Democrat candidates clash on guns and healthcare in debate

Hillary Clinton  and Bernie Sanders participate in the NBC News television debate. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders participate in the NBC News television debate. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

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Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed repeatedly in a televised presidential debate over who is tougher on gun control and Wall Street and how to steer the future of healthcare in America.

The stand-off was the last Democratic debate before primary voting begins next month as polls showed the race tightening in the states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Ms Clinton attacked Mr Sanders, the Vermont senator, 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.

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

On healthcare, Mr 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”.

Ms Clinton, by contrast, urged less sweeping action to build on president Barack Obama’s healthcare plan by reducing out-of-pocket costs and control spending on prescription drugs.

She suggested Mr Sanders’ health care plan would impose a heavier tax burden on the middle class.

The two also clashed over financial policy, with Mr Sanders suggesting Ms Clinton will not be tough enough on Wall Street given the big contributions and speaking fees she has accepted. Ms Clinton, in turn, criticised Mr Sanders’ past votes to deregulate financial markets and relax federal oversight.

Ms Clinton worked to associate herself with Mr Obama, claiming credit for her role in the run-up to the Iran nuclear deal as well as praising the healthcare law.

Turning to national security, both Mr Sanders and Ms Clinton voiced strong support for Mr Obama’s diplomatic overtures to Iran and opposition to sending US ground troops into Syria.

Ms Clinton also shed some light on what role her husband, former president Bill Clinton, would play in her administration. Kitchen table adviser, perhaps?

“It’ll start at the kitchen table – we’ll see where it goes from there,” she said with a laugh.

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