CNN Commentators Challenge Warren On Buttigieg's 'Purity Test' Charge

The senator and the mayor have traded blows over the role of high-dollar private fundraisers after Buttigieg attended a dinner with billionaires in a wine cave.

An increasingly contentious dispute between Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg regarding the role of high-dollar closed-door fundraisers in the 2020 presidential race came to a head in Thursday night’s Democratic debate, where Warren called out Buttigieg for holding a lavish private fundraiser in a Napa Valley wine cave.

“We made the decision many years ago that rich people in smoke-filled rooms would not pick the next president of United States,” Warren said. “Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”

Buttigieg responded by pointing out that Warren is more personally wealthy than he is, as was every other candidate onstage. Driving the point home, he added, “This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass.”

CNN commentators Van Jones and David Axelrod returned to that point in a post-debate interview, pressing Warren to respond more directly to Buttigieg’s attack:

“How do you respond, though, when Pete says, ‘You are a millionaire ― are you saying if I take money from you I’m corrupt?’” Jones asked. “I didn’t hear you respond to that.”

“I said I don’t sell access to my time,” Warren answered. “So whether you give me $5 or whatever is the maximum, I’m not spending my time doing call time, I’m not spending my time having private conversations, I’m not selling a photograph for $5,000 ...” 

“When he says ‘purity test,’ that resonates with me,” Jones interjected. “I do feel that there’s something beginning to happen in the party where you’ve got to be pure on every issue, you’ve got to be ‘above,’ and a lot of people start feeling left out and excluded by your kind of populism, which can sometimes sound elitist. Does that make sense to you?”

Warren responded by casting the idea of a purity test as itself out of touch:

“I don’t think the American people are looking for purity,” she said. “I think they’re looking for someone who’s trying. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m out there trying. I said I’m going to run a campaign from grassroots donations ...”

Axelrod interrupted, saying Warren “didn’t answer” the question. “For six years you did raise money that way,” he said. “Did you feel corrupted by the money you were raising?”

“I saw what it is that people expect in return,” Warren responded. “And I also understand that the American people who watch this government work better and better and better for giant corporations and for rich people want to hear someone who credibly can say, ‘I will take on the billionaires. I will fight to beat back the influence of money in Washington.’”