Recent allegations of sexual misconduct and sexist pay practices within Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign came to a head on Wednesday.
The New York Times published a piece in which it spoke to over a dozen women that worked for Sanders in 2016 who said they were subjected to harassment-filled work environments and low pay. The report follows one from Politico in which more than two dozen women requested a meeting with campaign leadership to speak about the issues, in an attempt to correct them ahead of Sanders’ potential run for president in 2020.
Among the women that spoke to the Times were a former Latinx outreach strategist in Nevada, a state director for Louisiana, as well as the former director of operations in Texas and New York, all of whom shared instances of harassment or inappropriate behavior by superiors swiftly followed by apathetic responses from the campaign’s senior officials. The Times also included anecdotes that showed men were sometimes paid as much as twice as much as women, noting that pay transparency was a lost idea within the Sanders campaign.
In an interview with CNN on Wednesday night, Sanders denied any prior knowledge of the harassment claims. After listing out a string of his personal accomplishments from the 2016 campaign to Anderson Cooper, Sanders moved to address the reports, blaming them partially on the rapid growth of his campaign team.
“I am not going to sit here and tell you we did everything right in terms of human resources, in addressing the needs I’m hearing of now, that women felt disrespected, that there was sexual harassment that was not dealt with effectively as possible,” Sanders told CNN.
He went on to claim that his 2018 campaign for the Senate seat in Vermont was run on “the strongest set of principles in terms of mandatory training,” telling CNN that the campaign provided an “independent firm” for reporting such behavior. Sanders offered an apology to “any woman who felt she was not treated appropriately,” adding that if he runs for president in 2020, his campaign “will do better.” At the end of the interview, Cooper asked Sanders point-blank if he knew about any of the allegations from the 2016 campaign. The Vermont Senator said he did not as he was “a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case.”
With the various campaigns ramping up for the 2020 election, the shortcomings of each major candidate are being vetted as campaign staffs are constructed and sides are chosen ahead of what’s sure to be a stuffed and drawn-out primary. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has, so far, chosen to remain silent on her major faux pas, despite being the first of the big-name candidates to officially announce her campaign. With Sanders almost assuredly close to an announcement of his own, addressing the mounting claims of sexism from his first presidential bid should be, at the very least, a pre-requisite to another run, if not a reason to re-think running altogether.
That said, pumping out a series of cookie-cutter responses in a fairly relaxed interview with Anderson Cooper ultimately amounts to jack shit when it comes to how women on his 2020 team will be treated. The support for Sanders as a candidate is clearly there, at least enough for him to seriously consider running. But if he does run, the least he and his campaign could do the next time around is have zero tolerance for sexism of any stripe, whether it involves assault, harassment, or unfair pay practices. And that’s something that comes with action, not softball interviews.