National News

The CNN Democratic Presidential Town Hall

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On the evening of Jan. 25, 2015, the top three hopefuls for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential race gathered for one last forum before the start of the caucus and primary season of the election: the Iowa Caucus.

CNN hosted the Democratic Town Hall in Des Moines, Iowa to give Iowan voters the chance to hear the presidential candidates one more time before the Iowa Caucus. CNN’s Chris Cuomo was the moderator for the evening.


Key points made by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders:


The opening question regarded Sanders’ initial hesitation to even want to run for the White House many months ago and how far him and his campaign have thus come since then. He cited Sanders’ initial feeling of uncertainty if there even was an “appetite to discuss the problems between rich and poor” in this country. Sanders was also asked about how surprised he is by the “#FeelTheBern” movement.


“…our message has resonated much faster, much further than I thought it would. And I think what the American people are perceiving is there is something very wrong in this country when ordinary Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, when we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth, and almost all new income and wealth is going to the top one percent,” said Sanders.


Sanders also cited that our economy is “rigged” and sustained by a corrupt campaign finance system that continues to allow billionaires to fund and in turn elect the candidates of their choice through Super PAC’. He believes that a system like this is not what Americans want, whether they are Democrats or Republicans. This issue has been a primary part of his campaign’s platform, so it is unsurprising that he opened with discussion of it at a forum in front of hundreds of Iowan voters.


First question asked by an audience member: what Sanders defines “Democratic Socialism” as. Sanders replied that the term is comprised of many factors such as the concern for economic rights for the entire U.S., social security reform, tackling the problem of the rich continuing to get richer while everyone else gets poorer, and the belief that government should play a role in ensuring that all children are guaranteed a higher education regardless of their income by making tuition free to help students deal with their debt.

“What Democratic Socialism means to me, in its essence, is that we cannot continue to have a government dominated by the billionaire class and a Congress that continues to work for the interest of the people on top while ignoring working families,” said Sanders. The senator remarked that creating a government in America that works for all, not just those on the top, is his goal.   


Cuomo asked Sanders if he wants to bring back the “era of big government.” Sanders discussed how he believes that it is time for Wall Street to begin paying its fair share of taxes. He then strategically pivoted to how Iowa has played a “very interesting” role in the fight for free public education throughout history and that the umbrella of free tuition for public education should now expand to college because the world and the importance of a college degree have changed.


He added that he believes that every child in this country who has the ability and desire to earn a degree should be able to do so regardless of his/her family’s income, to which Cuomo interrupted by reminding him that voters don’t criticize his goal, but rather how he will achieve his goal. “The era of protecting the middle class and working families is certainly something that I will make happen,” said Sanders.


An audience member asked what specific actions Sanders will take to fight political gridlock in Congress and to garner support for his initiatives. The Senator’s response primarily focused on his past record of working across the aisle with his conservative counterparts in the Senate. He then pivoted back to his platform of having Americans demand that Washington fight for everyone, rather than just a handful of wealthy individuals.


Another question asked what Sanders’s reaction to Hillary Clinton’s most recent attack ad on him was. He discussed why the argument that former Secretary Clinton is better suited for the presidency simply because of her experience in foreign policy is wrong and then brought up what he believes is the be-all and end-all aspect of her campaign: her vote in favor of the Iraq war many years ago.


Closing statement: included his commitment to fighting against establishment politics to combat crises that the U.S. faces today such as climate change, inequality, poverty and a corrupt campaign finance system by using, of course, a “political revolution.”


Key points made by Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:


Clinton said that a newcomer to politics [specifically, presidential politics] doesn’t handle or understand the things “thrown at them” during a campaign as well as a veteran like she does. She added that people continuously try to take her down because of the fact that she has “been on the front lines” of positive change and headway since she was the age of the young voter that asked the question. She reminded him that she has been fighting to give children, women, and people forgotten about a chance to make the most of their lives, and that she’s “taken on the status quo time and time again.”


