DES MOINES, IOWA/MANCHESTER NEW HAMPSHIRE – U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders attempted over the weekend to tamp down a weeklong disagreement over whether Sanders told Warren in a 2018 private meeting that a woman could not beat Republican President Donald Trump in 2020.
As the two senators and long-time allies campaigned in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire just two weeks before the first caucuses begin, both largely stuck to their liberal policy platforms and emphasized unity among Democrats hoping to take on Trump in the November election.
“Bernie and I have been friends a long time. We fight for the same issues,” Warren said at a house party in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, when quizzed by a supporter who said she believed Warren’s side of the story. “That’s all I want to say about that topic because what I truly believe is we’re going to have to pull together.”
Sanders, speaking in Exeter, New Hampshire, pledged to come together with other Democrats to back their eventual nominee.
“No matter who wins this hotly contested primary, all of us will unite,” he said.
The two senators have been at odds in recent days after Warren said Sanders told her during the meeting that a woman could not win the presidency in November 2020, which Sanders has denied.
The spat bubbled to the fore during last week’s presidential debate in Iowa, when a CNN microphone caught Warren telling Sanders he made her out to be a liar on national television.
The disintegration of the nonaggression pact between the two friends — and the resulting online backlash from supporters in both camps — caused hand-wringing among progressive groups, which urged backers of the two candidates to reserve their fire for centrist rivals.
Sanders is leading Warren in most national opinion polls but both trail behind former Vice President Joe Biden, a moderate.
Interviews with more than 20 voters who attended the two progressives’ events on Friday and Saturday showed that they largely wanted the candidates to move on.
Sue Foecke, 40, attended the Des Moines house party hosted by Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and plans to support Warren. But she said a continued focus on the 2018 meeting “doesn’t add anything to the conversation.”
Though Foecke said she does not have a backup candidate because Warren should be “viable” in Iowa’s caucuses and able to win delegates, some at Warren’s events named Sanders as their second choice.
“It breaks my heart,” said Kathy Staub, 62, a Sanders backer who is involved in local politics in Manchester.
Staub likes both candidates but contrasted Sanders’ history as a grassroots organizer with Warren’s more recent emergence as a leading progressive with “policy wonk” plans.
Asked by a supporter about Democratic infighting at his Exeter rally, Sanders did not mention Warren or any other candidate, and suggested that disputes were overblown by news media that “often wants and exaggerates conflict.”
Warren repeatedly demurred when she was asked by reporters about the scuffle, responding: “I don’t have anything else to say on this.”
Even as the controversy with Warren died down, however, Sanders’ campaign has zeroed in on Biden. It criticized Biden’s 2002 vote for the Iraq War, which Sanders opposed, and accused him of in the past supporting cutting Social Security benefits for the elderly, which Biden denied. The former vice president’s campaign accused Sanders staffers of lying.
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