Return to Transcripts main page


Post-coverage of the Democratic presidential candidate town hall meeting in Des Moines, Iowa; 11p-12mn ET

Aired January 25, 2016 - 23:05   ET


[23:05:29] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: All right. Chris, thank you very much.

Our breaking news tonight. You just heard from Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley. They made their closing arguments at CNN's Democratic town hall in Des Moines.

This is CNN tonight. I am Don Lemon. Thank you so much for joining us.

We are just one week away, as Chris said, from the first vote in the nation at the Iowa caucuses. And the race for the Democratic nomination is up for grabs right now. So let's discuss. We heard great things from all three candidates.

So joining me now to talk about it is Peter Beinart, also Van Jones, Gloria Borger, Michael Smerconish, Donna Brazile and Bakari Sellers.

I will not be getting a word in edge wise with all of you. I realize that.

It was very interesting. All of them showed up, Hillary Clinton showed up.


LEMON: How did they do, Gloria?

BORGER: These were candidates who have been out on the campaign trail. I don't think they would have been as good in this kind of a venue, six months ago.


BORGER: Six weeks to go, right. Hillary -- they all had to stand up because they had so much energy. They couldn't kind of talk sitting down. Hillary Clinton came to play. Bernie Sanders came to play. You had a 74-year-old revolutionary there on stage, taking it right to Hillary Clinton, not in the personal way, but saying these are the areas I disagree with you on. This is why I would be a better leader because I was against the war in Iraq before you were. I was against those trade deals before you were. I was for climate change before you were. You know and on and on. And then, you know, you saw Hillary Clinton give it right back and basically say, without again, without criticizing Bernie Sanders personally, but saying you know what, I can govern. I have been there. I have been under attack and I keep coming back. And I know thousand get --

LEMON: That was the first answer to the young person, when were you born, '93 or whatever. You were chomping at the bit. What were you saying, Van? Go ahead.

JONES: First of all, all three of them were at their very best. This was the best I have seen all three of them. Hillary Clinton demonstrated that she is probably the best prepared person to be commander in-chief maybe in the history of the country.

But Bernie Sanders, if you are curious, how can this weird guy be surging? You saw tonight why. This guy has taken on the mantle of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and he has done it unapologetically. He has done it with humor and warmth. And you know, usually he is on stage, you see him yelling and yelling, and whatever, you can see now the charm. And you can see now why he is rising. And I think he has done the Democrats a favor. He has done what Republicans have done for a long time, moving the needle to the right. He has made it very, very safe to be a strong liberal, because he is unapologetic.

LEMON: All right. I want to stick with this side of the room. You, what do you think? Any standout moments for you? What do you make of it?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I thought they were both good. You know, it was like a little bit like slam dunk contest. It was no opponent on the field.


BEINART: They were both, they were both -- what was striking though was the content. Bernie Sanders almost no foreign policy. Hillary Clinton, dominated by foreign policy. One of the reasons they could both be so strong is they were basically playing in their own orbit and you see at their comfort level. He is much more comfortable dealing with question of economics and class --

LEMON: And social issues. And she is strong on policy.

BEINART: She is much more comfortable dealing with the minute foreign policy, big difference.

LEMON: Yes. I will start with you Bakari.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I was just amazed by how much energy was on the stage. We hear about this. We hear about an energy deficit in the Democratic Party. And what we saw tonight that it was not there.

I'm a Hillary Clinton supporter, and she came out tonight. And I think she knocked it completely out of the park. But I also recognize that Bernie Sanders did a hell of a job. He really did a great job in coalescing his supporters. That is why they support Bernie Sanders. You saw it there. Every now and then, or not every now and then, every question, he pivoted back to the billionaire class, that income inequality. He is the most bond message candidate that I have ever seen in my --

LEMON: You thought Martin O'Malley was going to show up? Did he show up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was present. Martin O'Malley was present.


SELLERS: The difficulty that Martin O'Malley is having is that he is running against Bernie Sanders, who is in his own element who has these large crowds who is feeding off this energy, and then he is running against who is probably going to be the 45th president of the United States, Hillary Clinton, who is strong on so many issues who literally dominated foreign policy. And you could see on that stage, it was, she was ready to be president today. And think that in a world where many people are afraid in a country where many people have this fear, Hillary Clinton spoke directly to them tonight.

LEMON: Ms. Brazile.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, I'm neutral, so let me just start with that. But more importantly I was proud to be a Democrat tonight.


