In Like Flint: Live-Blogging the Democratic Debate in Michigan

7:50pm EST: Good evening, and apologies in advance for any technical issues. The CNN Democratic debate at the Flint Cultural Center in Flint, Michigan will start in 10 minutes. Wolf Blitzer, Ben Jealous and Jennifer Granholm are hosting the pregame show on CNN.com. Anderson Cooper will moderate. (Am I the only one who wouldn’t mind seeing Michael Moore moderate?)

7:56 pm EST: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are introduced. Anderson Cooper acknowledges the passing of Nancy Reagan with a moment of silence. The Flint Citywide Choir sings the National Anthem.

8:00pm EST: Cooper lays out the ground rules, noting that Flint is a “city in crisis.” He fails to mention Gov. Rick Snyder by name. Sanders mentions his recent meetings with Flint residents, saying that he was “shattered” by the depravity of Gov. Snyder’s actions. “That is clearly not what this country should be about.” Sanders condemns Snyder’s “dereliction of duty” and calls for him to resign. Sanders mentions that there are Flints all over the country due to income inequality. “We need to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.”

8:03pm EST: Clinton praises Sanders’s remarks and also calls for Snyder to resign. “We must focus on what must be done to help the people of Flint.” She says federal and state resources must be used to help Flint, saying that this is an emergency situation. “It is raining lead in Flint.”

8:06pm EST: Clinton discusses the importance of clean water and vows to fix the Flint mess as President. She says she supports President Obama’s extensive efforts to remedy the Flint crisis. Sanders calls the Flint crisis a “disgrace beyond belief” and says that as President, he would ensure that the federal government acted to resolve this crisis. He condemns the water-bill gouging of Flint’s residents and says the Centers for Disease Control should measure the lead intake of Flint’s residents, and that the federal government must repair infrastructure.

8:09pm EST: Cooper asks a bizarre question about Sanders’s alleged fetish for big government. Sanders says that Flint’s problems were caused by bad trade deals and bad economic policies. Cooper asks Clinton about EPA’s alleged negligence vis-a-vis Flint; Clinton says she would launch an investigation to see where the EPA may have failed.

8:14pm EST: Sanders said he’d fire any federal official who knew about Flint and didn’t act. He also condemns the bad economic policies that led to Flint’s woes. “The bottom line is…changing our national priorities…”

8:15pm EST: Sanders vows that as President, his EPA Administrator will make clean, lead-free water a priority nationwide. Clinton vows that as President, she will have an “absolute commitment” to removing lead not only from water, but also from soil and homes that still have lead paint. Don Lemon asks Clinton about whether there should be criminal prosecutions for Flint: Clinton says people should be held accountable, whether those penalties are civil or criminal. Sanders also says there needs to be legal accountability for those responsible for poisoning the people of Flint.

8:18pm EST: Clinton says she has always worked to “even the odds” for the disadvantaged, describing her work to remedy the problems in Flint. Sanders also describes his efforts to address the Flint water crisis. He expresses concerns that the media will tire of the Flint water crisis, effectively abandoning the victims of this disaster.

