The seventh Democratic Debate, hosted by CNN in Flint, Michigan, began by taking a brief moment of silence to remember former First Lady Nancy Reagan. After the National Anthem, performed by the Flint City Wide Choir, lead moderator Anderson Cooper laid down the ground rules. Don Lemon; Bryn Mickle, editor of The Flint Journal; and members of audience also asked questions.
Cooper began by explaining that Flint is going through a water contamination crisis. Lead has poisoned the city's tap water, and even though this has been a problem for months, the federal and state governments have not yet taken action to fix the extent of the problem.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders opened with his general thoughts about Flint and its ordeal, namely that the problem was created by government mismanagement and that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder should resign. He said that Flint was representative of the U.S. as a whole. He ended this by emphasizing no more tax breaks for the rich.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed and explicitly called for the governor's resignation. She went on to say that it would be the federal government's job to fix Flint's problem. "It is raining lead in Flint," She said.
The first question came from a member of the audience: "What could you do to ensure me that you're the one to fix things?"
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Clinton began by thanking the audience member for the question. She praised Obama and cited his Head Start program. She then said she would like to build on his good work. Regarding Flint, Clinton said she would pay people in Flint, not outsiders, to deliver water to residents.
Sanders said the Flint situation is awful, and said children drinking poisoned water is a disgrace. He said it is a problem that must be resolved by the federal government, and the senator said that he would dispatch the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, to the city to test people for lead poisoning.
Cooper asked, "How can Americans trust big-government, when government is what caused the problems of Flint?"
Sanders said he trusted people to make the right decision, which includes not letting Wall Street and corporations run our government and our democracy.
Cooper asked "As President, would you fire the head of the EPA?"
Clinton said she would "launch an investigation," and she said it found that people should be fired, they will be fired. Sanders said, "President Sanders would fire anybody who knew about what was happening, but did not act appropriately."
A member of the audience asked: Can you promise me this will never happen again?
The senator promised to get rid of lead everywhere. The former chief diplomat promised to eliminate lead in all places it is found – water, soil and paint.
Lemon asked if "people should go to jail" over the water crisis?
Clinton said it is "up to the legal system," and that "there needs to be absolute accountability." Sanders said, "We can't judge, but people must be held accountable."
Mickle asked, "Why should the people of Flint believe you aren't just using crisis to score political points?"
Clinton responded with, "I will be with Flint all the way through this crisis." She also discussed her record from the time she was "a young lawyer" to the time she was first lady.
Sanders said, "I think the fear of the people of Flint is that the CNN cameras will leave." Then he alluded to his record, saying he has "stood with those who are hurting."
The next question can from a member of the audience: "What are you going to do to convince factories to keep jobs in U.S.?"
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Clinton said she would use carrots and sticks, and that she will put "a comprehensive" plan into place, which includes "help[ing] small businesses." She also explained that companies would need to pay the government back any incentives they received to stay in the U.S. or bailout money they received to stay open. The former secretary cited Nabisco and Johnson Controls, and she said the later would need to pay an "exit fee" because they received bailout funds.
Sanders said he was "Glad that Secretary Clinton has discovered religion on this issue…but it's a little too late." He then went through the negative effects of NAFTA, or the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Clinton had been for. He said that companies will need to "invest in this country."
Clinton then brought up the fact that Sanders voted against the auto bail out, which riled up the crowd. Sanders replied with "You're referring to the Wall Street Bail Out." A line which really worked the audience.
Clinton said that the bail out included the auto industry, and if the auto industry had been allowed collapse it would have taken people's jobs. Sanders then said, "I'll be damned if the people of the working class have to bail out the crooks."
Clinton then reiterated her point. "I think it was the right decision to side with Obama, and save the auto industry," she said. Sanders said he was in favor of the portion of the bail out that helped the auto industry. Clinton said she "voted to save the auto industry, and I'm very glad I did," but she added there were parts of the bill she did not like.
Sanders circled back to Wall Street, once again, in terms of Clinton's paid speeches. Specifically, he said Clinton was paid a large sum to give speeches to Wall Street firms. He said he believes the people should deserve to see the speeches. Clinton fired back, saying she would release them when people on both sides of the aisle release theirs. Sanders then threw up his arms, indicating he has not given any paid Wall Street speeches.
