On the eve of the seventh Democratic presidential debate, and only three weeks before the pivotal Iowa caucuses, a story broke that threatens to create a rift between the party's two progressive leaders, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren.
CNN reported on a 2018 meeting between the two presidential hopefuls at Warren's Washington, D.C., apartment, where the candidates reportedly discussed something of a progressive alliance and their respective prospects for winning the presidency. CNN cited four anonymous Warren campaign staffers—two of whom spoke to Warren about the meeting, with another two "familiar with the meeting"—who said that Sanders reportedly told Warren that he didn't think a woman could win the election and beat President Donald Trump.
The story had a bombshell effect, exposing simmering tensions between Sanders's and Warren's supporters. Some of his have challenged the story's veracity and timing, accusing Warren's camp of playing dirty politics as Sanders has risen in the polls. Others pointed to a 1988 video of Sanders professing support for a female president, and another of him in 1987 telling third-graders that women should run for office.
Sanders, for his part, called the story "ludicrous," basically denouncing it as a gross mischaracterization of the meeting. He questioned the veracity of the report's sourcing and denied many aspects of the report:
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. It's sad that, three weeks before the Iowa caucus and a year after that private conversation, staff who weren't in the room are lying about what happened. What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could. Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016.
But Warren verified the story on Monday, releasing a statement: "I thought a woman could win; he disagreed." Apart from their initial reactions, both candidates haven't necessarily lingered on the news, but that didn't stop the story from overwhelming Twitter with a deluge of incredulous responses.
Hawaii congresswoman and frequent Democratic provocateur Tulsi Gabbard waded into the mix, saying that she also met with Sanders before announcing her candidacy. "We had a nice one-on-one conversation and I informed him that I would be running for President. In that meeting, he showed me the greatest respect and encouragement, just as he always has."
Many Sanders supporters have noted that the candidate might not have been saying, explicitly, that a woman is incapable of running a winning presidential campaign, but merely commenting on what he sees as a culture of sexism that still prevails in U.S. politics. Others noted that the CNN story might have been a ploy to gin up anticipation and drama ahead of a pivotal Democratic debate.
Originally Appeared on GQ