It was unclear what was said, but their conversation was not what is typical at the end of most debates, as candidates smile and shake hands with each other even if the debate itself was acrimonious.
Warren approached Sanders, who extended his arm for a handshake, but she did not reciprocate. She then said something to him, before he held up his hands to make a point. Tom Steyer was standing next to them, and he later told MSNBC that he did not know what they were talking about.
“Whatever was going on there I was trying to get out of the way as fast as possible,” Steyer said.
UPDATE, 7:10 PM PT: The second half hour of the Democratic debate brought the moment that much of the media had been waiting for: That was whether Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would spar over what was said at a 2018 meeting, in which Sanders reportedly told Warren that a woman could not win the White House.
Asked at the debate why he said that, Sanders said, “Well, as a matter of fact, I didn’t say it.” He added that the story, posing a new rift between the Sanders and Warren campaigns, “is what Donald Trump and maybe some in the media want.”
“Anybody that knows that it is incomprehensible that I would think that a woman could not be president of the United States,” Sanders said.
Moderator Abby Phillip asked Sanders again about the quote, and he again denied saying it. Then, ignoring Sanders’ denial, Phillip turned to Warren and asked, “Senator Warren, what did you say when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election.” The audience laughed, and Sanders shook his head.
“I disagreed,” Warren said, adding, “Bernie is a friend and I am not here to try and fight with Bernie.”
“I think the best way to talk about who can win is to talk about people’s winning record,” Warren said. “So can a woman beat Donald Trump? Look at the men on this stage. Collectively they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every election that they have been in are the women. Amy [Klobuchar] and me. And the only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican anytime in the past 30 years is me.”
She added, “We need a candidate who will excite all parts of the Democratic party, bring everyone in and give everyone a Democrat to believe in.”
Sanders took some exception to that statement, noting that he defeated an incumbent Republican when he was elected to the House in 1990. Warren, though, reminded him that his victory then was 30 years ago.
The narrative of an emerging rift between the Sanders and Warren campaigns, representing the leftward wing of the part, gained some steam on Monday. That’s when CNN reported that in a meeting late in 2018, Sanders told Warren that he did not believe that a woman could win the presidency in 2020. Sanders denied the report, Warren implicitly confirmed it. At the debate, the candidates did not elaborate on what exactly was said at the 2018 meeting — Warren was not directly asked — and instead focused on moving on from the controversy.
Sanders insisted that he would support a woman nominee against Trump.
“Who believes that a woman can’t win?” Sanders said. “Of course they can win.”
PREVIOUSLY, 6:31 PM PT: The initial focus of the Democratic debate on Tuesday was on how would handle Iran and Iraq, and how they would try to get the country out of the cycle of “endless war.”
That immediately put a spotlight on Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, both of whom are at the top of polls, and the 2002 vote to give George W. Bush’s administration that authorization for the use of force in Iraq.
Biden called his vote for the authorization a “mistake,” but said that he later opposed U.S. involvement when it became clear that the administration invaded Iraq based on false pretenses. He also noted that Barack Obama, who opposed the authorization, selected him as vice president and “asked me to end that war.”
“I think my record overall on everything we’ve done has been … I’m prepared to compare it to anybody’s on this stage,” Biden said.
But Sanders, who voted against that authorization when he was in the House, said, “Joe and I listened to what Dick Cheney and George Bush and [Donald] Rumsfeld had to say. I thought they were lying. I didn’t believe them for a moment. I did everything I could to prevent that war. Joe saw it differently.”
Their answer was in response to moderator Wolf Blitzer, who asked, in view of potential escalation with Iran, why they would be the best prepared candidate to handle an international crisis.
The debate’s focus on foreign policy to start the debate was a bit of a surprise, given the headlines over a potential rift between Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
CNN and later The New York Times reported on Monday that in a meeting late in 2018, Sanders told Warren that he did not believe that a woman could win the presidency in 2020. Sanders denied that was what he said; Warren put out a statement in which she said, “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.”
The debate was the seventh this cycle, but perhaps the most consequential: It is the final such gathering of the candidates before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3.
Ratings for the debates have fallen, from a high of 18.1 million viewers for the first debate in June, to a low of 6.5 million viewers at the debate in December.