- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sen. Bernard Sanders on Sunday night accused Hillary Clinton of being in the pocket of Wall Street and charged that she, along with her husband, made decisions two decades ago that have devastated the middle class, while the former secretary of state shot back and said her presidential primary rival would have let the American auto industry go bankrupt.

In a heated debate in Flint, Michigan, the two candidates — both of whom called on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, to resign over his handling of the Flint water contamination crisis — testily traded barbs days before voters in the critical Midwestern states of Michigan, Ohio and Illinois go to the polls.

Mr. Sanders, who won an impressive three primary and caucus victories to Mrs. Clinton’s one over the weekend, came out swinging against Mrs. Clinton and said massive free trade deals she supported, such as NAFTA, have contributed to the decline of the U.S. economy.

NAFTA was enacted in the 1990s when President Clinton was in office. Mr. Sanders also blasted Mrs. Clinton for supporting normalized trade relations with China and other agreements.

“Your story is voting for every disastrous trade agreement and voting for corporate America,” Mr. Sanders said, again tying Mrs. Clinton to Wall Street and zeroing in on her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs.

He also mocked Mrs. Clinton, saying she only recently “found religion” on the issue of corporate America and Wall Street firms moving jobs overseas to make more money.

SEE ALSO: Bernie Sanders: Democrats complicit in ‘corporate welfare’

“One of us has a super PAC. One of us has raised $15 million from Wall Street for that super PAC. One of us has given speeches on Wall Street for hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “Now, I kind of think if you get paid a couple of hundred thousand dollars for a speech, it must be a great speech. I think we should release it and let the American people see what that transcript was.”

Mrs. Clinton again refused to release her Goldman Sachs transcripts unless all other presidential candidates, including Republicans, release full transcripts of their paid speeches as well.

But Mrs. Clinton also returned fire on Mr. Sanders and criticized him for voting against a $350 billion package in 2009 that included a bailout for General Motors and Chrysler. Mr. Sanders has said he voted against the legislation because it bailed out Wall Street billionaires.

“He was against the auto bailout,” Mrs. Clinton said. “The money was there and had to be released in order to save the auto industry and 4 million jobs. … I voted to save the auto industry; he voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry.”

She also attacked Mr. Sanders for voting against the Export-Import bank, a federal agency that offers loans to American companies exporting products.

Mr. Sanders has voted against the bank and considers it a form of corporate welfare, but Mrs. Clinton argues that it is necessary to keep U.S. firms competitive in a global marketplace.

“I think we’re in a race for exports,” she said.

The debate took place against the backdrop of the Flint water crisis, and both candidates said Mr. Snyder should step down immediately. Both candidates also made clear that they believe Environmental Protection Agency officials should resign if they are found to have been negligent, and both also left open the possibility of criminal charges against public officials.

“People should be held accountable, wherever that leads,” Mrs. Clinton said. “If it leads to resignations or recall if you’re in political office, it if leads to civil penalties, if it leads to criminal responsibility, there has to be an absolute accountability and I will support whatever the outcomes of those investigations are.”

Mr. Sanders sounded a similar note.

“After an investigation, if people, in fact, were found to have committed a criminal act, they should go to jail,” he said.

Sunday night’s debate came a day after Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton traded wins in a slate of weekend primaries and caucuses.

Mr. Sanders soundly beat Mrs. Clinton in Kansas and Nebraska, while Mrs. Clinton won Louisiana. Mr. Sanders also won the Maine caucuses on Sunday night, beating Mrs. Clinton handily in the state.

While the senator from Vermont continues to win states across the country, he still trails far behind Mrs. Clinton in the delegate count. The Saturday results still gave the former secretary of state more delegates than they did the senator.

Overall, Mrs. Clinton has 1,121 delegates and Mr. Sanders has 481. The figures include both pledged delegates from primaries and caucuses and so-called superdelegates, or party leaders who are free to support either candidate.

A vast majority of those superdelegates have lined up behind Mrs. Clinton.

Moving forward, the electoral map looks rough for Mr. Sanders. In Michigan, for example, the latest Real Clear Politics average of all polls gives Mrs. Clinton a 20-point lead.

She also has commanding double-digit leads in Ohio, Florida, Illinois and other states voting March 15, according to Real Clear Politics averages.

The states voting March 15 have more diverse populations, which is likely to work in Mrs. Clinton’s favor. She routinely crushes Mr. Sanders among black voters, and that popularity has led her to dominant wins across the South.

Mr. Sanders, on the other hand, has performed best in states with fewer minority voters, such as New Hampshire and Nebraska.

As she seeks a string of victories across the Midwest that could effectively lock down the nomination, Mrs. Clinton has turned her fire on Mr. Sanders‘ record on manufacturing.

Even as they sparred on the issue at Sunday night’s debate, the Clinton campaign sent out emails hitting Mr. Sanders for voting last year to eliminate the Export-Import Bank. Mr. Sanders has cast the bank as a form of corporate welfare, and he was the only Democrat to vote to kill the bank last year.

“When given the chance to stand on the side of manufacturing jobs, Sen. Sanders has showed time and time again that it’s not just a priority,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, Michigan Democrat and Clinton supporter.

Mr. Sanders said he has stood with American workers for decades and that Mrs. Clinton is the one who has supported policies that led to a decline in manufacturing.

“I was on a picket line in the early 1990s against NAFTA because you didn’t need a Ph.D. in economics to understand American workers should not be forced to compete against people in Mexico making 25 cents an hour,” he said.

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