Politics

The 5th Democratic debate in 100 words (and a video)

Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spar during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by MSNBC at the University of New Hampshire on Thursday.
Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spar during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by MSNBC at the University of New Hampshire on Thursday.
David Goldman/AP

The fifth Democratic debate was the first mano-a-mano encounter of the campaign. It meant there was enough room for an extended argument over the word "progressive." The biggest clash came when Sanders accused Clinton of taking Wall Street money. Clinton fired back that it was time to end that "artful smear." Sanders again turned talk of foreign policy to questioning Clinton's "judgment" on the Iraq War. Clinton replied: "A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS." Sanders refused to politicize the email issue. Clinton was unequivocal: "I have absolutely no concerns about it whatsoever." The must-watch moment:

Tweet

— Eyder Peralta/NPR

That's the quickie version of what happened in the fifth Democratic presidential debate of the 2016 race Sunday night. Here's some more coverage from NPR:

7 key moments from Clinton and Sanders' 'progressive' debate

The fight over the definition of "progressive" dominated the first half of Thursday's debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on MSNBC, the first head-to-head debate between the two. It came just days before the crucial New Hampshire primary.

Here are seven moments that stood out:

1. "A progressive is someone who makes progress."

The debate focused on a central question about what it means to be a Democrat in 2016.

"A progressive is someone who makes progress," Clinton said.

"In my mind, what we have got to do is wage a political revolution," Sanders countered.

The shift toward debating the meaning and embodiment of progressivism comes three days after Clinton narrowly edged Sanders in the Iowa caucuses. Clinton and Sanders are battling now in New Hampshire, which holds a Feb. 9 primary. Sanders has enjoyed a double-digit advantage in recent polls, but Clinton is campaigning hard in the state that delivered her a victory in her 2008 campaign.

The debate started with an antagonistic tone after the Vermont senator levied an attack on Clinton via social media on Wednesday that said she is too moderate to represent Democrats today.

"You can be a moderate. You can be a progressive. But you cannot be a moderate and a progressive," the Sanders camp tweeted.

The Clinton camp volleyed back on Twitter: "This shouldn't be a debate about who gets to define 'progressive' — it should be about who will get real results for American families."

Clinton attacked Sanders on Thursday for opposing efforts to tighten gun laws and for suggesting that President Obama is also not liberal enough.

2. "Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yes, I do."

During the debate, Sanders was pressed on whether he thinks President Obama is a progressive.

"Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yes, I do," Sanders said. "I disagree with him on a number of issues including the trade agreement. But, yes, I think he has done an excellent job."

Sanders also, though, defended his attack on Clinton because she, at a recent event, described herself as a "moderate."

"Cherry-picking a quote here and there doesn't change my record," Clinton said.

The attack clearly hit a nerve in the Clinton camp. Shortly before Thursday's debate, the campaign released a new ad that features her saying, "We've been fighting the progressive fight for years."

While the Republican Party has been engaged for years between its establishment and conservative wings on what it means to be a Republican, Democrats have not had the same level of intraparty squabbling about what it means to be a Democrat.

The MSNBC debate saw Clinton and Sanders re-litigating the political disagreements that have percolated among Democrats for years.

3. Sanders defends opting out of the public-finance system.

On campaign finance, Sanders defended his decision to opt out of public campaign financing while campaigning for support of the publicly funded elections.

"We looked at it. It turns out to be a disaster," Sanders said, noting that the system is not equipped to deal with modern campaign-finance laws.

4. "The business model of Wall Street is fraud."

Sanders criticized Clinton for her relationship with Wall Street, including receiving high speaking fees for addressing groups that included Goldman Sachs.

"Wall Street is an entity of unbelievable economic and political power; that's a fact," Sanders said. "I believe that corruption is rampant."

He added, "The business model of Wall Street is fraud."

"We both want to rein in the excesses of Wall Street," said Clinton.

5. Back to Iraq: "A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS."

On foreign policy, Sanders also highlighted Clinton's vote in support of the Iraq War. The issue hobbled Clinton in the 2008 presidential campaign against Barack Obama. Sanders voted against the Iraq War.

Clinton tried to shift the focus to the modern-day threat posed by the Islamic State. "A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS," she said.

For all of the disagreeable talk, the two Democrats agreed against committing ground combat troops back to the Middle East to address the terrorist threat.

On the whole, the philosophical divide this year between Clinton and Sanders is not as deep as their stylistic and rhetorical differences. Both Democrats, for instance, voiced opposition to privatizing the veterans health care system.

Clinton and Sanders remain divided on the death penalty: Clinton supports it; Sanders does not. And while Clinton, like Sanders, opposes an outstanding multilateral trade pact, Sanders criticized her for coming later to that position than he did.

For Democrats, this primary race is often cast as a debate between the head — embodied by Clinton's pragmatism — and the heart — embodied by Sanders' uncompromising passion for liberal ideas.

