“He was in Congress for years. He had one senator support him. Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him. He got nothing done,” Clinton said in the four-part series “Hillary,” which is set to debut in March and chronicle her life and most recent White House bid.
“He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney, and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it,” Clinton added of Sanders, in comments first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
Addressing those criticisms in a Hollywood Reporter interview about the documentary — conducted earlier this month and published Tuesday — Clinton said her characterization of Sanders still holds true and demurred on whether she would throw her support behind the independent Vermont senator should he emerge as Democrats’ choice to challenge President Donald Trump in November.
“I’m not going to go there yet. We’re still in a very vigorous primary season,” Clinton said. “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.”
Clinton argued that “it should be worrisome” that Sanders has “not only permitted” such a corrosive campaign culture but also “seems to really be very much supporting it.”
“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 and you want them to go after Kamala [Harris] or after Elizabeth [Warren],” Clinton said. “I think that that’s a pattern that people should take into account when they make their decisions.”
Sanders, who has been battling accusations of misogyny after Warren accused of him of saying that a woman could not win in 2020, sought to downplay the tensions with Clinton. “My focus today is on a monumental moment in American history: the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Together, we are going to go forward and defeat the most dangerous president in American history,” he said in a statement.
Pressed further on the controversy by reporters in the Capitol, Sanders said Clinton is “entitled to her point of view” and cited polling showing him to be the “most popular U.S. senator in the country,” concluding: “So somebody out there must like me.”
On social media, Clinton’s interview immediately ignited an intra-party crossfire. Tommy Vietor, the former National Security Council spokesman under President Barack Obama, described her refusal to commit to endorsing Sanders if he captures the Democratic nomination as “inexcusable.”
“If Bernie wins the nomination, we all need to work our asses off to help him win. If someone else is the nominee, we all do the same for them,” he tweeted. “Don’t kick up this bulls— right before Iowa, especially after complaining about Bernie’s lack of support in 2016.”
Responding to Vietor, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill tweeted: “She said ‘yet.’ She has repeatedly made clear that she isn’t committing to any candidate as the primary plays out, and more than anyone in the world she has shown time and again that she puts Democrats & our democracy above all else.”
Merrill went on to note how Clinton “worked her heart out for Obama” on the campaign trail in 2008 and later served as his secretary of State “after a long primary as adversaries.”
“Let’s all take a deep breath, give her the benefit of the doubt for once, & look at history,” Merrill wrote. “But you’re exactly right, we all need to work our heart out for the nominee, whoever that is, and @HillaryClinton, as usual, won’t be any exception.”
Jennifer Palmieri, the communications director of Clinton’s 2016 campaign, also backed up her old boss.
“Friends, if there’s anything @HillaryClinton has proven to us time & again is you can count on her to do the right thing for the party & the country. The Dem nominee will face a lot of hurdles, Hillary Clinton will not be one of them,” she tweeted.
“Also, give the woman a break and benefit of the doubt. My God, after all she’s been through and done for Democrats and the country, she’s earned our faith in her,” Palmieri added.
“Why do we need the benefit of the doubt?” replied Jon Lovett, a former Obama speechwriter. “Is there a rule against being clear? ‘I’m not getting involved in the primary. But whoever wins, even if it’s my second favorite Vermont senator, I’ll work my heart out for him or her.’ Not that hard! I even added a little joke.”
The progressive group Justice Democrats further ramped up pressure on Clinton, launching an online petition calling on her “to do the right thing and immediately say that she’ll do everything she can to support whoever becomes the Democratic nominee.”
Meanwhile, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale attempted to amplify the infighting. He tweeted a New York Times report on Clinton’s statements and wrote: “The knives are out for Bernie. It’s happening again.“
The stinging repudiation by Clinton comes as Sanders has reestablished himself as a leading contender in the current primary contest — polling near the top of the pack in early nominating states and posing perhaps the most credible long-term threat to frontrunner Joe Biden.
But Sanders’ momentum leading up to the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses has produced high-profile clashes with his chief opponents for the nomination. He apologized Monday for an op-ed penned by a surrogate alleging Biden had “a big corruption problem,” and he is still weathering the political fallout from his recent dispute with Warren.
Warren has maintained that Sanders told her during a private meeting in December 2018, prior to their respective presidential campaign announcements, that he did not believe a female candidate could defeat Trump in 2020. Although he has denied ever making such a statement, Clinton charged that the debate represents “part of a pattern” for Sanders.
“If it were a one-off, you might say, ‘OK, fine.’ But he said I was unqualified. I had a lot more experience than he did and got a lot more done than he had, but that was his attack on me,” Clinton, who served in the Senate with Sanders from 2007-2009, told The Hollywood Reporter.
“I just think people need to pay attention,” she continued, “because we want, hopefully, to elect a president who’s going to try to bring us together, and not either turn a blind eye, or actually reward the kind of insulting, attacking, demeaning, degrading behavior that we’ve seen from this current administration.”
Clinton weighed in at length on the challenges still facing female White House contenders, including Warren and Amy Klobuchar, and praised Warren’s forceful defense of a woman’s electability at last week’s Democratic primary debate.
“I’ve tried to tell all the candidates the same thing, but with the women, I say, ‘You’re probably not going to be treated fairly. Don’t let it knock you off stride,’” Clinton said.
As the 2020 campaign has worn on, journalists tracking the race have also reverted “back to stereotypes,” she asserted, “and many of those are highly genderized.”
“It’s really hard ever to score 100 when you’re trying to navigate gender expectations and barriers. Sometimes you really do want to let loose, and then you think, ‘Oh, great, they’ll say I can’t take it, so I’m getting angry.’ Or they’ll say that I’m mad, and that that’s not a very attractive look,” Clinton said. “So, it’s a constant evaluation about, ‘How can I best convey who I am, what I believe, what I stand for and what I’m willing to fight for?’”
Burgess Everett and Holly Otterbein contributed to this report.