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As Democratic convention nears, Sanders faces growing pressure to get behind Clinton’s presidential bid

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders is facing increasing pressure to step aside and endorse the party’s presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

When Bernie Sanders appeared last week before an audience of 100 or so Democratic House members, the closed-door reception in a basement hearing room on Capitol Hill was distinctly cool.

Lawmakers shouted, “Timeline! Timeline!” — pressing him to hurry up and endorse the party’s presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton — and there were boos when the Vermont senator said his goal was “not to win elections” but “to transform America.”

Increasingly, Democrats are feeling Berned out.

After pulling Clinton leftward in the fight for the party’s nomination and pushing their contest to the very last day of balloting — long after the contest was effectively decided — Sanders has been facing a growing chorus urging him to stand down, step aside and fall in line.

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“Every other progressive Democratic leader in the Democratic Party has gotten behind Hillary Clinton,” said Geoff Garin, who helped lead Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and cited her endorsement of Barack Obama, four days after their fiercely fought contest ended, as a model of political comportment. 

By contrast, he recalled 1980, when Ted Kennedy sulked over his primary season loss to President Carter and did little to hide his abiding contempt.

“That left the Democratic Party less united than it could and needed to be,” said Garin, who now conducts polling for a pro-Clinton political action committee.

The wait is expected to end on Tuesday. The Sanders and Clinton campaigns announced early Monday morning that both candidates would campaign together for the first time in New Hampshire, confirming expectations that an endorsement was around the corner. 

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Sanders had already said he would vote for her over Donald Trump and would do everything he can to defeat the GOP’s presumptive nominee.

“Am I fighting to make sure that a Democrat is elected president? You bet your bottom dollar,” he said Wednesday on CNN.

In fact, the same day as his less-than-wild Capitol Hill reception, Sanders praised Clinton for a plan she announced to make higher education more affordable, calling it “a result of the work of both campaigns.”

On Saturday, he embraced another new Clinton proposal, to double federal support for primary care at community health centers serving low-income patients.

But before Sanders offered a full-hearted, unqualified and unequivocal embrace of his erstwhile foe, there were a few last concessions he tried to pry loose.

  

Am I fighting to make sure that a Democrat is elected president? You bet your bottom dollar.
Bernie Sanders

His chief focus was the Democratic platform, an issue-by-issue statement of party principles, to be adopted when Democrats meet for their national nominating convention at the end of the month. Members of the platform committee put the final touches on the proposed platform early Sunday morning at a meeting in Orlando, Fla. That draft will be presented for approval on the convention floor.

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The Clinton campaign, through its proxies on the platform committee, already had moved a considerable distance in Sanders’ direction before the meeting started.

The document calls for abolishing the death penalty and expanding Social Security. Both were positions Sanders took during his campaign, in contrast to Clinton’s more moderate stance.

More changes were made this weekend after hours of closed-door negotiations, including support for a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage indexed to rise with inflation.

However, Sanders suffered a defeat Saturday when his campaign failed to persuade delegates to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal between the United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations.

Clinton, who supported the deal during negotiations as President Obama’s secretary of State and once called it the “gold standard” for international trade, reversed herself during the primary and announced her opposition.

But opposing the deal in the platform would have been a slap at Obama, and the vote was one of the most heated moments of the drafting session. Afterward, some Sanders supporters stormed out.

“You don’t care about the people. You only care about profit,” one of them shouted.

Since officially clinching the nomination in early June, Clinton has sought a balance between accommodating Sanders, the better to draw his left-leaning supporters to her candidacy, and avoiding any positions that could make it harder to attract more moderate voters in November.

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While aides privately express their annoyance at Sanders and his refusal to capitulate, Clinton has publicly maintained a respectful silence.

The closest she has come to a poke at her old rival was a statement Tuesday, during her first joint campaign appearance with Obama, when she noted once their primary fight ended, “I was proud to endorse him and campaign for him.”

Political clout is a perishable thing, though, and there are signs that Clinton no longer needs Sanders’ support as much as she once did.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a favorite of the left, has enthusiastically endorsed Clinton and appeared alongside her in the battleground state of Ohio, where she enunciated many of Sanders’ economic populist themes.

Even without his prompting, Sanders backers appear to be rallying behind the Democrats’ presumed nominee.

Clinton already has more support from Sanders backers than Obama did from Clinton voters in 2008, according to a recent Pew Research poll. Among Democrats and people who lean toward the party, 85% of those who supported Sanders in the primary said they planned to vote for Clinton.

Eight years ago, Obama had the support of 69% of Clinton backers at this point.

“With each passing day,” Garin said of a Sanders endorsement, “it gets a little bit more anti-climactic.”

It is, however, the last little bit of leverage he holds over Clinton, though Sanders — who never had an especially warm relationship with the former secretary of State — has sought to make one thing clear.

“No, I do not hate Secretary Clinton,” he said recently on MSNBC, responding after Trump made assertions to the contrary. “I’ve known her for 25 years. I have a lot of respect for her.”

Barabak reported from Washington and Megerian from Orlando. Los Angeles Times staff writers Kurtis Lee in Los Angeles and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

mark.barabak@latimes.com and chris.megerian@latimes.com

Twitter: @markzbarabak and @ChrisMegerian

ALSO:

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UPDATES:

July 11, 8:47 a.m.: This article was updated with the announcement that Sanders and Clinton will campaign together on Tuesday.

July 10, 4:15 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect Sanders’ expected endorsement of Clinton.

July 9, 2:14 p.m.: This article was updated with information from the Democratic platform committee meeting.

This article was originally published at 3 a.m. July 8.


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