In his latest effort to address allegations of sexism as he mulls another bid for the White House, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) met Wednesday with about two dozen women who had publicly claimed they were sexually harassed and mistreated while working on his 2016 presidential campaign.
The meeting, which also included senior aides and an appearance by Sanders’ wife, Jane, took place after the women sent a letter last month asking to sit down with the senator to “discuss the issue of sexual violence and harassment on the 2016 campaign.” Multiple women have spoken out about their experiences, including some who told The New York Times they endured unwanted advances from male campaign staffers. They also said they reported large pay gaps with male colleagues only to have campaign leaders discount them.
Politico also reported last week that a top adviser to Sanders was accused of forcibly kissing a subordinate at a bar. The man has denied wrongdoing.
Sanders, who is still weighing a 2020 presidential campaign, has publicly apologized to former female staffers and pledged to “do better” the next time he enters a political race. He has maintained that he was unaware of the harassment claims at the time of the campaign and blamed any issues on the rapid growth of his primary campaign, which he lost to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“I thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for speaking out,” Sanders wrote in a statement last week. “What they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign, or any campaign, should be about. … The allegations speak to unacceptable behavior that must not be tolerated in any campaign or workplace. To the women in that campaign who were harassed or mistreated I apologize.”
Sanders told both the Times and CNN that the meeting Wednesday, which lasted around an hour, was “private” and declined to discuss what was said. But a former staffer told CNN that the senator opened his remarks with an “honest apology,” and she said “it was clear that he came to listen and to have us be heard.”
Another woman told the Times that the session was tedious, but she did not elaborate.
Sanders’ supporters have been urging him to officially run for president as other prominent Democrats have begun to throw their hats into the ring. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro have all announced plans to run.