WASHINGTON – With the last primary done, Bernie Sanders is negotiating an end to his fight with Hillary Clinton and staking a claim on directing the future of the Democratic Party.
After polls closed for the Democratic contest in Washington, D.C., Sanders had a private meeting with Clinton, having hours earlier rebuffed pressure from Senate colleagues and party leaders to end his campaign. Instead, he set out terms for an eventual concession and for unifying his most fervent supporters behind the presumptive nominee.
But the Vermont senator’s insistence on remaining a candidate through the party convention in late July no longer seems to threaten party unity as Democrats once fretted it would.
In public and private remarks and in an email to supporters, Sanders indicated he’s staying in to shape the party’s governing agenda and nominating process, not erode Clinton’s standing, and that he’s committed to defeating Republican Donald Trump in November. Clinton already has fully engaged in the general election campaign against Trump, which has been re-framed by the mass shooting at an Orlando, Fla., gay club on Sunday by an American man claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group.
There was little at stake in the District of Columbia’s primary, which Clinton won by a comfortable margin. With 59 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton had 79 percent of the district’s vote to Sanders’ 21 percent, according to The Associated Press. Rather than campaigning, Sanders spent the day checking in with the one constituency that will have the greatest influence on his standing now that the race is over – his peers in the Democratic Party.
Sanders drew a standing ovation when he went into a lunch meeting with fellow Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon. Some of those who have wanted him to withdraw said they have made their peace with his decision to stay in. Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey said Sanders ultimately “can, I think, and will, play a constructive role in making sure Secretary Clinton wins.”
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said Sanders “really challenged us” as Democrats to be more responsive to issues of income inequality, the power of banks, big money in politics“ and other aspects of his platform. ”He said he’s going to take his message to the convention, for progressive values and party reform. I’m open to that. I think we all should be open to that.“
Sanders skipped an evening visit to the White House for the annual congressional picnic hosted by President Barack Obama, who last week endorsed Clinton.
And after polls closed for the Democratic primary in Washington, Sanders headed to a nearby hotel for a closed-door meeting with Clinton. These steps are allowing him to set out his terms for an eventual concession and for unifying his most fervent supporters behind the presumptive nominee.
“In 1984 neither Gary Hart nor Jesse Jackson dropped out and released their delegates until the convention,” Democratic strategist Anita Dunn said in an interview on Tuesday. “But both of them stopped actively campaigning against Walter Mondale. Which, by the way, Sanders stopped doing a week ago after California.”
What Sanders is doing now is “publicly to begin a conversation that will end with a party that has been unified around issues and principles,” Dunn said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. It generally takes some time.”
Dunn also said there’s little downside for Clinton so long as Sanders uses these final weeks as a candidate to build a path that takes his supporters to her side in the end. “I think his supporters would like the opportunity to go to the convention, together, as Sanders delegates,” Dunn said.
The president of the Communications Workers of America, one of the largest labor unions that backed Sanders, said Tuesday that Clinton, not Sanders, will be the nominee and that the time had come for the union to rally around her. In remarks to members and in an interview with the Huffington Post, Chris Shelton said Clinton isn’t as populist as the union might want but is thoughtful and experienced. He said that a choice between her and Trump is “a no-brainer” and that Clinton is now “the only course.”
In the six weeks remaining until the Democratic convention, Sanders said he intends to keep promoting the tenets of his platform. Sanders also made clear he’s running less a campaign for the Democratic nomination than an effort to overhaul the Democratic National Committee leadership and its rules, which he’s repeatedly said have favored Clinton.
“The time is long overdue for a fundamental transformation of the Democratic Party,” Sanders said at a news conference in Washington. That includes replacing the Democratic National Committee leadership, requiring all primaries to be open to independents and Republicans and doing away with the superdelegates that were a crucial base of support for Clinton.
Sanders refused to say what he expected to get, or give, out of the meeting. Asked whether Clinton still needs to win his vote, Sanders replied: “If I want you to vote for me I’m going to have to make the case to you that I am the best choice for you and your family. That’s called democracy.” He added that he was looking forward to the meeting “very, very much.”
His demand for replacement of the DNC leadership is likely to be unmet. Sanders has been feuding with Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the DNC, for much of the campaign over rules and schedules that he says have put him at a disadvantage. Obama, who nominated Wasserman Schultz to the post, gave her a ringing endorsement in March and she’s been a loyal Clinton ally.
In an interview Tuesday with Telemundo before their meeting, Clinton said she and Sanders have common goals on numerous issues, including dealing with income inequality and making college more affordable.
“I very much am looking forward to having his support in this campaign because Donald Trump poses a serious threat to our nation,” she said
Sanders hasn’t yet worked out the details of what he’ll be doing before the convention, his spokesman, Michael Briggs, said. Sanders announced in an email to supporters Tuesday that he will detail his plans on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. New York time in a live online video.
Sanders won’t drop out “today, tomorrow, or the next day,” Briggs said Tuesday.
“We’re meeting with Secretary Clinton this evening and we’ll see how that goes and where things stand after that and make some decision about the future based on more intelligence about where we’re going,” Briggs said.
Sanders’s senior adviser, Tad Devine, said last week in an interview that the senator hoped to use the meeting to talk with Clinton about the governing agenda of the next administration and changes to how the party chooses its nominees that would give independent voters more say. “We need a party that’s more democratic, that is more inclusive, that brings more people into the process the way he did through the course of his campaign,” Devine said.
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