Sanders tied his response to problems with the criminal justice system in this country.
Cooper then asked Sanders about his tweet that blamed Clinton for trade policies that hurt Michigan. He said that Clinton's and everybody else's support of "those trade policies" have led to a declining middle class and created "a race to the bottom."
Clinton stayed on the past and said that at the end of the 1990s, near end of her husband's administration, Michigan's unemployment was 4.4 percent. She tied that into the recent fight over the Export-Import Bank, saying that Sanders opposed it.
Sanders acknowledged his position, saying that his problem with the institution is that 70 percent of the money it gives goes to large businesses that "downsize in the U.S."
Cooper then asked Sanders why Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is correct on this issue and other Democrats are wrong. The Vermont senator said that Democrats are not always right, and that "On this issue, I do not believe in corporate welfare."
During her response, Clinton said her experience as secretary of state showed her how other countries ran their banks. She said she knows if the U.S. is going to compete in the global economy, then we need to invest in our country.
The conversation then moved to crime. The father of the 14-year-old who was shot in the head by an Uber driver in Kalamazoo asked the next question, which was: What will you do to address the epidemic of mass shootings in the United States?
Clinton said she would continue with the current initiatives, such as trying to close the gun show and Charleston loopholes. She reminded voters that she voted against giving gun makers and sellers immunity. "They must be held accountable," she said. She also expressed the need for a public discussion.
Sanders said this is a tough issue, and this is not something someone can just be waved away with a magic wand. Sanders said he would change the Charleston loophole, so there is a longer waiting period. He said, though, that the most important part of that bill was the immediate background check.
Cooper then asked about immunity for gun manufacturers and sellers as it relates to Newtown because there is currently a lawsuit against the gun maker, which could be thrown out.
Sanders said that holding the gun manufacturers accountable for weapons sold legally to someone who is allowed to own guns would end gun manufacturing in the United States.
Clinton said she was in the Senate when the gun manufactures said "give us immunity." She said she knew parents from Sandy Hook and that gun manufacturers simply care about profit – corporate greed. There was thunderous applause to that statement.
Lemon asked, "Given Clinton's support for the 1994 crime bill, why should black people trust her to end 'the era of mass incarceration?'"
Clinton said looking back, the 1994 bill was flawed, and though it seemed appropriate at the time, it did cause problems. She said as president she would try to do better.
Lemon replied, "Secretary Clinton, the question was why should black people trust you?"
Clinton came back with "Well Senator Sanders voted for the same bill, are you gonna ask him the same thing?"
Lemon then turned to Sanders and asked, "Senator Sanders was your vote for the bill a mistake?"
Sanders said he was torn on the issue because there were good and bad elements of the bill.
A member of the audience asked the next question. "What experiences have you had that have helped you understand the mindset and values of another culture?"
Sanders mentioned his civil rights work, citing his time as a student as a student at the University of Chicago and the time he was arrested while protesting for the desegregation of Chicago public school school system.
Lemon asked the candidates, "What racial blind spots do you have?"
Clinton responded saying she could never fully appreciate what it's like, but that she urges white people to consider what it would be like to feel scared that African American children could be killed for walking down the street. She cited a meeting with Trayvon Martin's mother. "We must defeat systemic racism," she said.
Sanders first responded with a story from 20 years ago, when his friend and black member of Congress "was ashamed" to take cabs because they would would not stop for him. "When you're white, you don't know what it's like to live in a ghetto, to be hassled walking down the street or dragged out of your car. So we must defeat intuitional racism and fix a broken criminal justice system," he said.
The next question was, "How would you be more effective in tackling racial issues than President Obama?"
Sanders said by building on good work and making sure substance abuse is recognized as a health issue and not criminal, among others.
The next question was aimed at Clinton: "Clinton once described some young kids as 'super predators,' was she wrong to use a term some see as racial code?"
Clinton promoted the idea that the country needs to give kids more chances.
