On a night none of the six Democrats on stage in Iowa did anything to break away from the pack, the most interesting moment came after the debate — when Elizabeth Warren pulled back from Bernie Sanders’ attempted handshake.
The two longtime friends, their party’s progressive standard-bearers in the presidential race, have been at odds since Monday over a 2018 conversation during which she claims Sanders told her that a woman couldn’t win the general election.
They disagreed over the issue again during Tuesday night’s debate.
Afterward, Warren greeted former Vice President Joe Biden warmly, shaking his hand and patting him on the arm.
She then approached Sanders, and he extended his hand — only to see her pull hers back and clench it into a fist.
They then exchanged words — and it was clear neither was smiling.
Earlier, the matter made for a rare notable moment during a debate that left undecided voters in next month’s crucial Iowa Democratic caucus knowing they’ll have to keep looking
“I didn’t say it,” insisted Sanders, of Vermont. “Anybody [who] knows me knows that it’s incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States.”
Warren offered a different recollection of their December 2018 closed-door meeting. She insisted that a woman could defeat President Trump in November — and she came prepared with stats to prove it.
“I disagreed,” the Massachusetts lawmaker said, affirming that Sanders did, in fact, make the remark.
“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.
“Look at the men on this stage: Collectively they have lost 10 elections,” she continued, referring to Sanders, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Biden.
“The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women.”
The argument drew one of the night’s few vocal reactions from the crowd at Drake University in Des Moines — and kudos from Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the other woman onstage Tuesday night who shared Warren’s unbeaten record.
“I hear that. People have said it [to me],” said Klobuchar, referring to remarks like the one Sanders purportedly made.
“I point out that you don’t have to be tallest person in the world — James Madison [who was the nation’s fourth president] was 5-foot-4.
“You don’t have to be the skinniest person in the room. You don’t have to be the loudest person,” Klobuchar continued. “You have to be competent.”
The team-up with Warren was one of few standout moments for Klobuchar, who in last month’s debate made moves to scramble up the polls, including by tangling with Buttigieg on his lack of experience on the national stage.
Buttigieg had a relatively anonymous debate night, neither drawing as much flak from the field as he did in December, nor swinging for the fences with the Iowa caucus coming up on Feb. 3.
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That was somewhat surprising for the former mayor, the lone military veteran on stage, during the debate’s first quarter, which was dominated by foreign policy.
The debate was the first held since already-high tensions between the United States and Iran was ratcheted up further by the US drone attack that killed Iranian Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and the retaliatory missile strike by Iran on two Iraqi airbases quartering American troops.
Warren broke from her onstage competitors by calling for a total withdrawal of US combat troops from the Middle East. “We’ve turned the corner so many times, we’re going in circles in these regions,” she said of repeatedly dashed assurances that a US military victory was near.
On the prospect of a summit with North Korean despot Kim Jong-un, Biden said that “absent preconditions, I would not meet with the, quote, supreme leader who said Joe Biden is a ‘rabid dog’ who should be beaten with a stick,” referring to a remark circulated by the Hermit Kingdom’s state-run media.
“Other than that, you like him?” cracked Sanders, in a fleeting moment of crowd-pleasing levity.
If Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg and Klobuchar didn’t break away from the pack, they at least played the hits. The same could not be said for the night’s sixth candidate, billionaire hedge-funder Tom Steyer, whose political inexperience continued to leave him doe-eyed and tongue-tied amid the field of heavyweights.
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