Planned Sanders appearance at women’s convention draws fire

Planned Sanders appearance at women’s convention draws fire
© Greg Nash

The announcement that Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersMellman: (Mis)interpreting elections Dems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Rasmussen poll: Nearly three-quarters of Dems want 'fresh face' as nominee in 2020 MORE (I-Vt.) will headline an event at a women’s conference in Detroit later this month has left some Democrats seething and reliving old wounds from the 2016 presidential race.

On Thursday, the Women’s Convention — run by the same group that organized the large Women’s March in Washington earlier this year a day after President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE was sworn into office — announced that Sanders will address 3,000 women activists on the opening day of the conference.

The announcement did not receive a warm reception.

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“What, all the women were busy?” Democratic strategist Christy Setzer said in an email to The Hill. “While Sanders undeniably still has an audience and a following, giving him the keynote at the women’s march feels at best tonally off and to some like rubbing salt in the wounds.”

The news lit up Twitter, with everyone from MSNBC’s Joy Reid to actress Debra Messing weighing in, all questioning the rationale of the invitation.

The Center for American Progress’s Neera Tanden called it “pretty amazing” and said she was unfollowing the organization.

"This announcement sends the wrong message to women everywhere," EMILY's List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. "We have reached out to the organizers of the Women's Convention directly to share our surprise and disappointment, and to offer our help to strengthen the program."

Supporters and former aides to former Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Dem pollster: GOP women have a more difficult time winning primary races than Dems Mellman: (Mis)interpreting elections MORE were particularly confused by the news. The 2016 Democratic primary, which pitted Clinton against Sanders, was contentious. 

The speech comes on the heels of Clinton’s new book “What Happened," in which she blamed Sanders for “paving the way” for her rival Donald Trump to make the case that she was — as Trump calls her — “Crooked Hillary.”

“His attacks caused lasting damage,” Clinton wrote of Sanders.

“It’s rankling some folks that the guy they asked to speak on the first day is the guy who did some real damage to a female presidential candidate,” said Jim Manley, who served as a Clinton surrogate during the 2016 race.

“The irony,” one former Clinton aide added. “They couldn’t have put less thought into this if they tried. It’s completely insulting.”

A spokesperson for the Women’s Convention could not be reached for comment. But in an interview with USA Today on Wednesday, Tamika Mallory, the co-founder of the Women’s March, said Sanders’s appearance would resonate with young activists.

“I think that right now, no one can deny that Bernie Sanders is probably one of the most powerful U.S. senators … on progressive issues, women’s issues, mobilizing millennials. He is really in line with the principles of the Women’s March,” Mallory said.

A spokesman for Sanders also could not be reached for comment.

However, a Sanders ally told The Hill that it makes sense for Sanders to be part of the program.

“He’s a validator, he’s not the leader of the movement obviously,” the Sanders ally said. “I don’t think every single person who speaks there needs to be a woman."

The ally said Sanders's inclusion showed movement unity.

“He’s there to be supportive,” the ally continued. “If the goal is to build the women’s movement in helping to lead and transform the country, why wouldn’t you have allies there? He was invited to show that we’re all united. He certainly did not go seeking an invitation.”

Sanders allies have indicated that the senator already has his sights set on a 2020 run. And the senator has criss-crossed the country recently, stopping in key states like Iowa and holding campaign-style rallies in states like West Virginia and Kentucky.

But other women — particularly colleagues of Sanders’s — have also been mentioned as potential candidates. Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Rasmussen poll: Nearly three-quarters of Dems want 'fresh face' as nominee in 2020 Kamala Harris lands book deal MORE (D-Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Dems call for hearings on Trump’s CFPB nominee to be put on hold Dems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women MORE (D-Mass.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Hillicon Valley: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | Sparks fly at hearing on social media | First House Republican backs net neutrality bill | Meet the DNC's cyber guru | Sinclair defiant after merger setback Booker seizes on Kavanaugh confirmation fight MORE (D-Minn.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women ‘Abolish ICE’ is going to hurt Democrats in the midterms 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser MORE (D-N.Y.) have all made 2020 lists.

“It does seem a little odd since there are so many rising stars in the party that happen to be women,” Manley said, criticism EMILY's List also raised.