BY LISA KEEN
In the first few minutes of the third and final presidential debate of 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton reiterated she would appoint justices that would preserve marriage equality. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump reiterated his promise to nominate conservative justices, but he did not specify, as he has in the past, that his nominees would be in the mold of Antonin Scalia.
The issue of the U.S. Supreme Court was the first of several issues raised by Fox News moderator Chris Wallace Wednesday night at the nationally televised debate in Las Vegas. Among the other topics that came up, sometimes by the candidates themselves, were the attack on the LGBT nightclub in Orlando and the acceptance of donations by the Clinton Foundation from countries where gays are executed.
Democratic activist Richard Socarides said the contrast between the two candidates on the Supreme Court is paramount.
“Now we know, we must elect Hillary Clinton to protect a Supreme Court majority for civil rights, but also to protect our very democracy,” said Socarides. “The choice could not be more clear.”
Log Cabin Republicans national president Gregory Angelo said the most poignant moment was when Trump challenged Clinton to return donations to the Foundation that have come from countries that persecute gays.
“Trump directly confronted Hillary Clinton on her hypocrisy in being in favor of LGBT equality but accepting money from countries with horrendous records on LGBT equality,” said Angelo. “Hillary Clinton never answered that question. She never said whether she would return those monies.”
The Foundation issue came up when Wallace asked Clinton whether, as Secretary of State Clinton, she gave “special access” to donors to the Foundation. Clinton said “everything I did as Secretary of State was in furtherance of our country’s interests and our values.” She praised the Clinton Foundation for making it possible “for 11 million people around the world with HIV/AIDS to afford treatment.”
Trump called the Clinton Foundation a “criminal enterprise” and said it had taken money from donors in countries “that push gays off buildings.”
“These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money,” said Trump. “So I’d like to ask you right now: Why don’t you give back the money that you have taken from certain countries that treat certain groups of people so horribly? Why don’t you give back the money?”
Clinton responded that she would be “happy to compare what we do with the Trump Foundation, which took money from other people and bought a 6-foot portrait of Donald.” She noted that 90 percent of the Foundation’s money was spent on providing programs services including HIV treatments around the world.
Socarides called Trump’s challenge a “ludicrous idea.”
“Would he like to try to get the HIV drugs back?” asked Socarides.
On the first question of the evening, about the Supreme Court, both Clinton and Trump responded with positions they have already fairly well established.
Clinton said “we need a Supreme Court that will stand up on behalf of women’s rights, on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community, that will stand up and say no to Citizens United, a decision that has undermined the election system in the country because of the way it permits dark, unaccountable money to come into our electoral system.”
“I have major disagreements with my opponent about these issues and others that will be before the Supreme Court,” said Clinton, “but I feel that, at this point in our country’s history, it is important that we not reverse marriage equality, that we not reverse Roe v. Wade, that we stand up against Citizens United, we stand up for the rights of people in the workplace, that we stand up and basically say the Supreme Court should represent all of us.
“That’s how I see the court,” said Clinton. “And the kind of people that I would be looking to nominate to the court would be in the great tradition of standing up to the powerful, standing up on behalf of our rights as Americans, and I look forward to having that opportunity. I would hope that the Senate would do its job and confirm the nominee that President Obama has sent to them. That’s the way the Constitution fundamentally should operate. The president nominates and then the Senate advises and consents or not. But they go forward with the process.”
Trump said it is “so imperative that we have the right justices.”
“Something happened recently where Justice Ginsburg made some very inappropriate statements toward me and toward a tremendous number of people, many, many millions of people that I represent, and she was forced to apologize and apologize she did. But these were statements that should never ever have been made,” said Trump.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (an appointee of President Bill Clinton) said in an interview in July that she “can’t imagine” what the court or the country would be like under a President Trump. She speculated that, if her late husband were alive, he would want to move to New Zealand if Trump became president. She later expressed regret for making those remarks, adding, “Judges should avoid commenting on a candidate for public office. In the future I will be more circumspect.”
Trump added that the country needs a Supreme Court that “is going to uphold the Second Amendment and all amendments, but the Second Amendment, which is under absolute siege.”
“I feel that the justices that I am going to appoint – and I’ve named 20 of them – the justices that I’m going to appoint will be pro-life, they will have a conservative bent, they will be protecting the Second Amendment, they are great scholars in all cases, and they’re people of tremendous respect,” said Trump. “They will interpret the Constitution the way the founders wanted it interpreted. And I believe that’s very, very important. I don’t think we should have justices appointed that decide what they want to hear. It’s all about the Constitution of – and so important, the constitution the way it was meant to be and those are the people that I will appoint.”
In answering a question to defend her idea for a no-fly zone in Syria, Clinton said she thinks the plan would save lives of Syrians. She then referred to Trump’s earlier remarks that stopping Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. would “stop radical Islamic terrorism in this country.” Clinton said “the killer of the dozens of people at the nightclub in Orlando, the Pulse nightclub, was born in Queens, the same place Donald was born.”
In one of the most memorable moments of the 90-minute event, Wallace pointedly asked Trump about statements he has been making during the past two weeks, claiming the election is “rigged” against him.
“I want to ask you here on this stage tonight,” said Wallace, “… that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?”
“I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I will look at it at the time.”
Wallace pressed again.
“Sir, there is a tradition in this country… the peaceful transition of power. And that no matter how hard fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign, the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying that you’re necessarily going to be the loser or the winner,” said Wallace, “…but the loser concedes to the winner and the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?”
“What I’m saying is I’ll tell you at the time,” said Trump. “I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?”
Former Log Cabin president Rich Tafel said he thought Trump’s comment that he may not accept the results of the election is “a threat to our democracy.”
“I’m hoping Trump loses badly,” said Tafel.
A CNN instant poll following the debate settled some suspense Wednesday night: 52 percent said Clinton “won” the debate, 39 percent said Trump did.
BY LISA KEEN