Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday backed out of Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C. because Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard and former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen are also scheduled to speak, Fox News reported. Her team, however, said it was because of "scheduling conflicts."
The announcement comes after a heated back-and-forth between Clinton and Gabbard. During a podcast interview on Friday, Clinton said Gabbard was a "Russian asset" who is being groomed to launch a third party campaign as a means of disrupting the 2020 election.
When Gabbard received word of the interview, she took to Twitter to respond, saying Clinton is "the queen of warmongers" and the "embodiment of corruption." Gabbard also explained the former Secretary of State has it out for her because her foreign policy is the opposite of Clinton's.
A person close to Clinton told Slate the former Secretary of State decided to drop out after hearing Nielsen is also on the schedule.
"We work with a lot of activists who are trying to do their best to improve this horrible situation down at the border,” the person said, citing Clinton's support for asylum seekers. “At the end of the day, it’s an easy decision. You have to side with them.”
Clinton's team said they told Fortune she would be unable to attend earlier in the week but it wasn't until Friday that her name and photo were removed from the website.
The former Secretary of State wasn't the only one who took issue with Nielsen's appearance. More than 52,000 people signed a petition urging Fortune to pull Nielsen off the speaker schedule.
"A celebration of powerful women should not include a woman known as the architect of baby jails," the petition said. "But according to Fortune, Kirstjen Nielsen is a woman who should be celebrated and allowed to share the stage with leaders like Anita Hill and Hillary Clinton."
Event coordinators refused to pull Nielsen from the lineup.
“Fortune strongly believes that interviewing Nielsen—and other key figures from the private and public sector, however controversial—is important journalism and provides us an opportunity to ask substantive questions in front of our viewers and readers,” Fortune communications manager Alison Klooster said in a statement.
Clinton can try to hide behind distaste for Nielsen as her reason for backing out. Americans aren't stupid. They know the real reason she decided not to show her face: it's because she's receiving flak for calling Gabbard a Russian asset. She has people slamming her for the comments, including those on her own side, like CNN's Van Jones.
She can say she's hiding because of "scheduling conflicts" or her disagreements with Nielsen's immigration policy. We know the truth: she doesn't want to have to confront Gabbard in person... and she doesn't want to be asked about her statement. This is her way of sweeping things under the rug.