BRAZILE: I was proud to hear from three distinguished candidates who understand the issues, understand what keeps Americans up at night, and they were able to answer those questions. I think we should remember that there's a large percentage of voters who are still uncommitted. And tonight, this town hall was, was there for voters to sort of help make up their mind, clear up any misunderstanding.

So I thought it was a good forum, a great response from the candidates. And I think we're going to have one, excuse (INAUDIBLE), one hell of a week in politics --

[23:10:27] LEMON: That's nothing on this show.


BRAZILE: You know, I'm a catholic girl. But, you know, it was great to hear candidates and stand up and address some questions from the voters. It was a good night for Democrats and the country.

LEMON: Mr. Smerconish, you have the stage.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I listened to with an open mind to Bernie Sanders giving his definition of Democratic socialism. And what I was trying to discern is whether it's sellable to the country at large. I doubt that it is. I listen to him and I thought he was effective. I though he was on top of his game, but I still look at him and I wonder is this the George McGovern of 2016 should he ever win the nomination?

He would be better served if he used the word capitalism and if he used the word entrepreneurship in the midst of giving his explanations, so as to say hey, I want people to make money. It's cool to make money in this country, but the disparity has grown much too large.

LEMON: Did he really get people to understand, did he distinguish himself with when they ask, how are you going to pay for this? And you say, well, I'm going to raise taxes. I'm not sure if that is going --.

SMERCONISH: Play in that room. Yes, it'll play in that room.

LEMON: So, we are going to look in this moment when we come back and discuss that and many more moments as we continue on. And so, stay with us, everyone.

When we come back, more from Iowa and from the man who moderated tonight's debate, that's our very own Chris Cuomo on the other side of this break.


[23:15:30] LEMON: We are back now with the post-coverage, Anderson Cooper was in Des Moines for this in the hall tonight. He is with our very own Chris Cuomo who was moderator.

I really liked this format as -- I like the debates, but I like this better than the debates, guys. What would you think? DO you like it?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, AC 360: I mean, I think it certainly allowed each of the candidates to make an impassioned case for why they should be the Democratic nominee. I mean, you know, when you're doing this Chris, it's often hard to get a sense of how it's going. How did you think it went?

CUOMO: I felt that the questions were good from the voters. You're right, especially in something like this. I really wasn't focused too much about myself because I wasn't really that relevant. It's not like moderating a debate and you really have to be the conductor of what's going on here. Here it was just not getting in the bay and trying to push back when necessary.

But I think it's different when a candidate is talking to you or me than when they're talking to a voter. Because if they don't -- they cannot regard us the same way, they can blow off the premise of a question if they want and it's somewhat acceptable. You can't do that with a voter. And you get to the measure a candidate, I think, the voters in a way that they don't in other for. And I think that this was a smart way to do it.

COOPER: You got a sense that the candidates, I mean, look, Iowa is retail politics. Iowa is all about small meetings like this and they have been doing the town halls, but they are clearly practiced at it.

But I was surprised at the energy of each of them. I mean, considering they have probably been out on the campaign for now, probably all day long, Bernie Sanders even referenced that about being more tired if you were keeping up with him all day long. But I mean, they each made impassioned pleas and I think played very well to certainly this young audience.

CUOMO: You know, where the senator and I grew up, they called it the hunga. They got the hunga right now because they are so close to the caucus. So they are really on. You know, politicians do that. Candidates do that when they are getting close, you know.

What I think, what will be the plus/minus on this one. The plus is you got good exposure for the voters, direct questions? What's the minus? Well you didn't go at them the way you usually do in a debate. That was not as much of an accountability session. But I think that's by design.

I mean, you know, certainly we have no problems asking hard questions to candidates. But this was their chance to make their last pitch, you know, which is obviously going to be largely positive because it's coming for them in response to voters questions. So I think if you take for what it is, they did a good job.

COOPER: Bernie Sanders clearly tried to paint the difference between him and Senator Clinton in a way that was respectful, that didn't seem like an attack, but make those differences clear as did Hillary Clinton.

CUOMO: Absolutely as did Secretary Clinton. I mean, she is not consistently talking about experience being up for the whole job by coincidence. She's saying that to frame Bernie Sanders is a one trick pony.

COOPER: Don, it was really interesting, you know, often plays differently on television than it does in the room. But certainly in this room, the audience was wrapped, the applause very strong for each of these candidates, particularly in Martin O'Malley, very strong response from a lot of people in this room. It will be interesting to see how - what kind of voters watching on television, how they viewed it compared to the people in this room, Don.

