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National

Clinton, Sanders Clash In Final Primary-Season Debate

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Not exactly friendly last night on the Democratic debate stage. Five days away from a pretty important primary in New York state, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were arguing about each other's qualifications and also their positions on guns, Wall Street, the 1994 crime bill, also Israel. Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The CNN debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard was aggressive, sarcastic and at times downright nasty. Clinton and Sanders didn't hide their exasperation with each other as they continued their weeklong fight over who is qualified to be president. Sanders barely couched his charge that Clinton wasn't.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: Does Secretary Clinton have the experience and the intelligence to be a president? Of course she does. But I do question...

(APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: ...But I do question her judgment. I question a judgment which voted for the war in Iraq, the worst foreign-policy blunder in the history of this country.

LIASSON: Clinton was ready with a ferocious attack of her own, asking voters to read Senator Sanders's interview with the New York Daily News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: When asked about a number of foreign-policy issues, he could not answer about Afghanistan, about Israel, about counterterrorism, except to say if he'd have some paper in front of him, maybe he could.

LIASSON: Clintons defended herself aggressively as Sanders attacked her again for accepting donations from Wall Street.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: I stood up against the behaviors of the banks when I was a senator. I called them out on their mortgage behavior.

LIASSON: Sanders responded with unconcealed disgust.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDERS: Secretary Clinton called them out. Oh, my goodness. They must've been really crushed by this.

(APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: And was that before or after you received huge sums of money by giving speaking engagements behind them? So they must've been very, very upset by what you did.

LIASSON: Clinton was asked again why she wouldn't release the transcripts of her paid speeches to investment banks. She said she'd do it when other candidates did the same. And she called on Sanders to release his tax returns, which he said he would do starting today. Sanders and Clinton also clashed over guns. Sanders chuckled as Clinton once again attacked him for voting with the NRA on several bills.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: This is a serious difference between us, and what I want to start by saying - it's not a laughing matter. Ninety people on average a day are killed, or commit suicide, or die in accidents from guns. Thirty-three thousand people a year.

LIASSON: The 1994 crime bill, signed by President Bill Clinton, has become a flashpoint in the race. Last night, Hillary Clinton came close to apologizing for her support of the bill, which many black voters believe has devastated their communities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WOLF BLITZER: Do regret your advocacy for the crime bill?

CLINTON: Well, look, I supported the crime bill. My husband has apologized, he was the president who actually signed it. Senator Sanders voted for it.

BLITZER: But what about you Senator?

CLINTON: I'm sorry for the consequences that were unintended and that have had a very unfortunate impact on people's lives.

LIASSON: One of the biggest substantive differences was on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sanders didn't budge on his view that Israel's response to Palestinian violence was disproportionate, even though that position is unpopular among New York voters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDERS: Long-term, there will never be peace in that region unless the United States plays a role, an even-handed role, trying to bring people together and recognizing the serious problems that exist among the Palestinian people. That is what I believe the world wants us to do, and that's the kind of leadership that we have got to exercise.

CLINTON: Well, if I - I want to add. You know, again, describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it.

LIASSON: That was Clinton's mantra throughout the debate as she compared her practical experience to his idealistic goals. Sanders now needs to win the remaining primaries by big margins in order to cut into Clinton's lead in pledged delegates. The New York primary on Tuesday is one of his last best chances to do that. Mara Liasson, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.