WASHINGTON (AP) — Elizabeth Warren said Monday that fellow Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders told her he didn't think a woman could win the White House when they met privately in 2018.
Sanders has denied telling Warren that a woman couldn't win. But the Massachusetts senator said in a statement that during their two-hour meeting to discuss the 2020 election, "among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate. I thought a woman could win; he disagreed."
The dispute was an extraordinary turning point in a Democratic primary that, with few exceptions, has been characterized by genial differences over domestic issues such as health care. The feud brewing between Warren and Sanders may change the tone of the campaign going into Tuesday's debate and comes less than three weeks before the Iowa caucuses launch the Democratic contest. It signals a jarring split between the two longtime progressive allies, potentially giving an opening for a more moderate rival such as former Vice President Joe Biden to attempt unifying the party.
In her statement, Warren said she and Sanders "have far more in common than our differences on punditry."
"I'm in this race to talk about what's broken in this country and how to fix it — and that's what I'm going to continue to do," she said. "I know Bernie is in the race for the same reason. We have been friends and allies in this fight for a long time, and I have no doubt we will continue to work together to defeat Donald Trump and put our government on the side of the people."
CNN first reported Sanders’ comment on Monday, based on the accounts of anonymous people with knowledge of the meeting. That drew a swift and strong denial from Sanders, I-Vermont, who said: "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."
Sanders aides then accused Warren's campaign of leaking what he said was an inaccurate description of what was said during the meeting.
That helped prompt Warren's statement hours later. Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Sanders, tried to defuse the situation, refusing to rebut Warren's version and saying only on CNN on Monday night that "those conversations can sometimes get misconstrued."
Still, the controversy is likely to revive anxiety among Democrats about whether — nearly four years after Hillary Clinton lost her White House bid — voters are willing to support another woman running for president. Such questions have dogged Warren and other female candidates throughout the 2020 campaign.
Hawaii Rep. Tulsa Gab bard tweeted Monday night that she had also met with Sanders before announcing her presidential campaign. "In that meeting, he showed me the greatest respect and encouragement, just as he always has," Gab bard wrote.
The clash between Sanders and Warren comes on the eve of a Democratic presidential debate in Iowa, the last before that state kicks off the Democratic primary with its leadoff caucuses on Feb. 3. Warren and Sanders, both of whom support universal health care, tuition-free public college and raising the minimum wage, have for months competed for their party’s liberal wing while refraining from attacking each other.
But after a Politico story over the weekend that reported the Sanders campaign had instructed some volunteers to characterize Warren as a candidate for wealthy and well-educated voters in conversations with undecided voters, Warren issued a rare critique of her opponent. She said she was "disappointed" Sanders was instructing staffers to "trash" her.
That set the stage for Monday's hours of additional squabbling — and may well spell a lively debate Tuesday.
Stephanie Taylor and Adam Green, co-founders of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has at times praised both Warren and Sanders, released its own statement Monday night saying they "believe that a back-and-forth about this private meeting is counterproductive for progressives."
"In this pivotal moment of the campaign, progressives must work together to defeat Donald Trump," Taylor and Green said.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.