“Bill Clinton has been on the campaign trail making some pretty nasty comments about me,” Sanders said to co-host Chuck Todd of NBC News when asked about the former president, who has been a very active surrogate on the campaign trail for his wife.
Sanders said among the differences he had with Clinton during the 1990s was “so-called welfare reform,” which Sanders said had the effect of “scapegoating” vulnerable people.
“That legislation ended up increasing extreme poverty,” Sanders said during the forum, which was broadcast live on Telemundo and MSNBC and focused largely on issues important to Latinos, including immigration reform.
Sanders has made tougher Wall Street regulation a focus of his campaign and been critical of action taken during Bill Clinton’s term to deregulate the financial industry.
Sanders has also been critical of a string of free-trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which was passed during Clinton’s tenure.
The forum also offered an opportunity for Sanders to clarify some areas of difference with President Obama. Hillary Clinton has sought to cast herself as the candidate more committed to carrying out the legacy of the current president, who remains popular with the Democratic base.
During the forum, Sanders was presented with a segment of a 2011 radio interview in which he suggested it would be healthy for Obama to have a Democratic primary opponent in 2012.
Sanders said that he thinks overall Obama has “done an outstanding job” and that Obama is “a friend of mine” but said that it’s only natural for senators to have differences with presidents. He said the media were fueling controversy over their differences.
Sanders said his policy differences with Obama have included trade. Sanders is a vocal opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major deal that Obama is seeking to push through Congress.
Sanders's discussion of the two presidents prompted a rebuke from the Clinton campaign after the forum ended.
"If Senator Sanders wants to be the standard bearer of the Democratic party, he should spend less time attempting to tear down the very real accomplishments of two of the most successful presidencies in modern times," Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri said in a statement.