Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, met behind closed doors for more than 90 minutes Tuesday night with her primary rival Bernie Sanders, who signaled earlier in the day that he was not ready to endorse her.
The meeting – which both campaigns characterized as “positive” in statements issued afterward – came on the heels of the final Democratic primary in the District of Columbia. Clinton easily defeated Sanders. With all precincts reporting, she led the senator from Vermont by more than 3½ to 1.
Clinton’s campaign said the meeting with Sanders focused on “a variety of progressive issues where they share common goals” and said the two “agreed to continue working on their shared agenda.”
Shortly before 10:30 p.m., both Clinton and Sanders left the meeting at the Capital Hilton, not far from the White House, without speaking to reporters.
The meeting took place just a few hours after a news conference in Washington at which Sanders declined to endorse Clinton and said that he would continue to push for a “fundamental transformation” of the Democratic Party up until its convention next month in Philadelphia.
“The American people are hurting, and they are hurting badly,” Sanders said outside his Washington campaign office near Capitol Hill. “They want real change, not the same old, same old.”
In his news conference, Sanders ticked off several policy priorities and political changes he would like to see, including new leadership at the Democratic National Committee, which he said has not focused enough on bringing new voters into the party.
Both campaigns indicated that several of the policy issues important to Sanders came up in Tuesday night’s meeting.
Though Sanders has not officially bowed out of the race, his focus in recent days has shifted from pursuing a long-shot strategy to wrest the nomination from Clinton to finding ways to advance the agenda he has championed.
Sanders has made clear that he wants to leverage his unexpectedly strong showing in the primaries to advance his priorities in the Democratic platform and in the party’s future legislative agenda. Sanders has staked out positions to the left of Clinton on a series of issues, including his stances on providing universal health care, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and offering tuition-free college.
At his news conference, Sanders called for “the most progressive platform ever passed by the Democratic Party.”
“We’re going to be bringing somewhere between 1,900 and 2,000 delegates to Philadelphia, and let me tell you what they want,” Sanders said. “They want to see the Democratic Party transformed. They want to see the Democratic Party stand up to the wealthy and powerful, and stand up for people who are hurting.”
His campaign also announced that he will host a live nationwide video address Thursday to talk about how his “political revolution continues” – presumably after he is no longer a candidate.
“When we started this campaign, I told you that I was running not to oppose any man or woman, but to propose new and far-reaching policies to deal with the crises of our time,” Sanders said in an email Tuesday.
This weekend, more than 2,500 progressive activists, many of whom supported Sanders’s campaign, are planning to convene in Chicago to talk about many of the same issues Sanders championed.
Absent from his rhetoric of late is a vow to stay in the race to make a last-ditch attempt to win the nomination by flipping the allegiances of hundreds of superdelegates who have announced their support for Clinton. Sanders has said little about that strategy in recent days, and there has been no evidence that he is actively pursuing it.
Clinton, a former secretary of state, had beenexpected to prevail in the Democratic primary in the District, where 20 delegates are at stake – not enough to have any significant effect on the overall race.
At his news conference, Sanders reiterated his call for DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Florida) to be replaced by someone who could reform the party on his terms, with more outreach to young voters and independents, and less of a focus on fundraising.
“I know political parties need money, but it is more important that we have energy,” he said.
During an interview on MSNBC Tuesday afternoon, Wasserman Schultz said she does not think her job is at risk and has no plans of stepping down before the November election. She said she is “singularly focused” on building the Democratic Party.
Asked if his refusal to concede the race to Clinton was helping Trump, Sanders laughed.
“Let me make it very clear if I haven’t done so 10,000 times previously,” Sanders said. “I think Donald Trump is totally unfit to be president of the United States.”
Also Tuesday, Sanders addressed a lunch meeting of the Senate Democratic caucus and planned to attend a picnic hosted by President Obama at the White House for members of Congress. He was scheduled to return to his home in Burlington, Vt., later in the evening.
Several of Sanders’s Democratic Senate colleagues indicated Tuesday that they are comfortable giving him the time he needs to wind down his campaign before coming fully on board with Clinton. In his first visit to the weekly luncheon since spring, he got three standing ovations.
“I have total confidence that Bernie’s going to be on board, doing the right thing, saying the right thing, putting all of himself into this campaign,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “Of course, everybody wants him to do it sooner, rather than later, but the timetable’s up to him. I’m giving no advice, nor judging him, for how he decides.”
But Sanders’s refusal to fold before the convention frustrated some of his peers, who noted his status as the longest-serving independent in Congress.
“Bernie’s not a Democrat! Can people not get that through their heads?” asked Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-West Virginia, an early Clinton supporter. “I think his mission right now is whatever he can to move the platform further left, from his socialistic ideas. I like Bernie. He identifies the problems, but his solutions don’t work.”
Clinton’s meeting with Sanders comes as her pivot to the general election has been complicated by the massacre in Orlando. On Monday, she changed the focus of a campaign stop in Cleveland from the economy to national-security issues and terrorism after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub.
As part of a pared-back schedule, she campaigned in Pittsburgh on Tuesday before traveling to Washington for a fundraising event and the meeting with Sanders.
As of Tuesday morning, Clinton had accumulated 2,784 delegates, including superdelegates, exceeding the number needed to clinch the nomination by more than 400, according to the latest Associated Press tally, which put Sanders’s total at 1,877.
To have a shot at wresting the nomination from Clinton, Sanders would need to flip the allegiances of at least 400 of the 581 superdelegates who have announced their support for Clinton – about 70 percent of them.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · John Wagner, David Weigel, Abby Phillip – Photo: The Washington Post