Hillary Clinton has called into question the loyalty rival Bernie Sanders has shown his own party in the run up to Saturday’s Democratic caucus in Nevada.
Clinton argued that Sanders’ continued attacks on popular figures within the Democratic establishment suggested he “wasn’t really a Democrat” until he’d decided to run for president.
The assertion drew a harsh reaction from audience members at MSNBC/Telemundo’s town hall event Thursday night, which saw both Democratic candidates face off against hosts Jose Diaz-Balart and Chuck Todd.
With Nevada Democrats set to hit to the polls tomorrow, the televised event was dominated by heated exchanges on immigration, race relations and civil rights. Yet the most controversial moment of Thursday night’s broadcast undeniably centered on Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that her opponent had thus far demonstrated a clear lack of commitment to his own political party.
Speaking to a gaggle of reporters on his plane earlier that afternoon, Sanders had blasted some of the key achievements President Bill Clinton had made while in office – calling the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement and Clinton’s welfare overhaul “disastrous.”
Sanders has also come under fire in recent weeks for numerous historic attacks on President Barack Obama and his social policies, which Sanders claimed would have Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman “rolling over in their graves.”
“I just don’t know where all this comes from,” Clinton countered at Thursday night’s town hall meeting in Las Vegas. “Maybe it’s that Senator Sanders wasn’t really a Democrat until he decided to run for office.”
The statement drew some boos from the audience, but Clinton defended her position by wondering aloud who Senator Sanders would have preferred sitting in the Oval Office.
“It’s true. You know it’s true,” Clinton said. “I mean, it happens to be true. And I’ve go to tell you, I look at our last two Democratic presidents, were they perfect? No, no person is. But I’ll tell you what, I would take the two of them over any Republican anytime, anywhere.”
Sanders, a long-time independent, later responded to the attack by arguing his criticisms of Presidents Clinton and Obama had been prompted by questions from reporters, and in some cases had been taken out of context.
“I was asked to comment on Bill Clinton’s very strong criticisms of me,” Sanders countered. “I didn’t go around attacking Bill Clinton.”
The Vermont senator also went on to argue that he was the only Democratic candidate present at Thursday night’s broadcast who had never challenged Obama for office.
Questions of loyalty aside, the bulk of debate focused on each candidate’s commitments to immigration and civil rights. Both Clinton and Sanders pledged to make immigration reform a top priority in their administrations, should either claim victory. Clinton even upped the ante by promising to introduce legislation addressing the issue within her first 100 days of office – a commitment she’d previously shied away from making.
“I’m going to introduce my priority legislation and this is at the top of that list,” Clinton said. “It’s going to be introduced. And then I’m going to work as hard as I can to make sure that we get it moved through the congressional process.”
For his part, Sanders refused to commit to addressing immigration reform within his first 100 days of office. Yet he did say that he would be open to using executive powers in order to bypass congress on the issue, should they refuse to act.
According to pollsters at RealClearPolitics, Clinton is currently leading Sanders in Nevada by just 2.6 points. The former Secretary of State maintains a slightly bigger margin in the national polls, where she leads Sanders by around 4.3 points.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]