Newspaper article International New York Times

Clinton Attacks Sanders's Policy Shifts in Debate ; Challenges on Health Care and Gun Control Target His Reputation for Honesty

Newspaper article International New York Times

Clinton Attacks Sanders's Policy Shifts in Debate ; Challenges on Health Care and Gun Control Target His Reputation for Honesty

Article excerpt

In the final Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton targeted Bernie Sanders on gun control and health care.

Hillary Clinton targeted Bernie Sanders's electoral appeal with some of her strongest language yet in the latest debate, seizing on Mr. Sanders's recent policy shifts on universal health care and gun control to try to undercut his image as an anti-political truth teller.

Mrs. Clinton, whose vast advantages in the Democratic presidential race have been eroded somewhat by Mr. Sanders's growing popularity, dropped her monthslong focus on the Republican candidates and sought Sunday to raise doubts about what many liberals see as Mr. Sanders's greatest virtues: his integrity and consistency on policy issues.

With Mr. Sanders gaining ground on Mrs. Clinton ahead of the Iowa caucuses, just two weeks away, Mrs. Clinton charged that Mr. Sanders's new universal health care plan and its high tax increases would play into the hands of Republicans who want to repeal President Obama's signature Affordable Care Act.

"We've accomplished so much already," Mrs. Clinton said, painting Mr. Sanders as a threat to universal health insurance. "I don't want to see the Republicans repeal it."

"That is nonsense," said Mr. Sanders, who pushed back sharply throughout the night. "What a 'Medicare for all' program does is finally provide health care for every man, woman and child as a right." He noted that 29 million people still have no health insurance.

But Mrs. Clinton refused to stand down. "You know, I have to say I'm not sure we're talking about the plan you just introduced tonight or the plan you introduced nine times in the Congress," she said. "To tear it up and start over again, pushing our country back into that kind of a contentious debate, I think is the wrong direction."

"No one is tearing it up -- we're going forward," Mr. Sanders said.

If Mrs. Clinton was trying to make Mr. Sanders look less than qualified for the presidency, Mr. Sanders repeatedly tried to address doubts about his electability, which a new Clinton television ad has questioned. At one point, he rattled off some of his strong poll numbers, not unlike the leading Republican candidate, Donald J. Trump.

"When this campaign began, she was 50 points ahead of me," Mr. Sanders said. "We were all of three percentage points. Guess what, in Iowa and New Hampshire, the race is very, very close."

He added, "In polling, we are running ahead of Secretary Clinton against my good friend Donald Trump."

Mr. Sanders also tried to turn the debate over health care and the candidates' positions on Wall Street into a referendum on big money in politics, an implicit criticism of the "super PAC" and wealthy donors supporting Mrs. Clinton's campaign.

In contrast to Thursday's Republican debate, which featured frequent attacks on Mr. Obama over the Iran nuclear deal, the American strategy against the Islamic State, and the economy, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders seemed to be trying to outdo each other in aligning themselves with Mr. Obama and his agenda. Mrs. Clinton noted that Mr. Sanders had called Mr. Obama "weak" and "disappointing" and had suggested in 2011 that Mr. Obama should get a Democratic primary opponent. Mr. Sanders called himself an ally of Mr. Obama on many issues, including health care.

With the debate unfolding just blocks from the shooting last year at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church here, which left nine people dead, the topic of gun control arrived early and evoked emotional responses from all three candidates: Mrs. …

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