Sen. Bernie Sanders is strongly refuting a report Monday that he told Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a fellow 2020 presidential candidate and longtime friend, that a woman couldn’t win as the Democratic presidential nominee against President Donald Trump.
Sanders and Warren met at the Massachusetts senator’s condo in Washington, D.C., in December 2018 to discuss the 2020 race. It was during that meeting, which was first reported by The New York Times, that the two longtime populist allies reportedly agreed they would both likely run for president, but wouldn’t attack each other on the campaign trail, an agreement that has more-or-less held through the yearlong primary race.
But according to a CNN report Monday, the Vermont senator also said during the meeting that he did not believe a woman could win.
According to CNN, the description of the statement is based on the accounts of four unnamed sources — “two people Warren spoke with directly soon after the encounter, and two people familiar with the meeting” — and came amid Sanders’s “frustration” at what he felt was a growing focus among Democrats on identity politics, according to one of the sources.
Sanders, for his part, says his words are being misconstrued, accusing “staff who weren’t in the room” of “lying about what happened.”
“It is ludicrous to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman couldn’t win,” he told CNN in a statement.
“It’s sad that, three weeks before the Iowa caucus and a year after that private conversation, staff who weren’t in the room are lying about what happened,” Sanders continued. “What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could. Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016.”
His press secretary, Briahna Joy Gray, also backed him up in a succinct tweet Monday afternoon.
That’s it. That’s the tweet.
— Briahna Joy Gray (@briebriejoy) January 13, 2020
Warren’s campaign declined to comment.
Her case as the leading woman in the presidential race did however get support from fellow Bay Stater and 2020 candidate Deval Patrick, who tweeted Monday afternoon that Democrats should vocally express the belief that “women and people of color can win.” The former Massachusetts governor’s tweet came a few hours after New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker ended his presidential campaign, making Patrick the lone African American still in the race.
Whether it’s behind closed doors or screaming it from the rooftops— every candidate in this race needs to say it out loud: women and people of color can win. To say otherwise expresses a lack of faith in the American people who deserve more from their leaders.
— Deval Patrick (@DevalPatrick) January 13, 2020
Several studies have suggested that sexism played a role in the outcome of 2016 election. And whether or not Sanders believes it could prevent the Democratic nominee from winning in 2020, he has emphasized that Democrats should focus on working class issues over the identity of their candidate.
“This is where there is going to be division within the Democratic Party,” Sanders said during a visit to Boston shortly after the 2016 election. “It is not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!’ No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”
CNN’s new report comes amid polls showing Sanders and Warren among the four top-tier Democratic candidates — along with former vice president Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg — headed into the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3.
It also comes as cracks have begun to form in the so-called nonaggression pact between the two leading progressives. Over the weekend, Warren told reporters that she was “disappointed” that Sanders had sent volunteers “out to trash me,” after his campaign distributed a “call script” instructing canvassers to highlight the fact that her supporters are, on average, more affluent.
In response, Sanders told the Times he was not the one responsible for the script and asserted that Warren remains a friend and ally.
“I got to tell you, I think this is a little bit of a media blowup that kind of wants conflict,” he said.