AMES, Iowa — Hillary Clinton’s campaign is pushing back strongly on criticism from her Democratic and Republican rivals, who are accusing her of politicizing the 9/11 terror attacks. The candidate referenced the attacks during the second Democratic presidential debate while defending political contributions she received from Wall Street.
"I represented New York and I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked, where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is,” she said during Saturday night's event. "I did spend a whole lot of time and effort to rebuild. That was good for New York, it was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country."
Democratic rival Martin O’Malley called it a “gaffe,” while the chairman of the Republican National Committee called it a “new low” for Clinton.
The New York Times blasted Clinton for the comment in an editorial Sunday afternoon. "Her effort to tug on Americans’ heartstrings instead of explaining her Wall Street ties — on a day that the scars of 9/11 were exposed anew — was at best botched rhetoric. At worst it was the type of cynical move that Mrs. Clinton would have condemned in Republicans,” the paper wrote.
It was one of the most talked about moments of the night on Twitter, according to the social media company. And CBS News moderators brought a critical tweet from a viewer into the discussion during the debate, pressing Clinton on what 9/11 had to do with political contributions.
A Clinton campaign official sharply responded to the criticism as being unfair and inaccurate in a statement to NBC News. “On a night when the other Democratic candidates went on the attack against Hillary Clinton to try to boost their campaigns, we heard unfair challenges to her integrity and false talk about her record on the financial industry,” the official said.
The aide noted that Clinton represented New York in the Senate and worked hard to rebuild the area affected by the fall of the World Trade Center, but that Clinton would not hesitate to crack down on financial institutions. “She is proud to have stood by her home state economy after disaster struck early in her time as Senator, and using that to falsely represent her record on financial regulation is unfair and wrong,” the aide added.
On Sunday, Clinton clarified another controversial comment she made during the debate that the struggle against ISIS “cannot be an American fight.” That drew quick responses from both O’Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s top rival for the nomination, during Saturday night’s debate.
The next day, at the Central Iowa Democratic BBQ, Clinton said, “I know America has to lead it, but we cannot and should not do it alone."
Terrorism will undoubtedly be an issue in the general election, and Republicans hope to paint Clinton, if she emerges as the nominee, as weak. They argue that the Obama administration, which Clinton was a part of, did not see the rise of ISIS coming and did nothing to stop it.
Indeed, the GOP was quick to criticize Clinton’s handling of foreign policy during the debate, especially for refusing to characterize the conflict with ISIS as a war with “radical Islam.”
“That would be like saying we weren’t at war with Nazis, because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi Party but weren’t violent themselves,” Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
But on her Wall Street comment, the criticism has so far been mostly from the left. Though Priebus knocked Clinton for the remark, none of the Republican presidential candidates have so far taken up the issue. Still, Republicans were watching the debate closely and could resurface lines form it if national security becomes a major issue in the general election, as looks likely in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Paris.