iraq from when she served in the Senate.
“I think it’s important we put this in historic context,” Clinton replied when Dickerson offered her a response to Sanders’ critique.
“United States has unfortunately been victimized by terrorism going back decades. In the 1980s it was in Beirut, Lebanon under President Reagan’s administration and 258 Americans, marines, embassy personnel and others were—murdered. We also had attacks on two of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya when my husband was president. Again, Americans murdered. And then of course 9/11 happened which happened before there was an invasion of Iraq. I have said the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. But I think if we’re ever gonna really tackle the problems posed by jihadi extreme terrorism we need to understand it and realize … what happened in Iraq and we have to continue to be vigilant about it.”
Dickerson didn’t drop it there. He turned back to Sanders to ask: “Senator Sanders, let me just follow this line of thinking. You’ve criticized then Senator Clinton’s vote. Do you have anything to criticize in the way she performed as Secretary of State?”
“I think we have a disagreement,” Sanders replied.
“And– the disagreement is that not only did I vote against the war in Iraq, if you look at history, John, you will find that regime change—whether it was in the early ’50s in Iran, whether it was toppling Salvador Allende in Chile or whether it was overthrowing the government Guatemala way back when– these invasions, these—these toppling of governments, regime changes have unintended consequences. I would say that on this issue I’m a little bit more conservative than the secretary. And I am not a great fan of regime changes.”
O’Malley, at that point, interjected to hammer Clinton more—giving off the impression for the first time that he and Sanders were teaming up on Clinton.
“John, may I interject here? Secretary Clinton also said that we left the—it was not just the invasion of Iraq which Secretary Clinton voted for and has since said was a big mistake, and indeed it was. But it was also the cascading effects that followed that,” O’Malley said.
“It was also the disbanding of many elements of the Iraqi army that are now showing up as part of ISIS. It was country after country without making the investment in human intelligence to understand who the new leaders were and the new forces were that are coming up. We need to be much more far thinking in this new 21st century era of nation state failures and conflict. It’s not just about getting rid of a single dictator. It is about understanding the secondary and third consequences that fall next.”
Clinton was clearly caught off guard, and visibly rocked. In her response to O’Malley and Sanders that followed a moment later, she stumbled explaining that she believes each of the cases of her actions as Secretary of State—and decisions she backed as a U.S. Senator—need to be looked at individually, rather that in connection with one another as O’Malley said.
“Well, and—and of course each of these cases needs to be looked at individually and analyzed,” Clinton replied.
“Part of the problem that we have currently in the Middle East is that Assad has hung onto power— with the very strong support of Russia and Iran and with the proxy of Hezbollah—being there basically fighting his battles. So I don’t think you can paint with a broad brush. This is an incredibly complicated region of the world. It’s become more complicated. And many of the fights that are going on are not ones that the United States has either started or have a role in. The Shia-Sunni split, the dictatorships that have suppressed people’s aspirations, the increasing globalization without any real safety valve for people to have a better life. We saw that in Egypt. We saw a dictator overthrown, we saw Muslim Brotherhood president installed and then we saw him ousted and the army back. So I think we’ve got to understand the complexity of the world that we are facing and no places more so than in the Middle East”.
Sanders crushed her in response to that by noting that the administration in which she served as Secretary of State has failed to build an adequate international coalition to take on ISIS.
“The Secretary’s obviously right—it is enormously complicated,” Sanders praised her before he hit her.
“But here’s something that I believe we have to do is we put together an international coalition. And that is we have to understand that the Muslim nation in the region, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, all of these nations, they’re gonna just have to get their hands dirty, their boots on the ground. They are gonna have to take on ISIS. This is a war for the soul of Islam. And those countries who are opposed to Islam, they are gonna have to get deeply involved in a way that is not the case today. We should be supportive of that effort. So should the UK, so should France. But those Muslim countries are gonna have to lead the efforts. They are not doing it now.”
By now, Clinton was furious with the dragging out of this questioning and in her reply to Sanders called his criticism of her “unfair.”
“I think that is very unfair to a few that you mentioned—most particularly Jordan which has put a lot on the line to the United States,” Clinton responded.
