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Gloves Off For Clinton, Sanders In Brooklyn Democratic Presidential Debate

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders exchanged heated remarks on subjects from campaign finance and gun control to foreign policy at their Brooklyn debate Thursday night.

The two candidates faced off at the Duggal Greenhouse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, after days of campaigning in New York.

As CBS2's Brian Conybeare reported, 247 delegates are up for grabs when the New York state primary comes around on Tuesday. Sanders wants to pull off an upset, while Clinton wants to stop Sanders' recent momentum.

As the debate began, Sanders emphasized the come-from-behind success his campaign has seen. He noted that when he launched his campaign nearly a year ago, he was 70 points behind Clinton, but now, two polls show him ahead.

"The reason that our campaign has done so well is because we're doing something very radical. We're telling the American people the truth," Sanders said. He characterized the "truth" as the need to reform campaign finance so that "billionaires and super PACs can't buy elections."


Clinton looked back on her own time serving in the U.S. Senate in New York, and said she would work toward the goals most important to New Yorkers.

"We will celebrate our diversity. We will work together, bringing us back to being united, setting some big progressive goals for America," she said.

But the gloves came off the minute moderator Wolf Blitzer asked the first question in the debate. Blitzer asked Sanders about a remark he made that Clinton is not qualified for president.

PHOTOS: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders Debate In Brooklyn

Sanders repeated his earlier contention that his remark was an act of returning fire after the Clinton campaign said he was the one who was unqualified.

Sanders said Clinton has the "experience and the intelligence" to be president, but: "I do question her judgment…. She voted for the War in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country."

Sanders further complained that Clinton had accepted money from super PACs and wealthy donors.

Clinton retorted that Sanders' remarks about her judgment were misplaced.

"The people of New York voted for me twice to be senator from New York, and President Obama trusted my judgment enough to be Secretary of State of the United States," she said.

But Clinton did not stop there. She questioned Sanders' own judgment by referencing an interview he did with the New York Daily News.

"Talk about judgment and talk about the kind of problems he had answering questions," Clinton said. "Even his core issue – breaking up the banks – when asked, he could not explain how that could be done."

The candidates went on to talk further about big banks and how they should be held accountable for financial misdeeds. Sanders claimed he had supported breaking up the major banks at the time of the Great Recession in 2008, while Clinton had not.

"Secretary Clinton was busy giving speeches to Goldman Sachs for $225,000 a speech," Sanders said.

Sanders further said if elected president, he would see to it that the nation's largest and most powerful banks would be dissolved.

"The proper response in my view is that we should break them up, and that's what my legislation does," she said.

Clinton said she has stood up to the banks.

"It is important – it's always important, it may be inconvenient, but it's always important to get the facts straight," Clinton said. "I stood up against the behaviors of the banks when I was a senator. I called them out on their mortgage behavior."

Sanders had a snappy response to the remark.

"Secretary Clinton called them out. Oh my goodness. They must have been really crushed by this," he said.

The candidates also quarreled over the question of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Clinton said she supported a $15 minimum wage.

"But what I've also said is we've got to be smart about it," Clinton said. She noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had recently signed a bill that would gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 first in New York City, and later upstate.

Sanders fired back, leading to a brief moment when the candidates were talking over each other.

"I am sure that a lot of people are very surprised to learn that you supported raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour," he said. He claimed that Clinton had suggested a hike to $12 per hour instead.

Clinton said she had agreed to an idea of a national wage hike of $12 as a compromise, while states would be encouraged to raise their minimum wage to 15 if possible.

"I think setting the goal to get to $12 is the way to go; encouraging others to get to $15. But of course, if we have a Democratic Congress, we will go to $15," she said.

Clinton Slams Sanders' Gun Control Record

Clinton went on to characterize Sanders as soft on gun control. She hammered Sanders for remarks he made to the Daily News, where he reportedly said he did not support plaintiffs locked in a lawsuit tied to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012.

Sanders claimed that he strongly supported gun control. He said he lost an election for Congress by three points in 1988, and claimed that the reason was that he supported an assault weapons ban.

But Clinton in turn said when Sanders ran again and won in 1990, he was fraternizing with the NRA.

"He made a commitment to the NRA that he would be against waiting periods," she said.

She went on to claim that Sanders voted against the Brady Bill for gun control five times because it had waiting periods in it.

Sanders said he voted against one gun liability law because he was did not believe a gun shop owner selling a legal weapon should be sued based on the actions of a buyer.

Errol Louis of NY1 went on to ask Clinton about her support for the 1994 Crime Bill, which was signed by her husband, President Bill Clinton. The bill has been blamed for mass-incarceration of people of color, and has been under fire in particular during the 2016 campaign.

Clinton said both she and her husband had made mistakes in their support of some of the bill's provisions.

"I supported the crime bill. My husband has apologized. He was the president who actually signed it. I'm sorry for the consequences that were unintended, and have had a very unfortunate impact on people's lives," she said.

Clinton went on to emphasize that systemic racism is a serious problem.

"I want white people to recognize that there is systemic racism. It's also in employment. It's in housing. But it's in the criminal justice system as well," she said.

Meanwhile, Louis asked Sanders why he had called out former President Clinton about his defense of the term "superpredator." Sanders did not mince words in his answer.

