Sanders Battles Barney Frank as Dems' Family Brawl Rolls On
Policy + Politics

Sanders Battles Barney Frank as Dems' Family Brawl Rolls On

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It’s no surprise that Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to strip former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank of his duties as co-chair of the rules committee at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer.

Sanders, the long-shot Democratic presidential candidate, and Frank, the cantankerous former House Financial Services Committee chair from Massachusetts, have been at each other’s throats for years and couldn’t be further apart in their views on how to regulate the big banks on Wall Street or avert a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

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By Sanders’s lights, Frank is the poster child for establishment Democrats who have done just about everything possible to “rig” the Democratic primary elections and candidates’ debates to assure Hillary Clinton’s nomination. And as Frank sees it, Sanders is a dyed-in-the wool independent and a late comer to Democratic politics who simply can’t accept the fact that Clinton is beating him.

Just a week before the critical Democratic primary grand finale in California, New Jersey and four other states, Frank lashed out at Sanders on Tuesday as a spoil-sport who was willing to jeopardize Clinton’s chances of beating Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump in the general election campaign for the sake of his political vanity.

“Sen. Sanders is disappointed that he hasn’t won,” Frank said during an interview with Kate Snow of MSNBC. “He’s losing not because anything was rigged or there was dirty trickery. He’s losing because Hillary Clinton has gotten more votes.”

With 2,383 delegates needed for nomination, Clinton currently holds 2,323 delegate – just 71 shy of the nomination. That includes 1,769 pledged delegates won during the primaries and caucuses and 543 superdelegates who automatically get to vote at the convention.

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Sanders -- with 1,501 pledged delegates but only 44 superdelegates -- insists he can win the California primary and overtake Clinton in pledged delegates next week. An emboldened Sanders would then turn his attention to persuading hundreds of superdelegates to switch their allegiance from Clinton to Sanders.

“I think he has a right to stay in,” Frank said, although he remains highly dubious Sanders has a legitimate chance of gaining the nomination at this point, especially after losing a substantial part of the African-American vote to Clinton. “I never said he should stay out. I just wish he would stay in and talk about the issues where he wants to focus, and not make the bogus claim that he is being cheated.”

To say the tension between the two seasoned politicians is fraught with danger for the party is an understatement. Sanders and his campaign organization last Friday stepped up their attacks on the Democratic National Committee and demanded that Frank and Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy be removed as co-chairs of the Rules Committee and Platform Committee, respectively. Both men have endorsed Clinton for election.

Sanders has also vowed that if he is elected president, he will oust Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the DNC chair who he blames for many of the party rules and the low-profile debate schedule that he said worked against his interests. Sanders recently endorsed Wasserman Schultz’s Democratic primary challenger, a little-known law professor named Tim Canova who embraces Sanders’ stand against global trade agreements and other issues.

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While Brad Deutsch, a Sanders campaign lawyer, complained in a letter last week that Frank and Malloy have both been “harsh, vocal critics” of Sanders, the Vermont senator’s aides have been targeting Frank for special treatment for months.

Back in April, Tad Devine, Sanders’ top political strategist, told reporters that Frank shouldn’t have a role in the national convention after he criticized the 74-year-old democratic socialist by invoking his age. Devine said Frank mocked Sanders’ performance in discussing financial reform during an interview with the New York Daily News editorial board.

Devine cited Frank’s April 6 statements on MSNBC that Sanders “confused several things” in his responses to questions about his core issue of breaking up big banks. Frank – who co-authored the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation with former Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut in 2010 -- also said Sanders’ responses to the editorial board were not “coherent.”

“These are remarks that do not speak merely to the substance of policy proposals but speak to his capacity and obviously his age,” an irate Devine declared, according to various reports. “I think they’re trying to suggest that he does not have the capacity to be president of the United States. That is part of their attack on his qualifications."

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Things only got worse last week when Sanders’ campaign advisers accused Frank of “defaming” the senator in a March interview with Slate. It was in that interview that Frank accused Sanders of being “outrageously McCarthyite” by suggesting Clinton would have a major conflict in dealing with Wall Street because of the millions of dollars in speaking fees and campaign contributions she has received from big banks.

Sanders’s demand that Frank and Malloy be pushed aside at the convention came closely on the heels of a compromise allowing Sanders to hand pick five of the 15 members of the platform committee that will draft party positions on a wide array of economic, trade and foreign policy issues Sanders and his liberal Democratic allies want to heavily influence.

The letter, first reported by Politico, denounced Frank and Malloy as "self-proclaimed partisans intent on marginalizing" Sanders campaign supporters. The letter ends with a threat that if the national committee insists on keeping Frank and Malloy as leaders of the rules and platform committees, Sanders forces would do everything in their power to grind the convention process to a halt by taking their case to relevant committees or the convention floor.

Frank has differed sharply from Sanders on financial policy, especially on the Vermont senator’s repeated call for breaking up big banks still deemed “too big to fail” and resurrecting the Glass-Steagall separation of bank’s commercial and investment activities.

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Frank has argued that the repeal of Glass-Steagall during the administration of former Democratic President Bill Clinton had nothing to do with the financial meltdown and crisis in 2008, and that reinstituting the law wouldn't address the problems that still exist – a view shared by Hillary Clinton.

With tensions running high between the Clinton and Sanders camps, Frank warned of a danger to his party if the two presidential contenders don’t ultimately reconcile their differences and unite their party to battle Donald Trump in the general election. But that may prove difficult as the two sides dig in and nearly a third of Sanders’s supporters say they don’t trust Clinton and could never vote for her. And it’s far from clear how committed Sanders would be in rallying to the former secretary of state’s side if he loses the contest.

“You know what the biggest lie politicians tell?” he said. “It’s not that I’m going to cut your taxes or pick up your garbage. It’s only that ‘We ran against each other but we’re still good friends.’ There’s nothing about running against each other that avoids enmity.”