Warren said she and Sanders "have been friends and allies in this fight for a long time," but there has reportedly been increasing friction between their campaigns

By Sean Neumann
January 14, 2020 01:43 PM
Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Monday that Sen. Bernie Sanders once told her in a private meeting that a woman couldn’t win the 2020 election — a headline-grabbing claim that Sanders quickly denied.

The discussion, which is hotly disputed, was first reported by CNN, citing four anonymous sources: “two people Warren spoke with directly soon after the encounter, and two people familiar with the meeting.”

Warren, 70, later supported this version of events in a statement via her campaign, saying she and Sanders, 78, had an hours-long private meeting in December 2018. There they discussed the upcoming presidential election and “our shared goals,” including “beating Donald Trump” and championing progressive economic policies, she said Monday.

“Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate,” she said. “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.”

Sanders disputes this.

“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. (His campaign did not respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.)

The Washington Post reported that one person with knowledge of the conversation said Sanders didn’t say a woman couldn’t win the 2020 election but instead was saying Trump “would use nefarious tactics against the Democratic nominee,” supporting how Sanders characterized their discussion.

“What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could,” Sanders said in his statement. “Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016.”

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Before Warren’s statement on the matter, Sanders’ campaign manager told CNN the story was “a lie.” Sanders statement also blamed “staff who weren’t in the room [who] are lying about what happened,” even though Warren herself backed up that account.

While Warren’s statement this week took care to note she and Sanders “have been friends and allies in this fight for a long time” — and the two share many of the same values — there has reportedly been increasing friction between their campaigns in the final weeks before primary voting begins.

Over the weekend, Politico reported that the Sanders campaign had issued talking points to volunteers to tell voters that people who support Warren are “highly educated, more affluent people who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what” and that “she’s bringing no new bases into the Democratic Party.”

Warren said that she was “disappointed” Sanders would send volunteers to “trash” her.

“The Sanders campaign did not challenge the authenticity of the [volunteer] script, but it declined to comment,” Politico reported.

The two candidates will be part of Tuesday night’s Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa — the final debate before the Iowa caucus on Feb. 3 — and are almost sure to be asked about their December 2018 exchange and which of their accounts is accurate.