WASHINGTON — Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders met Wednesday night at her condominium in Washington to discuss their political intentions but did not reach any accord about coordinating their dueling presidential ambitions, according to two Democrats briefed on their discussion.
Only the two senators were present, and they stated what has become abundantly clear: They are both seriously considering seeking the Democratic nomination in 2020. But neither Warren nor Sanders sought support from the other or tried to dissuade the other from running, said the officials familiar with the meeting.
Warren sought the sit-down and did so as a courtesy and because they have a long-standing friendship that is rooted in candor, according to one Democrat close to the Massachusetts senator. Her office declined to comment about the meeting.
Sanders dismissed questions Thursday in the Capitol about the meeting, asking why a reporter was not asking about his successful push to have the Senate pass a symbolic resolution withdrawing U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen. And the Vermont senator, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, flashed irritation when he was asked about it during an interview on MSNBC.
“I talk to Elizabeth Warren every single day,” he said, scolding the anchor, Andrea Mitchell, for inquiring about the meeting. “The fact that two senators get together to chat becomes a big deal, that’s a real problem for the media.”
But advisers to both senators made no efforts to play down the conversation, which comes as they move closer to making long-expected announcements that they plan on seeking the presidency.
Sanders has said he will “probably run” if he thinks he is the candidate with the best chance to defeat President Donald Trump. Warren is expected to form an exploratory committee after the new year.
Both senators, though, are confronting signs that they will not enjoy an easy path to the nomination.
Warren has been sharply criticized for her decision to release a DNA test in October proving that she has Native American heritage. And Sanders’ hold on the party’s progressive base may be slipping as a new generation of Democrats like Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas demonstrate early strength in polls and straw polls, such as the one conducted this week by the liberal group MoveOn.
The two would-be candidates have made their names as outspoken economic populists and are expected to run on similar platforms, with slight differences.
The prospect of two high-profile progressives pursuing White House runs has stirred concerns among some on the left that they could cut into each other’s support, potentially letting a less progressive candidate emerge with the nomination.
A handful of liberal lawmakers on Thursday downplayed that prospect, arguing that the center of gravity in the party had shifted inexorably left. But they acknowledged that if both senators run, it could force the hand of Democrats who like each of them.
“When it comes to progressives, I think Bernie and Warren are in a different league,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., noting that if each of them enters the race, “I’ll have to decide.”
In 2016, many of Sanders’ backers bitterly complained about the Democratic establishment’s attempt to effectively coronate Hillary Clinton as the nominee, making it difficult for Democrats to suggest that any potential candidate step aside or that there be any attempt at clearing the field.
“They both deserve to make up their own mind,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. “It would be wrong for any of us to say, ‘Well you’re the better progressive.’ We can all make up our minds; that’s what primaries are for.”
Since the 2016 campaign ended, Sanders and Warren, who have been friends since before either entered the Senate, have been running shadow campaigns that demonstrate both their similarities and their differences.
Advisers to each have gone to great lengths to downplay their nascent rivalry — highlighting Warren’s appearance on Sanders’ podcast, for example — but he was irritated by her refusal to endorse his presidential 2016 campaign and has bridled at questions about her.
Since running an unexpectedly competitive race against Clinton, and becoming a global sensation on the political left, Sanders has exulted as the Democratic mainstream embraced central elements of his message, including his call for universal health care. But he has done little to broaden his political circle and has struggled to expand his appeal beyond his base of primarily white supporters.
Warren has, like Sanders, continued to present herself as a scourge of Wall Street greed. But she has worked aggressively to win over a wider range of supporters and has sought to draw a thinly veiled contrast between herself and her self-identified democratic socialist colleague by noting she is a proud capitalist.
She has also been aggressive in attempting to cultivate friendships in the party. Her session with Sanders was the latest, and perhaps most significant, of dozens of lunches and dinners she has had in Washington and Boston with party leaders, union officials and progressive activists in recent months.