6. "100 percent confident" emails won't be a problem in general election.

Clinton further defended herself against concerns that her use of a private email server as secretary of state would result in more serious charges against her. "I am 100 percent confident," she said.

Clinton has apologized for the private server, but maintains there was no wrongdoing. An ongoing federal review, however, revealed that some of the emails she received included classified information.

The candidates ended the sharp, two-hour debate on a conciliatory note.

7. VP Sanders? Maybe not. But "first person I will call."

Clinton dodged whether she would consider running with Sanders on the national ticket with a compliment. "If I'm so fortunate as to be the nominee, the first person I will call to talk to about where we go and how we get it done will be Sen. Sanders," she said to applause.

"On our worst days ... we are 100 times better than any Republican candidate," Sanders responded.

— Susan Davis/NPR

Last clash before N.H. puts Clinton, Sanders in a field of friendly fire

The fifth debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was their first appearance as a duet, and that helped to highlight some of their harmony – even as it heightened their crescendos of dissonance.

With Martin O'Malley having suspended his campaign earlier in the week, the two remaining rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination met in New Hampshire on Thursday night — on stage together for nearly two hours.

"I happen to respect the secretary very much; I hope it's mutual," said Sanders.

And Clinton reciprocated:

"If I'm so fortunate as to be the nominee," she said, "the first person I will call to talk to about where we go and how we get it done will be Sen. Sanders."

They agreed on several issues of current (if not past) foreign policy and on certain issues of government priorities. Sanders once again declined to criticize Clinton for her controversial use of a private server to handle State Department emails. Clinton twice demurred when asked to comment on certain tactics of the Sanders campaign.

But the two-hour showdown on MSNBC also featured flashes of the kind of conflict TV producers long for and pundits pore over.

Near the end, Sanders, the populist and perhaps quixotic visionary, described how change would come. All that was needed, he said, was for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to "look out the window and see a whole lot of people saying: 'Mitch, stop representing the billionaire class; start listening to working families.' And as president, that's what I will work hard on."

For her part, Clinton still seemed to aspire to be the nation's pragmatic mechanic. When asked about adding or eliminating whole government departments, she replied: "I'm interested in making what we have work better."

Sanders once again bore in on Clinton's campaign donations and speaking fees from Wall Street and other elements of big business. He again said the "business model of Wall Street is fraud," facilitated by government officials who had been its beneficiaries. And he contrasted his small-contribution fundraising to Clinton's buck-raking among the rich and well-connected elites.

Seeming offended and in high dudgeon, Clinton denounced what she called "an artful smear." She challenged Sanders to identify a single vote she had cast or changed to pay off a donor.

"If there's something you want to say, say it," she demanded. "Enough is enough."

Sanders, however, continued his usual approach to this sensitive point, describing the enormity of the donations and other blandishments from Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry in one breath, then talking about how favorably they are treated in the next.

On her six-figure paid speeches, which Clinton has struggled mightily to justify, she said she had spoken to these groups only about her knowledge of world politics. MSNBC moderator Chuck Todd asked whether she would release transcripts of those speeches. "I don't know the status, but I'll certainly look into it," she replied.

Sanders, too, came in for some spanking on matters of ethics. One of his ads has featured praise from an Iowa newspaper that actually endorsed Clinton. Sanders said the ad never claimed he had received the endorsement, but MSNBC moderator Rachel Maddow noted the ad was titled "Endorsement."

On foreign policy, Clinton once again showed fluency and mastery of the field, while Sanders seemed stuck in first gear. But once again he offered his oft-repeated point: She may have the experience, but I had the judgment to vote against the Iraq War.

In all likelihood, the two-hour session on MSNBC did not change the dynamic of the pending contest in this state, the site of the nation's first primary on Tuesday. Sanders had opened a 20-point lead on Clinton in two polls publicized just before the debate began.

The Vermont senator has always had something of a boost in New Hampshire from his next-door-neighbor status. He has been a fixture in regional politics for 40 years, and a hero to the young people here as in Iowa and elsewhere.

Sanders has come to embody the idea of a politician untainted by political money, or even by politics itself. He projects an anti-glamorous aura of ordinariness, concealing at times the sharpness of his mind and the sweeping scope of his views.

There seemed little chance any of that would be altered, by this debate or anything else likely to happen in the remaining days before the primary.

But Clinton was also aiming at an audience well beyond the 700 seats in the auditorium on the Durham campus of the University of New Hampshire. Her supreme confidence and sunny demeanor suggested she saw brighter days ahead, perhaps in voting venues well to the south and west.

The campaign moves to South Carolina and Nevada later this month. On March 1, a dozen states will vote. Most are in the nation's Southeast. On March 15, Florida holds a primary that could be make or break for which candidate is trailing at that point.

But before then, there will be at least two more debates between these two surviving candidates for the 2016 Democratic nomination.

— Ron Elving/NPR

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.