HOLT: Good evening and welcome to the NBC News Youtube Democratic candidate’s debate. After all the campaigning, soon, Americans will have their say with the first votes of the 2016 campaign just 15 days away in Iowa.HOLT: And New Hampshire not far behind.
Tonight will be the final opportunity to see these candidates face to face before the voting begins. Our purpose here tonight is to highlight and examine the differences among the three Democratic candidates. So let’s get started.
Please welcome Secretary Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders and Governor Martin O’Malley.
This is a critical point in the race. You’ve been defining your differences with each other especially vigorously in the last week on the campaign trail. We’re here to facilitate this conversation on behalf of the voters so that they know exactly where you stand as you face off tonight. Let’s have a great debate.
We’ll begin with 45 second opening statements from each candidate, starting with Secretary Clinton.
CLINTON: Well, good evening. And I want to thank the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and the people of Charleston for hosting us here on the eve of Martin Luther King Day tomorrow.
You know, I remember well when my youth minister took me to hear Dr. King. I was a teenager. And his moral clarity, the message that he conveyed that evening really stayed with me and helped to set me on a path to service. I also remember that he spent the last day of his life in Memphis, fighting for dignity and higher pay for working people.
And that is our fight still. We have to get the economy working and incomes rising for everyone, including those who have been left out and left behind. We have to keep our communities and our country safe. We need a president who can do all aspects of the job.
I understand that this is the hardest job in the world. I’m prepared and ready to take it on and I hope to earn your support to be the nominee of the Democratic Party and the next president of the United States.
HOLT: Thank you. Senator Sanders, your opening statement, sir.
SANDERS: Thank you. As we honor the extraordinary life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it’s important not only that we remember what he stood for, but that we pledge to continue his vision to transform our country. As we look out at our country today, what the American people understand is we have an economy that’s rigged, that ordinary Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, 47 million people living in poverty, and almost all of the new income and wealth going to the top one percent.SANDERS: And then, to make a bad situation worse, we have a corrupt campaign finance system where millionaires and billionaires are spending extraordinary amounts of money to buy elections.
This campaign is about a political revolution to not only elect the president, but to transform this country.
HOLT: Senator, thank you.
And Governor O’Malley, your opening statement, sir.
O’MALLEY: Thank you. My name is Martin O’Malley, I was born the year Dr. King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech.
And I want to thank the people of South Carolina, not only for hosting our debate here tonight, but also for what you taught all of us in the aftermath of the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel Church.
You taught us, in fact, in keeping with Dr. King’s teaching, that love would have the final word when you took down the Confederate flag from your state house; let go of the past and move forward.
Eight years ago, you brought forward a new leader in Barack Obama to save our country from the second Great Depression. And that’s what he’s done. Our country’s doing better, we’re creating jobs again.
But in order to make good on the promise of equal opportunity and equal justice under the law, and we have urgent work to do, and the voices of anger and fear and division that we’ve heard coming off of the Republican presidential podiums are pretty loud.
We need new leadership. We need to come together as a people and build on the good things that President Obama has done.
That’s why I’m running for president. I need your help, I ask for your vote, and I look forward to moving our country forward once again.
HOLT: All right. And Governor, thank you.
HOLT: All right, to our first question, now. The first question, I’ll be addressing to all of the candidates.
President Obama came to office determined to swing for the fences on health care reform. Voters want to know how you would define your presidency? How would you think big? So complete this sentence: in my first 100 days in office, my top three priorities will be — fill in the blank.
SANDERS: Well, that’s what our campaign is about. It is thinking big. It is understanding that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we should have health care for every man, woman, and child as a right that we should raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour; that we have got to create millions of decent- paying jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.
So, what my first days are about is bringing America together, to end the decline of the middle class, to tell the wealthiest people in this country that yes, they are going to start paying their fair share of taxes, and that we are going to have a government that works for all of us, and not just big campaign contributors.
HOLT: Secretary Clinton, same question, my first 100 days in office, my top three priorities will be.
CLINTON: I would work quickly to present to the Congress my plans for creating more good jobs in manufacturing, infrastructure, clean and renewable energy, raising the minimum wage, and guaranteeing, finally, equal pay for women’s work.
I would also...
I would also be presenting my plans to build on the Affordable Care Act and to improve it by decreasing the out-of-pocket costs by putting a cap on prescription drug costs; by looking for ways that we can put the prescription drug business and the health insurance company business on a more stable platform that doesn’t take too much money out of the pockets of hard-working Americans.
And third, I would be working, in every way that I knew, to bring our country together. We do have too much division, too much mean- spiritedness. There’s a lot we have to do on immigration reform, on voting rights, on campaign finance reform, but we need to do it together. That’s how we’ll have the kind of country for the 21st century that we know will guarantee our children and grandchildren the kind of future they deserve.
HOLT: Governor O’Malley, same question.
