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Clinton Accuses Sanders of “Artful Smear” for Questioning Why Wall Street Gives Her Millions

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In their most heated debate of the campaign, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sparred last night in New Hampshire days ahead of Tuesday’s primary. Sanders repeatedly questioned Clinton’s progressive credentials, while Clinton accused her opponent of an “artful smear” in suggesting she could be bought by political donations. We air highlights and speak to Bertha Lewis of The Black Institute and Lee Fang of The Intercept.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In their most heated debate of the campaign, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sparred last night in New Hampshire days ahead of Tuesday’s primary. Sanders repeatedly questioned Clinton’s progressive credentials, while Clinton accused her opponent of an “artful smear” in suggesting she could be bought by political donations.

AMY GOODMAN: The most heated exchange during the MSNBC debate began after Bernie Sanders accused Hillary Clinton of being part of the political establishment.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Rachel, yes, Secretary Clinton does represent the establishment. I represent, I hope, ordinary Americans—and, by the way, who are not all that enamored with the establishment. But I am very proud to have people like Keith Ellison and Raúl Grijalva in the House, the co-chairmen of the House Progressive Caucus.


HILLARY CLINTON: Well, look, I’ve got to just jump in here because, honestly, Senator Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me—a woman running to be the first woman president—as exemplifying the establishment. And I’ve got to tell you that it is—it is really quite—it’s really quite amusing to me.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: What being part of the establishment is, is in the last quarter having a super PAC that raised $15 million from Wall Street, that throughout one’s life raised a whole lot of money from the drug companies and other special interests. To my mind, if we do not get a handle on money in politics and the degree to which big money controls the political process in this country, nobody is going to bring about the changes that is needed in this country for the middle class and working families.

HILLARY CLINTON: Yeah, but I think it’s fair to really ask what’s behind that comment. You know, Senator Sanders has said he wants to run a positive campaign. I’ve tried to keep my disagreements over issues, as it should be. But time and time again, by innuendo, by insinuation, there is this attack that he is putting forth, which really comes down to, you know, anybody who ever took donations or speaking fees from any interest group has to be bought. And I just absolutely reject that, Senator. And I really don’t think these kinds of attacks by insinuation are worthy of you. And enough is enough. If you’ve got something to say, say it directly. But you will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received.


HILLARY CLINTON: And I have stood up, and I have represented my constituents to the best of my ability, and I’m very proud of that.


HILLARY CLINTON: So I think it’s time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out—

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Oh, come on. Ahh, ohh.

HILLARY CLINTON: —in recent weeks, and let’s talk—let’s talk about about the issues. Let’s talk about the issues that divide us.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Let’s talk about—OK, let’s talk—

HILLARY CLINTON: And let’s—let’s—

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Let us talk about issues.

HILLARY CLINTON: We both agree with campaign finance reform.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Let’s talk about issues.

HILLARY CLINTON: I’ve—I worked hard for McCain-Feingold.


HILLARY CLINTON: I want to reverse Citizens United.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Let’s—let’s talk about issues.

HILLARY CLINTON: And so, let’s talk about issues.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Let’s talk about issues. All right, let’s talk about why, in the 1990s, Wall Street got deregulated. Did it have anything to do with the fact that Wall Street provided—spent billions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions? Well, some people might think, yeah, that had some influence. Let’s ask why it is that we pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, and your medicine can be doubled tomorrow, and there’s nothing that the government can do to stop it. You think it has anything to do with the huge amounts of campaign contributions and lobbying from the fossil fuel industry? Let’s talk about climate change. Do you think there is a reason why not one Republican has the guts to recognize that climate change is real and that we need to transform our energy system? Do you think it has anything to do with the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil pouring huge amounts of money into the political system?

That is what goes on in America. I am not—I like—there is a reason. You know, there is a reason why these people are putting huge amounts of money into our political system. And in my view, it is undermining American democracy, and it is allowing Congress to represent wealthy campaign contributors and not the working families of this country.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton debating for the first time one on one, in New Hampshire, before next Tuesday’s primary.

To talk more about Thursday’s debate and the overall Democratic race, we’re joined by two guests. Bertha Lewis is with us, founder of The Black Institute, co-founder of New York Working Families Party. She’s also former head organizer and CEO of ACORN. She has just endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. This is her first broadcast appearance to do that. Lee Fang is also with us, an investigative journalist with The Intercept covering the intersection of money and politics. He’s joining us from San Francisco.

Overall, your response? This issue, that we are just playing the first excerpt of, around whether Hillary Clinton represents the establishment and, most importantly, the significance of money in politics, Bertha Lewis?

BERTHA LEWIS: Well, thank you, Amy, and thank you, Juan, for having me. It’s been a while since I’ve been here, and I’m happy to be here. But this is what really disturbs me—and can I say the word “pisses” me off? OK—that somehow or another—you know, I believe this innuendo, and I do believe it’s like this artful smear piece—is that somehow people are not complex. You know, are you a true progressive? Aren’t you a true progressive? Establishment? If I close my eyes, it sounds like what the Republicans do. I’m a black woman in America. Sometimes I’m conservative, sometimes I’m liberal, sometimes I’m progressive, sometimes I’m a socialist, and sometimes I’m radical. So, if you want to talk to me as a voter, then you need to see me not as some monolithic thing. But also, if you want to go against an opponent that’s running, then this label “establishment,” “moderate,” you know, to me, I detest it in the Democratic debate, because, to me, that’s just like doing what the Republicans do, and we can only deal with folks if we put them in a nice, neat little box.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Lee Fang, what about this issue that especially has come to the fore now in the last week or so, the “who is more progressive?” in terms of the—do you think it matters? Do you think, as Bertha says, that this is an attempt to pigeonhole people improperly?

LEE FANG: Thank you so much again for having me. Last night’s debate was really great. And getting to the heart of what the Democratic Party means, I think, is a very healthy debate. You know, it’s a little bit silly to obsess over titles or names. You know, Hillary Clinton did call herself a moderate last year, and now she calls herself a progressive. But on an issue-by-issue basis, having a big discussion about, you know, what does the Democratic Party stand for, what are the issues, is it a party that just represent—or, just includes people who are not Republicans, are there actual issues that make up the core of what a Democrat stands for—I mean, that’s an interesting debate.

And there’s also kind of a larger existential issue: Are Democrats—should they be reliant on the same big money system that has propped up the Republican Party? Should Democrats be going to the same big money donors, relying on the same big money super PACs, relying on the same network of lobbyists, to prop them up to fund their campaigns? That’s a good question. This is an important discussion, I think, not just for the Democratic Party, but really for the country as a whole, because this is really the kind of critical issue for the 21st century. In the era of Citizens United, in the era of big money lobbying in Washington, D.C., this is what a lot of the big kind of policy issues hinge on. As Bernie Sanders, I think, articulated pretty well, whether it’s our tax policy, Wall Street policy, climate change, a lot of these issues, it’s been very difficult to have reform when the incumbent industries that gain from the status quo have a lot of politicians in their pocket and have a lot of control over the political process.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion and play highlights of the debate. Then we’re going to go to England, where a U.N. committee has just found that Julian Assange should be able to walk free in Britain, that he should not be arrested, that he has essentially been arbitrarily detained. We’re talking to Bertha Lewis of The Black Institute and Lee Fang, investigative journalist with The Intercept. Stay with us.

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