Sen. Bernie Sanders apologized Thursday following multiple reports of women who were sexually harassed or assaulted during his 2016 presidential aide. Earlier Thursday, reports surfaced that a top aide was accused of sexually assaulting a female subordinate.
“To the women in that campaign who were harassed or mistreated I apologize. Our standards and safeguards were inadequate,” Sanders said in a statement posted to social media.
He thanked the women who did come forward with complaints of sexual misconduct and ensured that his 2018 Senate re-election campaign had “established some of the strongest sexual harassment policies in the country.”
Robert Becker, the former Iowa state director for Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, allegedly made several inappropriate comments to a younger, female subordinates before he forcibly kissed her while at a bar with other staffers following the Democratic National Convention, Politico reported earlier Thursday.
The anonymous staffer, who is in her 20s, and other witnesses told Politico Becker said he wanted to have sex with her while at the Philadelphia bar. Later, he grabbed her wrists and head, forcibly kissed her and put his tongue in her mouth, she and other witnesses alleged.
The woman did not report the incident at the time since the campaign was finished but has come forward now as Becker has been involved with potential 2020 groundwork.
Robert Becker, who was the Iowa state director for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid, has been accused of forcibly kissing a younger female subordinate during the campaign. (Getty Images)
“It just really sucks because no one ever held him accountable, and he kept pushing and pushing and seeing how much he could get away with,” the woman said. “This can’t happen in 2020. You can’t run for president of the United States unless you acknowledge that every campaign demands a safe work environment for every employee and volunteer.”
Becker, who is now 50, dismissed the accusations, saying they are “at odds with my recollection of a late evening filled with many hugs and kisses and tears and conversations about what’s next.”
No charges have been filed.
Hillary Clinton officially secured the Democratic presidential nomination over Sanders at the convention.
Other former aides accused Becker of using social media to determine potential female hires’ attractiveness, according to Politico. Becker, however, said he was just tasked with reviewing “potentially questionable or damaging social media posts of potential hires.”
Becker traveled to South Carolina – the first-in-the-South primary state – in December for meetings with former Sanders campaign staffers, CNBC previously reported. But Jeff Weaver, who ran Sanders’ 2016 campaign, stressed then that Becker was not doing so in an official capacity as he “doesn’t work for the campaign because there is no campaign.”
Amid speculation that Sanders could seek the White House again, the progressive senator has faced fallout as broader sexual harassment complaints stemming from the 2016 bid have come to light in recent weeks.
More than two dozen former staffers recently sent a letter to Sanders and his aides, seeking a meeting regarding the “sexual violence and harassment on the 2016 campaign” ahead of another bid for the presidency. Additionally, numerous women have complained they were paid less than men and forced into inappropriate and uncomfortable situations, according to The New York Times. A former Sanders delegate called the culture an “entire wave of rotten sexual harassment that seemingly was never dealt with.”
Sanders said he was unaware of the alleged behavior happening during his campaign because he was “a little busy” running for president. But he also apologized to “any woman who felt that she was not treated appropriately,” adding that if he does decide to run again he would “do better.”
Thursday, he said the country needs a “cultural revolution” in order to “change workplace attitudes and behavior.”
“I intend in every way to be actively involved in that process,” Sanders said.
The harassment controversy isn’t entirely new. Allegations of sexism briefly surfaced during Sanders’ 2016 bid as some of his young, white male supporters who went online to aggressively attack Clinton and her followers were pejoratively labeled “Bernie Bros”; however, the stories didn’t seriously impact his bid for the Democratic nomination.
Sanders commanded the left flank of the party in 2016 as he crushed Clinton in the New Hampshire primary – propelling him into a marathon battle with the former secretary of state up until the party convention. But that might not necessarily be the case again in 2020 as progressive Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has launched an exploratory committee and has traveled to Iowa.
Other liberal lawmakers, such as Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, are also considered to be potential 2020 contenders.
Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.