Despite Paris Attacks, Democratic Candidates Trade Sharpest Barbs Over Wall Street

Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders (L), former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley pose on stage ahead of the second official 2016 U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate in Des Moines, Iowa, November 14. Reuters

After a somber moment of silence for the Paris victims, the gloves came off in the second Democratic debate as Bernie Sanders put front-runner Hillary Clinton on the ropes over her Iraq vote and her Wall Street campaign donors.

The Sanders camp was reportedly unhappy that CBS had decided to pivot the focus of the debate from the middle class to the Middle East, but the Vermont Senator managed to turn it to his advantage

Sanders slammed Clinton for taking money from Wall Street, calling it "the major donor" to her political career, while he has limited himself to small donors. "Why do they make millions of dollars in campaign contributions? They expect to get something. Everybody knows that!"

Clinton then interrupted Dickerson, who was trying to move on. "He has basically used his answer to impugn my integrity. Not only do I have hundreds of thousands of donors - the majority of them are women, 60 percent." The audience was still applauding that line, when she brought up September 11 as an explanation for why Wall Street supports her. "We were attacked downtown where Wall Street is! It was good for the economy!" she said. "I did spend a lot of time helping them rebuild … . My proposal is tougher and more effective. I will go after all of Wall Street, not just the big banks!"

Much of the debate was more sedate. Debate moderator John Dickerson, anchor of CBS' Face the Nation, asked the candidates to begin with statements on Paris. Sanders said he was "shocked and disgusted" and said the world had to come together to "rid this planet of this barbarous element called ISIS."

Clinton, who logged nearly a million miles as Secretary of State and has dined with most of the world's leaders was in her element.

"Our prayers are with the people of France tonight but that is not enough," she said. "This election is not only about electing a president, but about choosing our next Commander in Chief. Our country deserves no less. All of the other issues we want to deal with depend on us being strong."

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley looked less assured , but he tried to play his inexperience in foreign policy as an asset in bringing "new thinking, new leadership" to the "new face of conflict and warfare in the 21st Century."

After the opening statements on ISIS and Paris, Dickerson ran a tight ship with thoughtful, provocative questions that allowed the candidates to challenge each other without getting into brawls. He asked Clinton whether President Obama, who once called ISIS 'the JV team" hadn't underestimated their potency. "Won't the legacy of this administration be that it underestimated the threat of ISIS?" Dickerson asked.

Clinton replied with qualified support of Obama's strategy, saying that the best tactic is a combination of military, diplomacy, development and sharing of intelligence – but that the responsibility cant lie with the United States alone. " We can bring people together but it cannot be an American fight," she said. She reminded the audience she had supported arming revolutionaries in Syria, which the President opposed, but she said ultimately Syria and Iraq bear the blame for the rise of ISIS.

Sanders said, even after last night in Paris, he still believes the greatest threat to national security is climate change, a point he's been making on the campaign trail. "Absolutely. Climate change is behind ISIS," he said. The Vermont Senator then said he disagreed with the Clinton on who bears responsibility for ISIS and reminded her of her 2002 vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq.

"The disastrous invasion of Iraq, something I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely and led to the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS. I don't think any sensible person would disagree that invasion of Iraq led to the level of instability we're see now, it was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the history of the United States,"

Sanders criticized Clinton's performance as Secretary of State. "I think we have a disagreement. Not only did I vote against the war in Iraq, if you look at history you will see that regime change … Allende in Chile .. the government of Guatemala .. all these invasions, these topplings of of government, have unintended consequences. I am not in favor of regime change."

Clinton replied: "I have said the invasion of Iraq was a mistake."

She then reiterated her support for regime change in Syria. "Assad has hung on, with the support of Russia and Iran, and with the proxy of Hezbollah fighting his wars. … We've got to understand the complexity of the world that we are facing." Clinton referred to the "arc of instability" from the North of Africa to Afghanistan and reiterated a slogan of the Obama administration: "We are not at war with Muslims and Islam."

The debate was the only one that will be held in Iowa, but the audience was probably limited by the fact that the Hawkeyes were playing at the same hour. Sanders probably won this debate by exceeding lowered expectations for him after the debate's pivot to foreign policy. He tied ISIS to Clinton's Iraq war vote. And her invocation of September 11 as a reason for her Wall Street support seemed more than a little manipulative.