Tom Steyer gets his big moment by awkwardly interrupting Bernie Sanders' and Elizabeth Warren's post-debate exchange

  • Presidential candidate Tom Steyer found himself in the middle of what appeared to be a tense exchange between Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders after Tuesday's night's debate in Iowa. 
  • Video footage appeared to show Warren rejecting a handshake from Sanders and engaging him in a serious conversation, while Steyer got in the middle and attempted to shake Sanders' hand.
  • "It was one of those awkward moments where I felt like, OK, I need to move on as fast as possible," Steyer told CNN.
  • While Sanders and Warren, the two progressive standard-bearers of the race, have refrained from attacking each other so far, their non-aggression pact is breaking down as the Iowa caucuses loom

Presidential candidate Tom Steyer found himself in the middle of what appeared to be a tense exchange between Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders after Tuesday's night's debate in Iowa. 

After the debate, video footage appeared to show Warren rejecting a handshake from Sanders and engaging him in a serious conversation, while Steyer got in the middle and attempted to shake Sanders' hand. 

It was unclear what exactly they were discussing, but the moment came after several days of tensions between the two camps that spilled out onto the debate stage. Both candidates were asked about Warren's claim that Sanders told her in a private December 2018 meeting that he didn't believe a woman could win the presidency. 

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Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa
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Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa
(L-R) Democratic presidential hopefuls billionaire-philanthropist Tom Steyer, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar participate in the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (L) and former Vice President Joe Biden participate of the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls former Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders participate of the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren participates of the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (L), former Vice President Joe Biden (C) and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders participate of the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (L) chats with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (L) alongside billionaire-philanthropist Tom Steyer (C) during a break of the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (L), former Vice President Joe Biden (C) and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders participate of the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar speaks during the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful billionaire-philanthropist Tom Steyer speaks during the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren participates of the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Former Vice President Joe Biden interact after the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speak as Tom Steyer looks on after the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful former Vice President Joe Biden participates of the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Staff members await the candidates in the spin room at the end of the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg prepares for television interview in the spin room after the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) delivers his closing statement during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren participates of the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (R) listen during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
(L-R) Democratic presidential hopefuls billionaire-philanthropist Tom Steyer, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar speak during the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
(L-R) Democratic presidential hopefuls Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar participate in the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar speaks with a journalist in the spin room after the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by kerem yucel / AFP) (Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (R) listens as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) makes a point during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Actress Mandy Moore attends the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders particiapate of the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Professor Cornel West listens to the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) prepares for television interview in spin room after the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Members of the media work in the spin room during the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by kerem yucel / AFP) (Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)
Members of the media work in the spin room during the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by kerem yucel / AFP) (Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tom Steyer speak during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
(L-R) Democratic presidential hopefuls billionaire-philanthropist Tom Steyer, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar speak during the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful billionaire and philanthropist Tom Steyer speaks with the media at the spin room following the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Kerem Yucel / AFP) (Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Tom Steyer (L), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (R) listen as former Vice President Joe Biden (C) speaks during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (R) and former Vice President Joe Biden (L) listen as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) makes a point during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar speaks during the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls billionaire-philanthropist Tom Steyer and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren speak during a break in the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful billionaire and philanthropist Tom Steyer speaks with the media at the spin room following the seventh Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Kerem Yucel / AFP) (Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) makes a point as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg reacts during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Members of the media watch the CNN Democratic Presidential Debate on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 14: Members of the media watch the CNN Democratic Presidential Debate on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Candidates will have their chance to make an impression on Iowa voters before the caucus on February 3rd. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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After the debate, Steyer told SMNBC's Chris Matthews, "I don't know what they were saying, all I was trying to say is, 'Senator Warren, Senator Sanders, it's been great to see you, thank you for participating in this. And whatever there was going on between each other, I was trying to get out of the way as fast as possible." 

He later described the handshake attempt as an "awkward moment" to CNN.

While Sanders and Warren, the two progressive standard-bearers of the race, have refrained from attacking each other so far, their non-aggression pact is breaking down as the Iowa caucuses loom. 

Over the weekend, Warren said she was "disappointed" in a Politico report detailing a Sanders volunteer script — which his campaign tried to distance itself from — emphasizing how Warren enjoys greater support among "affluent" and "highly educated voters" and claiming she isn't capable of bringing new voters into the party.

On Monday,  CNN reported that Sanders told Warren in their 2018 meeting that he didn't believe a woman could win the presidency, which Sanders vehemently denied. CNN's reporting was later confirmed by The New York Times and BuzzFeed News, with the Warren campaign initially declining to comment on all three outlets' stories. 

But after mounting pressure for her personally to speak out, Warren released a statement confirming the reports on Monday night. She said that in the 2018 meeting when they were discussing what would happen if the Democrats choose a female nominee, "I thought a woman could win, he disagreed."

When CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip brought up Warren's statement, Sanders continued to deny ever having said he didn't think a woman could win. 

Warren then had one of the biggest applause lines of the night when she said, "Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they've been in are the women: Amy [Klonbuchar] and me.:" 

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