Bernie Sanders began to shift Tuesday from a campaign for votes to a bid to maintain influence in national politics, calling for “a fundamental transformation of the Democratic Party” as he sought to set the terms for his formal exit from the presidential race.
On the day he lost the last nominating contest of the season, the District of Columbia primary, to Hillary Clinton, Sanders was clearly a man in transition. He made his first appearance in months at the Senate Democrats’ weekly policy luncheon and even joined his colleagues in the formal “class photo” in the Senate chamber.
In the evening, he met with Clinton, the party’s presumptive nominee, at a Washington hotel for more than 90 minutes.
And he announced plans for a Thursday online video address to his supporters, saying in an email message that while the voting may be over, “our political revolution continues.”
In a brief news conference at his campaign’s Washington headquarters, Sanders did not address his political future or offer an endorsement of Clinton. Instead, he offered what was essentially his list of demands to a party that he has belonged to for less than a year: new leadership at the Democratic National Committee, a progressive party platform, and changes to the Democratic nominating contest that would include opening up all primaries to independent voters, same-day voter registration and an end to the “superdelegate” system.
It isn’t clear to what extent the Clinton campaign is willing to accommodate Sanders’ wish-list. Some of the electoral reforms he proposed are subject to state law, not party policy.
“We share a lot of the same goals,” Clinton said in an interview with Telemundo when asked about Sanders’ role going forward. “I very much am looking forward to having his support in this campaign because Donald Trump poses a serious threat to our nation.”
Sanders, while stopping short of stating publicly that his candidacy is over, held out his base of support as leverage.
Sanders has not been an active candidate in the week since Clinton scored a decisive victory in California’s primary and secured a majority of pledged delegates. He has held only one major rally in the District of Columbia, on a day on which President Obama formally endorsed Clinton as his preferred Democratic successor.
Last weekend Sanders met privately with his core supporters in his home state of Vermont, as his senior campaign officials continued to communicate with their Clinton counterparts ahead of their face-to-face meeting.
And even as he has remained circumspect about the Democratic Party’s leadership – he has not only called for a new chairman, but expressed support for the primary election opponent of the current chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida – he has avoided attacking Clinton personally while vowing to defeat her likely opponent in the general election.
“Let me make it very clear, if I haven’t 10,000 times previously: I think Donald Trump is totally unfit to be president of the United States,” he said.
“I believe we all have to come together … and support our nominee,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the lone Senate Democrat to have endorsed Sanders, who now backs Clinton. “This is the last day of voting, and [she has] the votes that [she] needs. But the issue of putting America on track hasn’t come to an end.”
Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) said that Sanders will continue to play a major role in shaping policy in the Senate.
“He serves on five committees; he’s chaired two of them. So it’s not as if he’s a backbencher,” he said. “He’s had pretty good opportunities to lead, and my guess is if he wants them, he’ll have plenty more.”
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7:45 p.m.: This article was updated with information about the Clinton-Sanders meeting and comment from Clinton.
7:11 p.m.: This article was updated with the results of the District of Columbia primary.
This article was originally published at 3:02 p.m.