O’MALLEY: Thank you. First of all, I would lay out an agenda to make wages go up again for all Americans, rather than down. Equal pay for equal work, making it easier rather than harder for people to join labor unions and bargain collectively for better wages; getting 11 million of our neighbors out of the underground shadow economy by passing comprehensive immigration reform, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, however we can, wherever we can.
Secondly, I believe the greatest business opportunity to come to the United States of America in 100 years is climate change. And I put forward a plan to move us to a 100 percent clean electric energy grid by 2050 and create 5 million jobs along the way.
HOLT: Thank you. You’ve all...
O’MALLEY: Finally — I’m sorry, that was second, Lester.O’MALLEY: And third and finally, we need a new agenda for America’s cities. We have not had a new agenda for America’s cities since Jimmy Carter. We need a new agenda for America cities that will invest in the talents and skills in our people, that will invest in CBVG transportation, infrastructure and transit options, and make our cities the leading edge in this move to a redesigned built clean green energy future that will employ our people.
HOLT: All right governor thank you.
We’ve all laid out large visions and we’re going to cover a lot of the ground you talked about as we continue in the evening. The last couple of weeks of this campaign have featured some of the sharpest exchanges in the race. Let’s start with one of them, the issue of guns.
Senator Sanders, last week Secretary Clinton called you quote, “a pretty reliable vote for the gun lobby.” Right before the debate you changed your position on immunity from lawsuits for gun manufacturers, can you tell us why?
SANDERS: Well, I think Secretary Clinton knows that what she says is very disingenuous. I have a D-minus voting record from the NRA. I was in 1988, there were three candidates running for congress in the state of Vermont, I stood up to the gun lobby and came out and maintained the position that in this country we should not be selling military style assault weapons.
I have supported from day one and instant background check to make certain that people who should have guns do not have guns. And that includes people of criminal backgrounds, people who are mentally unstable. I support what President Obama is doing in terms of trying to close the gun show loop holes and I think it should be a federal crime if people act as dormant (ph).
We have seen in this city a horrendous tragedy of a crazed person praying with people in the coming up and shooting nine people. This should not be a political issue. What we should be doing is working together.
And by the way, as a senator from a rural state that has virtually no gun control, I believe that I am in an excellent position to bring people together to fight the sensible...
HOLT: Senator, but you didn’t answer the question that you did change your position on immunity from gun manufacturers. So can you...
SANDERS: What I have said, is that gun manufacturer’s liability bill has some good provisions among other things, we’ve prohibited ammunition that would’ve killed cops who had protection on. We have child safety protection work on guns in that legislation. And what we also said, “is a small mom and pop gun shop who sells a gun legally to somebody should not be held liable if somebody does something terrible with that gun.”
So what I said is, “ I would re-look at it.” We are going to re- look at it and I will support stronger provisions.
HOLT: Secretary Clinton, would you like to respond to Senator Sanders.
CLINTON: Yes look, I have made it clear based on Senator Sanders’ own record that he has voted with the NRA, with the gun lobby numerous times. He voted against the Brady Bill five times. He voted for what we call, the Charleston Loophole. He voted for immunity from gunmakers and sellers which the NRA said, “was the most important piece of gun legislation in 20 years. “
He voted to let guns go onto the Amtrak, guns go into National Parks. He voted against doing research to figure out how we can save lives. Let’s not forget what this is about, 90 people a day die from gun violence in our country. That’s 33,000 people a year.
One of the most horrific examples not a block from here where we had nine people murdered. Now, I am pleased to hear that Senator Sanders has reversed his position on immunity and I look forward to him joining with those members of congress who have already introduced legislation. There is no other industry in America that was given the total pass that the gun makers and dealers were and that needs to be reversed.
HOLT: All right, Governor O’Malley, you signed tough gun control measures as governor of Maryland and there are a lot Democrats in the audience here in South Carolina who own guns. This conversation might be worrying many of them. They may be hearing, “you want to take my guns. What would you say to them?
O’MALLEY: This is what I would say Lester, look see, I’ve listened to Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders go back and forth on which of them has the most inconsistent record on gun safety legislation and I would have to agree with both of them. They’ve both been inconsistent when it comes to this issue.O’MALLEY: I’m the one candidate on this stage that actually brought people together to pass comprehensive gun safety legislation. This is very personal to me being from Baltimore. I will never forget one occasion visiting a little boy in Johns’ Hopkins Hospital, he was getting a birthday haircut, the age of three when drug dealers turned that barbershop into a shooting gallery and that boy’s head was pierced with a bullet. And I remember visiting him, it did not kill him - I remember visiting him and his mother in Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was getting a birthday haircut, the age of three when drug dealers turned that barbershop into a shooting gallery, and that boys head was pierced with a bullet.
And, I remember visiting him, it did not kill him. I remember visiting him and his mother in Johns Hopkins Hospital. In his diapers (ph) with tubes running in and out of his head, same age as my little boy.
So, after the slaughter of the kids in Connecticut last year, we brought people together. We did pass in our state comprehensive gun safety legislation. It did have a ban on combat assault weapons, universal background checks, and you know what? We did not interrupt a single person’s hunting season.
