Sanders Threatens a Convention Fight Over Democratic Platform Policies
Policy + Politics

Sanders Threatens a Convention Fight Over Democratic Platform Policies

REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich

Democrats took important steps towards reconciling festering differences between former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on key domestic and foreign policy issues that could affect the course of the presidential campaign this fall.

Sanders fell well short of derailing Clinton’s drive for the Democratic presidential nomination and the right to take on presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump this fall. But he scored several impressive victories during a two-day meeting of the Democratic Platform Committee in St. Louis over the weekend in shaping the platform to reflect his revolutionary liberal economic and foreign policy views.

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Sanders has yet to formally endorse Clinton while conceding that she has locked up their party’s presidential nomination. On Sunday, he described the platform committee action as a “good start,” but vowed to fight all the way to the Democratic National Convention floor in July to secure support for the remainder of his agenda.

“We won some very,  very important victories in our effort to try to make it clear to the American people that the Democratic Party stands with the middle class, stands with working families and is prepared to take on Wall Street and the big money interests,” Sanders told Jake Tapper of CNN today. “But we lost some very important fights. We’re taking that fight to Orlando, where the entire committee meets in two weeks.  And if we don’t succeed there we certainly are going to take it to the floor of the Democratic National convention.”

Although he has acknowledged in previous interviews that he is “probably not” going to be the Democratic presidential nominee and that he would certainly vote for Clinton in the general election over Trump, Sanders is withholding a formal endorsement of the former secretary of state as leverage in maximizing his influence in reshaping the party’s platform and rules.

Sanders captivated millions of young voters, working class Americans and independents and drew huge crowds with his call for health care for all, free college tuition, a crackdown on Wall Street, an end to international trade agreements that he says are harmful to working class Americans, and reforms of the campaign finance system. By contrast, Clinton sounded a more pragmatic, stay-the-course tone that was reassuring to many voters but rarely sparked excitement.

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With some polls suggesting that more than half of Sanders’s supporters would refuse to back Clinton in the general election, Sanders today urged Clinton to “Stand up, be bolder than you have been,” if she hopes to eventually attract many of his liberal supporters to her side. And he agreed with some political analysts that last week’s “Brexit” vote in Great Britain to leave the European Union should be a wakeup call to Clinton and the Democratic Party that they, too, could fall victim to anti-establishment forces backing Trump for president.

“I think there is massive resentment throughout Europe and the UK and in the United States about the global economy which works very, very well for large multi-national corporations . . . but that is not working in many ways for the middle class and working families of this country,” Sanders said. He neglected to point out that many of those trade deals make goods and services affordable to the very people who shop for bargains at Walmart and other retailers.

Clinton narrowly leads Trump among registered voters across the country, 46 percent to 41 percent, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released today. However. Clinton’s lead shrinks to just one percentage point if the Libertarian Party and Green Party’s presidential candidates are factored in, according to the poll.

The draft language adopted over the weekend by 15 members of the Democratic Platform Committee marked a decided liberal drift on issues that were central to Sanders’s campaign, ranging from banking reform and minimum wage to climate change. Among Sanders’s biggest victories, according to The Washington Post, was agreement to move the party closer to supporting a federally-enforced breakup  of some of the largest Wall Street banks, such as  JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America, and a revival of the old Glass-Steagall  law that restricted  risky banking investment practices.

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Sanders sharply focused his campaign on the need to rein in the excesses of Wall Street that contributed to the 2008 housing bubble and financial crisis and to begin to close the massive income gap between middle-class Americans and the “millionaire class.” The Democrats’ draft platform includes his call for a $15 an hour minimum wage, in contrast to Clinton’s preference  for a $12 an hour floor and gradual increases in the minimum wage.

The platform – a statement of the party’s principles on 12 broad topics – also reflects Sanders’s call for an end to the death penalty. Clinton has said that she supports the death penalty under some circumstances.

However, Sanders’s forces suffered a number of setback during the two-day platform gathering on issues that are certain to be debated again when the full Platform Committee meets next month, just ahead of the national convention in Philadelphia.

One of the biggest outstanding differences is over trade. Sanders and Clinton both oppose President Obama’s signature Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with Pacific Rim countries other than China. But the White House has aggressively sought to keep language out of the platform that would essentially pit the Democrats against their own president in the current congressional deliberations over the trade agreement.

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The Sanders campaign intends to try to enlist support from organized labor and environmental groups critical of the trade deal to try to force inclusion of an anti TPP plank in the platform next month, according to The Post.

The Sanders forces also suffered setbacks in the platform committee deliberations in several other important disputes:

  • Sanders lost his call for a universal single-payer government health insurance program for all Americans to gradually supplant the Affordable Care Act. Sanders has complained  that the U.S. is the only major developed country that doesn’t offer a national health care program for all its citizens, while Clinton contends it would be a serious mistake to abandon Obamacare just when it has begun to sharply reduce  the rate of uninsured Americans.
  • Sanders’s camp fell short advocating a ban on hydraulic fracturing – or fracking -- in producing natural gas. Critics say that popular technique for extracting gas is harmful to the geology and underground water sources and contributes to green house gas emissions. And the platform committee turned down a highly controversial proposal for imposing a carbon tax to discourage the use of coal in energy production.

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  • Sanders was rebuffed calling for new foreign policy language to boost the importance of Palestinian sovereignty and encouraging the U.S. to adopt a more even-handed approach to relations with Israel, our chief ally in the Middle East, and the Palestinian government.