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Democratic Candidates Debate Foreign Policy After Paris Attacks

DES MOINES, Iowa (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The deadly attacks in Paris cast a somber mood at the start of the second Democratic presidential debate, but the field spent the rest of the night tossing sharp elbows over Wall Street reform, gun control and the minimum wage.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley stood for a moment of silence at the start of the debate, their heads bowed and their hands folded.

From there, they engaged in a direct but measured discussion during the next 30 minutes over the consequences of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the rise of the Islamic State group.

All the candidates denounced the attacks, the first time the Democratic field spoke about the incidents.

At the debate on CBS, the first broadcast network to host a debate event, the three fought on who, exactly, should take the fight to ISIS, CBS2's Marcia Kramer reported.

Clinton cast herself as the strongest U.S. commander in chief in an uncertain world, even as she found herself forced to defend the Obama administration's response to the rise of the Islamic State militants.

"This election is not only about electing a president, it's also about choosing our next commander in chief,'' said Clinton, in her opening remarks. "All of the other issues we want to deal with depend upon us being secure and strong.''

But she nearly immediately faced criticism of her own record, when Sanders traced the current instability in the region to the Senate vote, including Clinton's, to authorize military action in Iraq in 2002. He said that U.S. invasion "unraveled the region.''

Clinton fought back, saying terrorism has been erupting for decades, specifically mentioning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. She said the recent unrest in Libya and other parts of the Middle East was symptomatic of an "arc of instability from North Africa to Afghanistan.''

She rejected the idea that she and the rest of the administration underestimated the growing threat of the Islamic State.

The early dispute revealed a foreign policy split within the Democratic Party, with Sanders playing to the anti-war activists who boosted then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama to victory in 2008.

Sanders argued for a far more hands-off approach, advocating for Muslim countries to lead the fight and arguing that the war against Islamic State militants is about the "soul of Islam.''

Clinton has a history of advocating for more robust involvement across the globe, both as a presidential candidate eight years ago and as Barack Obama's secretary of state.

In recent weeks, she has advocated for a more aggressive U.S. role in the Syrian conflict, calling for a no-fly zone over the area, a move the Obama administration opposes.

And with reports that one of the terrorist involved in the Paris attack got into France hiding in a group of Syrian refugees, questions on whether we should let the refugees into the U.S. was a hot topic.

"I would want us to take our place among the nations of the world to alleviate this sort of death," said O'Malley.

Clinton also supported having the U.S. admit increased numbers of refuges, but with intense screening.

"I do not want us in any way, inadvertently, to allow people who wish us harm to come into our country," she said.

But the pace of the debate quickly picked up over domestic policy with Sanders and O'Malley challenging Clinton's willingness to police Wall Street.

The candidates also squabbled about the minimum wage, with Sanders saying it should be $15 a hour.

"This country needs to move towards a living wage," he said. "It is not a radical idea."

"If you go to $12, it would be the highest historical average we would ever have," said Clinton.

"I think we need to stop taking our advice from economists on Wall Street," said O'Malley.

Clinton put Sanders on the defensive over his vote to shield gun manufacturers from legal liability in fatal shootings.

O'Malley accused Clinton of being on "three sides'' of gun control, saying she once portrayed herself as Annie Oakley.

The Republican presidential candidates condemned the Paris attacks earlier in the day, coupled with sharp criticism for Obama and his former secretary of state, Clinton.

Carly Fiorina said she was angry that Obama and Clinton declared victory in Iraq and "abandoned all of our hard-won gains for political expediency.''

Donald Trump said the U.S. should be far more aggressive against the Islamic State and would be "insane'' to accept any refugees from Syria.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 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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