I’ve never met a self respecting deer hunter that needed an AR-15 to down a deer. And, so...
... we’re able to actually do these things.
HOLT: Alright, Governor, thank you.
Secretary Clinton, this is a community that has suffered a lot of heartache in the last year. Of course, as you mentioned, the church shootings. We won’t forget the video of Walter Scott being shot in the back while running from police.
We understand that a jury will decide whether that police officer was justified, but it plays straight to the fears of many African American men that their lives are cheap. Is that perception, or in your view, is it reality?
CLINTON: Well, sadly it’s reality, and it has been heartbreaking, and incredibly outraging to see the constant stories of young men like Walter Scott, as you said, who have been killed by police officers. Their needs to be a concerted effort to address the systemic racism in our criminal justice system.
And, that requires a very clear, agenda for retraining police officers, looking at ways to end racial profiling, finding more ways to really bring the disparities that stalk our country into high relief.
One out of three African American men may well end up going to prison. That’s the statistic. I want people hear to think what we would be doing if it was one out of three white men, and very often, the black men are arrested, convicted and incarcerated ...
...for offensive that do not lead to the same results for white men.
So, we have a very serious problem that we can no longer ignore.
HOLT: You time is up.
Senator Sanders, my next question is...
SANDERS: ...Well, I — look...
HOLT: ... It’s actually — actually my next question is to you...
SANDERS: ... Let me respond to what the secretary said. We have a criminal justice system which is broken. Who in America is satisfied that we have more people in jail than any other country on Earth, including China? Disproportionately African American, and Latino. Who is satisfied that 51% of African American young people are either unemployed, or underemployed? Who is satisfied that millions of people have police records for possessing marijuana when the CEO’s of Wall Street companies who destroyed our economy have no police records.
HOLT: Senator Sanders...
SANDERS: ... We need to take a very hard look at our...
HOLT: Senator. Senator Sanders...
SANDERS: ... criminal justice system, investing in jobs, and education not in jails and incarceration .
HOLT: ... Just over a week ago the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus endorsed Secretary Clinton, not you. He said that choosing her over you was not a hard decision. In fact, our polling shows she’s beating you more than two to one among minority voters. How can you be the nominee if you don’t have that support?
SANDERS: Well, let me talk about polling.
(LAUGHTER) SANDERS: As Secretary Clinton well knows, when this campaign began she was 50 points ahead of me. We were all of three percentage points. Guess what?
In Iowa, New Hampshire, the race is very, very close. Maybe we’re ahead New Hampshire.
SANDERS: In terms of polling, guess what? We are running ahead of Secretary Clinton. In terms of taking on my taking on my good friend, Donald Trump, beating him by 19 points in New Hampshire, 13 points in the last national poll that we saw.
To answer your question. When the African American community becomes familiar with my Congressional record and with our agenda, and with our views on the economy, and criminal justice — just as the general population has become more supportive, so will the African American community, so will the Latino community. We have the momentum, we’re on a path to a victory.
O’MALLEY: Lester, I (inaudible)
HOLT: Governor, I’m going to come to you in a second.
Google searches for the words, “Black Lives Matter” surpassed, “civil rights movement”. And, here in South Carolina, “black lives matter” was the number one trending political issue.HOLT: Governor O’Malley, you’ve campaigned on your record as governor of Maryland, and before that, the mayor of Baltimore. Last year, of course, Baltimore was rocked by violent unrest in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray.
And right from the start of your campaign, you’ve been dogged by those who blame your tough-on-crime, so-called zero tolerance policies as mayor for contributing to that unrest. What responsibility do you bear?
O’MALLEY: Yes, let’s talk about this. When I ran for mayor in 1999, Lester, it was not because our city was doing well. It was because we were burying over 300 young, poor black men every single year.
And that’s why I ran, because, yes, black lives matter. And we did a number of things. We weren’t able to make our city immune from setbacks as the Freddie Gray unrest and tragic death showed.
But we were able to save a lot of lives doing things that actually worked to improve police and community relations. The truth of the matter is, we created a civilian review board. And many of these things are in the new agenda for criminal justice reform that I’ve put forward.
We created a civilian review board, gave them their own detectives. We required the reporting of discourtesy, use of excessive force, lethal force. I repealed the possession of marijuana as a crime in our state.
I drove our incarceration rate down to 20-year lows, and drove violent crime down to 30-year lows, and became the first governor south of the Mason-Dixon line to repeal the death penalty.
I feel a responsibility every day to find things that work...
HOLT: All right. Let’s talk...
O’MALLEY: ... and to do more of them to reform our criminal justice system.
HOLT: Let’s talk more about policing and the criminal justice system. Senator Sanders, a few times tonight we’re going to hear from some of the most prominent voices on YouTube, starting with Franchesca Ramsey, who tackles racial stereotypes through her videos. Let’s watch
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