8:22pm EST: Clinton says she will work to prevent manufacturing from leaving the United States, and will work to fix infrastructure and nurture small businesses, including minority-
and women-owned small businesses. She also says she will expand clean energy, and will also fight “job exporting.” Sanders mocks Clinton for her past support of “these disastrous trade agreements” that caused the economic woes in Flint, describing his opposition to NAFTA in the early-1990s and his longstanding opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Clinton then mocks Sanders for opposing the auto bailout, drawing anti-Sanders boos from the audience. Sanders says he actually opposed TARP, and again condemns Clinton’s past support for trade deals. A feisty Sanders says he “stood up to corporate America time and time again…I understood that these trade deals were gonna destroy the middle class of this country.” Clinton says she did oppose CAFTA as a senator, and opposed the TPP after researching the deal. Clinton defends her vote for TARP: “You have to make hard choices when you’re in positions of responsibility.” She then says that were it not for TARP, the auto industry would have collapsed in the US. Sanders defends his opposition to TARP, arguing that Wall Street did not deserve to be bailed out. “My one issue,” says Sanders, “is trying to rebuild the disappearing the middle class.” Clinton says the vote for TARP was the right thing to do, because it saved the auto industry despite TARP’s overall flaws. Sanders attacks Clinton for having a Super-PAC, her fundraising and her Goldman Sachs speeches, demanding that Clinton release the transcripts of her speeches. Clinton defends her record on Wall Street, praising Obama’s efforts on Wall Street reform as well. Sanders again calls for Clinton to release the transcripts of her Goldman Sachs speeches, and condemns the non-prosecution of those who brought about the 2008 financial crisis. Clinton says she will use the tools in Dodd-Frank to pursue further reform of the financial services industry. Cooper asks Sanders about a recent tweet attacking Clinton’s past support for trade policies, a tweet that implied she was directly responsible for the problems in Flint. Sanders forcefully condemns the trade deals that injured the middle class, connecting the dots between bad trade deals and income inequality. Clinton defends her track record on the economy and her support for the Export-Import Bank, condemning Sanders for opposing the Export-Import Bank. Sanders says the Export-Import Bank mostly benefits the one percent and represents a form of corporate welfare. Clinton again defends her economic track record and the Export-Import Bank, noting that the Bank has helped to create jobs. Sanders again attacks the Export-Import Bank to applause from the audience. He then transitions to health care, noting that when Clinton traveled to Europe as Secretary of State, she must have noticed that many European countries recognize health care as a right. Clinton says we are on the path to universal coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

8:48pm EST: Cooper turns the discussion to crime and gun violence. Clinton says that on average, 90 people a day are murdered by guns in the US, and says more must be done to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people. She calls for comprehensive background checks, closing gun show loopholes and closing online loopholes; she condemns Sanders’s vote to protect gun manufacturers and sellers from liability for crimes committed with their products. She calls for a public discussion about gun culture in the US.

Sanders notes that President Obama has said there is no foolproof solution to the problem of gun violence, but that much more needs to be done. Sanders defends his track record on guns, including his vote for the bill that protected gun manufacturers, saying that there were good policies in that bill. Cooper then asks Sanders about the lawsuit Newtown families have filed against Remington; Sanders says that if there is no limit on the liability gun manufacturers have for crimes committed with their products, it would effectively end gun manufacturing in the United States. Clinton ridicules Sanders’s position as “the NRA position.” Sanders says the murderer who uses the gun should ultimately be held accountable. To rousing cheers, Clinton says the gun-manufacturing industry is a textbook example of corporate greed.

9:02pm EST: Don Lemon pivots to the issue of race relations and Clinton’s support for the controversial 1994 crime bill. Clinton defends her support for the bill, but acknowledges that the bill was flawed. She vows to end profiling as President, and calls for the end of mandatory minimum sentencing. She also notes that then-Rep. Sanders also supported the crime bill. Sanders also defends his vote for the 1994 crime bill, also noting that the bill was flawed. Sanders also vows that he will fight for criminal justice reform as President.

9:07pm EST: Sanders describes his civil rights record, noting his arrest in the early-1960s at a desegregation protest in Chicago, and his attendance at the 1963 March on Washington. He condemns racial disparities in employment. Clinton describes her work on civil rights and how she came to recognize the importance of diversity, eloquently discussing the concept of white privilege and the nightmare of black parents fearing that their children will be killed by law enforcement. Sanders, the winner of tonight’s Democratic caucus in Maine, also eloquently discusses the concept of white privilege, recounting a story of a black acquaintance who was routinely profiled by cab drivers, as well as his discussions with members of the Black Lives Matter movement. Sanders says he will build upon Obama’s efforts to improve race relations in the United States. Lemon then asks Clinton about the supposed “superpredators” controversy. Clinton admits that it was a “poor choice of words,” and goes on to describe what must be done to reduce inequality in the United States. Sanders mentions his opposition to the 1996 welfare-reform bill, noting that the bill, which Clinton supported, fueled income inequality. Clinton defends the bill, noting that most of the harm that emanated from the bill was brought about during the George W. Bush administration. Sanders then condemns the economic neoliberalism of the Clinton administration, noting that he stood in opposition to NAFTA and the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

