DES MOINES, Iowa — The nonaggression pact between Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts faced its most difficult test and held — at least for now.
The two progressive senators de-escalated a tense round of tit-for-tat exchanges between their presidential campaigns on the debate stage here Tuesday night over the charged issues of gender and electability.
Aides and supporters of both senators, who have more or less remained allies even while running against each for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, had accused each otherof dirty tricks and lying in recent days after a series of leaks to the media, culminating in Warren saying in a statement that Sanders once told her he didn't think a woman could win the presidency.
But when the topic came up during a debate hosted by CNN, both sought to set the issue aside and move on, even as Sanders once again denied telling Warren a woman couldn't win during a one-on-one meeting in 2018.
"As a matter of fact, I didn't say it," he said. "And I don't want to spend a whole lot of time on this, because that's what Donald Trump and maybe some in the media want."
He went on to say that he had been ready to defer to Warren and not run for president if she had decided to do so in 2016, and said he would work to elect any of the candidates on stage should he fail to win the nomination this year.
"How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could not become president of the United States?" he said.
Warren seemed happy to move on from Sanders, but acknowledged that many Democrats have serious doubts about whether Americans would elect a woman after Hillary Clinton's 2016 electoral college loss to President Donald Trump.
"I disagreed," Warren said of her thoughts on their reported 2018 discussion. "Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie. But, look, 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 record. So, can a woman beat Donald Trump?"
She went on to note that the men on stage had collectively lost 10 elections while the two women on stage —her and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — had won every election.
And she said she was the only one who had defeated an incumbent Republican in the past 30 years.
Sanders pushed back on that, noting he ousted a Republican to win a seat in Congress in 1990, to which Warren responded that she placed her timeline within 30 years. Sanders' 1990 election is months short of being 30 years ago.