PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday October 14th, 2015, 9:56am

Democratic Presidential Candidates Spar Over Guns, Big Banks At First Debate

Progress Illinois provides highlights from the first Democratic presidential debate of the 2016 campaign.

The five Democratic presidential candidates squared off on guns, big banks and a range of other issues during their first debate of the 2016 campaign Tuesday night.

At the top of the debate, hosted by CNN and Facebook in Las Vegas, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton sought to draw a sharp contrast with her lead challenger U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on gun control. Clinton -- who stood at center stage, signifying her top ranking in national polls -- slammed Sanders for voting five times against the Brady gun control bill and supporting a measure that gives the gun industry immunity from lawsuits.

For his part, Sanders cited his "D-" rating from the National Rifle Association and said he supports expanding background checks, closing the "gun show loophole" and improving mental health services. He said the immunity measure was complicated, and that he comes from a rural state where guns are viewed differently than urban areas.

On the immunity issue, Clinton noted that she voted against the provision.

"It wasn't that complicated to me," she said. 

Responding to Sanders' comments about gun views in rural versus urban areas, Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley pointed to his success with gun safety legislation in his state.

"We were able to pass this and still respect the hunting traditions of people who live in our rural areas," he said. "And we did it by leading with principle, not by pandering to the NRA and backing down to the NRA."

The two lesser-known candidates on the stage were former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb, former U.S. senator from Virginia.

Webb said background checks are needed to keep guns out of the wrong hands. 

"But we have to respect the tradition in this country of people who want to defend themselves and their family from violence," he said. 

Chafee touted his record on gun safety and said if he's elected, he would reach out to the NRA in an effort to come to a consensus on "common sense gun safety measures."

Electability Issues

Clinton also tackled concerns over her changing positions on some issues, more recently the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement. She came out against the TPP deal last week after previously calling it the "gold standard."

"Like most people that I know, I have a range of views, but they are rooted in my values and my experience," Clinton said in explaining why her opinion has shifted on certain topics. "And I don't take a back seat to anyone when it comes to progressive experience and progressive commitment."

As for the TPP, backed by the Obama administration, Clinton noted that negotiations over the deal concluded last week. She said the latest agreement didn't meet her standards "for more new, good jobs for Americans, for raising wages for Americans."

"And I want to make sure that I can look into the eyes of any middle-class American and say, 'This will help raise your wages.' And I concluded I could not," she explained. 

Sanders, meanwhile, was asked whether his position as a Democratic socialist could hurt his electability.

In explaining why he supports Democratic socialism, Sanders pointed to Denmark and its worker-friendly policies.

"I believe in a society where all people do well, not just a handful of billionaires," he said.

Sanders was also asked whether he is a capitalist. 

"Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little, by which Wall Street's greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don't," he said.

On the issue of capitalism, Clinton said she is reminded of "all the small businesses" in America when she thinks of the concept.

"We are not Denmark," she added. "I love Denmark. We are the United States of America. And it's our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn't run amok and doesn't cause the kind of inequities we're seeing in our economic system."

Sanders fired back that business growth "doesn't mean anything if all new income and wealth" goes to the wealthiest top 1 percent.

Big Banks

O'Malley stated his desire to reinstate the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, a law that required the separation of regular and investment banking. The law was repealed in 1999. O'Malley highlighted how he and Clinton differ on the issue. 

Sanders noted his support for reinstating Glass-Steagall Act. Meanwhile, Clinton's Wall Street reform plan doesn't go as far as the 1933 measure. 

When asked specifically about Sanders' plan to break up the big banks, Clinton said her proposal "is more comprehensive" and "tougher." Clinton plan's calls for greater oversight of "shadow banking" firms.

"We also have to worry about some of the other players -- AIG, a big insurance company; Lehman Brothers, an investment bank. There's this whole area called 'shadow banking.' That's where the experts tell me the next potential problem could come from," Clinton explained.

O'Malley criticized Clinton's Wall Street reform plan.

"You are not for putting a firewall between this speculative, risky shadow banking behavior," he said. "I am, and the people of our country need a president who's on their side, willing to protect the Main Street economy from recklessness on Wall Street."

Chafee stumbled when asked about his vote to repeal Glass-Steagall while in the Senate.

"Glass-Steagall was my very first vote. I'd just arrived, my dad had died in office," Chafee said. "I had just arrived. I was appointed to the office. It was my very first vote."

"Are you saying you didn't know what you were voting for?" CNN's Anderson Cooper asked.

"I'd just arrived in the Senate," Chafee responded. "I think we all get some takeovers."

Clinton's Private Email Use

The debate also covered the controversy surrounding Clinton's use of private email to conduct official business while acting as Secretary of State.

"I've taken responsibility for it. I did say it was a mistake," Clinton said. "What I did was allowed by the State Department, but it wasn't the best choice."

Clinton is expected to answer questions next week about her private email use before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which the Democratic frontrunner described during Tuesday's debate as "basically an arm of the Republican National Committee."

Her comment comes in response to recent remarks from U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA,23) suggesting that the committee was formed as a means to damage Clinton's presidential run.

"It is a partisan vehicle as admitted by the House Majority Leader, Mr. Kevin McCarthy, to drive down my poll numbers," Clinton said, adding that she's "still standing" and "happy to be part of this debate."

Sanders chimed in about the email issue during a memorable moment of the debate.

"Let me say something that's not great politics, but I think the secretary is right," Sanders said. "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails."

"Enough of the emails," he added. "Let's talk about the real issues facing America."

Clinton responded, "Thank you, Bernie. Thank you." She laughed and went to go shake Sanders' hand.

Tuesday's debate was the first of six scheduled for the Democratic candidates. The next Democratic debate -- to be held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa -- will take place November 14 and air on CBS. 

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