Hillary Clinton had largely avoided appearing on Fox News for years. After Monday night's town hall on the cable station, featuring Clinton and, separately, her challenger Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, she had to wonder: Why?
Clinton came under sustained questioning by Fox anchor Bret Baier on her use of a private email system while secretary of State. She was asked in depth about the chaotic situation in Libya and whether she deserves the blame for it. She parried the questions and said little different from what she had before.
Baier raised a few questions that had rarely surfaced in previous debates and town halls, but neither Clinton's nor Sanders' answers opened a new vein for the opponent to mine.
All told, the Fox News event in Detroit may have benefited both Clinton and Sanders, giving each half an hour of publicity on the highest-rated cable news station in the country, one that may deliver access to voters who don't commonly listen to their views.
Certainly many of Fox's viewers would never consider a vote for Clinton or Sanders. But some may be wondering which way they will turn if Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee — he is polarizing even among party members; trying for even a few of them rarely hurts.
The most extensively discussed topic was Clinton's emails, which she's not had to discuss at much length in Democratic debates because Sanders has ruled the topic out of bounds. Several times Baier asked Clinton about the propriety of emailing classified materials; Clinton each time denied that the information had been marked in that fashion when she handled it.
"Nothing I sent or received was marked classified," she said. She invoked Colin L. Powell, a secretary of State under a Republican administration, as using a private email system and finding out later that unclassified information had been retroactively declared secret.
Powell has expressed his outrage, Clinton noted: "Colin Powell and I are on exactly the same page."
In response to Baier's question whether she was worried about a federal investigation into her actions, Clinton declared, "Absolutely not."
On Libya, Baier pointed out that Clinton was a prime framer of the Obama administration's policy. If the 2011 overthrow of Moammar Kadafi was a great victory, he asked, isn't the current tumult in the country her responsibility?
Clinton called Kadafi a "ruthless dictator" with American blood on his hands and said that the country might be in worse shape had he remained in place. Since his downfall, the country lacks a government and fighters loyal to the Islamic State militant group are moving in.
"We would be looking at something much more resembling Syria now," she said, citing the deaths of 250,000 people in that country and a far smaller 1,500 in Libya. Clinton also flatly refused to consider the use of American ground troops in Libya.
The town hall came one day before voters in Michigan and three other states cast ballots. Sanders and Clinton have clashed more harshly in the state than anywhere else.
In a debate Sunday, Sanders hit Clinton for allowing a super PAC to benefit her campaign and for refusing to release transcripts of well-compensated speeches she made to Wall Street. He also criticized her support for several 1990s-era Clinton administration policies, including welfare reform, international trade and criminal justice reform. Clinton has, in one way or another, repudiated her past positions.
Clinton went at Sanders for refusing to support a bailout bill in 2009 that included funds to save the auto industry, hugely important in Michigan and nearby states. Sanders voted for an earlier measure that involved only the auto industry; he opposed the winning measure because it included a bailout of Wall Street.
By early Monday, her campaign was airing a radio ad using her statement that she was the only candidate to back the auto industry.
The two also used the town hall to press their different views on issues.
Sanders, under questioning by an audience member who is a doctor, promised that his favored turn from Obamacare to a Medicare-for-all universal system would not, in the transition, leave Americans without coverage. Clinton, he said, "is trying to frighten people" on that score.
Sanders faced skepticism from an audience questioner and Baier about how he would push his liberal promises through a Congress whose two houses are controlled by Republicans. Sanders said a groundswell that would elect him would also flip party control of Congress.
"Change in this country always comes from the bottom on up," Sanders said.
Clinton faced a similar question on how she would find common ground with Republicans, who have used her as a symbol of liberal excess.
"When I'm not running for something, the Republicans say really nice things about me," she said to laughter from the audience, "and I have a whole archive of those comments."
Baier asked both candidates whether there were any circumstances in which they opposed abortion, particularly in late pregnancy. The topic rarely comes up in debates because candidates on both sides hew to their party line.
"I happen to believe that it is wrong for the government to be telling a woman what to do with her own body," Sanders said.
Clinton reiterated her support for a woman's right to make the decision. She said she could back restrictions on late-term abortions as long as exemptions were included to protect the mother's health and life.
Otherwise, she said, "it's not much of a right if it is totally limited or constrained."
Clinton's last question came from a 13-year-old named Samuel, who wondered whether Sanders was her enemy or her ally.
"Ally, for sure," she said. She and Sanders have taken pains to describe their differences as issue-based, not personal.
"We have differences and we are passionate about our positions and we air those," she said, adding that she was proud of both campaigns and wanted his backers' support in the general election if she was the nominee.
That goes to a central concern as Clinton moves closer to the nomination: how to knit together Democrats. One way surfaced, with Baier's question about whether, if nominated, she would choose Sanders as her running mate.
For now anyway, she brushed the thought aside.
"Oh, let's not get ahead of ourselves," she said. "I don't want to think any further than tomorrow and the Michigan primary."
If she defeats Sanders in Michigan on Tuesday, expect that question to come around again.
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