Time for Sanders to Cool the Rhetoric, Senate Democrats Say

Empire State Rout: What’s Next For Hillary Clinton?
  • Democrats see risk to strident tone toward Clinton in campaign
  • Clinton's lead `near impossible to overcome,' Baldwin says

Some Senate Democrats are calling on Bernie Sanders to strike a more civil, unifying tone now that his 16-point loss to Hillary Clinton in this week’s New York presidential primary has made it almost certain that she will be the party’s 2016 nominee.

The sharp rhetoric at the candidates’ April 14 Brooklyn debate -- when Sanders criticized Clinton’s judgment -- is only counterproductive at this point, some of his Senate colleagues say. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democratic leader, said he’s counting on Sanders to help bring party members together at the Philadelphia convention in July.

“Bernie Sanders has earned a place and a voice at the convention, and I think he’s going to have an important role in helping us to unify our party and stand behind Hillary Clinton, who is in my mind clearly on her way to being the nominee,” said Durbin, who is backing Clinton.

Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said he thought Sanders’ tone was constructive early in the campaign. During a debate in October, Sanders got applause at a debate when he said Americans were “sick and tired” of hearing criticism over Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail account while secretary of state.

More recently, Menendez said, “I think the tone has gotten increasingly negative in a way that goes to a personal context that attacks Secretary Clinton’s honesty and integrity.” That doesn’t help for “someone who wants to see Democrats win,” he said.

Common Ground

It’s time for Sanders to start stressing areas of common ground with the former secretary of state, said Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.

“I’m not going to tell him to get out of the race, but I think it’s important for him to ensure that discussion reflects the fundamental agreement that he has with Hillary on almost every one of the big issues,” Markey said.

Support for Clinton, who was a New York senator for eight years, runs deep in the chamber where she is backed by more than three dozen Senate Democrats, including all of the top party leaders. Sanders, serving his second term as a senator from Vermont, has been endorsed by only one colleague, Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Republicans control the Senate 54-46, though if Clinton can gather enough support in November she could provide coattails to help sweep her party back into power.

In last week’s Democratic debate, Clinton and Sanders angrily interrupted each other as they argued over the minimum wage, breaking up big banks and who is qualified to occupy the Oval Office. Sanders called Clinton’s judgment into question, pointing to her votes in favor of the Iraq war and some trade deals, along with her willingness to accept money from super-political action committees that raised heavily from Wall Street and other corporate interests.

“I don’t believe that is the kind of judgment we need to be the kind of president we need,” Sanders said.

Blunted Momentum

Clinton’s New York victory blunted earlier momentum for Sanders, who had won seven of the previous eight state nominating contests. She now has 1,930 delegates to his 1,189, according to RealClearPolitics.com, with 2,382 needed to win the nomination. She’s also favored by polls to win April 26 contests in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut. Delaware and Rhode island also are holding primaries.

Democrats aren’t calling on Sanders to get out -- at least not yet -- but they’re coming close.

“I was a math major in college,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, a Clinton backer. “I understand the fact that we’re approaching something that would be near impossible to overcome, and just hope that that’s weighed as well as the unity of the party.”

Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat who also endorsed Clinton, said next week’s primary contests are a critical juncture for the Sanders campaign.

‘Constructive Future’

“It’s my hope that after next Tuesday’s contests that he will seriously evaluate how he can best be a part of a constructive future for the Democratic Party,” Coons said. He also praised Sanders for firing up the party’s base and contributing serious ideas that Coons said will be folded into the Democratic platform.

Sanders needs to back off on his accusations that Clinton is too much in the pocket of banks and corporations because she benefits from donations to her campaign or to super-PACs that support her, said Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, a Clinton supporter.

Those claims are “over the top” because Clinton is complying with the law, and because both candidates agree they want to correct what they see as problems with the campaign finance system, Kaine said.

“Until we change the system, to personally fault somebody for not unilaterally disarming seems very disingenuous to me,” Kaine said. “At this point, the question is how much of her resources do you want her to have to waste that she could be using for the general election. And that’s an important thing that they ought to consider.”

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