By John Manning – International Banker
The much-anticipated second 90-minute US presidential debate was held at 9PM ET at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump once again sparring over a number of issues of interest to the American public. Unlike the more formal question and answer setup of the first debate, the second debate comprised a town hall format, permitting 40 members of the estimated 900-person audience, each of them undecided voters from the St. Louis area selected by Gallup, to ask the candidates questions. That morning, the 40 participants submitted their questions to the moderators, who then determined the debate’s agenda. The town hall format became part of the US presidential debate lineup in 1992, when Clinton’s husband, Bill, went up against incumbent George H. W. Bush. Moderators Martha Raddatz, news correspondent for ABC, and Anderson Cooper, anchorman of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, also gleaned questions to shoot at the candidates, primarily from sources such as social media.
This time around, Donald Trump, who many claimed seemed relatively unprepared for his first debate with Hillary Clinton on September 26 in Hempstead, New York, did participate in a town hall event in New Hampshire on Thursday, October 6, in order to hone his skills for the debate.
This debate was marred by controversy in the days leading up to it after the Washington Post released an 11-year-old video clip of Trump sharing lewd remarks about attractive women with then NBC Access Hollywood correspondent Billy Bush (whose uncle is George H. W. Bush). His remarks sparked a virtual firestorm of condemnation across the country, which calmed somewhat after he issued a formal apology but still alienated some high-ranking Republican leaders, who claimed they could no longer support their party’s presidential candidate, some even suggesting that he should step aside. Trump also took the offensive against Clinton, citing her husband’s sexual abuse of women and her aggressive actions toward the victims. Clinton wasn’t free of controversy herself after WikiLeaks released approximately 2,000 of the estimated 50,000 hacked Clinton emails they have under their belt—this lot primarily about paid speeches to Wall Street banks, with some advocating open borders and free trade.
It was indicated beforehand that the debate would begin with questions about Donald Trump’s 2005 video clip. Trump stunned even the media by appearing with three of Bill Clinton’s sexual assault accusers shortly before the actual debate: Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey. Also appearing was Kathy Shelton, a woman who claimed to have been raped at the age of 12 years old. Hillary Clinton defended the 41-year-old alleged rapist as his lawyer and won his acquittal, later supposedly joking about her success. Trump invited all four women to attend the debate, which they did.
The candidates were allowed two minutes each to respond to a variety of questions from participants and the moderators.
Clinton responded to the first question, “Do you feel you’re modeling appropriate behavior for today’s youth?”, by expressing her concerns for some of the things that were being said and done in the campaign and stressed the need to make clear to children that the country is a good one to live in. She emphasized the importance of celebrating diversity. She stated that she would be the president for all Americans, heal the nation and bring it together.
Trump confirmed his agreement with her statement. He stated that he began his run for president because he was tired of the “foolishness” he had witnessed. During the course of his campaigning, he had gotten to know people and said he was determined to make America great again. He asserted that the country has tremendous potential but is restricted by problems such as Obamacare and an $800 billion trade deficit. He emphasized the importance of strong borders, law and order, bringing back respect to law enforcement, improving inner cities.
The issue of the Access Hollywood tape was raised, and Trump was asked if he understood that he had bragged about sexually assaulting women. Trump referred to the contents of the tape as “locker room talk” and said that he was not proud of it. He apologized for it, claiming he was embarrassed by it. He affirmed that he had great respect for women and replied to Anderson Cooper’s question as to whether he had ever forced himself on a woman by reiterating his determination to strengthen border security, making Americans feel safe again.
Clinton, referring to the video clip, suggested it was an indication that Trump was not fit to be president and commander-in-chief. She said that while he claims it does not represent who he is, according to her he has embarrassed women repeatedly and that it does represent who he is, raising serious questions about his fitness. She mentioned other groups he has supposedly targeted: immigrants, POWs, disabled people. She suggested the country needs to answer him by saying, “This is not who we are”. America is great because it is good, she said, respecting each other and celebrating diversity.
Trump retorted that “It’s just words”, pointing out that Clinton had been a senator but failed to live up to her promises. He said that he would actually help Hispanics and Afro-Americans.
In reference to the Access Hollywood video, which millions and millions of people have been discussing on social media, Trump was reminded that he has claimed that his campaign has changed him. He was asked when that transformation had happened. Trump then pointed to Bill Clinton’s abuse of women in actions, claiming that not in the history of US politics had a politician been as abusive to women. Trump also stated that Hillary Clinton herself had viciously attacked her husband’s victims. Trump also mentioned rape victim Kathy Shelton and indicated that Clinton needed to apologize to her. Trump pointed out that Bill Clinton had been impeached from his presidential seat, lost his license to practice law. He stated that Hillary Clinton should be ashamed of herself for dredging up words spoken 11 years ago.
