With Clinton Surging, Sanders' Washington Allies Want Him To Tone Down The Barbs

Apr 28, 2016

After a strong showing in this week’s primaries, Hillary Clinton looks to be on a glide path to the Democratic presidential nomination. This has some of Bernie Sanders’ colleagues in Washington asking him to tone down the barbs.

According to a tally of remaining contests by the Associated Press, Hillary Clinton can lose all of the remaining contests and still win enough delegates to secure the nomination. Still, Sanders’ isn’t conceding anything and he continues to blast Clinton over her ties to Wall Street and the war in Iraq.

That’s not sitting well with some Democratic senators.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan: “I think the most important thing is that he keep to the issues.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, of Missouri: “I don’t think anyone has the right to tell Sanders what to do after what he’s accomplished. Anyone.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, of California: “I think what he should do is talk about the issues because that makes our party stronger. I would encourage him to do that — talk about the issues.”

"I think the most important thing is that he keep to the issues." - Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Vermont’s senior senator, Patrick Leahy, puts it another way:

“That’s a decision he should make,” Leahy says. “But you know, either he or Secretary Clinton are going be the nominee, and they should know how they criticized each other, that will be used by the Republicans.”

All of those senators are backing Clinton, so it’s safe to say they’re a little biased when it comes to advising the Bernie campaign. But even Sanders' lone supporter in the Senate, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, wishes his candidate would focus more on policy than personal attacks.

“I think that both campaigns have gotten a little frayed here in the last month,” Merkley says, “and both teams need to refocus on the important policy issues before us.”

"Either he or Secretary Clinton are going be the nominee, and they should know how they criticized each other, that will be used by the Republicans." - Sen. Patrick Leahy

But Sanders’ oldest congressional ally in his long-shot White House bid sees things differently.

Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva has been in office for seven terms, which means seven campaigns.

He says Clinton and Sanders are in the big leagues of politics, and he doesn’t think Sanders overstepped even by saying Clinton was unqualified for office.

“I’ve been in hard campaigns; I didn’t think it was that hard,” Grijalva says. “I don’t think it was as personal as it has been said to be. This was a tough race from the get-go and I think he had to go hard in order to try to generate bolts of tension and support.”

Grijalva says Sanders is at the disadvantage because he doesn’t have a PAC that he can hide behind like Clinton does.

“But ... some of Hillary’s surrogates [also] need to tone down,” he says. “They might be with a PAC, David Brock, but the stuff he’s putting out, it's brutal, it's ugly.”

"I tell you, we are minor leaguers in comparison to what's happening on the Republican side." - Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

This week Sanders reiterated that he doesn’t control all his voters and can’t promise he can deliver all their votes for Clinton if she's on the ballot in November.

Grijalva agrees, and says he hopes Clinton and the DNC bring them into the fold at the convention by adopting some of his progressive ideas.

“I think it’s going be rough for us, but the commitment is to go all the way through California, get to the convention and see what kind of role there is to play,” Grijalva says.

As for party leaders? Here's Dick Durbin, the number-two Democrat in the Senate:

“I don’t think it’s any surprise toward the end of a heated campaign that the rhetoric gets harsh. But I tell you, we are minor leaguers in comparison to what’s happening on the Republican side. Their’s has been nasty and mean from the start, and continues even to this day. I wish that wasn’t a part of American politics, but it is.”

Durbin says even with the heated rhetoric flying, his party will fair far better than the GOP in the end.

Matt Laslo is a reporter based in Washington, D.C. He has been covering Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court since 2006.