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Democrats searching for unity as Clinton locks up nomination

Obama seeks to reassure Democrats that Clinton shares their values.

WASHINGTON: Nearing the end of a lengthy primary fight, Democrats are coalescing around Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid and looking to reunite the party through a carefully orchestrated plan aimed at nudging rival Bernie Sanders to make his exit. President Barack Obama’s endorsement of his former secretary of state Thursday headlined a day of unity for Democrats as the party prepares for Republican Donald Trump. Amid the message of harmony, Sanders crisscrossed the nation’s capital and received praise in meetings with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Democratic leaders.

Sanders’ District of Columbia rally outside RFK Stadium Thursday night didn’t mention Clinton and didn’t repeat his calls to persuade superdelegates to support him or his plans for a contested convention in Philadelphia. The Vermont senator barely mentioned Tuesday’s primary election in the city, the last on the Democratic calendar.

“It would be extraordinary if the people of Washington, our nation’s capital, stood up and told the world that they are ready to lead this country into a political revolution,” Sanders said in the final sentence of his hourlong address.

Democrats are wary that divisions that emerged between Clinton and Sanders during the primaries might spill out during next month’s Democratic National Convention or provide an opening to Trump, who is on course to become the Republican nominee. So unity has become Job 1 in the party.

Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined that effort Thursday evening, both endorsing Clinton and signaling to many of Sanders’ supporters that it’s time to unite around the party’s presumptive nominee. The endorsement was followed by a meeting with Clinton at her Washington home Friday.

The progressive stalwart, who has been positioning herself as one of Trump’s toughest adversaries, had been the only holdout among the Senate’s Democratic women. But she said she would do all that she can to prevent Trump from getting “any place close to the White House.”

“I think having a fighter in the lead, a female fighter in the lead, is exactly what this country needs,” Warren said on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

In his long-expected endorsement, delivered via an online video, Obama pointed to Clinton’s grit and determination but also called for “embracing” Sanders’ economic message, which has galvanized liberals and independents. Obama sought to reassure Democrats that Clinton shares their values and is ready for the job.

“Look, I know how hard this job can be. That’s why I know Hillary will be so good at it,” Obama said. The president plans to campaign next week with Clinton in Green Bay, Wisconsin, marking his first major foray into the 2016 campaign.

Trump responded to Obama’s endorsement by tweeting: “Obama just endorsed Crooked Hillary. He wants four more years of Obama – but nobody else does!”

The Clinton campaign tweeted back, “Delete Your Account.”

Obama’s testimonial came less than an hour after he met privately with Sanders at the White House to discuss the future of the senator’s “political revolution.”

While Sanders stopped short of endorsing Clinton, he told reporters he planned to press for his issues – rather than victory – at the party’s convention and he would meet with Clinton in the near future to discuss ways they could work together to defeat Trump.

Clinton declared victory over Sanders Tuesday, having captured the number of delegates needed to become the first female nominee from a major party. Her extended primary campaign against Sanders, who entered the race as an obscure independent, had set off a round of private phone calls and back-channel negotiations, all aimed at addressing Sanders’ issues while easing him out of the race without angering his die-hard supporters.

Obama’s endorsement and Sanders’ visit were the public culmination of that work.

Obama taped his endorsement video at the White House Tuesday, before Clinton claimed victory in the primary, and had alerted Sanders earlier in the week that it was coming. Sanders came prepared with his statement.

The careful choreography was part of the Democrats’ attempt to show some respect to the senator, even as they steered him toward the campaign off-ramp.

Obama greeted Sanders and his wife, Jane, in the residence and then strolled with the senator, smiling and laughing warmly, past the Rose Garden to the Oval Office, as cameras recorded the moment.

Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs said the men discussed “how we can all work together to create an economy that works for all people and not just the 1 percent.”

Leaders on Capitol Hill underscored Obama’s message. After leaving the White House, Sanders met with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who invited him to speak at a Senate luncheon next week, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Sanders stopped by the Naval Observatory later in the afternoon to meet with Biden.

Biden’s office said they discussed how Sanders’ campaign had focused attention on income inequality and other issues and Biden congratulated Sanders on “energizing so many new voters and bringing them into the Democratic Party.” Later, in a speech about the Supreme Court, Biden said that “God willing” he hoped Clinton would be the next president. His office later said that was his endorsement.

The party’s delicate handling of the Vermont senator reflected Sanders supporters’ deep distrust of the Democratic establishment and its meddling in the primary.

Obama stayed publicly neutral through the sometimes bitter race, mindful that his involvement could tarnish his standing with parts of his own loyal coalition, namely young people and progressives.

Clinton is now counting on the president to help bring those voters on board. Obama has said he’s “fired up” and ready to get started.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 11, 2016, on page 10.

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