“It’s also taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and has been therefore subjected to threats and attacks—by extremists themselves. I do agree that in particular Turkey and the Gulf Nations have got to make up their minds. Are they going to stand with us against this kind of jihadi radicalism or not? And there are many ways of doing it. They can provide sources, they can provide resources. But they need to be absolutely clear about where they stand.”
Dickerson then dropped the hammer back on Clinton regarding Libya.
“Let me ask you—Secretary Clinton a question about leadership,” the CBS anchor turned to the Democratic frontrunner. “We’re asking about what role does America pick. Let me ask you about Libya. So Libya is a country in which ISIS has taken hold in part because of the chaos after Muammar Gaddafi [was deposed]—that was an operation you championed. President Obama says is the lesson he took from that operation. In an interview he said, ‘The lesson was do we have an answer for the day after.’ [Wasn’t that] supposed to be one of the lessons that we learned after the Iraq war? And how did you get it wrong with Libya if the key lesson of the Iraq war is have a plan for after?”
Clinton struggled through her response again, rejecting the premise itself of the question.
“Well, we did have a plan. And I think it’s fair to say that of all of the Arab leaders Gaddafi probably had more blood on his hands of Americans than anybody else. And when he moved on his own people threatening a mass occurred, genocide, the Europeans and the Arabs, our allies and partners did ask for American help. And we provided it. And we didn’t put a single boot on the ground. And—Gaddafi was deposed. The Libyans turned out for one of the most successful Arab elections that any Arab country has had. They elected moderate leaders. Now there has been a lot of turmoil and trouble as they have tried to deal with these radical elements which you find in this arc of instability from North Africa to Afghanistan. And it is imperative that we do more not only to help our friends and partners protect themselves and protect our own homeland but also to work to try to deal with this arc of instability which does have a lot of impact on what happens in a country like Libya.”
Dickerson kicked it over to O’Malley for another Clinton beat-down next.
“John, the world is a very dangerous place. But the world is not too dangerous of a place for the United States of America provided we act according to our principles, provided we act intelligently. I mean, let’s talk about this arc of instability that Secretary Clinton talked about,” O’Malley replied when asked to respond to Clinton’s comments on Libya.
“Libya is now a mess. Syria is a mess. Iraq is a mess. Afghanistan is a mess. As Americans we have shown ourselves to have the greatest military on the face of the planet. But we are not so very good at anticipating threats and appreciating just how difficult it is to build up stable democracies and make the investments in sustainable development that we must as the nation if we are to attack the root causes of the source of instability.”
O’Malley wrapped his hit on Clinton by praising the troops, a nice touch for a guy who was basically non-existent in the first Democratic debate a few weeks ago.
“And I wanted to add one other thing, John, and I think it’s important for all of us on this stage,” O’Malley said.
“I was in Burlington, Iowa and a mom of a service member of ours who served two duties in Iraq said, ‘Governor O’Malley, please, when you’re with your other candidates and colleagues on stage, please don’t use the term boots on the ground. Please don’t use the term boots on the ground. My son is not a pair of boots on the ground.’ These are American soldiers and we fail them when we fail to take into account what happens the day after a dictator falls. And when we fall to act with a whole of government approach with sustainable development, diplomacy and our economic power in– alignment with our principles.”
Clinton was robotic in her rebuttal as she attempted to fend off O’Malley before Sanders cut her off to rip her again.
“Well, I think it’s perfectly fair to say that we invested quite a bit in development aid,” Clinton said.
“Some of the bravest people that I had the privilege of working with as Secretary of State were our development professionals who went sometimes alone, sometimes with our military into very dangerous places in Iraq, in Afghanistan—elsewhere. So there does need to be a whole of government approach. But just because we’re involved and we have a strategy doesn’t mean we’re going to be able to dictate the outcome. These are often very long-term kinds of investments that—“
Sanders cut across her next.
“But when you talk about the long-term consequences of war let’s talk about the men and women who came home from war,” Sanders said. “The 500,000 who came home with P.T.S.D. and traumatic brain injury. And I would hope that in the midst of all of this discussion this country makes certain that we do not turn our backs on the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend us. And that we stand with them as they have stood with us.”
