During the January 2020 Democratic debate at 43:27 the moderator asked Bernie why he said that a woman cannot win an election https://youtu.be/Ppm_mqo9Tyc?t=2607 . Bernie responds by denying that he ever said that. However, Warren confirms that he said it. Are there any earlier sources that confirm or deny whether Bernie actually said that?

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    Here's the referenced CNN article. Note that it sources the claim to a private meeting between Sanders and Warren, so I'm not sure if we can ever answer the question.
    – tim
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 8:30
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    And while CNN also confuses things, it is important to keep clear what Sanders is actually accused of saying: Not that a woman cannot be president (a claim about all womens abilities), but that a woman cannot be elected president (a claim about the sexist nature of the USA).
    – tim
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 8:31
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    @tim Regarding your first comment, that's exactly what I was thinking. This is very must a "he said, she said" scenario: Warren says Sanders said that, Sanders says he didn't. As much as I'd like to know the truth behind this incident, I'm not sure we ever can.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 9:49
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    I was going to close this question (and perhaps rework it) because the headline is not a notable claim - it is an inaccurate paraphrase of the actual claim, but @tim's answer not only corrects the error, but includes a notability link to show that some people believe that is what the claim is.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 12:49
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    The question title and body are not asking the same question. The title says "cannot be president" and the body says "cannot win an election," which are completely different claims.
    – shoover
    Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 3:46

2 Answers 2


Did Sanders say that a woman cannot be president or that that women in general lack the abilities?


While some headlines – including this question's title – claim that, this is not what Warren accused Sanders of:

Sanders responded that he did not believe a woman could win.

This is not a claim regarding women's inherent abilities, but a claim about sexism in the US which would prevent women from getting elected as president.

CNN gives as sources Warren who was present at the private meeting between her and Sanders, as well as four people who Warren spoke to after the meeting.

Sanders denies 1) that he said that women cannot be president (see video from OP) and 2) that he said that women cannot be elected president:

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

Conclusion: Warren doesn't claim Sanders said that women can't be president. Warren claims that Sanders said in a private meeting with her that a woman cannot win an election in the US in 2020. Sanders claims he only said that it would be more difficult for a woman to win an election in 2020. As this was said in a private meeting, we cannot know for sure which version is correct.

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    An election or specifically the 2020 election? Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 15:28
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    The private meeting was in 2018 and the topic of discussion was the upcoming election. As we don't have a transcript, it's difficult to say for certain if they were generalized statements applied to this specific election, or specific statements specifically about this election.
    – tim
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 15:46
  • This is Nixon's I am not a Crook Defense. Your conclusion is correct, but the lede is counterfactual, or unknown, as you state later
    – user36356
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 17:11

@tim's answer is excellent, but I'd like to address the question from a different angle.

This question's request for "earlier sources" is problematic. There were only two people present in the conversation, and they disagree. Any other claim of either verification or refutation is at best secondhand.

Since more direct evidence isn't available, it might be helpful to look for patterns of behavior or belief in earlier statements from Bernie Sanders. What has he said in the past about a woman as president?

Bernie Sanders is well known for the multi-decade consistency of his beliefs. (Refs: CNN, LATimes, NPR, NYTimes, DailyShow.) Sanders is also known for candor and authenticity, maintaining the same persona in public and private. (Refs: BostonGlobe, RollingStone, TheGuardian, OnTheCommons.)

None of this is direct evidence that he didn't say it, but it is strong evidence that the claimed statement would be highly out-of-character for him to say.

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    Indeed. When somebody's previous views on the record and not subsequently retracted or contradicted clash with a personal recollection of what was said in a private meeting, it's fair to assume that the person mis-spoke, or that the other party mis-heard or mis-interpreted.
    – nigel222
    Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 10:14
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    A lot of this answer is predicated on the presumption that what professional politician says in front of cameras and reporters in explicit political contexts can be taken as indicative of the kinds of things he would personally tell a fellow politician in private (particularly one he has incentive to discourage from running). I'm not buying that at all. (I also am not buying any assumption that the latter is closer to his private beliefs than the former, but that issue was not raised)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 14:25
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    The last bullet is particularly worthless, as "X will make an outstanding president" is a standard sentence in a primary concession speech, which is what that was taken from. Those are exactly the kind of words he was expected to say in that situation, and means nothing more about his personal feelings about women than Hillary's concession speech in 2008 meant about her personal feelings about African Americans.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 14:31
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    @T.E.D. - Right. As a more extreme example, I think it's pretty well-established that Donald Trump is hostile to immigrants of color generally, but you can find plenty of speeches where he says the usual lines about welcoming all legal immigrants. So if the question had instead asked whether Trump really said that he didn't want immigrants from "[expletive] countries," I could write an answer consisting of those anodyne quotes, that would nonetheless be completely wrong. And he's one of the politicians with the least private/public separation.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 19:38
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    @Obie2.0 so far I have been unable to find reports of Sanders making private statements contrary to his public views (on any policy topic, not just women presidents). If you know of one, post the URL and I will revise my answer with it.
    – Foo Bar
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 0:31

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