"It was a racist term and everybody knew it was a racist term," he said.

Sanders said he had also voted for the Crime Bill, but noted that it also had necessary and beneficial provisions such as the Violence Against Women Act and the assault weapons ban. He called for criminal justice reforms, suggesting in particular the removal of marijuana from the Schedule 1 federal drug list.

"We have a broken criminal justice system," Sanders said.

The candidates also discussed climate change and the need to move away from fossil fuels. Both candidates called climate change a serious crisis, and Sanders called it an "enemy out there."

But Sanders questioned Clinton's support for moving away from fossil fuels, saying Clinton worked hard to expand the use of natural gas fracking technology to countries around the world. He also downplayed the Paris climate agreement and says little steps are not enough on climate change.

Clinton said she does support natural gas as a bridge fuel to green and renewable sources of energy. She said the U.S. should "cross that bridge as quickly as possible."

Clinton also praised President Obama's approach to the issue and says it has been a firm and decisive move toward clean energy.

Sanders Takes On U.S. Policy In Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

On foreign policy, the moderators suggested that Sanders seemed to be in agreement with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump when it came to arguing that the U.S. is paying too much into NATO.

"You've got to ask Trump," Sanders replied. "All I can tell you is with a huge deficit, with 47 million people living in poverty, with our inner cities collapsing," other countries such as Germany should be paying more into the alliance.

Clinton agreed that other countries should be paying more, but said isolationism is not the alternative.

"Of course they should be paying more, but that doesn't mean if they don't, we leave," she said.

The candidates also both agreed that Israel has a right to defend itself and go after terrorism, but Sanders said Israel has had a "disproportionate" response. He said in Gaza, some 10,000 Palestinian civilians were killed and 1,500 were wounded.

"We are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity," Sanders said to applause from the audience.

Clinton took a harder line, saying Israel was under threat from Hamas and could not let it slide.

"They do not invite rockets raining down on their towns and villages. They do not believe that there should be constant incitement by Hamas, aided and abetted by Iran, against Israel," Clinton said.

But she said she does support a two-state solution under which the Palestinian people have "the rights and the autonomy they deserve."

Sanders went on to argue that under current policy, the U.S. is not sufficiently even-handed in its approach to Israeli-Palestinian policy.

"If we're going to pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that (Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin) Netanyahu is not right all the time," Sanders said.

Clinton rebutted that she does not believe the U.S. thinks any other world leader is right all the time, but she said the threat to Israel must not be dismissed.

She called Hamas "an embedded terrorist group in Gaza that does not want (Israel) to exist."

Sanders To Clinton: 'You Are A Member Of The Establishment'

Late in the debate, moderators noted that some experts had characterized Sanders' plan for free health care and college education for all as financially unrealistic. They noted that a study said Sanders' plans would cost $28 trillion, and massive tax increases would add $15 trillion to the national debt.

Sanders said he disagreed with the study, and said such tax-funded initiatives are necessary given that the U.S. is out of line with the rest of the developed world.

"We are the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to all people, and yet we pay almost three times what the British do; 50 percent more than the French," he said.

He added: "Public colleges and universities tuition free – damn right, that is exactly what we should be doing. And I pay for that by telling Wall Street that yeah, we are going to have a tax on Wall Street speculation, which will provide more than enough money to provide free tuition at public colleges and universities and lower the level of student debt."

Clinton said Sanders was right on principle, but said the issues had to be handled realistically.

She said, "Before there was something called Obamacare, there was something called Hillarycare," referring to her unsuccessful health care proposal in the 1990s. Clinton also said she believes in making college more affordable.

But of Sanders' proposals, she said, "I do think when you make proposals and you're running for president, you should be held accountable for whether or not the numbers add up and whether the plans are actually going to work."

Sanders later pressed Clinton to agree to the idea of lifting the cap on taxable income to maintain the Social Security Trust Fund. Clinton was booed when she replied that "we're going to pick the best way" without endorsing the idea.

"It's always a little bit challenging, because you know if Senator Sanders doesn't agree with how you are approaching something, then you are a member of the establishment," Clinton said.

Sanders later retorted to Clinton, "You are a member of the establishment."

Sanders was also asked if he would take the primary fight to the Democratic National Convention floor in Philadelphia if neither he nor Clinton amass enough delegates. Sanders replied that he expects to win outright.

"Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South. There's no question about it. We got murdered there…. But you know what? We're out of the Deep South now. And we're here. We're going to California. We've got a large number of states," Sanders said.

He said he expects to win and "obliterate Donald Trump" or whoever the Republican nominee turns out to be.

Clinton begged to differ with Sanders' assessment of his own success. She noted that she had the lead in pledged delegates, "actually wider than Barack Obama's lead was over me (in 2008)."

She added that she had won many states around the country and not just in the Deep South, and that she had received more total primary votes than any presidential candidate – Democratic or Republican.

As CBS2's Conybeare reported, the debate was not open to the public. There were only about 1,100 seats inside the venue and that people accessed tickets through the campaigns or the Democratic National Committee.

A Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday showed Clinton with a 17-poind lead in New York. Meanwhile, the latest CBS News poll had Clinton with a six-point lead among Democrats nationwide – much closer than her 20-point advantage back in November.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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