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Sanders apologizes to female ex-staffers for harassment on 2016 campaign

POLITICO logo POLITICO 1/10/2019 By Melanie Zanona
Bernie Sanders wearing a suit and tie: “To the women in our campaign who were harassed or mistreated, I apologize,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said. © Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images “To the women in our campaign who were harassed or mistreated, I apologize,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) apologized Thursday to women who said they were sexually harassed while working on his 2016 presidential campaign.

His comments to reporters in the Capitol came shortly after POLITICO reported that a 20-something female staffer said she was forcibly kissed by a top Sanders adviser at a bar in Philadelphia on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.

“It appears that as part of our campaign, there were some women who were harassed or mistreated. And I thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for speaking out,” Sanders said after a press conference about a prescription drug bill he's supporting. “What they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign, or any campaign, should be about.”

“To the women in our campaign who were harassed or mistreated, I apologize,” he added. “Our standards, our procedures, our safeguards, were clearly inadequate.”

Sanders said he was not previously aware of the incident detailed by POLITICO. It involved Sanders' convention floor leader, Robert Becker, who also oversaw the Iowa caucus campaign, then helped lead Sanders' efforts in Michigan, California and New York as deputy national field director. The woman said Becker grabbed her wrists, then her head, kissed her and stuck his tongue in her mouth.

The woman did not report the incident at the time, but came forward after Becker began making preparations for another presidential campaign and calling around to potential staffers in an unofficial capacity. Other staffers accused Becker of separate inappropriate conduct.

Becker, 50, denied the allegations, while Sanders’ representatives said he will not work on a potential 2020 campaign.

The allegations involving Becker are the latest in a string of complaints about a hostile work environment for women working on the senator’s presidential campaign, which could hamstring Sanders’ efforts to recruit female staffers if he runs again in 2020 — the first presidential race since the national “Me Too” movement.

Sanders pointed out that his 2018 reelection campaign to the Senate established “‘some of the strongest sexual harassment policies in the country,” including requiring training for all employees and providing staffers with a way to report harassment to an independent human resources firm.

“Every woman in this country who goes to work today or tomorrow has the right to make sure that she is working in an environment which is free of harassment, which is safe and which is comfortable,” Sanders said. “And I will do my best to make that happen.”

Alex Thompson contributed to this report.

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