Clinton Takes the Capital

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivers a speech in Cleveland. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivers a speech in Cleveland. Tony Dejak/AP

Hillary Clinton has emerged the winner of the Washington, D.C., primary. Though Clinton had already effectively clinched the Democratic nomination, winning the D.C. primary must nevertheless be a sweet victory. The win is a high note for her campaign as the primary season draws to a close. In the days and weeks to come, Clinton will undoubtedly ratchet up her attacks on Donald Trump as the general election begins in earnest.

The Clinton win also denies Bernie Sanders one last chance for victory in the final primary of the Democratic presidential race. For now, Sanders remains stubbornly in the race, despite the fact that any path he might have had to the White House effectively evaporated long ago. The Democratic rivals met on Tuesday evening, and despite his lingering presence, the senator no longer appears to pose much of a threat to Democratic unity. Above all else, Sanders seems intent on putting his own stamp on the party’s agenda and the electoral process in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Later this week, Sanders is poised to lay out the path forward. Sanders will speak to supporters on Thursday evening in “a live, online video message” from Burlington, Vermont. What exactly Sanders hopes to achieve has increasingly come into focus. The senator laid out a series of demands in a press conference on Tuesday, calling for the “Democratic National Convention to approve a progressive platform, the most progressive platform ever passed by the Democratic Party.” He asked for reforms to the presidential nominating process, including the elimination of superdelegates, a group of influential party elites who can decide to support whichever candidate they choose.

Perhaps the most contentious change Sanders called for was new party leadership, a demand that takes aim at the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The request isn’t surprising given that Sanders has already decided to support her primary challenger, but the repeated emphasis shows that he’s far from ready to give up the fight. Additionally, the senator declined to endorse Clinton at his Tuesday press conference.

It remains to be seen how much negotiating power Sanders actually has with the Democratic Party. For now, however, it is makes sense for him to pursue reforms to the electoral process as well as concessions in the party platform. The platform serves as a blueprint for what the party stands for and hopes to achieve. If Sanders can make it look more like his own agenda, that success could create a foundation for Democrats to enact legislative changes along the same lines. Ultimately, however, the platform is nonbinding and stands as a highly imperfect tool for achieving change. That’s undoubtedly one reason why Sanders is simultaneously pursuing procedural reforms, even if those kinds of changes may seem less sweeping. If Sanders is successful in winning changes to the nominating process, that could help him keep his supporters engaged in the political process beyond the presidential election. Many of the senator’s supporters believe that the system has been rigged against Sanders throughout the primary, and if nothing is done to reform the process, they may be less likely to remain engaged in the political process.

The list of demands laid out by Sanders shouldn’t be viewed as comprehensive. He himself emphasized, “Those are just a few of the changes that I think have got to take place and that we will be fighting for in the weeks and months to come.” But it is notable that he did not mention reforms to the caucus system, a primary contest that tends to lead to lower voter turnout but has consistently benefited the senator’s campaign.

Ahead of his meeting with Clinton on Tuesday, The New York Times reported that “he would try to get assurances from Mrs. Clinton that she will fight for many of his campaign policy proposals, including a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, a jobs program tied to repairing the country’s infrastructure, and tuition-free public colleges and universities.” Efforts by Sanders and Clinton supporters to draft the party platform are already underway.

As the fight continues, it no longer seems like Democratic unity is in serious jeopardy. After Clinton claimed victory as the first woman to become the presumptive nominee of a major political party in the United States, high-ranking Democrats moved swiftly to close ranks. President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren endorsed Clinton in quick succession.

Significantly, Sanders pledged to work with Clinton to make sure Democrats win the White House. “I look forward to meeting with her in the near future to see how we can work together to defeat Donald Trump and create a government, which represents all of us and not just the 1 percent,” Sanders said after a meeting with the president last week. Crucially, Sanders thanked the president and vice president for “impartiality,” a stand likely to make it easier for his supporters to eventually back Clinton if he drops out.

In yet another sign that Democrats are increasingly coming back together, Sanders reportedly received several standing ovations from Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill earlier on Tuesday. Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, indicated to Politico his belief that Sanders will help Democratic candidates running for Senate. While some Democrats might prefer that he exit the race, his colleagues in the Senate seem to be taking care not to apply too much pressure. “The time table’s up to him,” Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, told The Washington Post. “I’m giving no advice, nor judging him, for how he decides.”

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