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Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren appeared to have a tense exchange after the debate

Senator Elizabeth Warren (left) and Senator Bernie Sanders.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who through much of the Democratic primary have avoided directly attacking one another, clashed during Tuesday’s debate and appeared to have a tense exchange after the conclusion of the event.

At issue was Warren’s claim that Sanders told her in a 2018 meeting that he didn’t think a woman could win the presidency. Sanders again denied making such a statement as he was asked about it by debate moderators.

“Well, as a matter of fact I didn’t say it,” Sanders said. “Anybody who knows me knows that it’s incomprehensible that I would think a woman could not be president of the United States."


Sanders, Warren address gender and the election
Elizabeth Warren turns feud with Bernie Sanders into debate argument for a woman president.

"Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes. How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could win?” he added.

Sanders went on to say that if any woman on stage were to win the nomination, he would do everything in his power to ensure she defeated President Trump.

CNN moderator Abby Phillip then asked Warren how she felt about the statement, but did not ask her to respond to Sanders’ denial.

“I disagreed,” Warren said. “Bernie is my friend, and I’m not here to try to fight with Bernie. But look this question about whether or not a woman can be president can be raised and it’s time for us to attack it head on.”

Warren then pivoted to arguing that the women on the debate stage had a better electoral track record than the men.

“Collectively they have lost 10 elections,” Warren said. “The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women.”

Warren added that she’s the only person on stage to have beaten an incumbent Republican — Senator Scott Brown — in 30 years.


At the conclusion of the debate, Sanders and Warren approached each other and Sanders extended his hand, but Warren did not take it. The two appeared to have a tense exchange of words before parting ways.

Tom Steyer, who walked over to the pair in the middle of the exchange, told CNN he was “just going up to say good night."

"And I felt like okay, there’s something going on here, good night — I’m out of here,” he said.

A request for comment from the Sanders and Warren campaigns was not immediately returned.

The rift began when Warren told reporters in Iowa Sunday that she was “disappointed” over reports that Sanders volunteers were told to criticize her electability in conversations with voters.

“Bernie knows me and he’s known me for a long time,” Warren said. “Democrats want to win in 2020. We all saw the impact of the factionalism in 2016. And we can’t have a repeat of that.”

Tensions escalated when CNN reported on Monday that Sanders told Warren in a private 2018 meeting that he didn’t think a woman could win the presidency, which Sanders called “ludicrous” and added:

“What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could,” he said in the statement. “Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016.”

Later Monday, Warren issued a statement in response to questions about the CNN story that said Sanders “disagreed” that a woman could win.


“Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate,” Warren said. “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.”

Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.