Clinton Puts Pressure on Sanders to Agree to New Debate

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Hillary Clinton stepped up the pressure on Bernie Sanders Wednesday when she called on the Vermont senator to agree to an unsanctioned Democratic debate sponsored by NBC and New Hampshire's Union Leader.

"I'm ready for the debate and I hope Sen. Sanders will change his mind and join us," Clinton told MSNBC's Chris Matthews in a phone interview. "And I think the (Democratic National Committee) and the campaigns should be able to work this out. I've said for, you know, for a long time that I'd be happy to have more debates."

The comment is Clinton, in effect, challenging Sanders to debate between the Iowa caucuses on February 1 and the New Hampshire primary on February 9.

NBC and the Union Leader announced on Tuesday that they will host and partner on a Democratic debate on February 4, in between the two critical early state contests.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's campaign quickly agreed and Clinton's spokeswoman said she would "be happy to participate in a debate in New Hampshire if the other candidates agree, which would allow the DNC to sanction the debate."

Sanders' campaign and the DNC were far more tepid.

Buoyed by strong polling in the Granite State, Sanders aides said they were in favor of more debates but declined to commit to the February 4 contest.

"The DNC has said it is not going to sanction any more debates until after February 9th," said Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager. "We look forward to working with the DNC and the other campaigns to schedule a series of debates to follow those currently scheduled. Our position will be that there should be at least three or four more."

Sanders' new position contradicts what he said earlier this month.

"Well, count me in as one person -- you know, if Secretary Clinton and Gov. O'Malley want to do it, I'm there," Sanders told MSNBC about more debates. "I love debates. I think they are a way to inform the American people of our positions and our differences. So, I think that is a great idea. So, I'm in. If the other candidates are in, you count me in."

Clinton said on Wednesday that she was "anxious" to debate more.

The debate, should it happen, would not be one of the six contests originally sanctions by the DNC. The DNC has a so-called "exclusivity clause" which says that any candidate who participates in an unsanctioned debate will be excluded from one of the official six.

"We have no plans to sanction any further debates before the upcoming first-in-the-nation caucuses and primary, but will reconvene with our campaigns after those two contests to review our schedule," DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in response to the proposed debate.

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