Obama, Sanders Said to Speak as Endorsement of Clinton Planned

Clinton's New Task After Clinching Nomination
  • President has stayed on sidelines as Sanders keeps campaigning
  • Obama planning to hit campaign trail for Democratic candidate

President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as Obama prepares to endorse Hillary Clinton after she amasses the number of delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination for president, according to people familiar with the matter.

A person familiar with the call, who spoke on condition of anonymity, didn’t provide any additional detail about the discussion on Sunday between Obama and Sanders, who is trailing Clinton in the race for delegates.

Obama could endorse Clinton as early as this week, though the timing hasn’t been set, according to another person, who asked for anonymity to discuss deliberations. Obama and Clinton aren’t scheduled to appear together this week. The president is speaking at a Democratic fundraiser Wednesday in New York, a day after the last six states hold nominating contests.

But Obama’s plans suggest he, as the putative head of the party, is eager to ratify the choice of Clinton as nominee and head off any attempt by Sanders to drag the fight all the way to the Democratic nominating convention in July, as Sanders has threatened to do.

Obama has so far remained on the sidelines of the race to replace him, prompted by what aides describe as a desire not to meddle in the Democratic nominating contests and a respect for the unexpected success of Sanders. The president’s aides have previously said he planned to campaign vigorously for the Democratic nominee, who will face an unconventional opponent in presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Clinton, the former U.S secretary of state, is 26 delegates short of the 2,383 needed to claim the nomination, according to an Associated Press tally. She is expected to easily surpass that threshold Tuesday, when New Jersey, California and four other states hold primaries or caucuses.

During a town hall hosted by PBS NewsHour last week in Elkhart, Indiana, Obama said he expected that "we’ll probably have a pretty good sense next week of who the nominee will end up being."

Clinton set to win big delegate haul on June 7

Clinton campaign officials have said they would welcome the president’s endorsement and hope he campaigns actively on her behalf ahead of Election Day. The campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Jennifer Palmieri, the communications director for the Clinton campaign who formerly held the same position in the White House, told the New York Times that Obama would be "particularly strong at making the economic argument for her.” The Times reported earlier that the president’s endorsement could come as soon as this week.

Obama previewed his economic argument for a Democratic successor during his trip to Indiana, where he argued that Republicans were telling a story about the economy "not supported by the facts" during a nearly hour-long rally.

Economic Argument

In a fundraiser Friday night in Miami, Obama said Republicans had "no coherent economic theory."

"We’ve got the better arguments," he said. "The issue is going to be: do we feel the same sense of urgency and are we engaged and are we participating to make sure that we win a White House and we get back a Congress that can move this country forward in a constructive way."

Democrats say that if Clinton is able to rally the coalition of young, minority voters and suburban women that twice propelled Obama to the White House, she should be able to defeat Trump. But Clinton’s struggles among younger voters who have flocked to Sanders means Obama will need to play a crucial role in unifying and motivating that segment of the party’s base.

Jennifer Friedman, a White House spokeswoman, said Friday the president would draw "a clear, stark contrast in the choice that voters are going to have to make in the coming months between what the Democrats are running on and talking about, which is building on the progress we’ve made, and what the alternatives are" while on the campaign trail.

The power of the presidency may also help Democrats combat the relentless coverage garnered by Trump, who regularly commands copious media attention. During his remarks in Miami, Obama said that the Republican nominee "occupies about 70 percent of the news right now" and complained that "celebrity and fame" were such a driver in American culture.

"I want us to run scared the whole time," Obama said.

Obama has been enjoying a surge of popularity amid an increasingly bitter campaign to succeed him. His approval rating has been at 50 percent or better for 12 of the past 13 weeks, according to Gallup’s tracking poll. 

Obama’s approval rating is a potential boon for Clinton, who polls show is in essentially a dead heat with Trump at this point in the campaign. A president’s popularity, combined with strong U.S. economic data, historically have proven better predictors than horse-race polls this far from the general election.

Obama’s Numbers Better Read on 2016 Than Clinton-Trump Polls

For the president, the best way to capitalize on that popularity is helping Clinton to get elected and secure some of his legacy-defining achievements. Trump has threatened to get rid of the president’s health-care program and exit the international climate change agreement the White House negotiated last year. A Republican administration would also likely use executive action to overturn steps Obama has taken on Wall Street regulation, normalizing relations with Cuba, increasing overtime pay, and strengthening protections for gay and transgender Americans.

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