Accusations that Bernie Sanders ignored claims of sexual harassment during his 2016 presidential primary campaign have surfaced just as Democrats are starting to look at candidates to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020.
A story published by the The New York Times on Wednesday claims that complaints by female campaign staff about pay disparity and sexual harassment were ignored or brushed aside during the 2016 insurgent bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Just in case the point of the article wasn’t clear by itself, the Times tweeted the accusations “could hinder a 2020 bid.”
Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats, addressed the accusations by appearing on CNN’s Anderson Cooper show on Wednesday evening. Saying he was “a little bit busy running around the country” in 2016 to be aware of the harassment claims, he explained that his campaign started with a handful of staff and “exploded” to some 1,200 employees in just a few months.
One thing Sanders did not apologize for, notably, is his campaign.
“I’m very proud of the campaign we ran in 2016,” he told CNN. “You know, we started at 4 percent in the polls, we ended up winning 22 states, 13 million votes, I think we changed the nature of political discourse in this country, raising issues that are now kind of mainstream, which were then considered extreme and fringe.”
It was indeed Sanders who championed many of the things the Democrats have since embraced in their attempt to build a party platform on something besides hatred of President Donald Trump: Medicare for all, $15 minimum wage, etc. It was also Sanders who backed the campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, and stood at her side later in the year, campaigning in the heartland – while the party establishment was skeptical.
Interestingly enough, the accusation that Sanders backers were “Bernie Bros” whose support for him over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democrat primaries was motivated by sexism, has long been promoted by Clinton supporters and their allies in the media – and rejected by those sympathetic to Sanders.
Michael Tracey, a journalist who covered the 2016 election, commented the New York Times story was resurrecting the “Bernie Bro” smear and amounted to “re-litigating 2016, with a slightly different veneer, to undercut another run” by Sanders.
Katie Halper, a podcast host and Sanders supporter, called the claims against the Vermont senator “total gaslighting” by Clinton partisans, in a lengthy Twitter thread documenting the double standards of Democrats when it came to sexual harassment claims.
While Sanders is pilloried for not being aware of harassment claims, Clinton actually knew about claims of harassment against one of her staffers, but decided to protect him, Halper wrote.
Sanders faced an uphill battle in the Democratic primaries, eventually losing to Clinton due to her overwhelming support among the party superdelegates. Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails published by WikiLeaks in July 2016, on the eve of the party convention in Philadelphia, revealed the party leadership had been working hand in glove with the Clinton campaign to sabotage Sanders. The scandal forced party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign right before the convention. Donna Brazile, who replaced her, later revealed that Clinton de facto owned the DNC, as the entire party was funded through her campaign.