Democrats advocate strong response to ISIS after Paris attacks in debate

The Democratic candidates for president sparred on the economy, guns and campaign finance, but focused mostly on how to deal with international terrorism.
By Stephen Feller  |  Nov. 14, 2015 at 5:37 PM
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DES MOINES, Iowa, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- The remaining three candidates for the Democratic nomination for president all said at the party's second debate Saturday night that the United States must lead a strong coalition of nations, including some in the Middle East, against the Islamic State while taking great effort to distinguish between Muslim jihadists and practitioners of the world's second largest religion.

Differences between Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, were made apparent in the debate as all three went after the others records on terrorism, campaign finance, healthcare and guns.

The sharpest barbs between Clinton and Sanders came when responding to questions about campaign contributions and whether they could interfere with what both candidates call overdue crackdowns on Wall Street. The two also sparred on whether to improve the Affordable Care Act or whether it was a better idea to push harder for the expansion of Medicare into a single-payer insurance system providing free care.

The race for the Democratic nomination for president has largely been defined by social and economic issues, however the debate sponsor, CBS, steered the slightly more contentious debate toward larger focus on foreign policy and terrorism following the attacks in Paris on Friday night.

Sanders, Clinton and O'Malley took strong stances about the development of the Islamic State, also referred to as Daesh and by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS, calling for a broad international coalition that, if not outright led by the United States, would necessitate featuring a significant role for the country.

"We have to look at ISIS as the leading threat for terror," Clinton said when asked about President Barack Obama's assertion hours before the attacks that ISIS was contained and is not growing. "It cannot be contained -- it must be defeated."

Acknowledging the decimation of the Iraqi army by its own government after American soldiers left the country, Clinton put the development of ISIS and terror it is inflicting on the Middle East on the shoulders of those in the region because of history and a lack of working together to solve the extremist issues that plague it.

"I don't think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the creation of ISIS," Sanders said, adding that while the United States bears a responsibility for its growing existence, any international coalition must include "very significantly the Muslim nations in the region."

Here are some highlights from the debate.

On terrorism being the biggest threat to the United States:

Clinton called ISIS the leading threat for terror to both this country and the world, reiterating President Obama's statement that we will "support those that take the fight to ISIS," and called American leadership "essential."

Sanders took the sentiment even farther, referring to the battle against ISIS as being "for the soul of Islam," and Muslim countries "are going to have to get their hands dirty and put their boots on the ground" to help lead the effort against the organization.

O'Malley blamed what he called lack of good intelligence on the ground on what is going on in the region on an overemphasis on military action, calling it the "greatest failing of the last 10 or 15 years."

Sanders also reiterated this when he said just 10 percent of the military's budget is directed toward international terrorism, and instead is preoccupied with nuclear weapons and stop using cold war tactics.

On accepting refugees in the United States from the escalating violence driving people from Syria and other Middle Eastern nations:

All three candidates spoke in favor of accepting 65,000 refugees, but stressed strong screening of them as they enter the country. Some reports have said that in addition to French nationals involved with the attacks in Paris, at least one of the attackers was registered in Greece as a refugee.

Sanders said the United States has a "moral obligation" to help with the refugee crisis.

O'Malley and Clinton agreed, with Clinton adding that proper screening methods must be put in place before refugees are permitted to enter the country.

On paying for Democratic proposals for free college, caps on the cost of prescription drugs and other programs:

Clinton said she could pay for social programs by raising taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes.

Moderators pointed to suggestions that Sanders will propose increasing top tax rates to 50 percent, however he said his campaign has not finalized his proposal for specific tax rates.

He promised that the rate would not reach the 90 percent top rate in effect during President Dwight Eisenhower's administration because he's "not quite as much of a socialist."

On immigration:

O'Malley said the conversation has focused more on border security instead of actual immigration because of "that immigrant bashing carnival barker Donald Trump," mentioning that net immigration from Mexico totalling zero in recent years.

The need, he said, was to get undocumented immigrants "out of the shadow economy" so they can contribute to the broader economy.

On regulating Wall Street and campaign finance:

Clinton referred to conversations she has had with financial officials on Wall Street about the effects of their actions in mortgage investments, but Sanders questioned how much it meant and whether she could truly crack down on them because of their contributions to her campaign.

"I've never heard a candidate get a contribution and say 'that won't influence me," Sanders said, drawing a strong rebuke from Clinton that he'd questioned her integrity and that she would give favors to her Wall Street contributors.

Sanders also questioned why she would not more strongly support the reintroduction of the Glass-Steagel law to break up the six big banks. "Reinstating Glass-Steagell is a part of what could help, but it is nowhere near enough. I [want to] go after all of Wall Street, not just the big banks."

"Not just Wall Street," Sanders replied. "It's a corrupt campaign finance system -- it's easy to talk the talk about ending Citizens United. I think we need to show an example and not rely on Wall Street for campaign funding. When you have such incredible power and wealth, when Wall Street is spending $5 billion over a ten-year period, the only answer I have is break them up."

O'Mally said he also would not include former members of Wall Street banks in his cabinet or other significant positions to keep the biased influence of the financial institutions from protecting themselves.

On guns:

Clinton went after Sanders for voting against a gun control bill that eliminated immunity for manufacturers.

Sanders said he has voted repeatedly for stronger background checks on gun buyers and pointed out he lost an election while campaigning for bans on automatic weapons in the early 80s. He also emphasized the lack of attention being paid to mental health, which he said could help prevent sick people from carrying out the types of mass shootings the country has become accustomed to in the last decade.

Clinton said a large part of the problem is a lack of leadership in Congress on the issue, which Sanders could help provide from his position in the Senate.

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