Occurring just one day after a slew of horrific terror left Paris reeling, the 2016 Democratic debate Saturday night took on an unprecedented level of seriousness as the three candidates in the race debated who was best qualified to combat bloodthirsty jihadist groups like ISIS.
“This election is not about electing a president, it is about choosing a commander in chief,” frontrunner Hillary Clinton said in her opening statement — the first of many occasions that the former secretary of state stressed her preparedness to lead the country.
“I think we have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network. It must not just be contained, it must be defeated,” she said.
“Our prayers are with the people of France tonight … but that is not enough,” she added. “We need to have a resolve … that will root out the kind of radical jihadist ideology that motivated organizations like ISIS — a barbaric, ruthless, violent terrorist group.”
“All the other issues we have to deal with depend on us being secure and strong,” she said to a round of applause.
Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Martin OMalley arrive for the second Democratic presidential primary debate in the Sheslow Auditorium of Drake University.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has fashioned himself the party’s only option other than Clinton, repeatedly warned of meddling in Middle Eastern countries and indirectly took aim at Clinton, drawing attention to her 2003 vote, as a U.S. senator from New York, authorizing the invasion of Iraq.
“Not only did I vote against the war in Iraq, but if you look at history, regime change … these invasions, these topplings of governments, regime changes, have unintended consequences,” Sanders said.
But the progressive populist also vowed to, if elected, lead a coalition that would “rid our planet of this barbarous organization called ISIS.”
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has barely registered a blip of support in most national polls, struggled to distance himself from either candidate on issues pertaining to terrorism, promising to, if elected, throw military and diplomatic support to international anti-terrorism efforts.
“America is best when it stands up to the evil in this world,” O’Malley said. “This is America’s fight. But it cannot solely be America’s fight. ,” he added, going on to say that the U.S. must improve its ability to gather intelligence on the ground.
Hillary Clinton enters the debate as a heavy frontrunner.
Saturday’s debate — the second for Democrats in the current cycle — came just a day after terrorist attacks tore through Paris, killing at least 129 people, and putting the issue of national security and America’s role in the world front-and-center in the Democratic race, which, had, in recent months, mostly focused on economic issues like income inequality.
Following the attacks, CBS, which hosted and televised the debate, revised the focus of the event so that issues related to terrorism, national security and foreign policy were emphasized.
Throughout the evening, all three candidates repeatedly pledged to eradicate the world of the terrorists who perpetrated the horrific attacks in Paris, but also discussed several peripheral topics, like how to best refer to various terror groups and how many Syrian refugees to allow into the U.S.
Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley all said they were opposed to using the phrase “radical Islam” to describe various Middle Eastern terror groups — claiming that the term unfairly maligned a whole religion — and all three said they supported allowing into the U.S. tens of thousands of refugees as long as they were properly vetted.
“I do not want us in any way to inadvertently allow people who wish us harm to come into our country,” Clinton said.
Bernie Sanders has shown an ability to keep up with the former secretary state, as his progressive message has resonated with young voters across the nation.
The debate, which took place at Drake University in the key early-voting state of Iowa, featured a narrower field since last month’s initial face-off between five candidates. In the days after that Oct. 13 debate, however, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee both withdrew from the race.
While Saturday’s event was largely devoid of the fireworks that have marked most of the Republican presidential debates, tensions among Clinton, Sanders, and O’Malley, nevertheless appeared to rise at least once — in a heated exchange regarding how to best move forward with stalled gun-control legislation.
“What we need to do is bring people together to have consensus,” Sanders, who as a Senator has fought various gun control reforms, said.
“We’ve got the consensus,” Clinton responded loudly. “What we’re lacking is political leadership and that’s what you and others can provide in the U.S. Senate.”
Despite pointed opening salvos from each candidate about terrorism, the debate soon pivoted mostly to domestic issues, with Clinton and Sanders disagreeing with each other on their assessments of Obamacare and their prescriptions for the economy.
Democratic Presidential hopeful Martin OMalley smiles during the second Democratic debate.
“In the end, the Affordable Care Act is a step forward,” Sanders said, in what was meant as a gentle criticism of the White House’s signature health care law. “But I want to go a step forward. I want to end the embarrassment that is the U.S. being the only developed nation in the world to not offer health care as a right.”
Sanders also used the platform to pipe out his populist message, saying “it is not a radical idea to say that someone who works 40 hours a week shouldn’t be living in poverty.”
The candidates largely avoided criticism of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, but O’Malley got one dig in at the mogul, calling him an “immigrant-bashing carnival barker.”
“Our national symbol is the Statue of Liberty,” he said. “Not a barbed wire fence.”