Bernie Sanders still faces a daunting uphill path to the Democratic presidential nomination, and absent some wholly unexpected seismic shift in the race, there’s little reason to expect that will change in the coming months. But he continues to win small victories against Hillary Clinton, in both primary elections and in the campaigns’ competition to win each news cycle.
Over the weekend, following a high profile speaking engagement at the Vatican, Sanders returned to the US prepared to highlight the differences between his campaign and Clinton’s.
Sanders went to Rome and met (albeit briefly) with Pope Francis, a beloved religious figure known for his humility and distaste for the gilded trappings of the papacy.
Clinton met with actor George Clooney and his wife, famed human rights attorney Amal Clooney, at their Hollywood mansion for a $15 million fundraiser -- a figure that Clooney himself said was part and parcel of the “obscene” amounts of money being spent on presidential elections. On the way there, Clinton’s motorcade passed Sanders supporters lined up along the side of the road who threw a blanket of dollar bills in the path of her motorcade.
In addition, after protracted and unexplained delays, Sanders finally released his most recent tax returns. The delays had caused some speculation that the Vermont senator’s returns might contain something that would damage his reputation with his supporters. In the end, all it showed was that Sanders and his wife, Jane, made about $206,000 in 2014 -- conveniently about the same amount Hillary Clinton was paid for a single speech to investment bank Goldman Sachs.
The tax return issue perfectly set up Sanders’ most recent attack on Clinton, an advertisement blasting the former secretary of state for being late to support the push to raise the minimum wage to $15. Clinton, during last week’s Democratic debate, appeared for the first time to endorse a federal $15 per hour wage.
“Wall Street banks shower Washington politicians with campaign contributions and speaking fees,” the ad says. “And what do they get for it? A rigged economy, tax breaks and bailouts. Two hundred thousand dollars an hour for them, but not even 15 bucks an hour for all Americans. Enough is enough.”
While the ad doesn’t mention Clinton by name, anyone who has paid even a little bit of attention to the Democratic primary surely can’t help associating “speaking fees” and $200,000” with Clinton’s controversial series of speeches at Wall Street events.
In an appearance on ABC News, Clinton fought back against the Sanders ad, saying, “He knows very well” that she is a supporter of a $15 minimum wage and that she has been endorsed by the coalition of unions and activists leading the fight.
She was asked by host George Stephanopoulos to reconcile her current position with her stance earlier in the campaign, where she appeared to suggest that a $15 might be too high, and would do more damage by eliminating jobs than it would do good by raising workers’ living standards. At the time, she said that she supports an increase to $12.
Clinton tried to bridge the gap by claiming that she is in favor of graduated increases in the minimum wage, coupled with constant analysis that can assure the wage increases are having no impact on job growth. She said that was the sort of legislation that she was referring to when she discussed signing a minimum wage bill in the most recent debate. She added, “I think their campaign is trying to make something where there is nothing.”
Sanders appeared on the same show immediately after Clinton, and challenged her version of the minimum wage fight, arguing that her expressed willingness to support a $15 wage if the Congress approves it falls short of what he is doing.
“I am trying to lead this country in a different direction,” Sanders said, suggesting that Clinton acceding to a wage increase passed by legislators falls short.
“I want to lead that effort, not just follow,” he said.