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MSNBC Democratic debate transcript: 7 key moments

The Democratic presidential candidates debate in New Hampshire on Thursday night.
The Democratic presidential candidates debate in New Hampshire on Thursday night.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders squared off at a Democratic debate on Thursday night, a few days before voters in New Hampshire decide the winner of the second primary contest.

The debate began with the candidates arguing over the label "progressive" before moving on to discuss investment banking, campaign finance, foreign policy, and a host of other issues.

The candidates exchanged heated remarks in what is regarded as an increasingly tight race.

Below are transcriptions of seven of the key exchanges between Clinton and Sanders from the debate on Thursday night.

1) Clinton and Sanders spar on his claim that she's not a "progressive"

Clinton: "Under [Sanders's] definition, President Obama is not 'progressive' because he took donations from Wall Street. Vice President Biden is not 'progressive' because he supported Keystone [the pipeline].

"If we're going to get into labels, I don't think it was particularly progressive to vote against the Brady Bill five times. I don't think it was progressive to give gunmakers immunity. I don't think it was progressive to vote against Ted Kennedy's immigration reform. We can go back and forth like there. Most people watching tonight want to know what we've done and what we will do."

Sanders was then asked by the moderators if he had a definition of progressive that was unrealistic.

Sanders: "Here's the reality of American economic life today. The reality is that we have one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country on Earth, because so many people have given up on the political process. The reality is: There's been trillions of dollars of wealth going from the middle class in the last 30 years to the top one-tenth of 1 percent.

"The reality is we have a corrupt campaign finance system which separates the American people's needs and desires from what Congress is doing. So, to my mind, what we have got to do is wage a political revolution where millions of people [who] have given up on the political process stand up and fight back."

For more on this issue, see this piece from Vox's German Lopez.

2) Clinton says nobody would define her as "exemplifying the establishment"

Sanders: "I will absolutely admit that Secretary Clinton has the … support of far more governors, mayors, members of the House [of Representatives]. She has the entire establishment or almost the entire establishment behind her. That's fact. I don't deny it. I'm pretty proud that we have over a million people who have contributed to our campaign — averaging 27 bucks apiece."

Clinton: "Sen. Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me, a woman running to be the first woman president, as exemplifying the establishment. … And I've got to tell you that I — [applause] it's really quite amusing to me."

For more on this issue, see this piece from Vox's Ezra Klein.

3) Sanders was asked by the moderators why he isn't using public financing to fund his presidential campaign, given his campaign finance proposals

Sanders: "We looked at it. It turns out to be a disaster. The way it's structured right now, if you make it all the way to California you can do pretty well. In terms of the early states, Iowa and New Hampshire, the other states, it just doesn't work. Your point is well taken.

"I believe in public funding of elections, absolutely. This system is — I don't know if the secretary would agree — is currently very antiquated and no longer applies to modern day politics."

4) Clinton was asked about criticism for accepting $675,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs

Clinton: "I think I may not have done the job I should have in explaining my record. I did when I left the secretary of state's office — like so many former officials, military leaders, journalists, and others — I did go on the speaking circuit. I spoke to heart doctors. I spoke to the American Camping Association. I spoke to auto dealers and firms on Wall Street. They wanted me to talk about my experience as secretary of state.

"What I want people to know is: I went to Wall Street before the crash. I was the one saying, 'You're going to wreck the economy because of these shenanigans with mortgages.' I called to end the loopholes that hedge fund managers enjoy. I called for the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau before it was created. I think the best evidence that the Wall Street people at least know where I stand and where I have always stood is [that] they are trying to beat me in this primary."

For more background on this issue, see here.

5) Clinton and Sanders discuss Clinton's Iraq War vote

Sanders: "Where we have a different background on this issue is we differ on the war in Iraq, which created barbaric organizations like ISIS. Not only did I vote against that war, I helped lead the opposition and if you go to my website,, you will see the statement that I made in 2002. It gives me no pleasure to tell you that much of what I feared would happen the day after Saddam Hussein was overthrown [happened]."

Clinton: "If I could add: Look, we did differ. A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS. We have to look at the threats that we face right now and we have to be prepared to take them on and defeat them."

For more on this issue, see this piece from Vox's Max Fisher.

6) Support for the death penalty? Clinton and Sanders differ.

Clinton was asked if she still supports the death penalty.

Clinton: "Yes, I do. What I hope the Supreme Court will do is make it absolutely clear that any state that continues capital punishment either must meet the highest standards of evidentiary proof of effective assistance, of counsel, or they cannot continue it — because that to me is the real dividing line.

"I have much more confidence in the federal system, and I do reserve it for particularly heinous crimes in the federal system like terrorism. I had strong feelings about that. I thought it was appropriate that Timothy McVeigh receive the death penalty after blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City.

"So I do for very limited, particularly heinous crimes believe it is an appropriate punishment, but I deeply disagree with the way that too many states still are implementing it. So if it were possible to separate out the federal from the state system by the Supreme Court, that would I think be an appropriate outcome."

Sanders: "I heard what the secretary said, and I understand there are — all of us know — that we have seen in recent years horrible, horrible, horrible crimes and it's hard to imagine how people can do and kill 168 people in Oklahoma City or do the Boston Marathon bombing, but this is what I believe, and for a couple of reasons.

"Number one, too many innocent people including minorities, African Americans, have been executed when they were not guilty. That's number one. So we have to be very careful about making sure about that. But second of all, and maybe in a deeper reason, of course there are barbaric acts out there, in a world of so much violence and killing I just don't believe the government itself should be part of the killing.

"So when somebody commits — when somebody commits any of these terrible crimes that we have seen, you lock them up and you toss away the key. They're never going to get out, but I just don't want to see government be part of killing. That's all."

For more on this issue, see this piece from Vox's Dara Lind.

7) Trade policy: the candidates compare positions on TPP

Clinton was asked about whether she can be expected to oppose President Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement after what critics have called her "waffling" on the issue.

Clinton: "I waited until it had actually been negotiated, because I did want to give the benefit of the doubt to the administration. Once I saw what the outcome was, I opposed it.

"I have a very clear view about this. We have to trade with the rest of the world. We are 5 percent of the world's population. We have to trade with the other 95 percent, and it has to be reciprocal. That's the way the global economy works, but we have failed to provide the basic safety net support that American workers need in order to be able to compete and win in the global economy."

Sanders: "I believe in trade, but I do not believe in unfettered free trade. I believe in fair trade, which works for the middle class and working families of this country and not just large multinational corporations. I was not only in opposition to NAFTA — I was on the picket line in opposition to NAFTA.

"I don't think this is really rocket science. We heard all of the people tell us how many great jobs would be created. I didn't believe that for a second because I understood what the function of NAFTA and the TPP is. It's to say to American workers, 'You are now competing against people in Vietnam who make 56 cents an hour minimum wage.'"

For more on this issue, see Ezra Klein here or here.

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