LEMON: Anderson, I have question for you, though. I was very interested in the questions from young people, especially because they asked all the candidates, but the one who asked Hillary Clinton, you know, I don't see the enthusiasm for you as I see for Bernie Sanders. Was the room filled with a lot of young people?

COOPER: There were. There were a lot of young people here. Clearly, I think a lot of students - I mean, I don't know how it was determined who got to be in the room. But is clearly a lot of students from the university here.

CUOMO: Lot of them.

COOPER: Yes, without a doubt. And there - I mean, definitely when you look around, probably one of the few gray haired people around. So it's definitely a very, very young audience, Don.

LEMON: I have Donna Brazile in here to make up on this end for gray hairs. So we got great hairs.

BRAZILE: It is all mine.


LEMON: All right guys, thank you very much. Nice job for both of you in Iowa.

Up next, more from the Iowa town hall. You heard the candidates make their final arguments. Did you change your mind about any of them? About anything? We'll discuss when you come back.


[23:23:08] LEMON: Democratic candidates taking their battle down to the wire with the Iowa caucuses. And just one week away.

Back with me now is Peter Beinart, Van Jones, Gloria Borger, Michael Smerconish, Donna Brazile, Bakari Sellers - I should be at the gray hair contingent on this side. And the people with no hair. We have everything from it. And that's a compliment, Van. That's no shade as someone said on social media.

You know, Michael Smerconish mentioned this just a short time ago, talking about the candidates perceived strengths and weaknesses are. You mentioned that earlier about Bernie Sanders defending himself as a socialist. Let's listen.


GERRI OHDE, INSURANCE INDUSTRY EMPLOYEE: Some of your detractors have called you a socialist on occasions. And you don't seem too troubled by that, and sometimes embrace it. I wondered if you could elaborate on that. And just to show us what the comfort level you have, your definition of it so that it doesn't concern the rest of us citizens.

SANDERS: Well, what Democratic socialism means, to me, is that economic rights, the right to the economic security should exist in the United States of America. It means to me that there's something wrong when we have millions of senior citizens today trying to get by on $11,000, $12,000 a year Social Security. It means there is something wrong when the rich get richer and almost everybody else gets poorer. It means there is something wrong, and government should play a role in making sure that all of our kids, regardless of their income, are able to get a higher education. Which is why I'm calling for free tuition of public colleges and universities and why we have to deal with this horrendous level in student debt that people are having.

Now what's going on in countries around the world, in Scandinavia and in Germany, the ideas that I am talk about are not radical ideas. So what Democratic socialism means to me in its essence is that we cannot continue to have a government dominated by the billionaire class, and a Congress that continues to work for the interest of the people on top while ignoring working families.


[23:25:11] LEMON: All right. Mr. Smerconish, this was your, you brought this up. Did he help himself there? Did he explain himself? Socialist, people are afraid of that word.

SMERCONISH: Well, I think he helped himself with regard to the Democratic base. He probably helped himself in as far as he has trying to attract those voters in Iowa. I don't think that sells to the nation at-large, unless he completes the thought and says something like, I'm for you in you are an entrepreneur. There's nothing wrong with wanting to make money in this country. I'm talking about the very wealthy, having too big a piece of the pie because they have manipulated the process. But left the way that it is, I think it opens itself to a criticism that he's coming for everybody's wallet.

JONES: I think that the only thing is that he makes this mistake every time trying to go overseas. Look, in some Scandinavian village they do this --

LEMON: They don't want to be compared to them.

JONES: And I think, listen. This is a huge opportunity to point out that a lot of stuff we take for granted in the United States right now like free k-12 education. That was once called the socialist program. A Medicare was once called a socialist program. Of a lot of things that we have in America were once called that. He never talked about American history, and talked about the fact that even something like Dr. King had ideas that were once called socialists by which we could all be together and hold hands. So I think that he could make the sale a lot better than he does.

BORGER: You know, he was supposed to give a speech during this campaign and he hasn't done it yet on Democratic socialism.

BRAZILE: He went to Georgetown and he, and he did lay out his vision --

BORGER: He has laid out his vision, yes.

BRAZILE: About what democratic socialism would mean and this modern day capitalism.

