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Warren, Sanders post-debate exchange focused on private 2018 discussion: report

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) she was concerned that he had mischaracterized their 2018 conversation about whether a woman could win the presidency when they held a tense exchange after the conclusion of Tuesday’s primary debate, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Moments after the debate ended, Warren approached Sanders and appeared to rebuff a handshake from the Vermont senator, in a moment captured by CNN cameras. They then engaged in a short, but seemingly tense, conversation that ended with Sanders turning his back on his chief progressive rival. 

The moment — and what exactly was said — has since been the subject of intense speculation, coming after Warren had on Monday confirmed a CNN report detailing a private meeting between the two in which Sanders had reportedly told Warren that he did not think a woman could win the presidential election. 

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Sanders strongly denied saying that and reiterated that denial during the debate on Tuesday.

The Times, citing people familiar with the exchange, reported that Warren approached Sanders after the debate to express her concern about his denial. 

Sanders then asked Warren to discuss the matter at a different time before turning away, according to the Times. 

Neither Sanders’s campaign nor Warren’s campaign responded to The Hill’s requests for comment on the account reported by the Times.

The post-debate exchange came amid escalating tensions between the two progressive senators. 

Over the weekend, Politico reported that Sanders’s campaign had quietly instructed volunteers to cast Warren as a candidate of the elite in their conversations with voters. Sanders denied responsibility for that tactic, but Warren said she was “disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me.”

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The Politico report was followed by the CNN report about their private meeting. 

Warren’s and Sanders’s dueling accounts of the December 2018 conversation sparked the tensest moment of Tuesday night’s debate. Asked by a moderator about the conversation, Sanders flatly denied the claim.

“As a matter of fact, I didn’t say it,” Sanders said at the debate. “Anyone who knows me knows that it is incomprehensible that I do not think a woman could be president of the United States.”

Warren disputed Sanders’s denial before quickly noting that she and the Vermont senator were “friends.”

“I am not here to try to fight with Bernie,” she said. “But look, this question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised and it’s time for us to attack it head-on.”

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