The sixth Democratic debate was held on February 11, 2016 at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Hosted jointly by CNN and PBS, it was moderated by joint anchors of PBS News Hour, journalists Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, with questions contributed by various Facebook users.
Democratic rivals, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, faced off tonight in their second one-on-one debate of the primary season. Less than two weeks earlier, Sanders had been left smarting after a narrow, 0.3% loss to Clinton in the important Iowa caucuses, but had enjoyed a decisive, devastating 22.4% victory over her in the following New Hampshire primary. With Clinton having once been considered a virtual shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, Sanders had proven himself a formidable challenger for her by giving her such a close race in Iowa; in New Hampshire, he won so overwhelmingly – dominating even in demographics traditionally locked by Clinton, such as the female vote – that he was now a serious threat.
Perhaps because of his strong showing, Sanders seemed emboldened tonight, speaking with confidence, authority, and even at times an adversarial tone against his opponent. Near the beginning of the debate, when health care and the Affordable Care Act were discussed, the two contenders largely agreed in their support for universal health care – with Clinton even going so far as to say, “before it was called Obamacare, it was called Hillarycare”. The former Secretary of State charged that her rival's plan went too far, however, and said that there was simply no feasible way to pay for his proposals, while speaking at length about how she expected to finance her own if she reached the White House. Sanders, in a rare, pointed remark that drew surprised murmurs from the audience, pointedly stated, “Secretary Clinton, you're not in the White House yet”, and went on to claim that every major nation in the world except for the US guarantees health care to its citizens as a basic right, and apparently has been able to afford it.
Criminal justice was brought up, with an emphasis on the phenomenon of police unfairly targeting ethnic minorities for harsh tactics, but there was little disagreement between the candidates on rooting out and ending this practice. Clinton, as she often does, focused considerably on discussing income inequality for women and eliminating the remaining vestiges of sexism – and racism – in the nation. On the issue of immigration, Sanders spoke in strong support of those present in the US illegally, vowing to use presidential executive actions – beyond even what President Barack Obama has done – to prevent deportations. He also called for a clear path to citizenship for such people. ISIS, military conflict in the Middle East in general, and the Syrian refugee crisis were also brought up.
Despite her recent challenging finish in New Hampshire, Clinton generally avoided speaking harshly against Sanders, keeping in step with the usual diplomatic tone of Democratic debates. Towards the end, however, she did launch a volley against her opponent, calling him out for his criticisms of President Obama. She accused Sanders of having called Obama “weak” and saying that Americans ought to have “buyer's remorse” over his election. Clinton said that she would expect such comments from Republicans, not someone seeking the Democratic nomination, and finished with her own fervent praise of Obama and his policies - winning her positively roaring applause. Sanders rallied to his own defense, calling her remarks “a low blow” and countering that he has always supported Obama, even though he does disagree with him on a number of issues.
The evening concluded with closing statements, in which each candidate reiterated long elaborated positions. Sanders spoke of the need for a “political revolution” and railed against the economic 1% and their many injustices, while Clinton called for breaking down the barriers against social progress in the US, ranging from gender equality to LGBT issues to racial tensions.
PBS NewsHour Democratic Debate FULL Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016