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Watch: Elizabeth Warren grills Mike Bloomberg over allegations of sexism and nondisclosure agreements

Warren called on the former New York City mayor to release women from NDAs they had signed about the alleged hostile work environment at his company.

Mike Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren speak during a commercial break during the ninth debate of the 2020 presidential campaign.
Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

In a stunning moment of the Democratic debate on Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren confronted former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg directly and repeatedly about nondisclosure agreements his past employees agreed to sign regarding allegations of a hostile work environment.

Warren and others have been pushing for Bloomberg to release employees of these NDAs — which prevent them from speaking out publicly about alleged experiences with sexism and harassment — for months. And she ramped up the pressure on Wednesday, following up on a question initially raised by moderator Hallie Jackson.

“Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from those nondisclosure agreements? So we can hear their side of the story?” Warren asked. Bloomberg struggled to respond as Warren pressed him on the subject, arguing that these employees had willingly agreed to the NDAs, and noting, at one point, that the accusations weren’t so bad.

“None of them accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told,” he said, eliciting groans from the audience.

There were plenty of other women who worked at his company and foundation that he’d helped build successful careers, Bloomberg also emphasized, deploying a common tactic those who have been accused have used in the past to evade responsibility for their alleged behavior.

Warren, however, wasn’t having it. After Bloomberg failed to answer the question, she simply asked him again.

“I hope you heard his defense. ‘I’ve been nice to some women,’” she said. “What we need to know is exactly what’s lurking out there. He has gotten some number of women — dozens, who knows — to sign nondisclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace.”

“We have very few nondisclosure agreements,” Bloomberg responded.

But Warren kept calling him out. “How many is that?” she said repeatedly. “Some is how many?”

Bloomberg, despite multiple attempts, wasn’t really able to provide a satisfactory response. He never directly committed to releasing the women from the NDAs they signed — and never provided a clear answer for how many women have signed them.

The full exchange is worth watching.

This back-and-forth, which drew an audible reaction from the audience, culminated in Warren emphasizing how the allegations facing Bloomberg posed an obstacle to his electability — and made it tough to draw a contrast between him and President Donald Trump, who’s been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 20 women.

A December ABC News report identified 17 women who had taken some legal action against Bloomberg’s company, and three of the cases the publication found cited him specifically as playing a role in the toxic workplace culture. It’s still unclear how many people have signed NDAs to keep their allegations confidential and Bloomberg has denied these allegations.

It’s worth noting that Warren’s point did not equate the potential allegations against Bloomberg with the allegations of assault raised against the president — though she did an effective job of underscoring how his track record could make it tough for him to take on Trump.

“We are not going to beat Donald Trump with a man who has who knows how many nondisclosure agreements and the drip, drip, drip of stories of women saying they have been harassed and discriminated against,” she said.

Bloomberg didn’t have much to say in return.

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