Progressives, alarmed by Sanders-Warren tension, demand a truce

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

As tension erupted between Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the two leading candidates on the party’s left flank, progressive groups called for a truce ahead of the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3.

“Our best chance of defeating Trump does not lie with an establishment or corporate Democrat,” read a statement released Thursday. “The anti-establishment, anti-corporate awareness and anger that characterize American society today are justified, and it would be a huge mistake to once again yield that ground to a phony like Trump. We can do better, and will work to persuade Democrats to choose a strong, progressive nominee.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. (Photos: Andrew Harnick/AP, Patrick Semansky/AP)

Among the groups whose leaders signed on to the statement are Our Revolution (a political organization that was spun off the 2016 Sanders campaign), the Sunrise Movement (the climate activist organization that recently endorsed Sanders), the Working Families Party (which endorsed Warren) and Justice Democrats (the organization that aided the election of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives).

“Sanders and Warren, as well as their campaigns and supporters, will need to find ways to cooperate,” continued the statement. “The crossfire amplified by the media is unhelpful and does not reflect the relationship between the two Senate colleagues who broadly worked well together for most of the last year. We hope to build solidarity between delegates affiliated with these two candidates prior to the convention and will encourage the campaigns to work towards a unified convention strategy after the final primaries on June 2nd.”

In addition to the statement, 18 groups launched a unity pledge and urged both candidates to sign on to “Progressives Unite 2020.” 

“We are joining this effort out of a belief that it represents leaders in the progressive movement urging everyone from campaign staff to Twitter commenters to focus on defeating a corporate, establishment Democrat like Joe Biden,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group affiliated with Warren, said in a joint statement. “This effort inherently includes standing opposed to sexism and bad-faith arguments in the primary process. We look forward to working with our friends to enforce these principles.” 

The campaigns had previously abided by an unofficial nonaggression pact, but a rift emerged last weekend after it was reported that Sanders staffers had been using a call script that told potential voters who supported Warren that Sanders would be the stronger candidate, because Warren’s base of affluent whites would vote for the Democratic nominee in any case, while a Sanders candidacy would expand the electorate. On Monday, it escalated with reports, apparently emanating from the Warren camp, that Sanders, at a 2018 dinner, had attempted to discourage her from running, saying that a woman couldn’t win the presidency.

Sanders has denied making the comment.

At the Democratic debate Tuesday night, both stuck to their stories, and it seemed that the dispute would pass, but as it ended, the two senators had what appeared to be a tense exchange onstage. The following evening, CNN released audio of the brief conversation.

“I think you called me a liar on national TV,” Warren told Sanders, refusing his proffered handshake.

Sanders replied, “You know, let’s not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion.” He added, “You called me a liar,” before turning away.

Progressives have expressed concerns that the infighting would benefit former Vice President Joe Biden, considered a centrist in the current Democratic lineup. Biden consistently leads national polls, although the combined vote for Warren and Sanders, who hold many similar positions, would exceed Biden’s in most polls.

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