9:25pm EST: Cooper pivots to education, and the woes of the Detroit school system. Sanders notes that a great nation is judged by “how it treats the most vulnerable amongst us…we should be ashamed of how we treat our kids and our senior citizens.” He connects the dots between Republican economic priorities and the woes in Detroit, going on to condemn the country’s astronomical rate of child poverty. Clinton condemns the emergency manager program in Michigan, noting that the system has worsened education in Detroit. Clinton says she’s proud of having been endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and laments the scapegoating of teachers by those who oppose spending more money on education. Sanders pivots to the issue of college affordability, reaffirming his commitment to tuition-free public colleges and universities.

9:34pm EST: Lemon pivots to infrastructure, noting that it will take trillions to fix America’s crumbling infrastructure. Clinton lays out her plans for fixing infrastructure, specifically calling for a national infrastructure bank; she also notes that many pipelines are leaking throughout the United States and need to be fixed. Sanders also lays out his plans to fix the nation’s infrastructure, paying for those plans by closing corporate tax loopholes.

9:38pm EST: Cooper pivots to climate change and fracking. Clinton says she opposes fracking if local communities also oppose it, and says fracking companies should disclose the chemicals they use. Sanders says he unequivocally opposes fracking, and condemns the mainstream media’s climate silence. He defends his climate record, including his support for a federal carbon tax. He says Democrats who support fracking are wrong, and that we must immediately address the climate crisis. Sanders connects the dots between America’s broken campaign finance system and federal inaction on climate change. Clinton strongly defends her climate record. “We will make progress on clean, renewable energy and create millions of jobs.” Clinton rejects claims that she is influenced by campaign contributions from the fracking industry.

Sanders jokes that the derangement on display in the last Republican debate is why we need to spend more money on mental health. He again connects the dots between the failed campaign finance system and federal inaction on climate, and says he will fight to undo Citizens United as president. Clinton says she agrees with Sanders on Citizens United, and also says the American people need to demand that Congress not obstruct President Obama’s efforts to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death of Antonin Scalia.

9:51pm EST: Cooper asks Clinton about the damn e-mails, and Donald Trump’s plan to exploit the issue in the general election. Clinton suggests that she can kick Trump’s rear end in the general election, and says his “bigotry, bullying and bluster” will be rejected by the American electorate. She says that we need to “make America whole again.” Sanders mocks Trump’s attacks on him, and suggests that he could give Trump an even bigger butt-kicking than the one Clinton would deliver, noting his recent victories in Maine, Nebraska and Kansas.

9:55pm EST: Sanders discusses the importance of the Golden Rule, and condemns the immorality of income inequality. Cooper asks Sanders about his Judaism; Sanders says he is proud to be Jewish, that a number of his relatives were murdered in the Holocaust, and that he recognizes the dangers of extremism. Clinton also discusses her faith tradition. This segment is interesting in light of today’s discussion about whether America is facing, from a progressive faith perspective, a spiritual crisis.

9:59pm EST: Closing statements. Sanders describes growing up disadvantaged, and condemns America’s abandonment of the disadvantaged today. Sanders says we must move beyond establishment politics and establishment economics, calling for a political revolution. Clinton says that she’s running for President to knock down economic, educational and racial barriers.

10:02pm EST: A near-great debate; Cooper did an OK job, but I cannot believe that he failed to ask a question about the FBI’s war on encryption in light of the importance of that issue to, well, everyone who has a smartphone. Clinton and Sanders were both terrific.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.