WASHINGTON -- Supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders avoided confrontations over policy during their first platform drafting committee hearing Wednesday -- the morning after the former Secretary of State cemented her status as the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee.
The meeting at a hotel in Washington, D.C., was the first in the 15-member committee’s tour of four cities in different regions of the country. The committee is holding public events where it hears testimony from policy experts before it drafts the party’s platform for the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in late July.
Clinton garnered most the convention’s pledged delegates after winning primaries in California, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota Tuesday night. The Associated Press reported that she had reached the 2,383 nominees needed to secure the nomination on Monday evening. The figures include pledged delegates and superdelegates.
Sanders’ only path to the nomination is now to convince enough of the superdelegates who’ve already said they support Clinton to switch their allegiances. But progressive organizations that have endorsed him say they believe superdelegates should choose the candidate who won the most pledged delegates, putting them at odds with Sanders’ stated plans.
The Independent Vermont senator vowed last month to take his campaign all the way to the convention. He sent out a fundraising email as the platform committee meeting began vowing to “fight for every vote” in the nation’s last presidential primary in Washington on Tuesday. Sanders also pledged to “bring our political revolution” to the convention.
“I am pretty good at arithmetic, and I know that the fight in front of us is a very, very steep fight, but we will continue to fight for every vote and every delegate we can get,” he said in the email. “Our fight is to transform our country and to understand that we are in this together. To understand that all of what we believe is what the majority of the American people believe. And to understand that the struggle continues.”
While a party’s platform tends to be irrelevant once a new president takes office, the drafting process is seen as one way Sanders could gain concessions from Clinton. He could introduce more progressive policies into the document and make his supporters feel like they’ve had a tangible influence upon the party’s direction. Sanders named five people to the committee, while Clinton named six. Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee’s chair, chose four.
“[Sanders] should stay in until he gets everything he’s fighting for, or at least as much of it as possible.”
Wasserman Schultz, who is reviled by progressives, said at the hearing that drafting the platform “is an open process” and that the convention “will be the most representative and inclusive in our history.” Sanders endorsed and has fundraised for her primary challenger in Florida, law professor Tim Canova.
"Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” she said, in an implicit caution to Sanders backers.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chair of the Platform Committee, said that it was “100 percent committed to an open and transparent process” and “open to every viewpoint being expressed.”
He said he was committed to ensuring that the process is reflective of the entire Democratic Party. "We may disagree, but we don’t have to be disagreeable,” he added.
It seemed like the drafting committee’s members have decided, at least for the moment, to find areas where they could seek agreement, rather than discord.
Neera Tanden, a Clinton supporter and president of the Center for American Progress, asked former Attorney General Eric Holder whether he had thoughts on how the committee should approach the Department of Justice’s failure to prosecute any individuals responsible for the 2008 financial crisis. She said she asked the question “to build on Dr. West’s comments,” in regards to a previous question posed by Dr. Cornel West, a Sanders supporter who has vociferously criticized Clinton.
It’s possible that the meeting could be less dry Thursday, when foreign policy experts give their testimony. Sanders has invited Matt Duss, the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, who frequently criticizes the Israeli government, to testify. The senator has spoken about Palestinian dignity in a manner that is unusual for a Democratic presidential candidate. His appointment of James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, to the drafting committee suggests that he wants the party to take a more evenhanded approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and settlement construction in the West Bank.
Wasserman Schultz said in her opening remarks that the platform should reiterate the party's support for the United States' “stalwart allies,” specifically naming Israel.
Ben Jealous, the former president of the NAACP, told The Huffington Post before he spoke before the committee that he believed it is incumbent upon Clinton to reach out to Sanders “in the way Obama reached out to her eight years ago, and be willing to make some of the sort of concessions Obama made” to unify the party.
He pointed to the Fight for 15 protesters who are advocating for a $15 an hour minimum wage and union representation for low-wage workers. Dozens of them affiliated with the Good Jobs Nation campaign protested outside of the hotel where the committee held its hearing Wednesday, in the hopes that the platform will endorse a $15 wage nationally. Clinton has taken a confusing and conflicted stance on the minimum wage, but she has said that she supports a $12 wage nationally but supports cities that go higher.
“Hillary is not going to be able to lead them by going for $12,” Jealous said, suggesting that a more progressive platform could help her defeat the GOP’s presumptive nominee, Donald Trump. “We have a Republican candidate who is prepared to run to the left of Hillary on trade and war. All the conversation here is about ensuring the party is in an advantageous position heading into the fall.”
“[Sanders] should stay in until he gets everything he’s fighting for, or at least as much of it as possible,” he added.