It wasn't a traditional debate, but the conversation got heated all the same when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sat down for the Commander-in-Chief Forum on Wednesday, September 7. With an audience made up entirely of members of the military, both candidates for the presidency took turns fielding tough questions about their intended foreign and military policy should they win the upcoming election — and Us Weekly was watching live to report the action as it happened.
In keeping with her campaign, Clinton highlighted her experience and temperament as assets to her potential presidency, frequently shutting down moderator Matt Lauer to complete her points when he tried to interrupt her mid-answer. Out of keeping with his campaign, Trump was remarkably restrained and said nothing particularly nasty about his opponent — although he was less than specific (and sometimes downright secretive) when pressed for details about how he intended to turn the country around.
Read on for a minute-by-minute account of the event. (And start from the bottom if you want it in chronological order!)
8:55 p.m. ET: And finally, a moment which will likely end up being the most talked-about of tonight's forum: In 2013, Trump tweeted, "Twenty-six thousand unreported sexual assaults in the military — only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?"
When questioned about that sentiment tonight, Trump's response was as follows:
"It is a correct tweet."
Although Trump was remarkably restrained and on script tonight (not even one reference was made to the size of his penis!), the internet almost certainly isn't going to let him forget about this apparent defense of a tweet which seemed to suggest that women don't belong in the military. And while his die-hard supporters probably won't be bothered, that comment isn't going to help him with women voters, a group he's already pretty unpopular with.
8:50 p.m. ET: It was time for Trump to tackle the question of reforming the VA, specifically, providing better access to health care (including mental health care) for veterans.
"I have a very, very powerful plan that's on my website," said Trump. However, he did not go into details; instead, he attacked Clinton for being too soft on the VA.
However, Trump was forced to circle back when an audience member brought up the terribly high rate of suicide among veterans.
"We're going to speed up the process — we're going to create a great mental health division," the candidate said. How? Unfortunately, Trump just wasn't keen on the details here. Instead of outlining concrete solutions, he accused the VA of being a corrupt entity. The best he did in terms of explaining his goals was the following statement: "We're going to make it official and good."
8:45 p.m. ET: A military policy–focused forum is an odd place to fit in an immigration question, but they managed it! A female member of the first West Point class to include women had a question for Trump about undocumented immigrants who intend to serve in the Armed Forces. Would Trump relax his superstringent policy of deporting any/all illegal immigrants in a case like this?
In a word: Yep.
"I could see myself working that out," Trump admitted. "We have to vet very carefully, but it would be a very special circumstance."
In a follow-up question, another veteran asked Trump about his potential relationship with Russia. (Trump has caught flak during the campaign for praising Vladimir Putin, as well as for a remark in which he seemed to invite Russian hackers to dig deeper for dirt on Clinton's email scandal.)
Trump's answer was a bit meandering; in short, he cited this week's incident in China, where a special staircase was not provided for President Barack Obama to descend from Air Force One, as a marked contrast to the kind of relationship Trump himself plans to have with China and Russia.
8:40 p.m. ET: Trump has just given possibly the most incredible answer in the history of politics to a question about the specifics of his plan to defeat ISIS:
"I have a substantial chance of winning, and if I win, I don't want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is."
In other words, he totally has a plan, but it's a secret. This is not illuminating in terms of his intended policy, but it is unprecedented!
8:35 p.m. ET: Clinton had her time in the spotlight, and now it was Trump's turn — and his reputation preceded him.
"Try to keep the attacks to a minimum," Lauer said before asking his first question.
Similarly to Clinton, Trump was asked about his expertise — in this case, what kind of personal/professional experience he has that will serve him well as commander-in-chief.
Trump first cited his business acumen as a boon, saying, "I've built a great company, I've been all over the world, I've dealt with many countries.… I've had great experience dealing with an international basis." He then tried to derail the question a bit — not with an attack, to his credit, but with a defense: Clinton lied, he said. He was totally against the war in Iraq.
Lauer redirected with a question that included one of Clinton's buzzwords: temperament. Can we afford to have a commander-in-chief who says things he later regrets?
