Businessman Tom Steyer said he “really wasn’t listening” when he became caught in an “awkward moment” between Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on stage after Tuesday’s Democratic debate.
Seconds after the debate ended, Warren was seen shaking hands with Steyer and former Vice President Joe Biden, but when Sanders extended his hand, Warren didn’t take it. Instead, she appeared to engage him in an animated conversation.
The tense interaction came after Warren and Sanders offered dueling accounts of the contents of a conversation at a private 2018 dinner. Warren – who has confirmed what four sources told CNN about the meeting – stood by her account that Sanders told her a woman could not win the presidency while Sanders held that he never made the remark.
“I was just going up to say ‘good night Sen. Sanders’ and I felt like, OK, there’s something going on here. Good night, I’m out of here,” Steyer told CNN’s Anderson Cooper following the debate.
“I really wasn’t listening. They were talking about getting together or something,” Steyer said. “I really didn’t listen. I really – it was one of those awkward moments where I felt like, you know, I need to move on as fast as possible.”
He added, “My goal was simply to say good night to two people who I respect. The last thing I wanted to do was get between the two of them and listen in. That was not my goal and I didn’t do it.”
Steyer told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Wednesday morning that it didn’t take long for him to figure out he had wandered into an awkward moment between the two senators and reiterated his position that he hadn’t heard anything.
Asked if he believed Warren’s claim, Steyer told CNN, “I obviously wasn’t there. There’s no one on that stage who can believe that a woman can’t win as a president.”
When asked by CNN what Warren said to Sanders as the debate ended, Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner said, “I’m not sure what she said, but you can read the body language. Obviously their conversation was not pleasant.”
While Warren and Sanders had previously taken careful efforts to manage their friendship and political rivalry, percolating tension between the two was laid bare at the debate when Warren used a question about the 2018 meeting to underscore the electoral prowess of the female candidates on the debate stage.
“But look, this question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised and it’s time for us to attack it head-on,” Warren said. “I think the best way to talk about who can win is by looking at people’s winning record. So, can a woman beat (President) Donald Trump? Look at the men on this stage: Collectively, they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women.”
The bust-up began on Sunday after Politico reported that some volunteers for the Sanders campaign had been given talking points suggesting that Warren’s support did not extend beyond “highly educated, more affluent people.” Asked about it later in the day, Warren accused Sanders of “sending his volunteers out to trash me.”
CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.