BORGER: But what he didn't include was the fact that your taxes, if you are among the wealthy this in this country would be raised to 40 to 50 percent tax rate. He didn't detail how you would pay for x, y, and z.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is a big, big --

LEMON: The only millennial at this table is this young man right here, and when millennials say to me, I like Bernie Sanders. That's great. So how is he going to pay for this? How is he going to pay for this? You guys are going to pay for it. Before you respond, let's listen. He was asked about it and then we'll talk about it, Bakari. Let's listen.


SANDERS: There has been a massive redistribution of wealth in this country. It's gone from working families, trillions of dollars, to the top one tenth of one percent. So yes, what this campaign is about is to say profitability corporations who in some years don't may a nickel in taxes, for the wealthiest in this country who sometimes have an effective tax rate lower that be truck drivers or nurses, yes, you all are going to start paying your fair share of taxes.

CUOMO: You will hear people say that you are paying for is it is actually punitive. You're going to punish people who make money. You are going to punish the financial district. You're going to punish and wind up changing the idea of an open and free economy.

SANDERS: We got to put what I am doing in context. And here's the context, today in America, we have more income and wealth inequalities than since 1928. There has, Chris, been a massive transfer of wealth, I'm talking about trillions of dollars, from the pockets of working families into the hands of the top one tenth of one percent. That's a fact.

So if you are telling me that at a time when Wall Street's recklessness and illegal behavior brought this country to its knees, that I am going to say to them that they are going to have to start paying their fair share of taxes, fine, if that's the criticism, I accept it, I demand that wall street start paying its fair share of taxes.


LEMON: Bakari?

SELLERS: I think it's more than that though. I mean for the fact of the matter is, I'm a millennial. I'm 31-years-old. I just got married about four or five months ago and I'm still trying to figure this thing out.

But what I do know is every month, I have a car note, $400 note, I pay over $1300 a month in student loan payments, like many people watching out there trying to figure out how to balance their books. And this isn't just going to be the billionaire class on Wall Street that are going to have to share the Bernie Sanders tax burden, this is going to be middle class Americans as well. Those of us who go out and get degrees, and we are going to have -- the tax burden on us is going to bump up as well.


BEINART: No, I think that's not right. I mean, that's not right. Especially, you know, if you buy his idea that basically you are going to get rid of health care costs from private insurance, it's worth remembering under --

LEMON: We're going to eliminate private insurance.

BEINART: Right. That's the goal. I mean, look. It is worth remember in the 1950s, this is the point he makes, but it happens to be true, that the top margin tax rate was much, much, much higher, in the middle of 20th century. In the 1950s which the Republicans, you know, kind of romanticize under Dwight Eisenhower. We have accept since Ronald Reagan a notion of what have our economic policy should be. It was actually far, far to the right of where things were in the post-war period. Bernie Sanders wants to shift that back.

Now practically he may be able to do it, but radical is depends on what you're basing it on. Dwight Eisenhower is back, it's not that bad.


[23:30:19] LEMON: Yes, yes. But how do you tell people who are already paying 40 percent, almost 40 percent taxes and then how do you convince the middle class American, most Americans they're going to have to pay nor taxes --


BRAZILE: The American people still care about the national deficit. At a time when they are still worried about that, we still have a huge burden in terms of our foreign policy and wars and so forth. So, I think Bernie Sanders has tried to answer how he would come to pay for all of these programs, but I think --

LEMON: Quick last word on this. Then we'll move on.

BORGER: I think the greater question is trying to convince Americans that they ought to have more faith in government to be the solution to all of their problems, at a time when trusting government is at an all-time low. And Bernie Sanders is saying --

LEMON: I'll let you speak, but hurry.

JONES: Look, there are a lot of people out there that agree with what he says because they think the insurance companies are ripping them off and why do you need insurance? You don't need insurance companies, you just need to be able to see a doctor. And also, he does talk about charging Wall Street for speculation. These guy us gambling with money, a little bit of tax there can give you a chance to go to college. I think people -- that's a good thing.

LEMON: OK. So that's his issue. The whole socialist thing in raising taxes. That maybe a strength or weakness, how do you see it? This is Hillary Clinton's week. You guys know, honestly, honesty question, she got it tonight. Here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have heard from quite a few people my age that think you're dishonest. But I'd like it hear from you and why you feel the enthusiasm isn't there.

