Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is heading to Washington Thursday for back-to-back meetings with President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. A Senate aide familiar with the planning of the latter meeting said the expectation is that Sanders will push for leadership changes at the Democratic National Committee when the pair sit down. This could include a call for the removal of the party’s chairwoman, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Sanders’ planned meetings come as he is facing mounting pressure to end his presidential campaign. His rival in the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton, secured enough delegates to become the party’s presumptive nominee on Monday. In spite of Clinton’s victories in Tuesday’s primary contests, Sanders indicated he plans to stay in the race and contest the Democratic convention next month.
The Senate aide noted that Fox News’ Chad Pergram reported that Sanders could ask for the removal of Wasserman Schultz in his meetings with both Obama and Reid. In a series of tweets, Pergram said “some Dem sources believe the key to getting unity” with Sanders after a tough primary campaign is “booting Wasserman Schultz.” Sanders’ campaign has also called for the removal of the co-chairs of the DNC’s standing committee on rules, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy and former Rep. Barney Frank. The Senate aide expected that Sanders will present Reid with plans that would help him join a post-primary effort to unify the party.
“We’ve been in listening mode for the most part. He’s going to be hearing what Bernie’s ideas are for bringing the party together and hoping he comes with some ideas,” the aide said of Reid. “And hopefully there are some good ones they can work on together.”
If Sanders does indeed call for removing Wasserman Schultz or other DNC leaders, the aide said Reid would be “open to hearing him out.”
Sanders’ campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Yahoo News about plans for the meetings.
Throughout the primary campaign, Sanders and his team have criticized the DNC as biased in favor of Clinton. Among other things, the Sanders campaign took issue with debate scheduling, the party’s handling of a data breach allegedly perpetrated by Sanders staff, and criticisms of the Sanders campaign that were made by DNC leaders. Tensions reached a boiling point last month when Sanders endorsed Wasserman Schultz’s primary opponent in Florida.
Last month, The Hill reported that some congressional Democrats had discussed whether Wasserman Schultz should step down because her strained relationship with the Sanders campaign could prove an obstacle to an upcoming party unity push. The Hill quoted an unnamed lawmaker who said senators were holding meetings about Wasserman Schultz’s future.
“I don’t see how she can continue to the election. How can she open the convention? Sanders supporters would go nuts,” the lawmaker told The Hill.
Yahoo News asked the DNC about a potential Sanders push for a leadership shakeup. DNC communications director Luis Miranda did not directly address the issue, but he touted Wasserman Schultz’s accomplishments and said the DNC is dedicated to bringing the party together for the race against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and other down-ballot elections.
“The chair and the DNC are going to continue to focus on uniting Democrats and on being an asset to help elect them up and down the ballot in November, just as we’ve done for many in both chambers,” Miranda said, adding, “Having successfully paid off $24 million in debt from winning the 2012 elections, the DNC has been able to reinvest in strengthening our state parties, and in building the infrastructure and coordinated campaigns that are vital to keeping Donald Trump out of the White House, and that’s where we’re going to keep our focus.”
Wasserman Schultz has repeatedly said she plans to remain in her position until after the next president is inaugurated in January 2017.
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest discussed Sanders’ meeting with Obama, which was requested by Sanders. According to a press pool report, Earnest said Obama plans to praise Sanders for his campaign.
“I think the president certainly wants to congratulate Sen. Sanders on a remarkably successful campaign,” Earnest said. “I think the president will also convey his appreciation for the kind of agenda that Sen. Sanders has run.”
The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comments from Yahoo News about a potential push for a DNC shakeup by Sanders. However, both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have previously expressed support for Wasserman Schultz. In response to The Hill’s article on Wasserman Schultz last month, a Biden aide said “he supports her and her leadership of the committee.” And earlier this month, Obama praised Wasserman Schultz at a DNC event in her home state of Florida.