September 10, 2007 in Nation/World

Democrats debate Iraq, immigration

Nedra Pickler Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, checks her watch as Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill, left, and former Alaska senator Mike Gravel speak during a break in Sunday’s debate.Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton insisted Sunday night it’s time to start pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq as she and her Democratic presidential rivals debated the war on the eve of a much-awaited assessment by U.S. Gen. David Petraeus.

In the first presidential debate ever broadcast in Spanish, the protracted war in Iraq competed for attention with the swirling argument over immigration. On Iraq, Gov. Bill Richardson retorted that Clinton and others who want to leave residual forces there would leave soldiers at risk.

“I’d bring them all home within six to eight months,” the New Mexico governor said in the debate, which was broadcast on Univision, the nation’s largest Spanish-language network.

Clinton said that a report being presented in Washington by Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker this week won’t change the basic problem that there is no military solution in Iraq.

“I believe we should start bringing our troops home,” she said. “We need to quit refereeing their civil war and bring our troops home as soon as possible.”

All who were asked about immigration at the debate on the campus of the University of Miami said they would address this vexing issue in their first year in office.

Clinton criticized the immigration bill proposed in the last Congress, dominated by Republicans. That legislation would have penalized those who help illegal immigrants. “I said it would have criminalized the good Samaritan. It would have criminalized Jesus Christ,” she said.

Anchors Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas posed questions in Spanish and the candidates had earpieces to hear translations into English. The candidates’ responses were translated into Spanish for broadcast, and English-speaking viewers could use the closed caption service on their televisions.

Richardson, one of two candidate who speak fluent Spanish, objected to the debate rules that required all candidates to answer in English. The rule was designed to make sure that no candidate had an advantage in appealing to the Spanish-speaking audience.

Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, who served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, also speaks Spanish fluently. He called for more U.S. engagement with Latin America, including a lifting of trade embargo against Cuba.

“We’re allowing a Hugo Chavez to win a public relations effort in Latin America because we don’t invest enough in Latin America,” he said.

Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel boasted that he’s also bilingual – in French. “I honor everyone who comes to this country as an immigrant because we are all immigrants.”

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich said he would make Spanish a second national language, but no leading candidate would go that far.

But there are strong feelings against the Iraq war among Hispanics, so that topic lead the debate. Kucinich was loudly applauded for saying he would pull troops out.

Obama aligned himself with Kucinich.

“I was a strong opponent of the war, as Dennis was,” Obama said.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards said he’s concerned the Petraeus report “will basically be a sales job by the White House.”

© Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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