WASHINGTON — When Hillary Clinton accused Senator Bernie Sanders in their Wednesday debate of standing with “Minuteman vigilantes in their ridiculous, absurd efforts to, quote, ‘hunt down immigrants,’” Sanders quickly accused Clinton of taking his legislative record out of context.
“What the secretary is doing tonight and has done very often is take large pieces of legislation and take pieces out of it,” Sanders said in the debate, when asked by moderators if Clinton’s claims were true. He denied another charge from Clinton that he had opposed the 2009 auto industry bailout, and then added, “No, I do not support vigilantes, and that is a horrific statement, an unfair statement to make.”
He then downplayed the significance of the militia vote.
“There was a piece of legislation supported by dozens and dozens of members of the House which codified existing legislation,” he said during the debate.
A review of the vote in question shows that Sanders, as a U.S. representative in 2006, did indeed vote in support of 2006 legislation supporting civilian border patrols under the Minuteman Project banner. The amendment, authored by then-Representative Jack Kingston, a Republican, aimed to prevent U.S. border officials from telling Mexican officials about the whereabouts of the Minutemen patrols.
“What my amendment does is simply says that the U.S. Government cannot tip off the Mexican officials as to where these folks are located,” Kingston said on the House floor in 2006.
The amendment passed the House, 293 to 107.
Kingston said in an interview with the Globe Thursday that he agreed with Sanders’ characterization that the amendment codified existing practices.
“I think he’s right. I think it’s symbolic more than consequential,” the former Georgia congressman said, adding that the amendment wasn’t intended to support “renegade” groups. “It was more of a, ‘you know what, the federal government has let these people down [and] here is a group that is trying to fill that gap and we do believe that local communities have that right.’”
Civilian border patrols known as the Minuteman Project drew scrutiny in 2006 for their efforts to enforce immigration laws and prompted debate over whether such action by private citizens is legal.
Sanders now appears to be distancing himself from the vote. A spokesman for Sanders’ campaign said Thursday his position on the Kingston amendment does not reflect his position on civilian border patrols.
“He obviously doesn’t think private militias are the way to police or protect our borders,” Sanders spokesman Mike Casca wrote in an email to The Globe. “The vote in question was a minor amendment that codified something Customs and Border Patrol was already doing.”
Sanders’ campaign clarified that his debate comment about Clinton unfairly cherry-picking his voting record was in reference to his stance on the auto industry bailout, not on the Minutemen question.
At the debate, Clinton charged that Sanders opposed the auto bailout. In fact, at the time he said he supported bailing out the auto industry to protect jobs, Vermont Public Radio reported in 2008.
“If you don’t act in the midst of a growing recession [you] create a situation where millions of more people become unemployed and that could spread, and I have serious concerns about that,” the Vermont senator said at the time, according to VPR. “It would be a terrible idea to add millions more to the unemployment rolls.”
The bill Sanders was discussing ultimately failed. Sanders voted against a 2009 Wall Street bailout bill that ultimately helped the auto industry. But at the time he voted against it, the legislation wasn’t presented as an auto bailout. After the legislation passed, the White House used some of the funds to subsidize auto makers.
As Sanders pointed out during the Wednesday debate, her statement failed to take into account his overall position on the bailout.
Sophia Bollag can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SophiaBollag.