Barely a moment later, Dickerson rattled Clinton again—this time comparing her to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) when it comes to foreign policy and dealing with “radical jihadists.” The comparison, which is good for neither of them while they’re both representing the establishment wings of their parities having trouble shoring up support in their respective bases, could be kryptonite to Clinton in her own primary.
“Marco Rubio, also running for president, said that this attack showed—in—the attack in Paris showed that we are at war with radical Islam,” Dickerson asked Clinton. “Do you agree with that characterization, radical Islam?”
Clinton dodged the question. “I don’t think we’re at war with Islam,” she said. “I don’t think we at war with all Muslims. I think we’re at war with jihadists who have—“
Dickerson didn’t let her off that easy. “Just to interrupt, he didn’t say all Muslims. He just said radical Islam. Is that a phrase you don’t [agree with]?” Dickerson cut her off with a follow-up.
In her follow-up answer, she stammered then leaned on Sanders’ earlier answer—and on Bush’s comments after 9/11 regarding Islam—for support. “I—I think that you can—you can talk about Islamists who clearly are also jihadists,” Clinton said.
“But I think it’s—it—it’s not particularly helpful to make the case that—Senator Sanders was just making that. I agree with that. We’ve gotta reach out to Muslim countries. We’ve gotta have them be part of our coalition. If they hear people running for president who basically shortcut it to say we are somehow against Islam—that was one of the real contributions— despite all the other problems that George W. Bush made after 9/11 when he basically said after going to a mosque in Washington, ‘We are not at war with Islam or Muslims. We are at war with violent extremism. We are at war with people who use their religion for purposes of power and oppression.’ And yes, we are at war with those people that I don’t want us to be painting with too brand a brush.”
Dickerson didn’t stop there—drilling down even further with Clinton on Islam.
“The reason I ask is that you gave a speech at Georgetown University in which you said that it was important to show ‘respect even for one’s enemy,’” Dickerson pressed on. “Trying to understand and in so far as psychologically possible empathize with their perspective and point of view. Can you explain what that means in the context of this kind of barbarism?”
“I think with this kind of barbarism and nihilism— it’s very hard to understand other than the lust for power, the rejection of… the total disregard for human life—freedom or any other value that we know and respect,” Clinton responded.
“Historically it is important to try to understand your adversary in order to figure out how they are thinking, what they will be doing, how they will react… It’s very difficult when you deal with—ISIS and organizations like that whose behavior is so barbaric and so vicious that it doesn’t seem to have any purpose other than lust for killing and power. And that’s very difficult to put ourselves in other shoes.”
That was just the first hour of the debate. In the second hour, Clinton faced even harder criticisms—this time along the lines of Clinton Cash and her close associations with Wall Street and big donors.
“Senator Sanders recently said quote, ‘People should be suspect of candidates who receive large sums of money from Wall Street and then go out and say, ‘Trust me, I’m going to reregulate Wall Street,’” Dickerson kicked off the debate’s second hour by asking Clinton. “So you’ve received millions of dollars in contributions and speaking fees from Wall Street companies. How do you convince voters that you’re gonna level the playing field when you’re indebted to some of the biggest players?”
Clinton stammered in her response again
“Well, I—I think it’s pretty clear that they know that I will. You’ve got two billionaire hedge-fund managers who’ve started a super PAC. And they’re advertising against [me] as we speak. So they clearly think I’m going to do what I say I will do. And you you can look at what I did in the Senate. I did introduce legislation to rein in compensation. I looked at ways that the shareholders would have more control over what was going on in that arena and specifically said to Wall Street that what they were doing in the mortgage was bringing our country down. I’ve laid out a very aggressive plan to rein in Wall Street not just the big banks. That’s a part of the problem. And I am going right at them. I’ve got a comprehensive, tough plan. But I went further than that. We have to go after what’s called the shadow banking industry, those hedge funds. Look at what happened in ’08, AIG a big insurance company, Lehman Brothers, an investment bank helped to bring our economy down. So I wanna look at the whole problem. And that’s why my proposal is much more comprehensive than anything else that’s been put forth.”
Dickerson then shifted over to Sanders to ask him what he thought of Clinton’s answer.
