Senator Bernie Sanders did everything he could to help Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton defeat President Donald Trump in 2016. In 1988, during a C-SPAN appearance, he said, “A woman could be elected President of the United States.” He even encouraged Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for president in 2015.
Yet, before, during, and after the last presidential debate before the Iowa Caucuses, CNN and Clinton Democrats sowed discord among Democratic voters by promoting a spurious story against Sanders—that he told Warren a woman could not win the election during a private meeting in December 2018.
It is still gaining traction, especially since CNN waited until 24 hours after the debate to release audio of a “tense confrontation” between Sanders and Warren that occurred.
On January 15, CNN moderator Abby Phillip asked Sanders about the network’s story. “CNN reported yesterday that — and Sen. Sanders, Sen. Warren confirmed in a statement, that in 2018 you told her that you did not believe that a woman could win the election. Why did you say that?”
The question was not, what do you recall from that meeting? That would have undermined what CNN reported.
Sanders responded, “Well, as a matter of fact, I didn’t say it. And I don’t want to waste a whole lot of time on this, because this is what Donald Trump and maybe some of the media want. Anybody knows me knows that it’s incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States.”
He mentioned he “deferred” to Warren in 2015, when there was a movement to draft her to run for president. He also said, “Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes. How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become president of the United States?”
The CNN moderator pressed Sanders further:
PHILLIP: Senator Sanders, I do want to be clear here. You’re saying that you never told Senator Warren that a woman could not win the election?”
SANDERS: That is correct.
PHILLIP: Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?
Instead of asking Warren a neutral question about what she recalled from the meeting or whether Sanders said a woman could not win, Phillip lobbed a softball at Warren that would ensure the focus stayed on Sanders’ “sexist” remark.
Hours after CNN published their report (and before Warren put out her statement), the Washington Post added, “Two people with knowledge of the conversation at the 2018 dinner at Warren’s home told the Washington Post that Warren brought up the issue by asking Sanders whether he believed a woman could win. One of the people with knowledge of the conversation said Sanders did not say a woman couldn’t win but rather that Trump would use nefarious tactics against the Democratic nominee.”
The CNN moderator never asked Sanders, Warren, or the other candidates about the central issue reportedly discussed, which is what it would take to ensure Trump was not successful in wielding a woman’s identity against her to win re-election.
‘I Really Appreciated How Our Moderators’ Handled The Debate
The Intercept’s Ryan Grim reported on January 17 that Warren “hosted an off-the-record dinner with a number of journalists, according to sources with knowledge of it.” The dinner was held “not long after” the private meeting with Sanders, and she talked with journalists about what Sanders said.
“Different reporters recalled the comments differently, a mirror image of the dispute between Warren and Sanders over exactly what Sanders said—with Warren saying that Sanders argued a woman couldn’t beat Trump, while Sanders said that he only said Trump would weaponize misogyny against a woman, not that it would work,” according to Grim.
The Iowa debate exposed how the story was a cheap shot against Sanders intended to exploit his aversion to identity politics. Nevertheless, Jess McIntosh, the former director of communications outreach for Clinton’s presidential campaign, suggested, “What Bernie forgot was that this isn’t a he said/she said story. This is a reported-out story that CNN was part of breaking. So, to have him just flat out say no I think wasn’t nearly enough to address that for the women watching.”
CNN host Anderson Cooper corrected McIntosh. “Just in fairness, it is essentially he said/she said. I mean, it’s two people in a room,” and, “We know only the two in the room know [what was said].”
The morning after the debate Karen Finney, the former senior spokesperson for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, appeared on CNN’s “New Day.”
“You know what I thought was fascinating? I really appreciated how our moderators—granted, I’m a little bit biased—how they handled it,” Finney said. “They didn’t make it into a back-and-forth of the he said-she said. They let Bernie say his piece. They let Warren say her piece, and then we had a bit about women and the strength of women and women candidates.”
“And, look, it’s for the voters to decide who they believe and/or how they feel about it,” Finney added.
Yet, to get to what was important in the conversation, CNN should have asked both Sanders and Warren to share what they recalled from the meeting. The moderator did not do that, probably because it would have caused the facade of their “he said, she said” story to crumble.
Later, Joe Lockhart, the former press secretary for President Bill Clinton, appeared on “New Day.”
“Bernie Sanders probably had the most difficult night because I think the people who matter most, who care the most about this electability issue and women as not being electable are women. And I can’t imagine any woman watching last night and say, I believe Bernie. I think people believe Elizabeth. And his explanation was not great,” Lockhart said.
