Hillary Clinton and allies of her campaign are using remarks Donald Trump made Wednesday suggesting that women should be punished for seeking abortions to bash Clinton’s Democratic presidential rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sanders condemned Trump’s remarks, but signaled he wanted to move on from talking about the controversy.
“Last night, Sen. Sanders agreed Donald Trump’s comments were shameful, but then he said they were a distraction from the, and I quote, ‘serious discussion about serious issues facing America,” Clinton said at a campaign stop Thursday in Purchase, New York, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times. “To me, this is a serious issue, and it is a serious discussion… We need a president who is passionate about this … seeing it as a top priority because women’s health is under assault.”
Sanders made the comment in question during a Wednesday night appearance on MSNBC.
“Any stupid, absurd remark made by Donald Trump becomes the story of the week,” Sanders said. “Maybe, just maybe, we might want to have a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.”
The Clinton campaign’s strategy of tying Sanders to the broader outrage over the Trump remark reflects ramped-up efforts to prepare for a general election contest against Trump, who is leading the race for the GOP nomination, while keeping Sanders at bay as the Democratic primary rolls on.
Trump has tried to walk back the remark he made Wednesday during an MSNBC town hall that “there has to be some form of punishment” for female abortion-seekers if the procedure was outlawed. Democrats pounced on the comment as proof the GOP has an extreme anti-abortion agenda, even as major anti-abortion groups sought to distance themselves from the remark.
The Clinton campaign hosted a press call Thursday with the top abortion rights groups who have endorsed the candidate. The groups’ leaders had plenty of scathing words for Trump himself, but they followed Clinton’s lead in criticizing Sanders as well.
“We need a president who will be a champion in protecting women’s access to health care, not one who will dismiss the importance of this issue,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said, referring to Sanders’ comments. “Our next president must be one who won’t just vote the right way when the time comes around, but who will proactively take on these fights, stand up to Republican attacks, and centralize this crisis in their advocacy for women across this country.”
Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY’s List, which raises money for female candidates who support abortion rights, said Sanders “continues to show he just doesn’t understand the challenges women face in this country.”
“Hillary Clinton is the only candidate who understands that these are serious issues,” Schriock said. “Women’s lives are at stake it doesn’t get any more serious than that.”
The Sanders campaign issued a statement to CBS News in response to the comments Clinton made at the event in New York, although it didn’t address her criticisms directly.
“Donald Trump’s statement about punishing women who have abortions is an outrage,” campaign spokesperson Michael Briggs said in the statement. “It is unbelievable that a candidate for president would make such an absurd statement. Sen. Sanders has a 100 percent lifetime voting record defending a woman’s right to choose and will do all that he can to protect and expand that right if elected president.”
Sanders’ relationship with top reproductive rights organizations has been a contentious one ever since they endorsed Clinton over him.
In January, Sanders suggested that Planned Parenthood, whose president, Cecile Richards, was also on Thursday’s Clinton campaign call, was “part of the establishment.” The comment earned him a stiff rebuke from the organization and other abortion rights advocates.
Sanders tried to make amends with Planned Parenthood after the outrage over that characterization.
“They are a fantastic organization,” Sanders said. “Count me as somebody who strongly supports them.”