Time's Running Out for Bernie Sanders to Make a Deal, Observers Say | NBC Bay Area
Decision 2016

Decision 2016

Full coverage of the race for the White House

Time's Running Out for Bernie Sanders to Make a Deal, Observers Say

With the country now focused on the race between Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, how much bargaining power does Sanders still have?

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont., accompanied by his wife Jane Sanders, speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 9, 2016, following a meeting with President Barack Obama.

    The last Democratic primary is done, President Obama, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Oprah have all endorsed Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Bernie Sanders is increasingly out of the limelight.

    With the country now focused on the race between Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, how much bargaining power does Sanders still have? Can the Democratic socialist from Vermont push the Democratic party any further toward the left?

    "People are paying less attention to him with each passing day," said Seth Masket, an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver. "Without contests, without media attention, he doesn't have anything. He has every incentive to try and make some sort of deal pretty quickly."

    Sanders still has not ended his campaign two weeks after Clinton became the Democrats' presumptive nominee, the first woman to do so for either major party. But in a C-SPAN interview on Wednesday, Sanders conceded, "It doesn't appear that I'm going to be the nominee."

    He will address his supporters about what comes next for his campaign in a speech in New York on Thursday called "Where We Go From Here."

    "Real change never takes place from the top on down or in the living rooms of wealthy campaign contributors," he said last week when he talked about continuing to press for economic and social justice. "It always occurs from the bottom on up when tens of millions of people say loudly and clearly, 'Enough is enough,' and they become engaged it the fight for justice."

    Leah Wright Rigueur, an assistant professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, said it continued to be important for Democrats to get the support of Sanders and his backers. He will campaign energetically against Trump, she said.

    Clinton met with Sanders last week and in an interview with USA Today the former secretary of state appeared to acknowledge Sanders' success in the primaries when talking about "progressive" Democrats being vetted as vice presidential candidates. Sanders said on C-SPAN that it would be a terrible mistake for Clinton to pick someone with roots in Wall Street.  

    The Vermont senator could force fights at the convention over positions where he differs with Clinton -- over the U.S. relationship with Israel, whose prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, he has criticized, and the Glass-Steagall Act's banking regulations, which he would reinstate. He has called for imposing a ban on fracking and for federally administered single-payer health care, neither of which Clinton supports. He would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour -- Clinton has said she backs $12 an hour though would encourage some states and cities to go higher. And Sanders opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal Clinton championed while it was being negotiated but now is against.

    Sanders has already won an unprecedented say over the party's platform. He was awarded almost as many members on the committee writing the platform as Clinton, five to her six of the 15, and among his picks are James Zogby, an advocate for a more even-handed approach to Palestinian rights, and Cornell West, who challenged former Attorney General Eric Holder on why no banks were held accountable for the economic collapse in 2008.

    "His delegates to the platform committee are going to put forward a radical vision of what they imagine the Democratic Party to be," Rigueur said. "And so what happens after that is the hammering out of the platform."

    But presidents are not bound by a party's platform and most voters know little about them, said Keena Lipsitz, an associate professor at Queens College in New York City. Activists use them when they try to win over lawmakers and they can show how a party has evolved over time, but ordinary people care little about what's in them.

    "They don’t really matter," she said.

    John Hudak, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said that although Sanders' performance in the primaries gave him some power to seek changes, he needed to be careful not to overplay his hand.

    "He is not going to get everything he wants because at the end of the day he did not win the nomination," Hudak said. "The longer that he holds out on endorsement and a sign of party unity, the less eager Democrats will be to meet whatever demands he has."

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday that she hoped Sanders would endorse Clinton before the convention. Sanders knows what is at stake in November, she said. "Two words: 'Donald Trump.'"

    Sanders persists in calling for a fundamental transformation of the Democratic Party. He wants a change in its leadership, primaries open not just to registered Democrats, same-day registration and the elimination of super delegates, the party officials and leaders who are free to vote for any candidate at the national convention at the end of July in Philadelphia.

    Sanders wants the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to be replaced. In the USA Today interview, Clinton noted that she did not choose Wasserman Schultz but also praised the congresswoman's commitment to defeating Trump. 

    Masket said that he thought that the party would resist open primaries, which could enable voters other than Democrats to pick the nominee. Sanders might win a commitment for a task force to study the nominating process, maybe with Sanders as the chairman, he said.

    The national party has traditionally given state parties latitude about how to conduct their primaries.

    "It's not as if — and it's important for Sanders supporters to understand this —the DNC can wave a magic wand and change every nominating contest in the United States overnight," Hudak said.

    That said the Democratic Party could prompt nationwide changes if it wanted to, Masket said. The national committee protects Iowa's and New Hampshire's first in the nation voting status, for example.

    Eliminating super delegates could also be a sticking point, especially considering Trump's success in the Republican primaries. The Republican Party does not have super delegates.

    "It's sort of a tough sell for Sanders because in one sense there's a lot of skepticism of super delegates in the Democratic Party but if you look at what Republicans are doing this year, I imagine they wish to God that they had super delegates," Hudak said. "So I think the irony might be that if anything undermines Sanders desire to get rid of Democratic super delegates, it's the Republican nominee who is standing in the way."

    The Vermont senator should focus on building his movement, supporting candidates who share his views, finding a position that would allow him to further his goals, Lipsitz said. Were Democrats to regain control of the Senate, she could imagine him head of its budget committee.

    "Ultimately what matters is what Bernie Sanders does with all the excitement he's created and all these people who are following him," she said. "He needs to somehow turn that into something that’s more long term."

    Only about half of his supporters plan to vote for Clinton in the national election, according to a Bloomberg poll of likely voters conducted earlier this month. Some of his supporters plan to demonstrate in his favor at the convention in Philadelphia from July 25 to 28. A group called Occupy DNC Convention, whose goal is to swing super delegates in Sanders' favor, has more than 28,000 members on Facebook.

    And more than a dozen former staff members from his campaign already have joined NextGen Climate, the group founded by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer to build political power to fight climate change.

    The question now for Sanders is whether he becomes an integral part of the Democrats' strategy, Rigueur said.

    "Given how exciting this primary season has been, I don't think Bernie Sanders is going to walk off into the sunset and disappear," she said.