Former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) says he will meet with several women who claim he and his top aides overlooked incidents of sexual harassment that occurred on his 2016 presidential campaign.
Late last week, Sanders issued an official apology to several former staffers who say they were subjected to an almost constant barrage of sexually-tinged harassment, asking for forgiveness from any women who were “harassed and mistreated” on his 2016 campaign.
“What they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign, or any campaign, should be about,” the Vermont independent said in a statement posted to social media.
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.
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. pic.twitter.com/eJtCAGjHZu
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 10, 2019
“We can’t just talk about ending sexism and discrimination. It must be a reality in our daily lives,” Sanders added. “That was clearly not the case in 2016.”
On Monday, a source close to Sanders told Buzzfeed News that he plans to meet with several women on Wednesday, and that he and his team have “arranged for a number of women and men to travel to Washington to meet with him and members of his senior staff. Sanders paid for their flights and hotel accommodations through his campaign account.”
“The Wednesday meeting, aides have said, will be an opportunity for the 77-year-old senator to hear directly from the women who worked for a campaign that was hastily constructed and run mostly by men, without a traditional human resources department,” Buzzfeed News reported. The meeting will be facilitated by staffers from a local organization dedicated to alleviating workplace harassment.
The apology and meeting might come as a surprise to some of the women who initially complained about their tenure on Sanders’ campaign. When asked about the claims earlier in the month, Sanders responded with what seemed to be only tepid interest in the incidents, listed out in a New York Times expose, apologizing to any woman who “felt that she was not treated appropriately” but insisting that he “was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case,” and couldn’t be bothered with human resources issues among his staff.
Sanders’ — and his staff’s — approach seems to have shifted with a Politico report that ran last Thursday, quoting one woman, a former staffer, who named names, accusing one of Sanders’ top aides, Robert Becker, of sexual assault.
Becker, now 50, told the 20-something woman that he had always wanted to have sex with her and made a reference to riding his “pole,” according to the woman and three other people who witnessed what happened or were told about it shortly afterward by people who did. Later in the night, Becker approached the woman and grabbed her wrists. Then he moved his hands to her head and forcibly kissed her, putting his tongue in her mouth as he held her, the woman and other sources said.
Becker is no longer one of Sanders’ paid operatives, but, according to the Politico report, Becker recently expressed interest in working for Sanders’ 2020 campaign, even “calling potential staffers” in early primary states — including the woman he allegedly harassed.
The revelation appears to have set off a chain of events, lighting a fire under Sanders and his team.