Hillary Clinton has yet to live down the vote she cast to back the Iraq War as a senator in 2002—a vote that helped President Obama beat her in the 2008 democratic primaries. On Thursday, her 2016 rival Bernie Sanders stopped short of saying that her vote should disqualify her from being president. But there was a “but.”
“I’m not here to criticize the vote she cast years ago,” Sanders, the most progressive candidate in the democratic field, told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor in Washington, DC. “But what does that mean in terms of your judgment in assessing information?”
His answer didn’t go as far as another 2016 Clinton challenger, former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, who doesn’t believe that “anybody should be president of the United States that made that mistake.” Sanders’ take was more forgiving: “Everybody makes bad votes in their lives and I don’t think anyone is ‘disqualified.'”
Sanders did throw down the gauntlet for his Democratic rival on another issue: trade. Clinton has been conspicuously silent on Congress’ imminent vote on a trade promotion authority bill that would allow President Obama to move forward with a big Pacific Rim trade agreement. Sanders and many other progressive Democrats—along with tea party Republicans—oppose both the so-called “fast track” legislation and the trade deal waiting around the corner. The candidate said Thursday he is working with progressive House Democrats to defeat the legislation.
“If she’s against this, we need her to speak out, right now. Right now,” Sanders said. “Be for it or against it, but I don’t understand how on an issue of such huge consequence you don’t have an opinion.”
“My own very strong view is that when you try to understand why the middle class in this country is disappearing, trade has got to be one of the issues you look at for an explanation,” he said.