If Not The Nomination, Sanders Supporters Want Greater Voice In Party Platform

May 20, 2016

Vermont’s junior senator, Bernie Sanders, continues to make a splash on the national stage as the independent outsider shaking up the Democratic presidential primary. But with Hillary Clinton all but locking up the nomination, Sanders supporters are now discussing his future and making some demands along the way.

At this point, you’ve probably been inundated with chatter about the blow up over last week’s Nevada Democratic Party’s state convention. But for any of you who missed it, sexist terms and death threats were thrown about. California Sen. Barbara Boxer was there as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton. Sen. Sanders called her this week to discuss the event. She told him about her experience while offering some advice.

“Very alarming, disturbing and that he needed to really get control of the situation," said Boxer. "He was very distressed about it.”

But Sanders supporters in Congress lay part, if not most of the blame, at the feet of leaders of the Democratic Party. Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva has been an early Sanders supporter.

“You know, come on, there’s no innocence in this process. The DNC and the party itself has given aid and comfort to Hillary from the beginning," Grijalva says. "The state party, certainly in my state and other states, have supported her openly.”

"There's no innocence in this process. The DNC and the party itself has given aid and comfort to Hillary from the beginning." — Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva

With Hillary Clinton on the road to easily wrapping up the nomination, we’re at the point in the campaign where Sanders supporters are starting to lay down their demands. For Grijalva, his list includes allowing the Bernie camp to heavily influence the party platform while also getting to control time on the convention floor. 

Grijalva also wants a vote on unwinding the whole superdelegate system.

“The more elected [delegates] the better," he says. "At least pare down that number so it’s reasonable and not represent 25 percent of the delegates to the Democratic Party.” 

Grijalva says the current system is "how you build insurmountable leads.”

And he adds that Sanders' grassroots appeal is telling.

“I think it’s showing that there’s a block to the left of center that is pretty significant and can ensure whatever nominee comes out of the party that they have a really good chance of being president," says Grijalva.

Other Sanders supporters, like Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, argue that getting to help write the Democratic Party’s platform is also vital.

"It absolutely matters. It’s incredibly important. It helps set forth what we believe in and anybody can read it and say, this is what you’re going to get if you vote for this party," says Ellison. 

"I think the most important thing about the Sanders campaign is that, no matter what happens at the convention, that there be some sort of organization that encourages people to run for local offices all over the country in a Bernie style." — Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota

Still, he argues the Sanders movement is bigger than this current chase for the White House.

“I think the most important thing about the Sanders campaign is that, no matter what happens at the convention, that there be some sort of organization that encourages people to run for local offices all over the country in a Bernie style," Ellison says.

Now that Sanders has proven you can run being fueled by small-dollar donations, Ellison says, his legacy should be enshrined in a progressive movement — or perpetual campaign — one that’s unparalleled by their Wall Street-funded rivals.

"That’s the thing that’s going to really change this country," Ellison says. "One of the things that Bernie has said time and time again is that no one president can change this whole country. You’re going to need a wave of people to really make the substantive changes that are necessary to really put the American democracy back in the hands of the American people.”

But Sanders risks losing clout in his new party, the Democratic Party, if he doesn’t toe the line soon, according to Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons.

Coons says a bitter end to the campaign could diminish Sanders' power when he returns to the Senate. 

He also says Sanders risks alienating people if the race ends poorly.

That’s the gamble Sen. Sanders is left with: Double down in the primary campaign, where he’s still clawing uphill, or risk alienating his colleagues when he’s back in the Senate. 

As far as which direction he will choose? It seems that’s a question only Sanders can answer.

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