Remarkably, Lockhart echoed a talking point that some Sanders campaign volunteers were caught using against Warren. “Working class voters in Iowa are deciding…between [Joe] Biden and Sanders. They’re not considering Warren and [Pete] Buttigieg because they do think they’re elitist, and they have a connection to Biden and Sanders.”
‘A Lot Of Women Still Feel Pretty Raw’
Before the debate, Finney was on CNN’s “The Lead” with Jake Tapper. She revealed the prejudice driving her interest in this story put out against Sanders:
It’s not just about what may or may not have been said in this conversation. Bernie came into this race with a bit of a legacy. The Bernie bros were known to have been horrible to women online.
I know plenty of women who would say things like, there were secret groups of women who didn’t want to have to deal with the Bernie bros. So they didn’t want to engage online.
And the Bernie bros, again, they’re pretty obnoxious, and they’re very sexist and misogynist. So part of it is, it’s part of the reason why he endorsed Cenk Uygur, and then had to pull that back because of those comments.
I mean, he did come in with an impression and a lot of women still feeling pretty raw from 2016 about the fact that he didn’t stand up for Hillary or have her back or campaign for her, I think, as vigorously as he could have.
But, also, he never really took on the Bernie bros and said, let’s tame, let’s calm down a bit.
This shows Clinton Democrats, like Finney, are angry about democracy. They still resent that Clinton was effectively challenged by Sanders in the 2016 primary, and it brought attention to some of her weaknesses. She voted for the Iraq War, earned millions of dollars from speeches to firms on Wall Street, and supported destructive trade deals.
Tapper corrected Finney. “No, no, that’s not true. I interviewed [Sanders], and I did ask him about the Bernie bros. And he said nobody should be saying things like that. Nobody should be doing things like that.”
The rest of Finney’s comments are littered with lies. Sanders made helping Clinton defeat Trump a priority and never engaged in any acts intended to undermine her. He discouraged his supporters from voting third party as a “protest vote” against her. He held 39 rallies in 13 states on behalf of her campaign, including 17 events in 11 states in the final week of the election.
Karen Dunn, who helped Clinton prepare for debates in 2016, said moments before the debate, “We’re likely to see Bernie Sanders be more complementary of Hillary Clinton than he’s ever been. In the 7th debate of 2016, which I prepped Hillary for, Bernie shushed her and said, you know, excuse me, I’m talking. And that followed him around, and he lost that debate because of that and other things.”
CNN had Jill Filipovic contribute a piece that was provocatively headlined, “Why Bernie Sanders is wrong about women.”
During the 2016 election, Filipovic fueled the mythology around “Bernie bros,” a trope that was primarily conceived by Robinson Meyer, an Atlantic staff writer. Meyer used the trope to smugly mock the enthusiasm of those turned on to the political process by Sanders. That developed into one of the most pernicious attacks of the election, particularly because it erased many of the women who supported the Sanders campaign.
On “Anderson Cooper 360,” Bakari Sellers, who was a surrogate for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said Sanders had “some explaining to do.”
“I do think that there are many people who believe, including myself, that this falls into the same old tropes and kind of steering away from what Bernie Sanders likes to call identity politics,” Sellers remarked. “And the irony in all of this is that he got beat by 4 million votes by a woman, and a woman actually beat Donald Trump by 2.8 million votes. So, that’s a bit ironic here.”
Sellers has previously attacked Sanders, weaponizing his identity as a black man against Sanders in much the same way that he and other Clinton Democrats are weaponizing Warren’s identity.
Polling shows African Americans have an overwhelmingly favorable opinion of Sanders, but Sellers has constantly tried to undermine this support by discounting Sanders’ activism in the civil rights movement. He believes ever since the 1960s Sanders has not tried to effect change that would benefit African Americans, yet Sanders’ leadership arguably helped push 40 cities and seven states to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour.
CNN political correspondent Sara Murray said, “It does kind of seem like something you could see [Sanders] saying because he has had this gender problem historically. And that’s why, I think, if voters do believe it, if it sits with voters, that’s why it would sit with them, because they already could have had this belief that Bernie Sanders has a gender issue.”
A day after the CNN story was published, a Warren campaign staffer reportedly wrote, “Claiming you’re worried a woman can’t win/flagging that she’ll receive sexist attacks is something many, many people feel.”
However, for Clinton Democrats, who hold a grudge against Sanders and feel politically threatened by his surging campaign, they will keep manufacturing bad-faith stories. Such stories help them divide progressive voters and defend neoliberal candidates, like Joe Biden.
Clinton Democrats effectively sowed discord in this manner throughout the 2016 primary. It worked then, and they hope it will work during another election cycle. And CNN will gladly publish and air whatever sleaze they want to spread in order to boost ratings.