The hosts of "Morning Joe" issued stinging criticism Wednesday of the CNN Democratic debate in Iowa, calling it "painful" that the candidates were "bickering" about a two-year-old conversation in which Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., alleges that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told her a female candidate cannot defeat President Trump in 2020.
Despite Sanders' repeated denials, co-host Mika Brzezinski said CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip's questions on the issue were confusing to watch.
“He says he didn’t say it. So you turn to Elizabeth Warren and say, 'Did he say it?' That’s the issue. I mean, it’s bizarre," Brzezinski said.
"What the heck happened there? Are they listening? Because you gotta listen when you do a debate and then take the question to the next candidate," Brzezinski added, as panelists Donny Deutsch and Karine Jean-Pierre agreed it was a "miss."
Brzezinski said Democrats on the stage should have been proving they can take on Trump in November but instead were "bickering about a conversation that happened at a private event" two years ago.
"It's also painful to watch these candidates argue about this," she said.
"The Democratic base doesn't want to see this; they want to know how you're going to beat Donald Trump. That's what they want to see," said Jean-Pierre, as co-host Joe Scarborough called it "small-ball" for Democrats and said, "Nobody looked good on the debate stage."
"America's standing in the world is at risk. Our government and everything that we have believed that it was striving to be is at risk, and Dems are debating what someone may have said on the telephone two years ago," he added.
Meanwhile, CNN was accused of "media malpractice" over its handling of the disputed claim from Warren Tuesday night.
The liberal news network broke the story on Monday. The network cited unnamed sources close to Warren who claimed that the Vermont senator told her that he didn't believe she could win a presidential election because she's a woman. Sanders denied the claim, but Warren affirmed the report.
Sanders was asked about the dustup by Phillip.
"CNN reported yesterday that -- and Senator Warren confirmed in a statement -- that in 2018 you told her that you did not believe that a woman can win the election. Why did you say that?" Phillip asked.
"Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't say it," Sanders sharply replied. "Anybody who knows me knows that it's incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States. Go to YouTube today. There's some video of me 30 years ago talking about how a woman could become president of the United States."
"Sen. Warren, what did you think when Sen. Sanders told you a woman could not win an election?" Phillip then asked the progressive rival, which sparked audible laughs in the auditorium and a shake of the head from Sanders.
Warren and Sanders had a testy moment after the debate, when she refused to shake his hand.
Fox News' Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.