The answer the lawyers came back with was yes: There is nothing in the Constitution that bars the vice president from also serving as treasury secretary. Sanders has made no final decisions on a potential running mate or cabinet officers, considering such questions premature and presumptuous, but the research into the question of Warren’s dual eligibility reflects the political affinity that has long existed between the two — an affinity that was dealt a setback over the past week, as the pair clashed over the contents of a year-old private conversation. The sources were not authorized to speak publicly about internal deliberations.
The research into the question of Warren’s dual eligibility reflects the political affinity that has long existed between the two.
Warren, after her election to the Senate in 2012, lobbied for and won a seat on the Banking Committee, where she continued to hammer away at Wall Street and its feckless regulators. Warren’s is the type of oversight and policymaking Sanders could envision leading from the perch at the Treasury Department, sources said, with the added power of being vice president, as well. Though no serious discussions have begun about a cabinet or running mate, the campaign wanted to know whether such a scenario was constitutionally permissible.
The news of the Sanders’s camp interest in a dual role for Warren comes after a week of tension between the longtime allies.
Not long after meeting with Sanders at the end of 2018 to discuss her impending presidential run, Warren hosted an off-the-record dinner with a number of journalists, according to sources with knowledge of it. At the dinner, Warren was asked about her meeting with Sanders, and in the course of the discussion, she relayed that Sanders had warned that he didn’t believe a woman could beat Trump in 2020. Different reporters recalled the comments differently, a mirror image of the dispute between Warren and Sanders over exactly what Sanders said — with Warren saying that Sanders argued a woman couldn’t beat Trump, while Sanders said that he only said Trump would weaponize misogyny against a woman, not that it would work. (The Intercept was not at the dinner. Most politicians hold informal, off-record dinners or meetings with journalists, though it’s not something Sanders is known to do. Occasionally details from those meetings leak, but it’s rare.)
From there, the piece of news entered the journalistic bloodstream, circulating among reporters as gossip but not finding its way into print. On Monday, it finally did, with CNN’s M.J. Lee reporting that according to four sources — described as “two people Warren spoke with directly soon after the encounter, and two people familiar with the meeting” — Sanders had told Warren, according to CNN’s paraphrasing, that “he did not believe a woman could win.”
It was widely assumed in the immediate aftermath of the story that Warren’s campaign had planted the story. Indeed, CNN anchor Erin Burnett said as much on air. But Burnett was merely making an assumption, and had no inside knowledge of the sources, two CNN sources told The Intercept.
Since Warren told the story more broadly to a group of journalists, CNN’s sources could have come from outside the campaign.
On Monday, Warren told The Intercept that her campaign did not intentionally plant the CNN story. That Warren told a number of journalists about the meeting a year ago adds context to that statement. If Warren had only told her closest advisers about the meeting, then it would be logical to assume that her campaign dictated the timing of the story, dropping it just ahead of a debate, and just weeks before the primary, to undercut Sanders. But since Warren told the story more broadly to a group of journalists, CNN’s sources could have come from outside the campaign. The revelation does not rule out the possibility that someone in her campaign was a source, but it opens up other possibilities, as well.
In chat groups and in private conversations with people outside the campaign, Warren aides have insisted that they were not the source of the leak, and only learned about it in the midst of debate prep, contributing to the delayed response. The first time the campaign saw Sanders’s on-record denial was in print in the CNN story. “What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist, and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could,” Sanders said. After the story broke, the tension continued to escalate.
Neither camp took potential offroads. Sanders could have allowed that since he had said that “Trump is a sexist…who would weaponize whatever he could,” that he could understand how Warren may have inferred from that that he didn’t think a woman could overcome such obstacles. Warren could have said that she takes her friend at his word that he didn’t mean it, and the press could have moved on. Neither gave an inch, though, and Warren issued a blunt statement. “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed,” Warren said in her statement, that didn’t come until 7:30 in the evening, after the story had festered for much of the day.
At the debate the next night, Sanders said it was “incomprehensible” that he would have said such a thing. Warren was prepared with remarks about the ability of women to win elections. After the debate she confronted him on stage with cameras still running.
Since then, though, the camps have sought to de-escalate.
Kristen Orthman, a spokesperson for Warren, declined to comment on the dinner, but said in a statement, “Everyone in this primary is focused and must be focused on our shared goal: beating Donald Trump. That’s the message we are sending to our supporters and our staff so we can make big, structural change to improve people’s lives.”
Faiz Shakir, Sanders’s campaign manager, similarly declined to comment on the specifics of the story, but said that, “Our message internally and externally is to stay focused, stay positive, and keep the people who are struggling out there and need transformational change at the front of our minds.”