It was the tension between Senator Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren that dominated the seventh Democratic debate Tuesday night, following a report that Sanders had told Warren in a 2018 meeting that a woman couldn’t win the presidency.
The two candidates, who have been generally friendly up to this point and avoided criticizing each other, changed their tune on Tuesday, with just under three weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses. The two were caught on camera in a tense exchange after the debate, with Warren appearing to decline a handshake with Sanders.
After much of the first hour of the seventh Democratic debate was dominated by foreign policy questions amid U.S. tensions with Iran, the two finally got a chance to talk about what seemed to be a brewing feud between them. On Monday, Warren said during a private meeting in 2018 about their shared goals for the U.S. economy and defeating President Trump in 2020, Sanders told her he didn’t think a woman could win the presidency. Sanders vehemently denied ever having made the statement.
Standing on the debate stage, Sanders reiterated his denial: “As a matter of fact, I didn’t say it.” He added that he had even deferred to Warren in 2015, in case she wanted to run in 2016 and stepped into the race when she declined. He also pointed out that Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee, had won 3 million more votes than Donald Trump. He asked rhetorically how anybody could believe a woman can’t win the presidency.
Warren was asked what her response was when she was told by Sanders a woman couldn’t win (a question that assumed that Warren’s version of events is true, rather than Sanders’). “I disagreed,” Warren replied, adding that “Bernie is my friend, and I’m not here to fight with Bernie.”
Instead, she said, it’s time to tackle the question about whether a woman can be president “head-on,” and she pointed out that on the debate stage, the women on the stage had a better record of winning.
“The men on this stage collectively have lost 10 elections,” Warren said. “The women on this stage haven’t lost any.”
Tuesday’s debate stage was the smallest yet, with only six candidates meeting the qualifications: Biden, Sanders, Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer.