Election 2020 Politics

Power Up: Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders’s private conversation sparks debate on sexism in politics

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The Campaign

OUT OF LEFT FIELD: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are headed for a crash collision on the debate stage tonight.

Warren’s confirmation that Sanders said a woman couldn’t win in 2020 — despite his all-day denials — officially blew up their nonaggression pact and is forcing a national conversation about the state of sexism in a tightened 2020 primary race

Female candidates and candidates of color have faced persistent questions about electability over the course of the race, pushing back against the narrative that beating President Trump requires a white male nominee. The private conversation between Sanders and Warren, which took place at a December 2018 dinner in Warren’s home, solidified that sexism is shadowing the electability question even among the frontrunners themselves. 

  • From Warren: “Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate,” Warren said last night of their private meeting. “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.” 
  • Why she released the statement: “Ms. Warren’s advisers insisted she had no intention of making this private meeting a public spectacle. However, after Mr. Sanders’s team forcefully denied the reports, some believed she had no choice but to offer her account firsthand,” the New York Times’s Astead Herndon and Jonathan Martin report.
  • From Sanders: “It is ludicrous to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman couldn’t win,” Sanders said in a statement. His campaign manager Faiz Shakir told CNN, which first broke the story, it was “a lie.”

While it’s obvious why the senators are adopting this no-holds-barred approach — they’re vying to break out of the close-polling frontrunner pack weeks before the Iowa caucuses — the fraught topic of gender brings risks for both. This storyline will test Sanders’s mettle with female voters and means Warren will likely have to spend more time talking about her gender instead of kitchen table issues.

While party watchers released statements urging the two candidates to call a cease-fire, they conceded that sexism has been a hurdle for female candidates this election cycle:  

  • “We believe that sexism is real and it has played a huge role in this campaign. We also believe that women can win and will win in 2020,” per a statement from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s co-founders Stephanie Taylor and Adam Green, though they said they did not know any details about the private meeting.
  • “Elizabeth Warren is right about two things: a woman absolutely can win this race, and we’re all better off getting back to the question of how to fix what needs fixing in this country,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock tweeted.

Kellyanne Conway weighs in to Power Up: The White House senior adviser, the first woman to ever successfully run a U.S. presidential campaign, lamented how women in politics do indeed face an uphill battle. “Politics has traditionally been a man’s game,” she told us. “…There is a reason no one refers to the ‘old girls’ network’ in politics; there isn’t one.”

  • “Men wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and see the next U.S. senator. Women are more likely to run for office only after being asked,” Conway told us. “It’s gotten better, especially in down-ballot races, and owing in part to the increase in female candidates, political consultants and political reporters. So much has changed; yet so much has not.
  • “For all the economic, educational and ownership gains women have enjoyed in this great nation, parity in politics remains a lagging indicator. Women in politics are far more likely than men to absorb stories and snide remarks about their appearance and feelings – often being peddled by other women.” (Notably, Conway’s candidate Trump engaged in gendered attacks during the 2016 campaign, criticizing female candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina on the basis of their looks, stamina, etc.)
  • But Conway added that she still thinks Warren doesn’t have a shot at beating Trump: “Bernie is right that Warren can’t win the presidency, but not because she is a woman, but because her radical ideas are out of touch with mainstream America,” she said. She added, regarding Sanders, that “a socialist sure as heck can’t” win either.
  • “We know that a country that elected an African-American man president twice is ready for a female President. Yet candidates matter. There is less evidence that they wanted ‘that one’ in 2016, or ‘this one’ in 2020. Voters think it’s ‘interesting’ if you share their gender, but they are most interested if you share their concerns, vision, and positions on the issues,” Conway told us.

Questions about whether a woman can survive sexist attacks and be elected as president of the United States is a debate that won’t be settled until that final glass ceiling is shattered. But gender bias — and some voters’ concerns after Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 about the odds another woman would be able to beat Trump — have contributed to overall opinions of electability. 

  • “A September Washington Post poll found 23 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said a man would be more likely than a woman to defeat Trump in November,” our colleagues Annie Linskey and Sean Sullivan report.
  • Very few Democrats say that gender affects their own vote, but almost a majority say that it makes other people less likely to vote for a woman, according to an Avalanche poll conducted in October. When presented a list of choices, 70% of respondents said they based this on “combined narrative of systematic inequality in America.”

Where things stand in Iowa:

Sanders isn’t the only front-runner who might believe that being a man is an electoral advantage: Former Vice President Joe Biden earlier this month suggested that he’d have an advantage Hillary Clinton didn’t while taking on Trump, because she faced “unfair” sexist attacks. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) notably tackled the topic on the debate stage in November, in the context of former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg: “Of the women on the stage, do I think we would be standing on that stage if we had the experience he had? No, I don’t.” 

  • “Women are held to a higher standard,” she responded during the November debate. “Otherwise we could play a game called name your favorite woman president, which we can’t do because it has all been men.”
  • “If you think a woman can’t beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day,” she added.

Anatomy of a feud: Clinton’s 2016 press secretary Nick Merrill pointed out that the arc of the story itself was an illustration of the way male candidates are treated differently than female candidates by the media — and shows just how powerful the media can be in influencing voter opinion. 

  • “Bernie blamed Warren’s staff in his initial statement, calling them liars, when it now appears he was lying, while shaming them,” Merrill tweeted. “Imagine if, say, a female candidate had done the same [were] the situation reversed. We’d watch 14 news cycles about whether she can be trusted.”
  • Sawyer Hackett, a spokesperson for former HUD secretary Julián Castro who dropped out of the race earlier this month, told Power Up: “I think when we do the post mortem on this primary, the thing that we will come away with most is that electability was framed by the pundits the second Hillary lost and they looked at it in such a simple way… that the next person who takes on Trump has to be a white male who can take on those disaffected white voters in the industrial midwest.” 

Get ready for tonight in Des Moines: 

Global Power

FIRST IN POWER UP: “U.S. and European officials say it’s likely that Britain, France and Germany will formally notify Iran today that it is not complying with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal,” our colleague Anne Gearan emails us. 

  • What this means: “It’s a sign that the ‘E-3’ as they are known are more willing to acknowledge Iranian violations and reckoning with the collapse of the deal,” Anne adds.
  • “The notification would trigger a ‘dispute mechanism’ built in to the deal and put Iran on notice that European signatories — the most important to Iran because of oil And other trading relationships — are ‘fed up’ in the words of one diplomat.”
  • The move won’t kill the agreement: “But is a marker of European frustration and alarm as Iran both increases its nuclear activity and is blamed for increasing attacks on Western interests,” Anne notes.  
  • The three European powers had telegraphed their concern with a joint statement Sunday: They said they are committed to “upholding the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and ensuring that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon,” but are alarmed by Iran’s “violation of its commitments since July 2028,” a reference to a series of announcements by Tehran that it would expand its nuclear operations in violation of the deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
  • “Despite increasingly difficult circumstances, we have worked hard to preserve the agreement,” they wrote.

CREDIBILITY CRISIS: Our colleagues Philip Rucker, John Hudson, Shane Harris and Josh Dawsey say this about the president’s claim he authorized the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani because four embassies were under threat of attack: “Based on what is known so far, Trump’s statement was at best an unfounded theory and at worst a falsehood.” 

  • This comes at a terrible time for the White House: “At a perilous moment for the nation’s security, with the United States at the brink of war with Iran, Trump is unable to rely on trustworthiness to justify his decision to take out Soleimani, both because of his lengthy record of exaggerations and lies and because of his ever-shifting rationales,” our colleagues write. “Inside the Pentagon and elsewhere in the government, there was skepticism about the president’s claim, as well as about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement that the threat from Soleimani was “imminent” and that hundreds of American lives were at risk.”

Commanders say Iran was trying to kill U.S. soldiers in strike: “U.S. commanders at the Iraqi military base targeted by Iranian missiles said they believe the attack was intended to kill American personnel, an act that could have pushed the two powers closer to outright war,” our colleague Louisa Loveluck reports from the al-Assad base. 

  • Key quote: “These were designed and organized to inflict as many casualties as possible,” Lt. Col. Tim Garland, commander of Task Force Jazeera and one of the most senior officials on the base that day told our colleague.

At The White House

PENTAGON FUNDS TO BE TAPPED FOR BORDER WALL, AGAIN: “Trump is preparing to divert an additional $7.2  billion in Pentagon funding for border wall construction this year, five times what Congress authorized him to spend on the project in the 2020 budget,” our colleague Nick Miroff scoops.

  • The money would once again come from construction projects: “According to the plans, the funding would give the government enough money to complete about 885 miles of new fencing by spring 2022, far more than the 509 miles the administration has slated for the U.S. border with Mexico,” our colleague writes.
  • Some dollars would also come from counternarcotics funds: “Trump took $2.5 billion from military counterdrug programs for border barrier construction in 2019, but this year his administration is planning to take significantly more — $3.5 billion.”

The total cost: After Trump’s move, $18.4 billion will have been allocated to the wall — his chief campaign promise that he repeatedly said Mexico would pay for. 

The Investigations

RUSSIANS HAVE HACKED BURISMA: With [Trump] facing an impeachment trial over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate [Biden] and his son Hunter Biden, Russian military hackers have been boring into the Ukrainian gas company at the center of the affair, according to security experts,” the New York Times’s Nicole Perlroth and Matthew Rosenberg report. (Our colleagues confirmed the Times’s reporting)

  • It’s not clear what hackers gained or were looking for: “But the experts say the timing and scale of the attacks suggest that the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens — the same kind of information that Trump wanted from Ukraine when he pressed for an investigation of the Bidens and Burisma, setting off a chain of events that led to his impeachment,” the Times reports.
  • Experts say the attempts are similar to what happened in 2016: Then, as now, the Russian hackers from a military intelligence unit known formerly as the G.R.U., and to private researchers by the alias ‘Fancy Bear,’ used so-called phishing emails that appear designed to steal usernames and passwords, according to Area 1, the Silicon Valley security firm that detected the hacking,” the Times reports. “In this instance, the hackers set up fake websites that mimicked sign-in pages of Burisma subsidiaries, and have been blasting Burisma employees with emails meant to look like they are coming from inside the company.”

TRIAL UPDATE: Trump’s bid for an outright dismissal of the impeachment charges against him is likely to be rejected. “Senior Republicans said immediate dismissal could not win approval in the chamber, where Republicans hold a 53-seat majority. And even some staunch Trump allies argued that the president’s legacy would benefit from a robust trial,” our colleagues Seung Min Kim, Mike DeBonis and Elise Viebeck report.

  • Over the weekend: “Trump urged the Senate simply to dismiss the charges against him — without hearing arguments from House prosecutors or his own legal team….Most Senate Republicans are eager to stage a trial that ends with Trump’s acquittal and vindication on charges that he abused the power of his office in his dealings with Ukraine and obstructed a subsequent investigation in the House.” 
  • The White House says it wants a motion on the table in some form: “A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss strategy, said the White House wants the dismissal option ‘available to the president’ and not necessarily tucked into the organizing resolution,” our colleagues write. The official also noted that a motion to dismiss could come later in the trial, once the senators have had ample time to digest opening arguments and ask questions.

In the Media


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