Clinton responded with a Michelle Obama quote: “When they go low, you go high”. She said if it had just been one video, it would be one thing. But pointed to other issues with Trump that she said he had not apologized for such as “insulting” the parents of a Muslim-American Iraq war hero, a judge who was of Mexican origin and “mocking” a disabled reporter. She also accused him of originating the “racist lie” that Obama was not born in the US. She said he owed his victims apologies and needed to take responsibility for his actions and words.
Trump said Clinton was the one who owed an apology, insisting as he has before that Clinton’s campaign had started the Obama birther movement during the 2007/2008 presidential campaign. He pointed to how harsh Obama’s ads had been against Clinton during that campaign. He also mentioned the WikiLeaks hacked memos that showed Bernie Sanders’ was not given a chance by the Democratic National Convention, who were determined to get Clinton in. He suggested Clinton apologize for that and for the 33,000 emails she had deleted after receiving a subpoena. He said if he won, he would get a special prosecutor to look into the Clinton situation. He claimed that people were furious about Clinton’s many lies, including FBI workers. He said that people’s lives had been destroyed after they had committed “crimes” similar to hers.
Clinton claimed that all of what Trump had just said was false. She told viewers to go to her website to fact check Trump. She added that it was a good thing that Trump was not in charge of the country, to which Trump retorted, “Because you’d be in jail”.
Clinton was further questioned about her personal email server and her careless handling of classified information. She admitted it was a mistake and that she takes responsibility for using a personal email server. She said that after a year-long investigation, there was no evidence that any classified material had ended up in the wrong hands.
Trump accused Clinton of lying and reminded her that she had deleted 33,000 emails after receiving a subpoena. He said that he was disappointed with Congress and the Justice Department for allowing this to happen. He again said that Clinton should be put in jail. Clinton responded that his accusations were not true and suggested he was creating diversions to draw attention away from the way his campaign was imploding.
The next question dealt with the Affordable Health Care Act and how the plan was not affordable. Costs were up, deductibles were up, coverage was down. How would the candidates improve it?
Clinton said she would fix it. She had laid out a series of actions that could be taken. She pointed out that under the plan 20 million had health insurance who hadn’t had it before. And that the 170 million who had it through employment had also benefited. She suggested she would save what works and what is good about Affordable Health Care but get the costs down. She mentioned that Trump wanted to repeal it and start over again, but this approach would result in the loss of all of the benefits. Then they would have to start all over again. She said she would keep the quality up and the costs down.
Trump called Obamacare a “disaster” that was only getting worse. He said their solution would be to go back and ask Congress for more money. He claimed the plan was too expensive for the American people and for the country. He said the only solution was to repeal it and replace it with something less expensive that works. Trump emphasized the importance of bringing back competition into the health insurance industry. He said Clinton wanted a single-payer health system, which leads to both premiums and deductibles going up.
Clinton was then reminded by the moderators that her own husband had called Obamacare the “craziest thing in the world”. But she continued to defend the plan, identifying its success in providing health insurance coverage to the 20 million who had not had it before. She suggested they fix it rather than throw it away. Trump accused Clinton of showing bad judgment by defending Obamacare. He said competition among insurance companies would rectify many of the problems with the system.
The next question raised was how the candidates would help Muslims deal with the consequences of being labeled a threat to the country.
Trump pointed out the need to recognize radical Islam terror for what it is before being able to fix the situation.
Clinton expressed her vision of America in which everyone has a place, works hard, does their part. She said America needed Muslims to be included and that the country is not at war with Islam, that Muslims are just as welcome as anyone else.
Trump was asked to clarify his position on banning Muslims, but he said he was in favor of “extreme vetting” not banning. He accused Clinton of wanting to allow a 550 percent increase in the number of Muslim refugees accepted into the country over and above Obama’s target. He described this policy as a great “Trojan horse”. He suggested instead that the US build safe zones in the Middle East, with other wealthy countries in the area helping to fund them.
Clinton said she would like to increase from 10,000 to 65,000 the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the US and pointed out that children were suffering in catastrophic wars. She said the US needs to do its part and is not carrying its fair share of the load.
The candidates were asked, “Why take the risk of allowing more Syrian refugees into the country?”
Clinton stated that the US can’t ban people based on religion.
Trump said that Clinton was willing to take in criminal illegal aliens, aliens their own countries won’t take back. He said he will force them back into their countries. He pointed out that border patrol agencies have endorsed him.