CLINTON: Well, I think it really depends upon who you are seeing and talking to. You know, today in Oskaloosa, I spent time with about ten high school students who are enthusiastically working for me. I see young people across the state who are doing the same. But I'm totally happy to see young people involved in any way. That's what we want. And we want to have a good primary to pick a nominee, and then we to want have everybody join together to make sure we win in November which after all is the purpose of this whole campaign.

And so, you know, look, I have been around a long time, people have thrown all kinds of things at me. And you know, I can't keep up with it. I just keep going forward, they fall by the wayside. They come up with these outlandish things. They make these charges. I just keep going forward because there's nothing to it. They throw all of this stuff at me, and I'm still standing.

But if you're new to politics, if it's the first time you've really paid attention, you go oh my God, look at all of this, and you have to say to yourself, why are they throwing all of that? Well, I'll tell you, because I've been on the front lines of change and progress since I was your age. I have been fighting to give kids and women and the people who are left out and left behind the chance to make the most out of their own lives. And I've taken on the status quo time and time again.


LEMON: So, I think Michael, that was her first question, I believe --


LEMON: And I actually felt watching it, objectively, it was her best moment.

SMERCONISH: It was. And I would categorize that as the woman in the arena speech. Her essentially saying that this comes with the territory, if you're out there on the front lines as I have been for all these years, you're going incur this criticism and it's all preposterous.

But as I watched her say that, I couldn't help but think of Michael Bloomberg, and that may seem like non-secular, but I think the reason that Bloomberg is taking a look at getting into this race is that he is wondering whether she has some liability relative to the email issue.

BEINART: I thought what made it a strong answer was she wasn't trying to be pretending to be something she's not. She wasn't saying I'm the fresh face. She was saying yes, people have thrown stuff at me. But you know what? I'm tough. I can take it. And then her answer at the end, why did they do that? They do it because they fear me because in fact I'm going to bring change. That's an answer that Democrats like to hear.

LEMON: Did you believe her? Did you believe her?

BEINART: I believe that that's what she really believes. Do I believe that's a big part of the reason, people have gone after her so long? Yes, I think. And I also think frankly has a lot to do with the fact that she's a woman. You look at what happened to her in the 1990s, a lot of that was because she was a figure of cultural change that a lot of people have a lot of trouble.

BORGER: You know, you could see her trying to get there though because at the first part of the question, she said, I'm just totally happy that young people are involved. And that wasn't a really great answer. It was very weak. But then you could see her mind working and she finally got to the point --

LEMON: She felt the room --

BORGER: She got to the point where you know why, people go after me because I have been on the front lines, and that was the good part of the answer, but it took her a while.

[23:35:14] BRAZILE: Yes, because in the South Carolina debate, she didn't know how to answer that question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She couldn't get there.

BRAZILE: She couldn't get there.

BORGER: Exactly.

BRAZILE: But she got there tonight. And I thought that was three snaps, you know, for those of us that understand what a three snaps.

LEMON: Deformation. Teach Michael over there. It's called living color. It's from the '80s.

But also, I thought was -- some people like it, others don't, when she talks about bag woman. And she talked about dancing and President Obama complimenting saying, you know, Ginger Rogers had to do everything been but in heels and backwards. And I thought that that worked for her even though people don't --.

SELLERS: That was a very, very difficult question that young man asked to the former secretary of state of the United States of America.

LEMON: About honesty.

SELLERS: To her face and said many young people believe you're dishonest. And I think that she was taken aback first of all that that was the first question she got at the Democratic forum, and then she found that cadence. Everyone knows when you're a public speaker, when you are politician, you have to find that rhythm, you have to find that cadence. And then she said, I'm still standing. You're going to see that on everything.

LEMON: Stick around, everyone. When we come right back here, we are going to continue own and discuss all of this. The best moments from tonight's town hall. Don't go anywhere.


[23:40:26] LEMON: Welcome back, everyone. The Democrats making their closing arguments to Iowa's voters tonight.

Now let's get to CNN's Jim Sciutto. He has a reality check on what the candidates had to say.

You had a lot to work with, Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We did. And we had our best team in the business on this tonight, Don. As you know, reality check.

Let's start with Bernie Sanders. This has been one of the big issues in the campaign, universal health care, Bernie Sanders drawing a distinction with Hillary Clinton on this. Him supporting he says, a much broader plan. So let's listen to a claim he made tonight on why he is doing this. Listen.


SANDERS: United States today is the only major country on earth that doesn't guarantee health care as a right.


