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Women's March on making Bernie opening speaker: “We all know how busy women leaders are”

Several prominent female Democratic Senators were invited to participate in the convention, but are not attending.

Senators Schumer, Sanders, Wyden, And Rep. Pelosi Discuss GOP Tax Reform Plan Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will deliver the opening-night speech for the first-ever convention of the Women’s March in Detroit in late October — and the announcement has set off yet another round of relitigating the Democratic presidential primary on Twitter.

The Women’s March, which attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters the weekend of Donald Trump’s inauguration, has come to symbolize the resistance to Trump’s administration — but many feel that the Women’s Convention, happening October 27 through 29, should kick off with, well, a woman.

Though Sanders will speak the first night, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) will deliver the convention’s keynote address. A spokesperson for Sanders said that the Vermont senator was invited by the Women’s March, and accepted the invitation to honor “the women at the front lines of our struggle for economic, social, racial and environmental justice.” And on Twitter, Tamika D. Mallory of the Women’s March noted that there are only two men speaking of 60 and that Waters, not Sanders, is the headliner:

Two prominent women in center-left political circles — MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid and the Center for American Progress’s Neera Tanden — were among those who criticized the Women’s March for choosing Sanders for the opening-night speech. Reid and Tanden, who both supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, said on Twitter that the organization should have chosen a woman instead. Hundreds more leveled similar critiques on social media.

In a statement to Vox, organizers with the Women’s March defended the decision to give Sanders the opening-night slot. They said that several prominent female Democrats — including Clinton, as well as Sens. Kamala Harris (CA), Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) — had been unable to attend. (Staffers for Harris and Warren confirmed they were invited to participate at the event.)

“We all know how busy women leaders are, and we are grateful for the support of women like Secretary Clinton along with Senators Harris, Warren and Gillibrand. Although their schedules did not allow them to join us in Detroit the weekend of October 27, they will be fighting for our shared values, as they do every day,” a statement from the group said. Harris will be in Rhode Island on Oct. 27 helping Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse raise money for his reelection bid, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Still, it wasn’t clear if the Women’s March had offered Warren, Harris, and Gillibrand the same slot given to Sanders. A statement from the Women’s March said they were invited to “participate.” Officials with the organization wouldn’t confirm if any of the Democratic women had been first invited as the opening-night speaker, as Sanders appears to have been.

In its statement, the Women’s March also emphasized that more than 60 women — including Waters, United We Dream’s Greisa Martinez, and Our Revolution’s Nina Turner — are going to speak prominently at the convention. “Our program features more than 60 women leading in activism, organizing and advocacy, as well as grassroots leaders running for and serving in office across the country,” the organization said. “We are excited to come together, to unite across our differences and to fight for the future we all believe in.”

And on Twitter, Mallory argued that criticisms of the group amounted to “erasing” the work of the women of color who had organized the event: