2020: After Apologizing, Sanders to Meet with Women Harassed During ’16 Campaign

Sanders apologizes for harassment by 2016 campaign staff
AFP/MANDEL NGAN

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will reportedly meet with women who said they were harassed while working on his 2016 presidential campaign.

According to a Monday BuzzFeed report, the Wednesday “meeting will be run by Jenny Yang and Pamela Coukos, two facilitators from Working IDEAL, a consultant group for workplace inclusion and diversity.” Sanders reportedly “arranged for a number of women and men to travel to Washington to meet with him and members of his senior staff,” and he “paid for their flights and hotel accommodations through his campaign account.”

Sanders, the potential 2020 contender, apologized last Thursday to the female staffers on his 2016 presidential campaign who were harassed by some of his top advisers.

“To the women on my 2016 campaign who were harassed or mistreated, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for speaking out. I apologize,” Sanders tweeted. “We can’t just talk about ending sexism and discrimination. It must be a reality in our daily lives. That was clearly not the case in 2016.”

After the New York Times reported that some female staffers on Sanders’s 2016 campaign were harassed and paid less than their male subordinates, Sanders told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he was unaware of the harassment that his female staffers experienced because he was “a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case.”

Sanders came under fire for his response that many said was out of touch and showed that he may not be ready to be a Democratic presidential candidate in the “MeToo” era.

“It now appears that as part of our campaign there were some women who were harassed or mistreated. I thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for speaking out. What they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign, or any campaign, should be about. When we talk about ending sexism and all forms of discrimination those beliefs cannot just be words. They must be reality in the day to day lives and the work we do — and that was clearly now the case in the 2016 campaign,” Sanders wrote in the Thursday statement. “The allegations speak to unacceptable behavior that must not be tolerated in any campaign or any workplace. To the women in that campaign who were harassed or mistreated, I apologize. Our standards and safeguards were not met.”

In recent weeks, Sanders’s 2016 Latino outreach manager resigned as Rep. Chuy Garcia’s (D-IL) chief of staff on his first day on the job after he was accused of enabling female staffers to be harassed. And Sanders’s advisers said a top adviser who oversaw his 2016 Iowa operations would not have a role on a 2020 campaign if Sanders decides to run for president after Politico reported that he forcibly kissed a female staffer.

Bill Velazquez, who managed Sanders’s Latino outreach team and went on to become a national surrogate in 2016, resigned after his first day as Garcia’s chief of staff after the Times report detailed an incident during the 2016 campaign in which Velazquez reportedly “laughed” when a female staffer complained about being sexually harassed. According to the report, Velazquez told the woman, “I bet you would have liked it if he were younger.” Velazquez reportedly denied making the remarks.

Politico also reported last week that Robert Becker, who oversaw Sanders’ Iowa campaign and is now 50 years of age, reportedly told a “20-something woman” staffer “that he had always wanted to have sex with her and made a reference to riding his ‘pole’” before later approaching her and grabbing her wrists on the final night of the Democratic National Convention in 2016.

The woman and three other people who witnessed the harassment said he “then he moved his hands to her head and forcibly kissed her, putting his tongue in her mouth as he held her,” according to the report.

“Candidates who allow people like Robert Becker to lead their organizations shouldn’t earn the highest office in our government,” the woman told outlet.“It just really sucks because no one ever held him accountable and he kept pushing and pushing and seeing how much he could get away with. This can’t happen in 2020. You can’t run for president of the United States unless you acknowledge that every campaign demands a safe work environment for every employee and volunteer.”

Becker reportedly categorically denied the allegations, but Friends of Bernie Sanders, Sanders’s campaign committee, reportedly said that “Becker would not be a part of any future campaigns” and described Becker’s alleged conduct as “deplorable and fundamentally unacceptable.”

The campaign reportedly also said that “no one who committed sexual harassment in 2016 would be back if there were a 2020 campaign,” and described Becker’s conduct as “deplorable and fundamentally unacceptable.”

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