SCIUTTO: Only country on earth doesn't guarantee health care as a right. We went to our fact checkers. In fact, the world health organization looking at this. The USA is currently the only high- income company industrialized nation that does not have nearly universal health care coverage. Our reality check team rates that claim as true.

Let's go on to Hillary Clinton, another key issue here, of course, has been wealth disparity. Hillary Clinton and making her case for president going back to the Clinton years, and making this claim about wealth, growth during that decade.


CLINTON: At the end of eight years, we not only had 23 million new jobs, what was most important is incomes grew for everybody. Not just those at the top. More people were lifted out of poverty, incomes rose in the middle and working people, and today in Knoxville and my town hall, I called on a man he said, we never had it so good.


SCIUTTO: We never had it so good. That the crux of the Clinton argument, America's prospered under President Bill Clinton. The reality check team looks there, they rated it is true. Looking at the numbers particularly on the spreading that income growth around during the economic growth of the 1990s.

Let's go to Martin O'Malley. This big issue, violent crime, but specific to Baltimore and Maryland, Don. You know this, you've been covering this, in the last year. The violence there the crime and the resulting protests. Here's a claim he made --


MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At the end of my time, we had driven down crime to a 30-year low and we had also driven that on incarceration rate to a 20 year low. You can do both of them at the same time by doing good things at work.


SCIUTTO: So we looked at both figures close that drove down both violent crime 30 year low, but also that incarceration rate. Here's what our reality check team found. Violent crime down, significantly amount for 100,000 inhabitants, incarceration rate down not quite as significantly, but the team still rating that claim as true.

This is a final one, Don. Couldn't let this one go by because there was a moment in the debate when Bernie Sanders makes a claim of being a great athlete, basketball Bernie, here's what he said to our Chris Cuomo.


SANDERS: I was a good athlete. I wouldn't say I was a great athlete. I was a pretty good basketball player, my elementary school in Brooklyn won the borough championship.


SCIUTTO: You don't get more outlandish claims than that, but we, as we said, we got the best team. I'm a New Yorker. I used to play elementary school basketball. We had to check this one out. Did his school win the Brooklyn borough championship in basketball? His score, I remind you, Ps 197 in Brooklyn, fact checking team looked. They did indeed win. Don --

That reality check claim is true. You can take it to the bank.

LEMON: That be the one that everyone would be ticked off about. If it wasn't true.

JONES: You can check.

LEMON: Nice job, Jim Sciutto. Thank you very much. I'm glad -- and did your team win?

SCIUTTO: My team did not win. So I'm standing in awe just as much as Chris Cuomo of the great Bernie Sanders. He was also a good miler, 437 mile, not bad.

LEMON: And that's true too as well.

All right. Thank you, Jim.

So back with everyone here tonight. We have the whole team with us here.

I want to ask you, this is something, this is Hillary Clinton, you were speaking to Joe Biden, and he talked about Hillary Clinton's record on income inequality and so on and so forth and he had a very interesting answer to you. Tell me about that moment.

BORGER: He said that basically that Hillary Clinton was, hadn't spent her entire career on that issue, and Bernie Sanders seemed authentic on this issue because he had put an awful lot of time into it. So it was kind of a backhanded criticism of Hillary Clinton --

LEMON: Let's listen. Do you want to listen?


CLINTON: I was in that fight during my husband's administration. And let's remember what happened there. At the end of eight years, we not only had 23 million new jobs, what was most important is incomes grew for everybody. Not just those at the top. More people were lifted out of poverty, incomes rose in the middle and working people, and today in Knoxville in my town hall, I called on a man, he said we never had it so good, except when your husband was president. Because we tackled income inequality and produced results. Not talk, action. And that's what I will do as president.


[23:45:28] LEMON: Well obviously that was from the tonight and not during your interview. But she did take -- that was a pretty good answer for the question.

BORGER: Right. Because the question was that the vice president had said you're a relative newcomer. And her point was no, I've been fighting this alongside former president Bill Clinton reminding everybody of the great economy in the '90s under Bill Clinton. And then she said, you know, not talk, just action. And that's her whole point about Bernie Sanders. He can talk the talk, but she can walk the walk.

LEMON: Before you respond, I want to ask you this because we keep mentioning Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton, he speaks a language of the middle class even though he's a multimillionaire now.

JONES: Now he is.

LEMON: So in her answer, and what she's doing on the campaign trail, how is she doing comparatively?

