With frontrunner Hillary Clinton building a formidable delegate lead over progressive challenger Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidates sparred in Flint, Michigan, on Sunday evening, two days ahead of Michigan's primary.
Convening in the city where state officials delayed action in the face of lead poisoning in the water supply, the debate provided a forum for discussion of racial inequality, public health and the role of government.
With Sanders hoping that his populist platform would help him beat expectations in this onetime crown jewel of American industry, the stakes were particularly high for the Vermont senator, whose path to victory is increasingly narrow. He can at least hope to arrive at the Democratic National Convention this summer with a hefty delegate haul.
Mic rounded up the most noteworthy moments below.
1. Clinton joined Sanders in calling on the governor of Michigan to resign or face a recall.
Echoing Sanders' call for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to resign over Flint's water crisis, Clinton said that the Republican governor should be recalled by voters if he doesn't step down.
After Sanders reiterated that stance in his opening statement, Clinton began hers by saying, "Amen to that." Clinton had previously declined to say that Snyder should be forced from office.
"It is raining lead in Flint, and the state is derelict in not putting forward the money that is required," she said, lending her support to "the efforts of citizens to achieve" Snyder's recall from office.
The governor responded to the candidates' criticism during the debate:
— Luke Brinker
2. Sanders defended big government as a solution to the Flint water crisis.
When asked by moderator Anderson Cooper why government should be a solution to a problem caused by government action, Sanders got salty.
"That's a good point, Anderson. I suppose they can trust the corporations who have destroyed Flint by a disastrous trade policy which have allowed them to shut down plants in Flint and move to China and Mexico," Sanders quipped. "We can trust them, I'm sure."
Sanders was even able to use his response to hit his classic anti-Wall Street notes.
"Maybe, Anderson, maybe we should let Wall Street come in and run the city of Flint — we know their honesty and the integrity has done so much for the American people," Sanders said sarcastically. "We live in a democracy, and I'm the last person to deny the government is failing in many respects. But at the end of the day, I will trust the people to create a government that works for them rather than Wall Street or corporate America." — Zeeshan Aleem
3. Both Sanders and Clinton declined to say they would fire the head of the EPA.
While state officials have come under fire for Flint's water crisis, less attention has been paid to the federal government's role — and neither candidate would say if they'd fire Gina McCarthy, the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, over the matter.
Noting that federal law requires the EPA to take action if a state fails to respond to a water crisis, Cooper first posed the question to Clinton: "The EPA knew for months and months and never warned the people not to drink the water. Would you fire the head of the EPA?"
"I don't know how high it goes. I would be launching an investigation and there is one," Clinton said. "I was told some of higher ups were pushing to get changes that were not happening. I would have a full investigation, determine who knew what when and people should be fired."
Meanwhile, Sanders said he would fire "anyone who knew what was happening and did not act appropriately."
The progressive populist then launched into his familiar denunciation of a political system he charges is dominated by the interests of the rich and powerful.
"And President Sanders would make the point that, how does it happen in the wealthiest country in the history of the world?" he said. "What are our priorities when, among others, Republicans today are fighting for hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthiest people? How did we have so much money available to go to war in Iraq and spend trillions of dollars, but somehow not have enough money not just for Flint?" — Luke Brinker
4. Sanders said Clinton had "discovered religion" on trade and manufacturing.
When the conversation turned to how the U.S. should prevent corporations moving manufacturing jobs overseas, Clinton sounded skeptical of free trade principles and said she's committed to investing in domestic manufacturing. Sanders said that Clinton's rhetoric sounded politically expedient, given her history on the issue of trade.
"I am very glad, Anderson, that Secretary Clinton discovered religion on this issue, but it's a little bit too late", Sanders said. "Secretary Clinton supported virtually every one of these disastrous trade agreements written by corporate America — NAFTA, supported by the secretary, cost us 800,000 jobs nationwide ... permanent normal trade relations with China cost us millions of jobs."
Sanders suggested that Clinton adopted more protectionist stances because the ideas are in vogue in today's political climate, while he's consistently lobbied for them for his entire career.
"Look I was on a picket line in the early 1990s against NAFTA because you didn't need a PhD in economics to understand that American workers should not be forced to compete against people in Mexico making 25 cents an hour," Sanders said. "And the reason that I was one of the first, not one of the last, to be in opposition to the [Trans-Pacific Partnership] is that American workers should not be forced to compete against people in Vietnam today making a minimum wage of 65 cents an hour." — Zeeshan Aleem
5. "Excuse me, I'm talking."