The topic of the recent WikiLeaks revelation of the content of some of Clinton’s paid Wall Street speeches was brought up. Clinton was reminded that she had suggested politicians can be “two-faced”, with a public and a private position, and was asked if this was OK.
Clinton claimed that the Kremlin is directing the hacking of American information specifically in order to influence this presidential election—and not to help Clinton but Trump. She suggested her opponent might have financial links with Moscow and stressed that he needed to release his tax returns for the purpose of transparency.
Trump admitted his desire to get along with Russia. He said that Clinton doesn’t know that the Russians are the ones doing the hacking. He claimed to have no business ties with Russia. He also stated that he had paid hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. He promised to release his tax returns when the IRS audit of them was completed.
The candidates were then asked what specific tax provisions they would change to ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share.
Trump mentioned carried interest. He then asked why Clinton had not changed the tax code during her time as a senator. Then he speculated that all of her wealthy friends such as Warren Buffett and George Soros took the deductions so that she could run campaign ads against him. He claimed that while he would reduce taxes, Clinton would raise taxes. He pointed out that the country’s GDP growth was very low at 1 percent, partly because of high taxes. He mentioned that he would bring them down to among the world’s lowest.
Clinton retorted that Trump would give the wealthiest corporations the tax cuts, that he takes care of “Donald and people like Donald”. In effect he would raise taxes on the middle class. She said that under her plan, no one who makes less than $200,000 per year would see their taxes raised. She mentioned that as a senator, she had voted to close loopholes. She would shift the tax burden to people who make $1 million or more. She claimed she wants to invest in hard-working people and stop the gain from going all to the top.
When questioned about it, Trump admitted he has used a 916 million loss incurred in the mid-1990s to minimize his federal tax burden. He said he understands the tax code. He mentioned that Clinton has wealthy friends who want to take advantage of the carried interest provision. He said he has used tax deductions to reduce the tax he paid as well as write-offs, depreciation. He then went on to say that Clinton had 30 years to make changes but was “all talk, no action” and repeatedly showed bad judgment, mentioning the Middle East conflicts and how the US’s decision to pull its troops out of Iraq created the vacuum from which ISIS grew, spreading ultimately to 32 countries.
Clinton said she had been in favor of getting rid of the carried interest provision as senator, but the Republican president had the power of the veto. She then launched into a discussion of what she had accomplished during her 30 years in public office: as senator in the fields of health care, child adoption, pharmaceuticals; as Secretary of State by advocating for women’s rights, negotiating a treaty with Russia to reduce nuclear weapons. She said she had worked hard in a bipartisan way, getting along with people for 30 years.
The debate turned to how the video of the Syrian boy bleeding in a vehicle had focused the world’s attention on all the suffering in Syria, in part caused by the actions of Syrian President Assad and his Russian allies, especially relating to their onslaught against rebel stronghold Aleppo. The situation was likened to the Holocaust, with the US in particular waiting too long before it stepped in to help.
Clinton agreed that the situation in Aleppo in particular was catastrophic, with President Assad bombarding the 250 thousand some people in the city in a determined effort by the Syrian government and Russia to destroy the rebels holding out in the city. She claimed that Russia is not interested in fighting ISIS but helping Assad. She also suggested that the Russians want Trump in as president of the US. She said she had cooperated with Russia as Secretary of State. She also stated that she would support an investigation into war crimes in Syria.
Trump said that Obama had drawn a line in the sand but that he “talks tough” against Russia. But Trump pointed out that the US’s nuclear capability has fallen behind, while Russia has pushed ahead with theirs. He also said that Clinton talks tough against Putin and Assad, but that her foreign policy as Secretary of State was a disaster. By arming rebels and taking the leadership out, it created a mess. He pointed in particular to Gaddafi in Libya. He contended that Russia was fighting against ISIS along with Syria and Iran.
When asked what specifically they would do as president to address the crisis in Aleppo, Trump emphasized the importance of defeating ISIS. He took issue with the way the White House sometimes has announced its intentions to attack a particular area ahead of time (in an effort to allow civilians to escape). He advocated that the US make sneak attacks. He also took the opportunity to mention that he had received several endorsements from generals and admirals. He said that he did not agree with running mate Mike Pence on some of his suggestions for tackling the Syrian conflict.
Clinton pointed out that diplomatic efforts haven’t been successful in Syria, citing the recent ceasefire, which didn’t last. She said American ground forces shouldn’t hold territory in Syria but instead the country should employ special forces, enablers and trainers as in Iraq. She recommended targeting ISIS leader Baghdadi and arming the Kurds.
