Bernie Sanders reached out for a handshake, but Elizabeth Warren declined. Then, the pyrotechnics started.
In a moment that was caught on a hot mic, Warren confronted her Democratic primary rival after Tuesday night’s CNN-sponsored debate in Iowa with the accusation that the Vermont senator had called her “a liar on national TV,” the Washington Examiner reported Wednesday. The incident came after Sanders denied Warren’s claim that he once told her a woman couldn’t win the White House.
“You called me a liar”
The accusation first surfaced Monday in a CNN article that claimed Sanders said in a private conversation at Warren’s apartment in December 2018 that a woman could not win the presidency. Warren affirmed the claim Tuesday night, saying she “disagreed” with Sanders’ comments and setting the stage for an explosive dispute.
As the debate ended, Warren walked up to Sanders and refused a handshake from him. “I think you called me a liar on national TV,” Warren said, according to an audio recording released by CNN.
“What?” Sanders replied, prompting Warren to repeat her claim. A visibly irritated Sanders insisted they shelve the conversation for another time: “You know, let’s not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion,” he said, according to the New York Post.
The exchange abruptly ended when billionaire Tom Steyer interrupted: “I don’t want to get in the middle,” he said, according to the Examiner. “I just want to say hi, Bernie.”
CNN has just published the audio of the tense conversation between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren after yesterday’s debate pic.twitter.com/EUdIyIkroW
— Matt Bevan 🎙 (@MatthewBevan) January 16, 2020
Sanders set up?
Sanders vehemently denied the story during the debate, claiming it was “incomprehensible” that he would say such a thing. But Warren doubled down, according to NBC News, taking the opportunity to make a larger point about the need to address the “question about whether or not a woman can be president,” which she answered in part by mocking the male candidates on stage for past electoral failures.
Some have since wondered whether the CNN story was leaked by the Warren camp to set Sanders up. A statement from Warren’s campaign followed shortly after the story was published, and CNN’s relative friendliness to Warren during the debate left many speculating about possible advance coordination.
Indeed, to Sanders supporters, the debate revived bitter memories of the “rigged” Democratic primary in 2016 after a CNN moderator framed a question to Warren as if her story of the exchange with Sanders were a proven fact. The hot mic audio released Wednesday only added to accusations that Warren’s attack on Sanders was “staged.”
Feud deepens on the left
The he-said, she-said dispute has widened a divide on the progressive left between Sanders supporters and Warren supporters. Progressives with more of an identity politics bent insist that Warren is telling the truth and that all women should be believed, but Sanders supporters have called Warren a liar who is using identity politics to attack a good friend.
“Elizabeth Warren has claimed for a long time that Bernie Sanders is a close friend and ally, but now that things are coming down to the wire she decided to level this ugly, vicious identity politics attacks on him for her own political gain,” said Krystal Ball, a Sanders supporter and co-host of The Hill’s Rising.
The feud — one that was a long time brewing — ruptured just weeks before the Iowa caucuses as pressure mounts on the candidates to make their closing arguments. Warren’s star had begun to fall in recent months as she struggled to articulate her health care plan, opening her up to accusations of inauthenticity from the hard left, while Sanders has been surging in Iowa, according to the Chicago Tribune.
To the far left, Warren is seen as too comfortable with the system, despite having pitched herself as a “unity candidate” between the party’s progressive and moderate wings. But with antics like these, it looks like Warren is interested in anything but unity at this point.