Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren went head-to-head Tuesday over their conflicting accounts of a meeting the senators had in December 2018 about the 2020 election and taking on President Trump. Warren claimed Monday that Sanders told her during the meeting that he didn't believe a woman could win. Sanders has repeatedly insisted he made no such comment.
When asked why he made such a claim at the seventh Democratic presidential debate, Sanders reiterated his denial of the account.
"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," Sanders said. "Anyone who knows me knows that it's incomprehensible that I would think that a woman could not be president of the United States."
Sanders noted that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes in 2016.
"How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could not be president of the United States?" he asked, adding that if any of the other Democratic candidates on the stage won the presidential nomination, he would help them try to defeat President Trump in November.
Warren and Sanders have largely refrained from attacking one another throughout the course of the primary campaign. But that changed on the eve of Tuesday's presidential debate when the disputed meeting burst into public view.
In a statement Monday, Sanders said it was "ludicrous" to believe he would tell Warren a woman couldn't win the election. But Warren fired back with her own statement claiming that, during a two-hour meeting in December 2018, Sanders "disagreed" that a woman could win.
On the debate stage Tuesday, Warren said that the only two candidates who could say they've won every election they've run in were herself and Senator Amy Klobuchar, the only other woman on the stage.
"This question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised and it's time for us to attack it head on. And I think the best way to talk about who can win is by looking at people's winning records," Warren said.
"So, can a woman beat Donald Trump? Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they've been in are the women, Amy [Klobuchar] and me."
The Massachusetts senators noted that she is the only Democrat on the debate stage who defeated an incumbent Republican in the last 30 years. The claim, however, caused confusion later in the exchange, when Sanders noted he bested Republican Congressman Peter Smith in 1990.
Warren also highlighted the successes of women candidates in the wake of Mr. Trump's election, including in the 2018 midterm elections, which she said were successful for Democrats "because of women candidates and women voters."
"Back in the 1960s, people asked could a Catholic win," Warren said at one point. "Back in 2008, people asked if an African-American could win. In both times, the Democratic Party stepped up and said yes, got behind their candidate, and we changed America. That's who we are."
At the end of the debate, Warren approached Sanders, who offered the Massachusetts senator a handshake. But Warren seemed to reject his outstretched hand, and the two engaged in what appeared to be a tense conversation until Tom Steyer walked up to the pair.
Steyer told CBS News' Ed O'Keefe he did not hear what Warren and Sanders were discussing. "I was really just trying to say good night" to them, he said.
Here's the Warren/Sanders exchange at the end. Unclear at the moment what was said. pic.twitter.com/jrtWftQgLD
— Tom Namako (@TomNamako) January 15, 2020