Trump chalked up his inflammatory comments to the heat of campaign, then cited his trip to Mexico as an example of his diplomatic abilities.
"If you look at what happened … the people who arranged the trip in Mexico have been forced out of government," he said.
8:27 p.m. ET: And of course, we can't talk military policy without talking about ISIS, which was the last topic Clinton tackled in her time on stage. HRC made it clear that she takes the threat of the terrorist group seriously, vowing to fight ISIS "in the air, on the ground and in cyberspace." But the most noteworthy part of this answer might just be the moment when Clinton veered into Second Amendment territory for a hot second, citing her support for keeping folks on the terrorist watch list from buying firearms.
8:22 p.m. ET: The state of Veterans Affairs was expected to be front and center tonight, so it was no surprise when an audience member brought it up. Clinton's response: "I will not let the VA be privatized," she said, going on to describe such a decision as "disastrous" for veterans.
Lauer segued, saying, "Let's talk about veterans and suicide." Clinton jumped right on it: "Yes, let's."
Clinton clearly knows her stuff on this front, as she cited statistics as well as individual cases before leading into an explanation of her planned military mental-health initiative — although she stayed solution-focused throughout. People who were looking for her to act like a mom-in-chief rather than a seasoned politician were likely disappointed that she didn't get more emotional while answering this one.
8:15 p.m. ET: A female Air Force vet asked Clinton how she responds to progressives who are concerned about her "hawkish" foreign policy and intervention overseas.
"Let me say very clearly: I view force as a last resort, not a first choice."
Clinton emphasized a commitment to a prepared military, and a careful approach to deploying troops. And when it comes to Iraq and Libya, she said, there's no difference in position between her and Trump — except that she's coming at it from a place of experience and knowledge.
Lauer used this opportunity to ask: What about Iran? Clinton started to explain how a coalition was assembled to apply pressure on Iran to put a lid on their nuclear program — and she blew right past Lauer when he tried to derail her midpoint. Sorry, Matt: There will be no man-terrupting tonight.
8:10 p.m. ET: Lauer asked Clinton to talk first about expertise and the characteristics of a good president — an opportunity she welcomed, since it gave her an opportunity to highlight her experience, of which she has much more than Trump. What's the most important characteristic of a president, per HRC?
Unsurprisingly, Clinton used this opportunity to remind us that she was in the Situation Room during the raid that resulted in the killing of Osama Bin Laden. She also worked the word "temperament" in there, which is a word we've heard from her a lot during this campaign.
Lauer then followed up with a question about Clinton's emails, to which she replied, "It was something that should not have been done" — but she offered the same defense as always, that she never sent or received classified information this way. She had to paraphrase this same point when an audience member confronted her with a follow-up question on the same topic. And with that, to semiquote Bernie Sanders, maybe this will be enough about the damn emails.
8:03 p.m. ET: And we're off! This forum is broadcasting live from the Intrepid aircraft carrier in New York City, with Matt Lauer doing the necessary nod to the city's history of being targeted by terrorists — the kind of terrorists our commander-in-chief must strategize to defend us against. It'll be ladies first tonight, as Hillary Clinton will take the stage for a round of questions before ceding the mic to Donald Trump.
7:55 p.m. ET: Which Commander-in-Chief will be the chief we all say hail to come the November presidential election: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? On Wednesday, September 7, the two front-runners for the country's biggest job will each make their case, in their first joint event as nominees — and Us is live-blogging the whole show from start to finish.
The Commander-in-Chief Forum is the first event of its kind, as Clinton and Trump will answer questions live in front of an audience made up entirely of members of the U.S. military. Will Hillary come prepared, own every question, and widen her reportedly sizable lead in the polls — or will she stumble at this pivotal moment and be left trying to play catch-up in the coming weeks? And will Donald make an unexpected show of seriousness, stick to his talking points and emerge as a more viable candidate than current polling reflects — or will he use this opportunity to mention one more time how very presidential his wiener is?
Be sure to refresh this post throughout the event for updates as the forum unfolds!
The Commander-in-Chief Forum airs live on NBC and MSNBC Wednesday, September 7, at 8 p.m. ET.
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