Sanders called Clinton's voting record into question, again saying these were bad bills. Clinton fired back with "well if we're gonna talk about the 90s…" and proceeded to talk about the 90s. Sanders took up the past as well, saying, "I voted against Wall Street deregulation. A lot of good things happened; a lot of bad things happened."
Education was the next topic, and a member of the audience asked: "What are you going to do to immediately help children in broken school?"
Sanders said money is being spent in the wrong places, we need to change our national priorities and we need to invest in our children. "The U.S. will be the best public school system in the world," he said. The senator then went on to say he would not give tax breaks to the wealthy, and he said the new tax revenue would raise the money to give the children the education they deserve.
Clinton mentioned a tightening up of agencies establishing a "Department of Education SWAT team" to crack down on corruption and inefficacy.
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The next question was: "Do you think unions protect bad teachers?"
Clinton said she was proud to be endorsed by unions, good relationships. She said she thinks people blame teachers for problems caused by government.
Cooper then asked, "So just to follow up you don't think unions are bad?"
Clinton said she thinks teachers are under hard times. Sanders said, "I believe every college and university in this country should be tuition free," which would give students something to look forward to.
Lemon asked Clinton, "Is your plan big enough to fix the crumbling infrastructure in the U.S.?"
Clinton said we have so much work to be done, but she thinks her plan is a very good way to get people out there to start doing it.
The next question was: "If Obama couldn't get Congress to do more to rebuild America's infrastructure, how can you?"
Sanders said he would start by eliminating loopholes for the rich, such as prohibiting the use of offshore tax havens.
The next question, from a member of the audience, was: "Do you support fracking?"
Clinton said no under certain conditions: When a state or city is against it, when methane is released into water and only if the company says what chemicals they are using. She said that her conditions would mean there would be no new fracking.
Sanders replied, "My answer is shorter: No." He stressed climate change, and the urgent need to take action now.
Cooper then asked Sanders, "Clinton and others have seen the economic value in fracking, are they wrong?"
Bernie Sanders said, "Yes."
Later in the exchange and based on a response, Cooper asked, "Are you suggesting that Clinton is in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry?"
Sanders said, "No," and that he was just emphasizing the fact that she is using a super PAC, which takes money from all sources, whereas he funded entirely by millions of individual donors.
Clinton interjected, saying, "A president can't go ordering people around," but she reassured voters that she will make rules.
The two candidates shared a moment of comic relief when they compare the substance of the debate to that of the most recent Republican Debate.
Sanders brought the conversation back on track, saying he doesn't like that corporations put money into election.
Cooper said Trump has said in interviews that he would hit you with email questions day after day. He asked Clinton how she would deal with that.
Clinton said there is "one candidate with more votes than Trump, and that's me." She proceeded to trash Trump as a "bigot" and a "bully," and said she looks forward to engaging him.
Cooper turned to Bernie Sanders: "Trump called you a communist, Senator Sanders…"
He laughed it off, then said he would love to run against Donald Trump, and that the polls show when it's Sanders vs. Trump, Sanders comes beats him more than Clinton does.
A member of the audience then asked Sanders whether God is relevant.
Sanders said, Yes; "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto to you." He said we must respect all faiths, and that "we're in this together."
The same member of the audience asked Clinton To whom and for whom do you pray?
Clinton replied, saying she prays for the people she knew by name, people going through difficult times and for the will of God to be known. I always say, "I'm a praying person, and if I hadn't been during my time in the White House, I would have become one."
In closing statements, Sanders talked about his father immigrating to this country at the age of 17 and how he learned of economics the hard way. He acknowledged the fact that the debate was in Flint because of a tragedy He said, however, the problem is not just in Flint; it is in the entire US. Sanders said he believes it's too late for establishment politics and super PACs. He explained the need for a political revolution where ordinary people reclaim what they fought and died for.
Clinton stuck to the basic democratic party line, saying every American can and should live up to their God given potential. She said that as president, she will continue to knock down barriers, including those to education and systemic racism. She closed by asking for support, and she told people that she does not intend to get into the gutter. Rather, she said she plans to lift American spirits and hopes toward the future.