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Inside the Smears: Clinton Vs. Sanders

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton greet each other at Wednesday night’s debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Wednesday’s Democratic debate between Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Hillary Clinton, hosted by Univision in Miami, saw both candidates sniping at each others’ records, particularly when it comes to immigration. But when Clinton says Sanders voted against the auto bailout, and Sanders says he didn’t, what’s a viewer to do? Roll Call checked the record.

Did Hillary Clinton Support a Border Wall Like Trump’s?

Moderators questioned Clinton on her support for a barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border, asking her how it’s different from Trump’s promise to build a border wall.

Clinton has spoken positively about the need to physically secure the southern border, including a November event when she said she “voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in, and I do think you have to control your borders.” The major differences seem to be that Clinton has not mentioned a wall that would unrealistically extend across the entire border, she hasn’t bragged about how tall it would be, and she doesn’t think Mexico will pay for it.

Clinton’s response was one of the funnier moments of the debate

Did Sanders Oppose Immigration Reform?

Clinton attacked Sanders several times, as she has before, for his “no” vote on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. Sanders countered that this was because of a guest-worker provision in the bill he likened to modern-day slavery. Moderators also played an interview with Sanders from during the immigration reform debate when he said the guest-worker program would drive down wages, and asked if he thought immigration drives down wages.

Sanders did, indeed, vote against the bill. In his defense, he pointed out that guest worker programs are different from normal immigration, which he supports.

And guest-worker programs are indeed very different from what you might think of as immigration. Employers are able to “import” low-skilled employees from other countries. Though there are labor protections, the workers are only allowed to work for the employer who imported them, and they can be easily deported. This means many of the protections workers are supposed to have only exist on paper.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a prominent civil rights group, issued a report on these programs titled “Close to Slavery,” based on a quote from Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., which found rampant exploitation. The Labor Department said it “found violations in 82 percent of the H-2 visa employers it investigated in fiscal year 2014.” The 2007 reform bill attempted to create a similar program called a Y Visa.

While major Latino groups, like La Raza, were able to set aside the guest-worker program and support the bill, others, like the League of Latin American Citizens, said “the temporary worker provision alone would create a new underclass of easily exploited workers who would be forbidden from realizing the American dream.”

Sanders’ vote against the bill simply doesn’t tell us that he’s against immigration reform.

Did The Koch Brothers Put Up An Ad Praising Sanders?

Freedom Partners, a central group of the Koch Brothers’ network, did release a video Wednesday praising Sanders’ position on the Export-Import Bank. In the video, Sanders, in a news clip, says “Seventy-five percent of the funds going from the federal government to the Export-Import Bank goes to large, profitable corporations.” The video text reads: “We agree.”

The fight over the Export-Import Bank is pretty obscure. It makes it easier for foreign purchasers to buy U.S.-made products by giving them loans, guaranteeing loans, and offering insurance. The bank spent $27 billion supporting exports in 2013, but made a $1.1 billion profit. The bank’s financing benefits U.S. companies like Boeing and General Electric.

Sanders joins many tea partiers and Republicans in opposing the bank on grounds that government shouldn’t be supporting private business, while Senate Democrats, including liberals like Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., support it. (GE is moving its headquarters to Boston). While the Sanders campaign has claimed the Koch ad is meant to sabotage him, it’s true that they agree on this point.

Did Sanders Oppose the Auto Bailout?

Clinton first attacked Sanders on the 2008-09 auto bailout at the March 6 debate in Michigan, which is home to the three major U.S. vehicle manufacturers as well as big parts suppliers. He “was against the auto bailout,” she said, and later, he “voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry.” She repeated the attack Wednesday.

General Motors and Chrysler both faced crushing debt and legacy costs as well as mounting business losses that threatened their survival amid overall U.S. economic recession. It was feared their collapse would have created staggering job loss, not only for assembly line workers, but for parts suppliers, in the Midwest but also for dealers and other businesses nationally that depend on auto manufacturing. Such a scenario would also have crippled Ford, which was going through serious financial problems, too. GM, it was determined, was too big to fail.

A massive rescue package, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, was approved in two tranches in late 2008 and early 2009 for banks and related businesses rocked by the financial crisis fueled by toxic mortgage investments. Lawmakers attempted, but failed, to include money for Detroit car makers in TARP. However, both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama acted on their own to use some TARP money to help GM and Chrysler. How does this shake out on the campaign trail? Clinton supported TARP twice while Sanders, who regularly railed against Wall Street, didn’t. But both backed the failed bid to include auto money in that financial system rescue. So Sanders is right when he says he voted to help Detroit when Congress considered it. But Clinton is correct when she says Sanders opposed the funds earmarked for banks. Unclear is whether anyone in Congress expected the White House to use a portion of those funds for car makers. Clinton has not said that.

Did Bernie Sanders praise Sandinistas and the Cuban revolution?

Moderators and Clinton attacked Sanders for calling Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega “an impressive guy” and saying positive things about Cuba under Fidel Castro. Indeed, both quotes are from a real interview Sanders gave in 1985 to the Chittenden County, Vt., government access station after he returned from a trip to Nicaragua.

Sanders was reacting to then-President Ronald Reagan’s opposition to Nicaragua’s five-year Sandinista government, which took power in 1979 by overthrowing the dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle and holding elections in 1984. “Just because Ronald Reagan dislikes these people,” Sanders said, “doesn’t mean that people in their own nations feel the same way.”

Reagan’s opposition to the Sandinistas would later fuel the Iran-Contra affair, in which senior administration officials were found to be secretly selling arms to Iran to fund a counter-revolution against the Sandinistas.

In the interview, Sanders called Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega “an impressive guy,” and said that while Castro wasn’t perfect, the revolution “educated their kids, gave their kids healthcare — totally transformed the society.”


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