Platform Fight Shows Some Sanders Supporters Still Wary of Clinton
The final amendment to the Democratic Party platform was meant to sprinkle Hillary Clinton’s name throughout the document, putting a contentious and drawn-out primary process to rest in favor of a unified party. It never came up for a vote.
Despite having the support of both the Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaign staffs, the amendment hadn't been run by committee members or Sanders supporters in the audience, some of whom angrily shouted down the language because, they argued, Clinton isn't the official nominee yet.
The moment highlighted the state of the party after a long weekend of intense debates in Orlando, Florida, that left some tempers frayed, and extensive back-room policy negotiations between the two campaigns. With the Democratic National Convention fast approaching -- it will start in Philadelphia on July 25 -- the respective campaigns are ready to unify the party, even if some of Sanders supporters are not.
Even without the amendment, surrogates for Clinton and Sanders were eager to praise the document and downplay talk of tension between their camps, yet the weekend highlighted the ongoing mistrust for Clinton among Sanders' diehard boosters. A June 14 Bloomberg Politics poll showed that barely half of those who favored Sanders in the primaries, 55 percent, planned to vote for Clinton in the general election.
Michelle Manos, a 31-year-old incoming graduate student and “Bernie or Bust” voter from Los Angeles who watched the platform committee meeting from the audience, called the amendment offensive. “What you’re saying is you’re not interested in Bernie Sanders supporters and his 1,900 pledged delegates,” she said. (Clinton ended the nominating contest with 2,200 pledged delegates to Sanders's 1,831, according to an Associated Press count.)
Sanders is expected to endorse Clinton as soon as this week, and the Vermont senator, who has not officially ended his campaign, has said he will do everything he can to not only defeat Republican Donald Trump, but also elect her. In recent weeks, the two camps have reached compromises on major issues like college affordability and health care. That continued on Saturday with a new Clinton health care initiative that Sanders praised.
Heather Gautney, a 46-year-old Fordham university professor and platform committee member appointed by Sanders, said that it makes sense that the self-described democratic socialist is moving to endorse Clinton. The supporters who are holding on to Sanders, she said, are having trouble accepting the differences between his platform and Clinton's.
"He's offering a fundamentally different vision of our political economy than she's offering and there are a lot of people that have been waiting a long time to see that," said Gautney. "That's where I think that energy is coming from: they really want to hold on to the vision that he's put forward."
In Orlando, the two campaigns introduced several unity amendments to the platform on climate change, immigration, policing, and criminal justice reform. Ben Jealous, a Sanders backer and former NAACP president presented the criminal justice reform amendment with Ben Crump, the lawyer for Trayvon Martin’s family and Clinton backer.
Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver called the final platform a success, and predicted Sanders supporters would reach a similar conclusion. “I think the people who care about the issues that Bernie cared about in the primaries and caucuses will be very impressed by the document they see,” he said.
Sanders, in a statement on Sunday, lauded "the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party,'' an achievement he attributed to "millions of people across the country who got involved in the political process - many for the first time."
But on the ground, Sanders' most ardent supporters were angered by votes against amendments that would have called for the removal of the cap on taxable income to fund Social Security, opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and condemned Israel's "occupation and illegal settlements" of Palestine.
The 187-member committee also voted down an amendment that would have called for elections to be publicly financed and advocated a policy of blocking campaign contributions over $100. The amendment’s author Brent Welder, a 35-year-old lawyer from St. Louis and a Sanders delegate, said he didn’t expect the amendment to pass, but felt it was important to argue for it and “show that there’s still a corporate stronghold on the Democratic Party.”
Welder said he plans to vote for Sanders at the convention, and “if he’s not the nominee then I’ll just have to evaluate."
After the unity amendment to insert Clinton’s name into the platform failed, Representative Maxine Waters of California praised Sanders's supporters for their “fantastic work” on the progressive agenda, and Clinton's supporters for their willingness to compromise.
“We are all Democrats,” Waters said. “In the name of unity, can we leave this meeting tonight having accomplished the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party?”
Waters said in an interview that while there were vigorous debates in Orlando, everyone shared a common goal: keeping a Democrat in the White House. “We want the Democratic Party to win and we want to beat Trump,” she said. “And so I’m convinced that we will all be together in Philadelphia.”