By WILL WEISSERT
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Clinton refused to say whether she would endorse Bernie Sanders, her 2016 rival, if he wins the Democratic nomination and offered a broad condemnation of the progressive candidate’s style of politics.
“I’m not going to go there yet,” she said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter published on Tuesday in response to whether she’d back Sanders. “We’re still in a very vigorous primary season. I will say, however, that it’s not only him, it’s the culture around him. It’s his leadership team. It’s his prominent supporters. It’s his online Bernie Bros and their relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women.”
She added: “I really hope people are paying attention to that because it should be worrisome that he has permitted this culture — not only permitted, (he) seems to really be very much supporting it.”
Her comments ripped open the scars of the brutal 2016 primary battle between Sanders and Clinton just as Democrats are poised to begin voting on their next nominee. It could also energize Sanders loyalists who believed the Democratic establishment rigged the 2016 primary in Clinton’s favor. That could be especially helpful with the Iowa caucuses less than two weeks away and Sanders working to establish a clear lead in a top tier that includes former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Sanders, like other senators who are running for president, was in Washington on Tuesday to participate in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. In a statement, Sanders said, “together, we are going to go forward and defeat the most dangerous president in American history.”
Clinton’s aides sought to minimize any fallout from her comments. Nick Merill, Clinton’s spokesperson, tweeted that “we all need to work our heart out for the nominee, whoever that is, and @HillaryClinton, as usual, won’t be any exception.”
Still, the lingering tension between Clinton and Sanders is evident. In the interview, she was asked about comments she makes in an upcoming documentary in which she says Sanders has been in Congress for years but “nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done.”
Asked if that assessment still holds, she said “yes.”
Clinton also blamed Sanders’ supporters for fostering a culture of sexism in politics — a charge that is especially sensitive now, given that Sanders’ top progressive rival in the 2020 race, Warren, has accused him of privately telling her a woman couldn’t win the White House.
Sanders has denied that, but Warren refused to shake his outstretched hand after a debate last week in Iowa and both candidates accused the other of calling them “a liar.” Warren has steadfastly declined to comment further, but the 78-year-old Sanders said Sunday t hat while sexism was a problem for candidates, so were other factors, like advanced age — touching off another online firestorm.
In the interview, Clinton attacked a cadre of online Sanders supporters known generally as the “Bernie Bros,” many of whom were sharply critical of Clinton’s 2016 campaign for their “relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women. And I really hope people are paying attention to that because it should be worrisome that he has permitted this culture.”
Clinton further suggested that Sanders was “very much supporting it” and said, “I don’t think we want to go down that road again where you campaign by insult and attack and maybe you try to get some distance from it, but you either don’t know what your campaign and supporters are doing or you’re just giving them a wink.”
“I think that that’s a pattern that people should take into account when they make their decisions,” Clinton said.
His feud with Warren has overshadowed a series of clashes between Sanders and another 2020 rival, Biden, for an op-ed penned by one of the senator’s supporters suggesting that the former vice president was corrupt.
“It is absolutely not my view that Joe is corrupt in any way. And I’m sorry that that op-ed appeared,” Sanders told CBS.
The op-ed, published in “The Guardian” newspaper by Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, claims Biden “has perfected the art of taking big contributions, then representing his corporate donors at the cost of middle- and working-class Americans.”