There is more depressing reporting out about Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign: the latest sexual harassment allegations, reported by Politico on Wednesday night, concern Robert Becker, the campaign’s deputy national field director, who is alleged to have harassed and forcibly kissed a woman staffer who worked under him.
More details from Politico:
Sitting at the bar sometime after midnight, convention floor leader Robert Becker—who oversaw Sanders’ Iowa campaign, then helped lead his efforts in Michigan, California, and New York as deputy national field director—began talking with a female staffer who had worked under him along with her boyfriend.
Becker, now 50 years old, told the 20-something woman that he had always wanted to have sex with her and made a reference to riding his “pole,” according to the woman and three other people who witnessed what happened or were told about it shortly afterward by people who did. Later in the night, Becker approached the woman and abruptly grabbed her wrists. Then he moved his hands to her head and forcibly kissed her, putting his tongue in her mouth as he held her, the woman and other sources said.
She did not report the incident at the time, she said. But the woman, who has chosen to remain anonymous over fears of retaliation, told Politico she had decided to come forward now after recently being contacted by Becker as part of his reported efforts to lay the groundwork for Sanders to run again. She told Politico she has so far reached out to senior aides like Jeff Weaver, Sanders’s 2016 campaign manager. (If Sanders runs again, Weaver will not return as campaign manager, a decision that a source told CNN is unrelated to the sexual harassment allegations that have been coming out in recent weeks.)
As Politico reported, Becker also engaged in other inappropriate behavior while working for the campaign:
According to two of those aides who witnessed his behavior, when Becker received resumes for potential female hires, he would look them up on Facebook and appraise their attractiveness. Occasionally, he would call over a male staffer to join him in ogling.
When asked about his alleged behavior, Becker told Politico, “My singular concern during this entire process was to assess whether an individual would be an outstanding political organizer—no other factors played into our hiring decisions.” He also “categorically” denied the alleged assault, which he said was “at odds with my recollection of a late evening filled with many hugs and kisses and tears and conversations about what’s next.”
“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 told Politico. “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.”
At the end of December, former staffers asked to meet with Sanders and his top aides to “discuss the issue of sexual violence and harassment on the 2016 campaign,” describing in the letter requesting the meeting that the campaign had a “predatory culture.” This is, of course, not unique to the Sanders’s campaign, and campaigns are—belatedly—beginning to take the issue of sexual harassment seriously.
But for Sanders to seriously run again, his campaign will need to take major steps to create a culture where sexual harassment is not tolerated. Last week, after the Times report came out, he addressed the allegations in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and offered a remarkably tepid apology. “Of course, if I run we will do better the next time,” he promised. Sanders noted that for his 2018 Senate campaign, he had implemented greater checks around mandatory training and resources for staff. According to Friends of Bernie Sanders, his campaign committee, Becker would not return to any future campaign, and that “no one who committed sexual harassment in 2016 would be back if there were a 2020 campaign.”
According to one former staffer, women who worked on his 2016 campaign are considering not returning if Sanders does run again in 2020, telling Politico: “There was lots of bros protecting bros, to the point that now there is a conversation among female alumni of not working on this campaign again.”
Update (3:52 p.m.): On Thursday afternoon, Sanders issued another apology, one that is much more unequivocal in condemning sexual harassment and misconduct and in his promises to address the issue of workplace culture than his previous statements.
In it, he states: “The allegations speak to unacceptable behavior that must not be tolerated in any campaign or any workplace. To the women in that campaign who were harassed or mistreated I apologize. Our standards and safeguards were inadequate.” Sanders also highlighted the sexual harassment policies he instituted for his recent Senate campaign, which included sexual harassment training for all staffers as well as the creation of a hotline for anyone who was harassed to report the incident.
Read it below: