WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton distanced herself from President Barack Obama at Saturday’s Democratic presidential debate on whether the Islamic State can be contained, and rival Bernie Sanders beat up on the party’s front-runner as a tool of Wall Street and a captive of her donors.
The Sanders attack on Clinton’s fund-raising brought the debate’s sharpest exchange. Don’t “impugn my integrity,” Clinton shot back.Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, got off the zinger of the night when he called Republican Donald Trump an “immigrant-bashing carnival barker.”
Otherwise, the Democratic trio ignored the crowded Republican field of 2016 White House hopefuls.
The three Democrats started on a very somber tone, with the second Democratic debate coming a day after the terrorist attacks in Paris, which Clinton used far more than her rivals to showcase her ability to be commander-in-chief.
The debate’s emphasis on foreign policy and national security, driven by the ISIS slaughter, played to the strengths of Clinton as a former secretary of state.
Clinton won the debate in Des Moines, Iowa, hosted by CBS News at Drake University in the state with the first presidential vote.
She escaped any damage from the e-mail and Benghazi controversies.
Though in recent days it seemed as if Sanders, the Vermont senator, was raising questions about the e-mails, he declined an opportunity Saturday to slam Clinton.
“I was sick and tired of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, I’m still sick and tired,” Sanders said, turning to his main themes of income inequality, paid medical leave and people in jail.
Asked to reply, Clinton said, “I agree completely. I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
The guts of the debate were dictated by the Paris attacks. Late last week, hours before the attacks, Obama gave an interview to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in which he said the Islamic State — which claimed credit Saturday for what happened in Paris — was “contained.”
“From the start, our goal has been first to contain, and we have contained them,” Obama told ABC Thursday. “They have not gained ground in Iraq. And in Syria it — they’ll come in, they’ll leave. But you don’t see this systematic march by ISIL across the terrain.”
“Well, John,” Clinton said to CBS “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson, “I think that we have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network. It cannot be contained. Iit must be defeated.
“There is no question in my mind that if we summon our resources, both our leadership resources and all of the tools at our disposal, not just military force, which should be used as a last resort, but our diplomacy, our development aid, law enforcement, sharing of intelligence in a much more open and cooperative way, that we can bring people together.
“But it cannot be an American fight. And I think what the president has consistently said — which I agree with— is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS.”
O’Malley, running far behind Clinton and Sanders in the polls and trying to carve out some territory said, “This actually is America’s fight. It cannot solely be America’s fight. America is best when we work in collaboration with our allies. America is best when we are actually standing up to evil in this world.”
The centerpieces of Sanders’ campaign have been his remarkable success in raising millions of dollars from small donors, his disdain for super-PACs and his drive against Wall Street greed.
When Sanders implied that Clinton was beholden to her contributors — saying, “They expect to get something. Everybody knows that” — she objected, saying Sanders’ comments were intended to “impugn my integrity, let’s be frank here.
“Oh, wait a minute, Senator,” Clinton said. “You know not only do I have hundreds of thousands of donors, most of them small, I am very proud that for the first time a majority of my donors are women, 60 percent.”
O’Malley also accused Clinton of not wanting to go far enough to reign in the nation’s biggest banks.
“And Secretary Clinton, when you put out your proposal on Wall Street, it was greeted by many as quote, unquote weak tea. It is weak tea,” O’Malley said.
“ It is not what the people expect of our country,” O’Malley said. “We expect that our president will protect the main street economy from excesses on Wall Street. And that’s why Bernie’s right.”
Otherwise, there was much agreement in the debate. All wanted to raise the federal minimum wage: Clinton to $12 an hour, Sanders to $15 and O’Malley, when he was governor, hiking it to $10.10.