US ruling party figures clash on guns, health care


By Lisa Lerer and Nancy Benac, AP

CHARLESTON, South Carolina — Candidates for the U.S. ruling Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, tangled repeatedly in Sunday night’s presidential debate over who’s tougher on gun control and Wall Street and how to steer the future of health care in America. It was the last Democratic Party debate before primary voting begins next month and both sides were eager to rumble as polls showed the race tightening in the leadoff states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Clinton rapped Sanders, the more left-wing of the two, for voting repeatedly with the powerful gun lobby, and then welcomed his weekend reversal of position to support legislation that would deny gun manufacturers legal immunity.

Sanders, in turn, said the more centrist Clinton’s assertion that he kowtowed to the gun lobby was “very disingenuous” and pointed to his lifetime rating of a D- from the U.S. National Rifle Association.

On health care, Sanders released his plan for a government-run single-payer plan just hours before the debate, and used his opening statement to call for health care “for every man, woman and child as a right.”

Clinton, by contrast, urged less sweeping action to build on President Barack Obama’s health care plan by reducing out-of-pocket costs and control spending on prescription drugs. She suggested Sanders’ health care plan would impose a heavier tax burden on the middle class.

The two tangled over financial policy, too, with Sanders suggesting Clinton won’t be tough enough on Wall Street given the big contributions and speaking fees she’s accepted. Clinton, in turn, faulted Sanders’ past votes to deregulate financial markets and ease up on federal oversight.

Clinton worked aggressively to associate herself with President Obama, claiming credit for her role in the run-up to the Iran nuclear deal as well as praising the health care law.

Turning to national security, both Sanders and Clinton voiced strong support for Obama’s diplomatic overtures to Iran and opposition to sending U.S. ground troops into Syria. Clinton defended her outreach to Russia early in her term as secretary of state, but hesitated when asked to describe her relationship with Vladimir Putin, whose return to the Russian presidency heralded the worsening of U.S.-Russian relations.