When asked, “Do you believe you can be a devoted president for all people of the US?”, Trump pointed out that Clinton had recently called millions of American people “deplorable” and “unredeemable”. He stressed his determination to bring backs job, citing NAFTA—which Clinton’s husband, Bill, had signed—as one of the main reasons that the US had been stripped of manufacturing jobs. He pointed to the TPP as another threat and argued that Clinton had lied when she said that she had not held it up as the “gold standard” of trade agreements. He said he would be a president to African Americans and Hispanics, people living in poverty in the inner cities. He accused Clinton again of being all talk but getting little accomplished during her many years in public office.
Clinton defended her record, pointing out that 67 percent of New York voters voted to re-elect her to the Senate. She said she had done what she could do to help people during her 30 years in public service. She had worked to improve the criminal justice system, especially for minorities. She said that she would ensure that everyone has a place in America. She claimed that people had written to her, fearful that they might not have a place in Trump’s America, concerned they will be sent back to the countries from which they came. She called this fear part of the “Trump effect” on America. She also pointed out that bullying had increased in the country. She did apologize for calling Trump supporters “deplorables”. She said her problem was not with his supporters but with him and his divisive comments about Afro-Americans, Muslims, immigrants, people with disabilities, for which, she said, he has not apologized.
Trump claimed, “We have a divided nation.” He pointed to the increase in violence that was taking place, such as the recent riots in Charlotte, North Carolina. He said that Clinton did harbor hate for some Americans and that she had meant what she had said when she called his supporters deplorable and irredeemable. He contended that the country could not survive “another four years of Obama”.
Trump was then put on the hot seat again regarding his recent 3 AM Tweets about previous Miss Universe Alicia Machado (whom Clinton had held up as an example of his demeaning attitude toward women at the end of the first presidential debate), encouraging the American people to check out a sex tape she was in. He was asked if he had the discipline that a good leader needs.
Trump pointed out that he had been merely giving the sex video as an example of Machado’s character and credibility. He changed the subject to Benghazi, claiming Ambassador Chris Stevens and his staff had sent out hundreds of pre-dawn requests for help that were ignored by then Secretary of State Clinton.
Clinton responded to the original question by saying that “no”, she did not believe that Trump had the discipline for the job, especially in regards to national security, and pointed out that some in the Republican leadership agreed with her on this. She went on to assert that Obama had reformed the country in a positive way.
The discussion turned to the Supreme Court and what aspect each candidate would prioritize when selecting justices.
Clinton stressed the importance of marriage equality and pro-choice values in her Supreme Court picks and said that Trump would reverse marriage equality and Roe vs Wade. She mentioned her intention to change the balance on the Supreme Court, and took Congress to task for refusing to allow Obama’s justice nominee, Merrick Garland, to be selected after the death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia earlier in 2016.
Trump said that he had picked 20 possible Supreme Court justices, all of them highly respected. He stressed that his emphasis was on defending the US Constitution. He pointed out that Second Amendment rights were under siege. He then drifted to Clinton’s campaign funds, claiming that she had used the power of her office to make money and that she should put some of that money into financing her campaign, as he was using personal funds to finance his. Clinton said she respected the Second Amendment but would strive to close loopholes.
The candidates were then asked about their stances on energy policy, how it could be made to meet the needs of Americans while limiting job losses and not damaging the environment.
Trump said that energy companies were being undermined, with the Environmental Protection Agency “killing” them. Foreigners were buying them. He agreed that alternative forms of energy were good but stressed the need to support American miners, whom he claimed Clinton wanted to put out of business. He talked about the possibility of producing “clean coal” and making the best use of the technology under America’s feet. He said he would prioritize bringing energy companies back.
Clinton launched in with an accusation that China had been “illegally” dumping steel in the US and that Trump had been buying it for his real estate projects. She said she would establish a trade prosecutor. She claimed that America is now energy interdependent, not dependent, as prices depend on Middle Eastern oil producers. She reiterated her plan to focus on developing renewable energy and on being energy independent. Her comprehensive energy policy would include fighting climate change and becoming the world’s renewable energy superpower, which she pointed out would create new jobs.
This contentious debate, which each candidate frequently on both the offensive and the defensive, ended on a positive note. For the final question, the candidates were asked to state one positive thing that they respected in each other.
Clinton said she respected Trump’s children for being very able and devoted; they “say a lot about Donald”. She then pointed out to American voters that a lot is at stake with this election; they will be choosing the president who will set policy for years to come. She encouraged viewers to check out her website for more specifics on her policies and plans and promised to take her 30 years of public office experience to the White House.
Trump agreed that he was very proud of his children. He said he admired Clinton for being a fighter, for not quitting or giving up. Even though he disagreed with her on many points, her determination was a good trait.