The story emerging after the first Democratic Presidential debate of 2020 is not focused on policy, but rather centers on two candidates and long-time friends: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Following reports on Monday that the two disagreed on positions exchanged in a 2018 closed-door meeting, it looks like the two presidential hopefuls have set aside their ongoing “peace pact” just as the race heats up.
All eyes were on Warren and Sanders throughout the debate, but it was a moment right after it ended that caught everyone’s attention. In a clip where Warren seems to refuse a handshake with Sanders, new audio released by CNN on Wednesday shows Warren accusing Sanders of calling her a liar on national television. Sanders responded that it was Warren who called him a liar and said they should not talk about it at that moment. Oh, and Tom Steyer was there, just trying to say “hi.”
But in the days leading up to this audio release, there was a lot of speculation over the state of Warren and Sanders’ alleged non-aggression pact, what exactly it entails, and how long they plan to keep up this so-called campaign peace treaty.
Warren and Sanders are long-time Capitol Hill allies, so much so that during Sanders’ 2016 run, rumors abound that Warren would end up as his running-mate. But, as the 2020 race put Warren consistently ahead of Sanders in early polls, the pact began to crack.
The original pact agreed upon between the two candidates and their respective campaign teams said that neither would attack the other with any smears tactics. The first sign that there might be a reason for breaking the pact was in September when Warren surprisingly gained the endorsement of the Working Families Party, which backed Sanders against Hillary Clinton in 2016, reports Salon. This led to some sniping from the Sanders campaign that the endorsement was rigged by party leaders who over-weighted their own votes.
For the most part, both campaigns kept the competition between the two candidates civil, despite months of opportunities to criticize each other in the media. The two have almost functioned as a tag-team in the debates, agreeing on most matters. This was definitely clear when Warren, answering a question in the Iowa debate, declaring “I’m with Bernie” on the issue of “Medicare for all.”
Perhaps this particular blow was a breaking point for Warren, since it centered around whether a woman could be elected to the highest office in the land, and what Sanders said to Warren in a private conversation. On Monday, Warren confirmed rumors that in 2018, Sen. Bernie Sanders questioned the electability of a woman president. Sanders has vehemently denied saying this, pointing to the countless instances where he publicly talked about a woman becoming president.
But the on-stage denial seemed to irk Warren, who may have felt that this live TV callout breached their pact. In the moment, Warren diffused the situation by saying that she didn’t want to fight. “Bernie is my friend,” she told the moderator.
Still, reports that Sanders' campaign is willing to break the pact continues to cause tension between the two presidential hopefuls. In a new interview with Politico, former Vermont governor Peter Shumlin accused Sanders of trying to "Hillarize" Warren. "In the end, [Bernie's team] will play dirty because they think that they pass a purity test that Republicans and most Democrats don’t pass," he said. "Even if he considers you a friend, like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie will come first."
As both candidates are polling higher and higher ahead of the February caucus, it’s plausible that their non-aggression pact could see some other breaches. But, the bigger picture that both candidates are clear on is beating Donald Trump in November. And, as Bernie put it during the debate, if Warren or any other Democratic candidate wins the nomination over him, “I will do everything in my power to make sure that they are elected in order to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of our country.”