Eighteen progressive organizations including major supporters of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are launching a unity pledge in the middle of the most contentious week of the primary between the two progressive candidates.
The effort, dubbed “Progressives Unite 2020,” is centered on a three-part pledge that includes focusing “our fight for the nomination against candidates supported by the corporate wing instead of fighting each other.”
The campaign is made up of some of the most dominant organizations on the political left. The groups involved include Our Revolution, which is closely tied to Sanders, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is closely tied to Warren. The Working Families Party, which has endorsed Warren, is also involved, as is the Sunrise Movement, which recently endorsed Sanders. Democracy for America, which is unaligned, helped organize the campaign.
The groups are also asking members to vote strategically for the two candidates in early voting states like Iowa. The campaign asks voters in Iowa to move to one of the two top progressive candidates if their preferred candidate doesn’t reach 15% viability threshold on caucus night.
The pledge comes as tensions between the candidates and their supporters have boiled over amid a disagreement over the characterization of a private 2018 meeting where Warren claims Sanders told her that he believed a woman couldn’t win the 2020 presidential election, which Sanders denies.
In the hours before the pledge was announced, new audio was released of a heated conversation between Warren and Sanders, in which each senator said that the other had called them a liar on national TV.
On Wednesday, after video emerged of Warren not shaking Sanders’ hand following the Democratic debate, Sanders' supporters flooded Warren’s social media pages with snake emojis and called her a “backstabber” for reiterating the claim about her private meeting with Sanders during the debate.
The escalation of the tension between the candidates' supporters is the fruition of what progressive organizers have feared — that a spat between the two candidates could splinter the progressive vote and potentially elevate an establishment Democratic candidate like Joe Biden. The organizations that signed onto that pledge have acknowledged the tension and are asking their supporters and the campaigns to move forward.
“We are joining this effort out of a belief that it represents leaders in the progressive movement urging everyone from campaign staff to Twitter commenters to focus on defeating a corporate, establishment Democrat like Joe Biden,” the PCCC said in a joint statement. “This effort inherently includes standing opposed to sexism and bad-faith arguments in the primary process. We look forward to working with our friends to enforce these principles."
Joseph Geevarghese, the executive director of Our Revolution, said in the statement that if progressives “come together and organize, we will win 2020.”
“When progressives fight each other, the establishment wins,” DFA chair Charles Chamberlain said in the statement. “We saw it in 2004 when progressives took each other out and John Kerry slipped through to win Iowa and then went on to lose in November to a very unpopular Republican incumbent. We’re determined to not let that happen again.”
The fight between the two candidates, who are self-described longtime friends, first ignited over the weekend when Politico reported that the Sanders campaign had used talking points for volunteers that intended to move voters away from Warren by saying that she was not bringing anyone new into the Democratic Party. Sanders distanced himself from the talking points, and Warren told reporters she was “disappointed” that Sanders was “sending his volunteers out to trash me."
That conflict vastly escalated on Monday, when CNN first reported, and Warren later asserted herself, that Sanders had told her during a private December 2018 meeting that he did not believe a woman could win the presidency in 2020. Sanders has denied Warren’s account of the meeting and did so again during Tuesday night’s presidential debate. Warren maintained her position on stage, but both candidates appeared to try and de-escalate the fight, leaning on their history and shared beliefs.
At the end of the debate, however, the two candidates had a tense conversation as they were leaving the stage. "I think you called me a liar on national TV," Warren told Sanders, in audio released by CNN Wednesday night. Sanders responded by suggesting they talk about it later, and then saying that she had called him “a liar."
In a separate statement, six of the groups, including WFP, Justice Democrats, and Our Revolution, said: "Sanders and Warren, as well as their campaigns and supporters, will need to find ways to cooperate."
"We hope to build solidarity between delegates affiliated with these two candidates prior to the convention and will encourage campaigns to work towards a unified convention strategy after the final primaries on June 2nd."
The groups are hoping the unity effort ends the back-and-forth cycle.
“We have to keep our eyes on the ball, resist the temptation to form a circular firing squad, and collaborate to ensure a real progressive leader is elected President in November,” said Be a Hero president Liz Jaff in the "Progressives Unite 2020" statement.