MIAMI (BP) — The Supreme Court, immigration, human rights in Cuba and Hillary Clinton’s character were among the topics discussed during a March 9 Democratic presidential debate in Miami featuring the former secretary of state and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Co-sponsored by Univision with some questions asked in Spanish, the debate saw no mention of same-sex marriage or abortion until the evening’s final question drew a promise from Clinton to nominate Supreme Court judges who support abortion rights.
In nominating justices, Clinton said, “you look for people who are not only qualified on paper, but have a heart, have life experience, understand what these decisions mean in the lives of Americans and understand the balance of power that their decisions can disrupt one way or the other. So clearly, I would look for people who believe that Roe v. Wade is settled law and the Citizens United [a ruling on campaign finance reform] needs to be overturned as quickly as possible.”
Clinton said she “fully support[s] President Obama’s intention under the Constitution to nominate a successor to [the late Justice Antonin] Scalia” and believes “we should not tolerate” Senate Republicans’ attempts to block a nomination.
Sanders attempted to state an opinion on the Supreme Court but was prevented from doing so by a commercial break.
On immigration, both candidates supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who otherwise obey the law. In response to a question from a Guatemalan woman who was left alone in the U.S. with her five children after her husband was deported, Sanders and Clinton said they would reform immigration policies to keep families together.
“The idea that a mother is living here,” Sanders said, “and her children are on the other side of the border is wrong and immoral. A number of months ago, I talked to a young man who was serving in the United States military and while he was serving in the military, his wife was deported. That is beyond comprehension and should not be allowed to exist.”
When discussion turned to Cuba, Sanders and Clinton said normalizing diplomatic relations with the communist island nation is an effective way to encourage protection of human rights there. In response to a decades-old video clip in which Sanders appeared to argue then-dictator Fidel Castro helped the Cuban people in some ways, Clinton took issue with her opponent.
“I think in that same interview, [Sanders] praised what he called the revolution of values in Cuba and talked about how people were working for the common good, not for themselves,” Clinton said. “I couldn’t disagree more. You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere.”
Sanders said he was not defending the Cuban government’s human rights record but arguing against U.S. attempts to overthrow Castro.
“Throughout the history of our relationship with Latin America, we’ve operated under the so-called Monroe Doctrine,” Sanders said. “And that said the United States had the right to do anything that they wanted to do in Latin America.
“… I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not get[ting] involved in regime change,” he said. American intervention in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Chile, for instance, “brought forth a lot of very strong anti-American sentiments.”
On three separate occasions, moderators pressed Clinton on questions related to her character. Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post cited a poll that found “only 37 percent of Americans consider [Clinton] honest and trustworthy” and asked her to respond. Univision’s Jorge Ramos asked Clinton about claims she lied regarding the motive of a 2012 attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, and questioned her about her use of a personal email server as secretary of state.
Clinton said perceptions she isn’t honest are not “fair or founded” but added she “take[s] responsibility” for the fact some Americans feel that way. When Ramos asked whether she would drop out of the race if indicted over her email practices, Clinton refused to answer and said, “That’s not going to happen.”
Sanders declined to comment on Clinton’s email except to say, “There is a process underway” to investigate, “and that process will take its course.” He suggested Clinton should release transcripts of paid speeches to Wall Street executives to reveal whether her public denunciations of Wall Street corruption are consistent with her private comments.
The next Democratic debate is scheduled for April, though a specific time and place have yet to be determined.