“Not good enough,” Sanders said to laughter from the audience.
“Here’s the story. I mean, you know, let’s not be naive about it. Why do—why over her political career has Wall Street a major—the major—campaign contributor to Hillary Clinton? You know, maybe they’re dumb and they don’t know what they’re gonna get. But I don’t think so. Here is the major issue when we talk about Wall Street, it ain’t complicated. You got six financial institutions today that have assets equivalent to 56 percent of the GDP in America. They issue two thirds of the credit cards and one third of the mortgages. If Teddy Roosevelt, the good Republican, were alive today you know what he’d say? ‘Break them up. Reestablish.’”
The audience went wild for Sanders.
“So I am the only candidate up here that doesn’t have a super PAC,” Sanders continued. “I’m not asking Wall Street or the billionaires for money. I will break up these banks, support community banks and credit unions. That’s the future of banking in America.”
Dickerson followed up with Sanders before turning back to Clinton for a response to ask in a follow-up what Sanders thinks the billionaire donor class figures from Wall Street supporting Clinton are going to get from her if she’s elected.
“I have never heard a candidate, never, who’s received huge amounts of money from oil, from coal, from Wall Street, from the military industrial complex, not one candidate, go, ‘Oh, these—these campaign contributions will not influence me. I’m gonna be independent,’” Sanders said. “Now, why do they make millions of dollars of campaign contributions? They expect to get something. Everybody knows that. Once again, I am running a campaign differently than any other candidate. We are relying on small campaign donors, 750,000 [of them] and $30 apiece. That’s who I’m indebted to.”
In her response, Clinton alleged that Sanders had in his answer sough to “impugn my integrity.”
“No, I don’t [want to impugn her integrity],” Sanders replied before Clinton dove into her full rebuttal—in which she made what was perhaps the biggest gaffe of her entire political career.
“Oh, wait a minute, Senator,” Clinton said to laughter. “You know, not only do I have hundreds of thousands of donors, most of them small, I am very proud that for the first time a majority of my donors are women, 60 percent.”
The audience applauded before Clinton made a critical mistake by outright stating the reason she’s so close with Wall Street is because she met many big dollar donors while working to rebuild New York City after the 9/11 terrorist attacks—when she represented New York state in the U.S. Senate.
“So I—I represented New York. And I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked. Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy. And it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country. So, you know, it’s fine for you to say what you’re gonna say. But I look very carefully at your proposal reinstating Glass Steagall is a part of what very well could help but it is nowhere near enough. My proposal is tougher, more effective and more comprehensive because I go after all of Wall Street not just the big banks.”
Since she swiped at Sanders, the Vermont senator got a rebuttal in which he nailed her again.
“She touches on two broad issues,” Sanders said.
“It’s not just Wall Street. It’s campaigns, a corrupt campaign finance system. And it is easy to talk the talk about ending Citizens United. But what I think we need to do is show by example that we are prepared to not rely on large corporations and Wall Street for campaign contributions. And that’s what I’m doing. In terms of Wall Street I respectfully disagree with you, Madame Secretary in the sense that the issue is when you have such incredible power and such incredible wealth, when you have Wall Street spending five billion dollars over a ten year period to get deregulated the only answer that I know is break them up, reestablish Glass Steagall.”
At that point, O’Malley jumped in to slam her on Wall Street too.
“Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ve said this before, I don’t—I believe that we actually need some new economic thinking in the White House,” O’Malley said.
“And I would not have Robert Rubin or Larry Summers with all due respect, Secretary Clinton, to you and to them, back on my council of economic advisors. If they were architects, sure, we’ll have an inclusive group. But I won’t be taking my orders from Wall Street. And—look, let me say this—I put out a proposal, I was on the front line when people lost their homes, when people lost their jobs I was on the front lines as the governor—fighting that battle. Our economy was wrecked by the big banks of Wall Street. And Secretary Clinton—when you put out your proposal on Wall Street it was greeted by many as ‘weak tea.’ It is weak tea. It is not what the people expect of our country. We expect that our president will protect the main street economy from excesses on Wall Street. And that’s why Bernie’s right. We need to reinstate a modern version of Glass Steagall and we should have done it already.”