Hillary Clinton's top aide says gender bias has improved slightly since 2016

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Hillary Clinton’s top campaign adviser said on Wednesday that she believes women continue to face double standards and gender bias when running for public office, but that things have gotten better since the candidate’s 2016 run.

Jennifer Palmieri, who served on the 2016 Clinton campaign and as communications chief to President Barack Obama, said the political environment is quicker to point out instances of gender bias than before. Whereas attack ads and coverage of Clinton frequently focused on her likability, those kinds of narratives on women candidates in 2020 have faced far more public scrutiny this election cycle, she said.

“The environment is slightly better than it was in 2016. [Clinton] was often subjected to attacks, political attacks and coverage that was rooted in gender bias, sometimes it was out and out sexism and misogyny,” Palmier told POLITICO’s Anna Palmer during a virtual Women Rule roundtable. “The political ecosystem didn’t recognize it was such. … We just thought there was something wrong with her.”

That doesn’t mean sexism in the political sphere is gone, however, and Palmieri points out that Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris still faces many of the same gender biases as past women candidates. But Palmieri said Harris’ history in public life and past attention on her identity has prepared her to overcome the double standards she faces. Harris is the first Black and Asian American woman to be nominated on a major party ticket.

“Kamala Harris has her whole life had to be very clear about who she is, a woman of color, a woman of mixed race, she’s had to really define herself, and that is why I think it is hard for people to throw her off her game in a way that other women candidates sometimes get pigeonholed,” Palmieri said.

“So she has the benefit of operating in a system that is a little more aware.” Palmieri continued. “It’s not that she isn’t subjected to the same kind of biases. Some portions just understand it now. But also, she’s just very skilled at defining herself and not letting herself get pigeonholed because she’s had to do it her whole life.”

The Women Rule conversation took place only hours before Harris and Vice President Mike Pence were set to take the stage for the vice presidential debate. The face-off comes on the heels of a spike in coronavirus cases within the White House, impacting more than 30 people within President Donald Trump’s circle, including the president himself.

Palmieri said she feels sympathy for the president and hopes for his recovery, but urged Harris to hold the administration accountable for its handling of the pandemic. More than 200,000 Americans have died from the disease and more than 7 million have tested positive.

“It’s not as if Donald Trump had a heart attack or came down with pneumonia for example,” she said, a subtle nod to the frenzy over Clinton’s case of pneumonia in 2016. “This is not an individual case. The pandemic affects every single American.”

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