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Bernie Sanders apologizes again to female staffers on his 2016 presidential campaign

Senator Bernie Sanders. CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by David Paul Morris
Senator Bernie Sanders. CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by David Paul Morris

WASHINGTON — For the second time this month, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has apologized to female staff members from his 2016 presidential campaign who have said they were sexually harassed by co-workers — including one who was expected to play a role in a potential 2020 bid.

On Thursday morning, after Politico reported that Sanders’s former Iowa campaign manager Robert Becker had been named in a $30,000 federal discrimination settlement with two former employees, Sanders told reporters that he thanked the women “from the bottom of my heart for speaking out” and formally apologized to them.

“When we talk about ending sexism, and ending all forms of discrimination, those beliefs cannot just be words,” Sanders said. “They must be based in day-to-day reality and the work that we do. And that was clearly not the case in the 2016 campaign. The allegations that I have heard speak to unacceptable behavior that must not be tolerated in any campaign or in any workplace.”

Sanders said that his 2018 Senate reelection campaign in Vermont had operated under “some of the strongest sexual harassment policies in the country” and that he had not been aware of the $30,000 settlement.

“Our standards, our procedures, our safeguards, were clearly inadequate,” Sanders said. “Clearly, in this country, we need a cultural revolution to change workplace attitudes and behavior.”

Sanders made the remarks in response to a question from a reporter on Capitol Hill at an event on prescription drug prices. The Vermont independent, who caucuses with Democrats, is among dozens of potential candidates mulling a 2020 bid against President Donald Trump.

Last week, amid multiple reports detailing allegations of sexual harassment and pay disparities during the 2016 campaign, Sanders offered a public apology to “any woman who felt that she was not treated appropriately.”

He also defended himself in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, maintaining that he was not aware of any allegations at the time.

“I was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case,” Sanders said.

Becker, who helped organize Sanders’s Iowa caucuses campaign and then his upset victory in the Michigan primary, had traveled to South Carolina last month and held meetings with former staffers. But Sanders and his allies said that Becker was not doing so on the senator’s behalf.

“I get stories everyday of people trying to run around and talk to people to see if they want to work for Bernie,” Sanders’s 2016 campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNBC.

Becker did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

On Wednesday, people close to Sanders said that Weaver would not return to the campaign manager role if the senator made another White House run, but that the decision had been made months earlier, before reports on staff members who claimed to have been sexually harassed.

As the 2020 field begins to take shape, some House Democrats have been urging Sanders to pursue another presidential bid.”

He should run, and he should make sure he has a diverse campaign staff that has one of the strongest harassment policies of any campaign,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who has repeatedly encouraged Sanders to seek the White House. “He should run because every 50 years or so, someone has the opportunity to fundamentally re-imagine the possibilities of our political conversation.”

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The Washington Post’s John Wagner contributed to this report.

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