Secretary Clinton noted that, “…you have to have somebody who is a proven, proven fighter. Somebody who has taken them on and won and kept going, and will do that as president. That’s why I hope you’ll reconsider.”


Next question asked: how voters can know that she will keep the issue of income inequality a top priority as president, citing VP Biden’s recent remark that she was a “newcomer” to the issue. Clinton responded by reminding the audience member of her 40-year long record of fighting all forms of inequality in addition to economic inequality, citing specifically racial, sexist, and homophobic inequality.


She then explained that in her past she’s fought for juvenile delinquents’ unequal treatment by being held in adult prisons, inequality within the education system, unequal treatment of prisoners unable to acquire a lawyer, and of course, her lifelong battle against women’s inequality.


The next question went to a man who was the current Chairman of the Des Moines Committee on Foreign Relations. He noted that a vast majority of the discussion at the town hall that night had been regarding some form of domestic policy and then discussed the importance of a president’s awareness of and familiarity with foreign policy issues, as more than half of a president’s time is spent within that area. He asked: with the experience as Secretary of State under her belt, how much of an interventionist she thinks she’ll be when faced with future issues.


Clinton responded with her appreciation of him bringing up the importance of foreign policy and cited President Obama’s recent remark that, “…you don’t get to the pick the issues you work on when you’re president, a lot of them come at you.” She then stated that a president has to always be ready and able to switch gears at just a moment’s notice and be able to handle every aspect that the job entails.


She vowed that she would always do her best to use military action only as a last resort and to use diplomacy whenever possible. “…you also should use the enormous capabilities that we have to project our values around the world, our cultural values, our freedoms, our human rights, and respect for the dignity of all people,” said the Secretary.


She then cited examples of times that she did exactly this [using diplomacy rather than military action]: the internationally followed and highly debated process of imposing sanctions on the Iranians to negotiate with them to end their nuclear weapons program which led to the Iran nuclear deal.


Clinton then took this opportunity in her response to inform the audience that she’d also take the non-intervention approach regarding the situation in Syria. “That’s why I say no American ground troops in Syria or Iraq. Special Forces, trainers, yes. Planes to bomb, yes. No ground forces,” said Clinton.


The next question sparked what many have been calling Hillary Clinton’s most notable portion of the evening. A woman asked how we can make sure that the U.S. protects the constitutional rights of all types of people without marginalizing any one community, specifically referring to Muslim Americans, since she is a Muslim American in addition to a mother of three children.


Clinton took this opportunity to voice her concern for the language that the Republican candidates have been using throughout the election that “insults, demeans, denigrates different people,” specifically referring to their frontrunner, Donald Trump. She said that she has found it particularly damaging the way that he’s spoken of not only Muslims around the world but also American Muslims.


She stated that the belief that people of a certain religion should not be allowed into this country or that there are no people of the Muslim faith that share American values and to simply dismiss and insult them continuously is not only “shameful and contrary to our values,” but that it is dangerous. She added that American Muslims deserve better and that their children should absolutely not be the targets of Islamophobia and threats.


The next round of questions focused largely on how Clinton will work with Republicans if elected as president. An audience voter asked: what she’ll say to Republican voters when she is elected the next President of the United States, to which she responded that she wants to be “the president for everyone.” She then discussed how as president, she’ll go across the aisle to work to find common ground with her Republican counterparts.


Cuomo pointed out the fact that although Clinton says that she wants to work with Republicans, she recently listed people and groups she saw as adversaries, one of them being Republicans. She responded that she admits that she does see them as adversaries because of her political differences with them, but that does not mean that she would be unwilling to work with them if she were in office. She added that she plans on working as hard as possible to build relationships and to find common ground with them.


This town hall was important for the Democrat candidates because it was the last official showcase of their differing platforms before Iowa voted in the caucuses. The Iowa Caucus is important because it is the first event in the primary season.

The next showcase of the Democratic candidates was in the form of another CNN town hall on February 3. The candidates will now be focusing on campaigning in New Hampshire, as it is the next state to vote in the primary elections.

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