JONES: Well look, Hillary Clinton you saw tonight is the Hillary Clinton that we know. She's that way. She's passionate, she was engaged, (INAUDIBLE), she is dynamic. When you meet her one on one, you talk to her in a small sentence, she's amazing. She finally got that across tonight. I thought that was great. I think - and usually she doesn't do as well on that.

But she did something else I thought was very clever on this question of inequality. Bernie's been hitting her on income inequality, income inequality, she broadened it out, she said what about gender inequality, what about racial inequality. She was very suddenly undermining him by making the inequality argument, not just a class argument, but a bigger argument. I thought that was very, very clever. For the base, that was clever.

SELLERS: And it was very shrewd as well, because one thing Hillary Clinton knows is her limitations. And I think we all agree that the income inequality check box goes to Bernie Sanders. You're not going to out income inequality him. You just - you would not do it.

LEMON: So my question is, is she right and it wasn't maybe it wasn't called income inequality at the time, Michael, but working on, you know, balancing the budget and doing all those things.

SMERCONISH: Well, I don't think that the gap, I don't think that the data suggests that the gap then on Bill Clinton's watch, or watches as first lady was - yes, it's grown exponentially in the last decade, plus, so, Bernie, clearly was the first one to the party on this issue. And I think the issue has caught up with him. More son so than her missing it in the first go round.

BEINART: That's right. There's actually a difference here. I don't think Hillary Clinton is actually so concerned about income inequality per se. Income inequality also grew under Bill Clinton, but people didn't mind so much because people at the bottom were still doing better.

I philosophically, she's in somewhat different place, and she could have made that clearer. I don't think her concern is the gap between the rich and everyone else. Her concern is, is everybody better off than they were before.

LEMON: Everybody, stand by. We will get to that. When we come right back, much, much more from the CNN Democratic town hall, the can't miss moment. We will be right back.


[23:52:03] LEMON: You heard the Democrats going head to head in tonight's town hall.

Back with me Peter Beinart, Van Jones, Gloria Borger, Michael Smerconish, Donna Brazile, and Bakari Sellers. Good to have all of you.

You know the issue that continues to dog at least one candidate. And that would be them among the voters, and that's the issue of the Iraq war. Hillary Clinton pressed on it, Bernie Sanders asked about it, here they are.


SANDERS: The truth is that the most significant vote and issue regarding foreign policy, that we have seen in this country in modern history is the vote on the war in Iraq. OK, that's a fact. I voted against the war in Iraq and if you go to my Web site, listen to the speech that I gave when I was in the house in 2002, saying yes, it's easy to get rid of a dictator like Saddam Hussein, but there's going to be a political, there will be instability, and it gives me no pleasure to tell you that much of what I feared, in fact happened. Hillary Clinton voted for the in Iraq.

CLINTON: I have a much longer history than one vote, which I've said was a mistake because of the way that that was done and how the Bush administration handled it. But I think the American public has seen me exercising judgment in a lot of other ways, and in fact, when that hard primary campaign was over, and I went to work for President Obama and he ended up asking me to be secretary of state, it was because he trusted my judgment. And we work side by side over those four years.


LEMON: So Peter, does he win on this issue? Does this issue even matter among Democratic voters anymore?

SELLERS: He could have made it matter, but I don't think he did. What Barack Obama did effectively back in 2008 was he tied her Iraq war vote to her current view. He made it relevant. He said she is going on the same path on Iran that she was going down on Iraq. What Bernie Sanders didn't do was connect the Hillary Clinton's policies today, but she is actually more hawkish than where most Democratic base voters. She didn't say - and she wanted a no-fly zone in Syria, which could lead us down that path or he should have gone after this line that she went after on the last debate where he said he wants to move to normalization with Iran. Instead, he said, yes, I do, because I don't want a cold war with Iran. Because a cold war with Iran is producing instability throughout the region. He doesn't have the confidence to actually take that issue and make it relevant and kind of make it hurt for her.

SMERCONISH: The way it came up, as I recall, was that commercial, which is I think it's quite compelling which displays her vast experience we shown and Bernie Sanders had to respond to it. And I thought he had a pretty decent line when he said we need to differentiate between experience and judgment, and then he said, Dick Cheney had a lot of experience. And I thought that would have drawn more of a reaction from the crowd, it really didn't.

To Peter's point, I maintain if she were on the Republican stage, she's fit in relative to foreign policy with her hawkishness, and I'm surprised that Bernie Sanders, and maybe this is the point you're making, hasn't turned that against her with a Democratic base.

