Hillary Clinton and her top advisers met with Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane Sanders, on Tuesday evening shortly after Clinton was projected the landslide winner of the final Democratic primary in Washington, D.C.
The meeting at a D.C. hotel lasted nearly two hours and marked the first time the candidates have met face to face in months. Neither candidate spoke to the press after their conclave ended, but the pair had agreed to discuss the end of the Democratic race and Sanders’ desire to change the Democratic Party.
The Clinton and Sanders campaigns released nearly identical, carefully worded statements after the meeting, saying both candidates had congratulated each other on their campaigns and had a “positive” discussion. Both camps said they talked about the “dangerous threat Donald Trump poses to the nation.” The Clinton camp said the pair discussed “uniting the party,” while Sanders’ statement omitted that phrasing. The candidates agreed to work to develop a “progressive agenda” for the party platform in July, Sanders’ statement said, while the Clinton campaign called it their “shared agenda.”
Sanders has at times vowed to “fight” all the way to the Democratic convention in July, but Clinton has said she expects that they will go into the convention united.
Clinton became the presumptive Democratic nominee early last week, but Sanders has not yet endorsed her or conceded his own bid. The Vermont senator faces mounting pressure to step down and throw his support behind her. (In 2008, Clinton had already conceded at this point in the race to now-President Barack Obama.)
Sanders is clearly already starting down that road. Sanders’ campaign announced to supporters Tuesday that he will make an important video announcement Thursday night from his hometown of Burlington. The senator has also stopped saying he wants to convince superdelegates to flip from supporting Clinton to supporting him. And he declined to hold a rally Tuesday night, even though he has held them on other election nights.
But the candidate is still not going down without a fight. In a feisty news conference earlier Tuesday, Sanders reiterated that he wants to fundamentally transform the Democratic Party, and called for a replacement of the Democratic National Committee’s “leadership,” presumably meaning chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. (He has already endorsed the congresswoman’s primary opponent in Florida.)
“I do believe that we have to replace the current Democratic National Committee leadership,” Sanders said. He also called for “the most progressive platform” ever at the convention in July.
Sanders has vowed to take his progressive ideals to the convention, but it’s unclear how many of his goals — which include changing the Democratic nomination process by eliminating superdelegates and allowing independents to vote in Democratic primaries in every state — he can achieve.
“He has every right to express his opinion — he got a lot of votes!” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Clinton supporter and a former chair of the DNC. “That doesn’t mean he has to get his way there.” Sanders has some leverage in making his demands. Clinton will count on Sanders to rally his supporters — especially younger voters, who she has had trouble attracting in the Democratic primaries — to vote for her.
No matter what happens at the convention, Sanders will be a key figure in the progressive movement going forward. The senator has amassed a valuable email list of supporters who have already donated millions of dollars to Sanders-backed candidates. “Bernie Sanders will be a powerful force in the Democratic Party over the next five or 10 years if he chooses to be, because he can raise money and he can support progressive candidates,” Rendell said.