Obama, Clinton Tangle Over NAFTA

Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton bashed each other over the North American Free Trade Agreement in a presidential debate Tuesday in Ohio. The skirmish comes ahead of primaries next week in that state and in Texas.

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BILL WOLFF (Announcer): From NPR News in New York, this is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

We are live from the NPR studios at Bryant Park in mid-town Manhattan. This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News - news, information and caffeine withdrawal. I'm Alison Stewart.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Hey, I'm Rachel Martin.

It's Wednesday, February 27th. And I have my cup of coffee right here, but last night, if I'd gone in search of my usual double tall skinny vanilla latte, I might have had a hard time finding it.

STEWART: I don't if anybody else experienced this, but Starbuck's closed down for about three hours last night. I saw them - the one in the corner there at 6th and 42nd…

MARTIN: Yup.

STEWART: …putting the little sign up, saying that going to be closed. And people's faces were - they were just horrified that Starbucks was going to close for three hours. You know, they have their old CEO who came back, and he's trying to revive the Starbucks of (unintelligible).

MARTIN: A little employee training.

STEWART: Yes.

MARTIN: Costumer service primer.

STEWART: I think they were calling it Barista Education events, was happening at all 7,100 Starbucks. So who's the smarty-pants in this field?

MARTIN: Dunkin' Donuts.

STEWART: Yeah.

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MARTIN: With slashed prices.

STEWART: Yeah. They offered $.99 small, espresso-based drinks all afternoon, and some very not so subtle ads about Starbucks. So - but I do believe they're probably open right now.

MARTIN: Probably.

STEWART: Probably. We'll see a few baristas with a little bit out to this morning.

MARTIN: Right. That's right.

STEWART: What's coming up on the show?

MARTIN: We are going to talk about who are the people in your neighborhood. If you live in Ohio, who are you? That state, along with Texas, may make or break the Democratic candidates in next week's primary. Stephen Koff is with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and he's going to talk with us a little bit about what's going in Ohio.

STEWART: We also heard horror stories about really terrible bad bosses.

MARTIN: Not ours.

STEWART: But what - not at all. So what happens, though, when your boss is too nice? It can cause a whole other set of problems. Jared Sandberg with the Wall Street Journal, friend of the BPP, wrote a little article, did little research about how bosses who are too nice can create awful work environments.

MARTIN: Also, whatever you do, do not withdraw from you 401k to take that Hawaii vacation you've been dreaming of all winter. There are reports that people are really doing this, dipping into their retirement - not just to take vacations, but to actually pay bills just to get through the economic crunch right now. Why do people do it and why you're not doing yourself a favor if you do - we're going to work through that story.

STEWART: We'll also get some headlines in just a minute. But first, here's the BPP's Big Story.

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MARTIN: The final Democratic debate before the crucial March 4th primaries in Texas and Ohio, it took place in Cleveland last night. Senator Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama resumed the roles of fierce rivals rather collegial party members.

STEWART: Out of the gate and our first answer, Senator Clinton launched into her recent criticism of mailings from the Obama campaign that she says distort her record on health care and NAFTA.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): It's been unfortunate that Senator Obama has consistently said that I would force people to have health care whether they could afford it or not. You know, health care reform and achieving universal health care is a passion of mine. It is something I believe in with all my heart. And, unfortunately, it's a debate we should have that is accurate.

MARTIN: Senator Obama responded and threw in a shot of his own.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): The mailing that we put up accurately indicates that the main difference between Senator Clinton's plan and mine, is the fact that she would force, in some fashion, individuals to purchase health care.

If it was not affordable, she would still presumably force them to have it, unless there is a hardship exemption as they've done in Massachusetts. And so it is entirely legitimate for us to point out these differences. But I think it's very important to understand the context of this, and that is that Senator Clinton has - in her campaign, at least - has constantly sent out negative attacks on us, email, robocalls, flyers, television ads, radio calls. And, you know, we haven't whined about it because I understand that's the nature of these campaigns.

STEWART: And they scuffled over who disagrees with NAFTA the most. While debating in a state that has lost a lot of manufacturing jobs, both Clinton and Obama seemed eager to knock the trade agreement.

Sen. CLINTON: I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning. I didn't have a public position on it because I was part of the administration. But when I started running for the Senate, I have been a critic. I've said it was flawed. I said that it worked in some parts of our country, and I've seen the results in Texas. But what have seen, where I represent, upstate New York, I've sent he factories close and move.

Sen. OBAMA: I think that it is inaccurate for Senator Clinton to say that she's always opposed NAFTA. In her campaign for Senate, she said that NAFTA, on balance, had been good for New York and good for America. I disagree with that.

MARTIN: Senator Clinton unleashed some tough talk last night, and it wasn't all directed at Obama. She also gave NBC's moderators Tim Russert and Brian Williams a hard time.

Mr. BRIAN WILLIAMS (Anchor, NBC; Debate Moderator): And Senator, I need to reserve…

Sen. CLINTON: Well, but I have - I just have to add…

Mr. WILLIAMS: I'm sorry, Senator, I've got to…

Sen. CLINTON: Now wait a minute, I have to add…

Mr. WILLIAMS: I've got to get us to a break because television doesn't stop.

Sen. CLINTON: …because the question - the question was about invading Iraq.

You, Tim, you ask a lot of hypotheticals.

Can I just point out that in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time, and I don't mind. I, you know, I'll be happy to field them, but I do find it curious, and if anybody saw "Saturday Night Live," you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow. I just find it kind of curious that I keep getting the first question on all of these issues. But I'm happy to answer it.

STEWART: So who won? John McCain, according to Air America Radio host and MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow. She said he won because the debate was, quote, "The Democratic Voter Enthusiasm Suppression Act of 2008."

MARTIN: Of course, turn out is key to the primaries in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont - that will take place six days from now. According to poll averages on Realclearpolitics.com, Clinton is ahead of Obama in Ohio by nearly seven points. The same source shows Obama narrowly beating Clinton in Texas by a little more than 1 percentage point.

STEWART: And it's a delegate situation. There are a total of 370 delegates up for grabs next Tuesday.

Hey, that's the BPP's Big Story. Now let's get some more of today's headlines from Rachel.

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