[23:55:06] LEMON: But my question was, I said to the Democratic voters, the voters that maybe she hasn't won over yet, maybe some independent voters that she -- do they care about this issue?

JONES: Look. I think the people, I think that for the people who don't like Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party, this matters a lot.


JONES: And I agree that he could use it to more affect than he had. It does matter a lot because it goes to the sense that Hillary Clinton is hawkish. That she is going to try to be so tough that she may do things that are dumb. And that is something I think that Democrats are very afraid of. There's still a budget heartburn in this party. You had people like Benghazi and others who were screaming saying don't go to war, and Barack Obama, who got smacked down by people like Hillary Clinton, and that still matters.

BRAZILE: She was more of a diplomat tonight. She wasn't the interventionist hawkish Hillary Clinton that we saw on the stage back in 2008 when I think she tried to prove just what kind of commander in-chief she would be at. I mean, I thought the war is still a big issue. This was a Hillary Clinton tonight who talked about diplomacy and how that should be the first step --

LEMON: But she did talk about her experience. She talked about her experience a lot as secretary of state and how she is ready to do whatever, you know -- ready to do whatever it takes to be the president and whatever that job will bring. Here it is. Listen.


CLINTON: You know, you don't get the pick the issues you work on when you're president. A lot of them come at you. They come in the door whether you open it or not, and even gave the example of working on the state of the union, being at the desk in the oval office when one of his aids came in and said, the Iranians have just captured two of our naval vessels and have taken our sailors prisoners. You can't say OK, don't bother me now. I'll deal with that later. You have to immediately be able to switch gears, you've got to do all aspects of job.

So let me tell you how I think about it. I think it's imperative you do your very best, every president and certainly I will, to avoid military action. It should be the last resort, not the first choice. To use diplomacy, even if it's slow, boring, hard, to continue to persist and be patient to get results.


LEMON: Gloria, I know you want to weigh in on this.

Van Jones, van, I saw a smile, and then a frown. I was watching your face, you were like uh, oh. What were you thinking?

JONES: She's good. I mean --

LEMON: Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not who you painted her as.

JONES: LEMON: That's not what you all characterized her as a moment ago.

JONES: Here is a deal. That does go to the question about authenticity. But listen. Tonight we saw the Hillary Clinton that is prepared or it commander in-chief. She's very, very good. And I think when she says stuff like that, it's reassuring Democrats. (CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But here is a thing. It wasn't Hillary the hawk tonight. It was Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, made me his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. And Barack Obama who by the way, opposed the war in Iraq, made me his secretary of state. Have I said that enough? And the all evening long, all evening long, it was Hillary Clinton, comma, friend, colleague, secretary of state, of President Barack Obama --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama. Hillary, Barack Obama, Hillary Barack Obama.

BEINART: There's a reason that Hillary Clinton was somewhat comfortable. And yes, Democrats don't ask questions about terrorism. You notice what a dramatic difference it was in that room from the other debate? ISIS almost never came up. The priorities of the two different parties are dramatically different. So the foreign policy questions were much more geared towards answers about the diplomacy where it's tougher for a Democrat is when you get a lot of questions which are basically on the country is terrified, what are you going to do about it? That's where Democrats find it more difficult.

SELLERS: I also think that Hillary Clinton can stand on the stage in terms of foreign policy and answering that question of should I worry with any Republican that you put her up against. I think she displayed that tonight. But even more importantly, getting back, I really think that's a central theme in this Democratic primary. I mean even Barack Obama in his interview today, he hinted at it, but Hillary Clinton says it over and over and over again, Eric Holder has said it on her behalf that this race is about building on and protecting the legacy of Barack Obama. That is what she's running on in this Democratic --

Is that a third Obama?

LEMON: Is that a third Obama --?

BORGER: Well, it is, you know, for Republicans it'll be a third Obama term. Look. I think President Obama knows that in order to preserve his legacy, he's got to get Hillary Clinton elected. Period.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it includes diplomacy. It definitely does.

JONES: I think that's an important point. She's saying I'm going to be Hillary Rodham Obama.



JONES: And Bernie Sanders is not doing that. And that does create some heartburn, especially for black voters, it creates heartburn. It does.

SELLERS: And I'm sorry to monopolize this. But Van just said on the point, because once you leave --


SELLERS: Once you leave Iowa and you leave New Hampshire, people in the south, when we get to these --