Read more here.
6. Clinton attacked the "corporate greed" of gun manufacturers.
Turning Sanders' message of combating corporate influence against him, Clinton said that his vote to protect gun manufacturers from legal liability showed capitulation to "corporate greed."
"You talk about corporate greed?" an impassioned Clinton said to Sanders. "The gun manufacturers sell guns to make as much money as they can make."
The line proved to be a crowd-pleaser.
While Sanders voted to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits, he changed his position on the issue in January. Still, Clinton has seized on Sanders' mixed record on the issue to undercut his progressive bona fides. — Luke Brinker
7. Sanders talked about his past as a civil rights activist.
When asked by a member of the audience what kind of experiences he's had that's allowed him to understand people from different cultural backgrounds, Sanders chose to speak of his history of antiracist activism as a college student, which at one point resulted in him being arrested.
"When I was a young man at the University of Chicago, I worked with fellow black and white students trying to desegregate University of Chicago-owned housing," Sanders said. "Most candidates don't put this on their resume, but a year later I was arrested by the Chicago police for trying to desegregate the Chicago school system."
A photo of Sanders' arrest recently emerged from the Chicago Tribune's archives. — Zeeshan Aleem
8. Sanders criticized Clinton over her support for welfare reform.
After expressing regret for using the controversial term "superpredator" in 1996 to refer to a certain kind of child criminal — based on a theory that was highly racialized — Clinton went on to describe her commitment to investing in resources intended to lift minority communities out of poverty. But Sanders' said that in the 90s Clinton supported the kind of social policies that did just the opposite.
"In 1996, there was a bill ... called the welfare reform bill, and this bill really was a bill that scapegoated the poorest people in this country," Sanders said. "I strongly opposed that legislation; Secretary Clinton had a different position then. What that legislation ended up doing is increasing extreme poverty — the poorest people in this country have become much poorer."
Clinton responded by saying that she disagreed with the way that the bill was applied, accusing Republicans at both the federal and state level of making it a harsher policy. But her suggestion that it was the GOP that made welfare reform so tough on the poor was unconvincing — the very purpose of it when pushed for by her husband was to "end welfare as we know it" and impose stringent restrictions on cash assistance. Public policy experts estimate that the number of families living on less than $2 a day has more than doubled since that bill was passed. — Zeeshan Aleem
9. Sanders: "No, I do not support fracking."
Fielding a question from a student in the audience about whether or not the candidates support fracking, Clinton outlined three conditions under which she supports the practice, which can lead to significant environmental harm.
Sanders' answer was more succinct.
"My answer is a lot shorter," he said. "No, I do not support fracking." — Stefan Becket
10. Sanders suggested the Republicans need mental health treatment.
Clinton contrasted the substance of the Democratic debates with those on the Republican side, making the point that Democratic contests have been much more illuminating on policy issues.
"I want to make one point," Clinton said. "We have our differences and we get into vigorous debate about issues, but compare the substance of this debate with what you saw on the Republican stage last week."
Sanders then took the opportunity to crack a joke at the Republicans' expense:
— Stefan Becket
11. Clinton and Sanders explained how they would defeat Trump.
Clinton and Sanders both described how they would deal with Trump as their main rival for the presidency if they were nominated as the Democratic candidate. Clinton stressed that the primaries indicated she was more popular than Trump, and that his inflammatory rhetoric on issues like immigration will likely alienate many of the very kinds of supporters that her campaign is inspiring.
"There's only one candidate in either party who has more votes than him, and that's me," she said. "I am building a broad, diverse coalition across our country. I am very excited by the support we're receiving, and I have said, and I will repeat here, I think that Donald Trump's bigotry, his bullying, his bluster are not going to wear well on the American people."
Sanders said that he felt he was more fit to take on Trump than Clinton, and made reference to polling numbers indicating that he could beat the billionaire by a wider margin than her. He emphasized his popularity among young voters and working class voters as the main advantage he'd have in a head-to-head with Trump.
"Our campaign is generating an enormous amount of excitement. ... I think we are exciting working class people, young people who are prepared to stand up and demand that we have a government that represents all of us and not just the few." — Zeeshan Aleem