Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said Monday night that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont told her in 2018 that she didn't believe a woman could win the presidency. The description of Mrs. Warren's comment, from a one-to-one private meeting, represents a notable save in her main liberal rival in the 2020 race just three weeks before the Iowa committees.
Mr. Sanders vehemently denied comment on Monday and accused Warren's campaign staff of "lying" about it, in a statement aimed at refuting a CNN news report that was based on anonymous sources. The New York Times and other media confirmed the CNN report on Monday afternoon, while Warren's campaign initially declined to comment.
With the two Democrats ready to face Tuesday night in their next televised debate, they are now in the most tense confrontation of the Democratic nomination fight: Mr. Sanders insists that he did not make the explosive comment, which runs the risk to alienate many Democrats, and Mrs. Warren says in the file that she made the comment.
Warren, in a statement Monday night, said Sanders made the comment at a two-hour meeting in December 2018 where they discussed the 2020 elections and "our past work together and our shared goals," particularly defeating the president. Triumph.
“Among the issues that arose was what would happen if the Democrats nominated a candidate. I thought a woman could win; he did not agree, ”she said. "I have no interest in continuing to discuss this private meeting because Bernie and I have much more in common than our differences in experience." She added that she and Mr. Sanders were "friends and allies" and said she believed they would continue to work together to defeat Mr. Trump.
The public statement represents a surprising break in the Warren-Sanders relationship, which has been largely cordial and mutually beneficial. The two are leading candidates in Iowa, where they fight for a similar portion of voters, and most likely they will encourage not only the debate on Tuesday night, but also the struggle between the liberal groups and activists that are aligned behind each candidate
Warren's advisers insisted that he had no intention of making this private meeting a public spectacle. However, after Mr. Sanders' team forcibly denied the reports, some advisors said they believed he had no choice but to offer his account firsthand.
Mr. Sanders, in his statement on Monday, said it was "ridiculous" to think he would have made that comment.
"It's sad that, three weeks before the Iowa caucus and one year after that private conversation, the staff that wasn't in the room lied about what happened," Sanders said. “Do I think a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by three million votes in 2016. ”
Mr. Sanders added that he had told Mrs. Warren "that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would arm everything he could."
People familiar with the 2018 meeting, who were informed shortly after it took place but were not authorized to speak in public, said Mr. Sanders offered the comment when evaluating his next career. In transmitting to Mrs. Warren the challenges she thought her campaign would face, she said not only that President Trump would arm sexism, but that such attacks would prevent a woman from being elected, according to private accounts.
Larry Cohen, an old friend and advisor to Mr. Sanders, had said Monday that Mr. Sanders told him about the meeting after it happened and that he didn't believe in the report.
"Everything I know about Bernie Sanders for 30 years tells me I would never talk like that, much less a woman who admires tremendously," Cohen said.
Faiz Shakir, Mr. Sanders' campaign manager, had asked Warren on Monday afternoon to refute the accusation.
"We need to hear from her directly," Shakir said, "but I know what she would say: that it is not true, that it is a lie."
The existence of the meeting has been public since shortly after it happened in December 2018. The New York Times Shortly after the meeting it was reported that Mrs. Warren had sought him "as a courtesy" and that neither party had tried to obtain the support of the other or discourage the other to run. But the two senators were the only people in the room, and all reports of what had been said had been second-hand.
When asked last March if Mr. Sanders had urged her not to run, Mrs. Warren said: "Bernie and I had dinner in private, and my opinion is that dinner is still private."
The total political impact of the controversy could depend on what happens during Tuesday's debate in Des Moines. Until now, Warren and Sanders have focused their attacks on more moderate rivals, as a result of their friendship and their desire not to damage the left wing of the game.
However, tensions between the two campaigns, and among their most fervent supporters, have increased in recent days. A highly respected survey by The Des Moines Register and CNN Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Warren were placed as the two main candidates in Iowa, with Mr. Sanders leading the pack.
Beyond how candidates deal with the problem is how it is perceived exactly: as a sexist mockery of a candidate whose 2016 campaign faced complaints from female staff members, an 11-hour spot for a candidate who has lost ground or some combination from both.
Over the weekend, Politician reported on a script distributed to the volunteers for the Sanders campaign that suggested telling Warren supporters to support Sanders. "The people who support her are highly educated and richer people who are going to stand and vote for the Democrats, no matter what," said the script. "It is not bringing new bases to the Democratic Party."
Responding to the filtered script, Ms. Warren said Mr. Sanders had been "sending his volunteers to throw me trash."
He urged not to repeat the "factionalism" seen among the Democrats during the 2016 primaries, in which Mr. Sanders confronted Ms. Clinton. "We can't repeat that," he said. "The Democrats need to unite our party and that means attracting all parts of the Democratic coalition."
Mr. Sanders said he had never personally attacked Ms. Warren, and that both campaigns had hundreds of employees, who "sometimes say things they shouldn't."
Democracy for America, a prominent progressive group, expressed alarm on Monday over rising tensions.
"Both are progressive champions and our movement needs to see you working together to defeat your corporate opponents Dem, not attack each other." the group tweeted. "Progressives will win in 2020, but only if we don't allow the corporate wing or Trump to divide us."
Sydney Ember and Maggie Astor contributed reports.