Likely soon to endorse, Sanders seeks more changes
ORLANDO, FLA. >> For Bernie Sanders, a campaign that began as a liberal crusade will probably end that way, with the Vermont senator still fighting for the issues that made up his "political revolution" even as his clout fades.
In the weeks since Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination, her irascible primary rival won a few policy concessions and influenced the party's platform. But he's also angered fellow lawmakers for not promptly endorsing his primary foe and has seen his influence wane as President Barack Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren stepped in to unify the party behind its presumptive nominee.
Sanders' fights are not fully finished — he is seeking more platform changes at a party meeting in Orlando that kicked off Friday — but he appears to be winding down this period of denouement, with his endorsement of Clinton now expected to come at a joint event next week.
The platform meeting began slowly in Orlando Friday afternoon. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who chaired the platform drafting committee and supports Clinton, addressed the group, saying: "We offered a party platform unlike any other. You don't have to mess with it by that much."
But Sanders' supporters made clear they wanted changes. Many were wearing stickers stressing that they want the platform to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Clinton has come out against but Obama supports. After the opening statements, the meeting paused for several hours, while private conversations continued behind the scenes.
Sanders has avoided endorsing Clinton for weeks as he focused much of his energy on shaping the Democratic platform to mirror his liberal campaign, citing his millions of supporters as motivation to keep pushing his agenda. But he says the party will ultimately unite.
Two Democrats with knowledge of Sanders' plans told The Associated Press that Sanders is closing in on offering his public endorsement of Clinton. The Democrats spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations they were not authorized to disclose. Clinton's campaign has announced a stop in New Hampshire on Tuesday but did not say that Sanders also would attend.
The Sanders and Clinton campaigns are still discussing policy areas where they can reach agreement, including ways to expand access to health care coverage. Clinton's campaign outlined plans earlier this week to expand college affordability and place a three-month moratorium on student loan payments, a proposal that was developed with the Sanders campaign.
For many Democrats, the endorsement is overdue. Sanders' reluctance to endorse Clinton drew catcalls from Democratic lawmakers during a private meeting this week. While he has hung back, other party leaders have coalesced around Clinton.
"He ran a remarkable campaign; he didn't win," said Bob Shrum, a longtime Democratic strategist and politics professor at the University of Southern California. "Hillary Clinton and her campaign have handled him very well. I think the time is coming to resolve this and to prepare for a convention where hopefully he will give a powerful speech."
Back in 2008, after a bruising primary race against then-Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton ended her presidential bid and endorsed him in a speech on June 7. The two then campaigned together in Unity, New Hampshire, three weeks later. Asked Wednesday why he was not doing the same, Sanders told CNN he was working to ensure "we have the strongest Democratic platform out there that represents working families, and we have made good progress on that."
The current draft of the platform shows Sanders' influence, as it endorses steps to break up large Wall Street banks, advocates a $15 hourly minimum wage and urges an end to the death penalty.
Still, Sanders is agitating for more at Democratic National Convention's full platform committee meeting in Orlando. He still wants the platform to register opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Clinton has come out against but Obama supports. Sanders also wants a carbon tax to address climate change and seeks a freeze on hydraulic fracking. And he wants the platform to call explicitly for a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage, indexed for inflation, instead of the more general words currently in place.
The platform is a nonbinding document that serves as a guidepost for the party. After the Orlando meeting, the document will be voted on at the convention in Philadelphia this month.
Sanders policy adviser Warren Gunnels expressed confidence that there is still "a great deal we can negotiate," especially on the trade deal. But Clinton supporters stress the broad influence Sanders has already had over the document.
Sanders could take these issue fights to the Democratic convention and his campaign is making sure it is ready to do so. His aides stress his millions of votes and his highly motivated delegates to the convention. Still, Clinton will have more delegates in attendance.
"He's earned the right to stay on the clock," said Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, a Sanders delegate who has endorsed Clinton since she became the presumptive nominee. Sanders' presence and voice, Grijalva said, will be important to unity.
Thomas reported from Washington.
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