Bernie Sanders’ Delegates Have Mixed Feelings About The Democratic Party Platform

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., joined by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., right, who will be one of Sanders’ delegates at the DNC in July. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ANDREW HARNIK
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., joined by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., right, who will be one of Sanders’ delegates at the DNC in July. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ANDREW HARNIK

If Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are ever going to make peace, there’s one thing they both need to cooperate and compromise on: The 2016 Democratic Party policy platform.

The document — which lays out what modern Democrats should support, oppose, and wish to accomplish — is currently in its final drafting stages. If Sanders doesn’t get enough of what he wants on that platform, he has threatened to bring his fight to the floor of the Democratic National Convention in July. He also seems to be withholding his endorsement of Clinton until he gets what he wants.

A preliminary version of the Democrats’ platform is expected to be released in full in the coming days. But thanks to a live-stream of the drafting committee hearings, we already know quite a bit about what’s currently in it.

It’s the best [platform] I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t mean it’s the best it could be.

So far, the platform does look like a product of compromise, and is vastly different from the 2012 version. Partly due to pressure from the five delegates Sanders was allowed to appoint to the 15-person drafting committee, the Democrats’ draft platform now includes some progressive reforms that Sanders sought while on the campaign trail, and Clinton did not. The draft platform now includes, for example, explicit language calling for a $15 minimum wage — Clinton called for a $12 minimum wage, while Sanders called for $15. It calls also for the end of the death penalty, a policy which Sanders supports but Clinton does not. It calls for 100 percent clean energy by the year 2050, a lofty goal that is technically not in either candidates’ energy plan, but that Sanders has said he would want to pursue. There are a number of other big concessions as well, all of which the Clinton camp has praised even if she didn’t support them on the campaign trail.

There are some areas, however, where the drafting committee — which has six Clinton-appointed members — isn’t ceding to Sanders’ delegates demands. There is no language, for instance, calling for a widespread ban on fracking or for a nationwide carbon tax. A motion to add language calling for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements” in the West Bank failed to pass. And most importantly to some, the DNC did not adopt language explicitly opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which both Clinton and Sanders technically oppose.

The disagreements have provoked mixed feelings from Sanders and some of his delegates.

Sanders himself has been fairly measured. In a statement released Sunday, the Vermont senator said he was “glad that we have won some very important provisions” in the document, but said he was prepared to take the fight to the floor if more concessions can’t be reached on July 8 and 9, when the full platform committee meets in Orlando, Florida. He also declined, again, to fully endorse Clinton as the Democratic nominee.

Sanders delegate and environmentalist Bill McKibben had likely the harshest public words for the drafting committee process so far, writing in a piece published in Politico Magazine on Monday that the Clinton campaign “is obstructing change to the Democratic platform.” Though the Clinton delegates seemed ready to acknowledge serious problems in America, McKibben wrote, “they often balked” at specific policy changes.

“A carbon tax? Voted down 7–6 (one of the DNC delegates voted with each side). A ban on fracking? Voted down 7–6. An effort to keep fossils in the ground, at least on federal land? Voted down 7–6. A measure to mandate that federal agencies weigh the climate impact of their decisions? Voted down 7–6. Even a plan to keep fossil fuel companies from taking private land by eminent domain, voted down 7–6,” he wrote.

People die. People are frail. But parties and values endure. Values you can hang your hat on.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), a Sanders superdelegate and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told ThinkProgress he agreed with his colleague — he was “disappointed” with parts of the current process, specifically Clinton supporters’ unwillingness to adopt language opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Still, Ellison said, the current platform language is the most progressive he’s ever seen.

“I’ve always been a glass half full person,” Ellison said. “That’s my basic disposition as a human being. I’m more excited that we put language in there to oppose the death penalty, to reject the vilification of Muslim Americans … This is good stuff.”

Ellison said he was convinced the Democratic Party’s platform would be important — not just for Sanders, but for a younger generation of people looking for a specific, shared set of values to unite behind in the future.

“The Democratic Party is based on values, not on personality. We’ve come together on the basis of shared belief,” he said. “People change their minds, people are subject to pressures that they don’t always disclose. People die. People are frail. But parties and values endure. Values you can hang your hat on.”

Ellison said he hopes younger voters, specifically those who expressed support for Sanders, will eventually view the platform as one that can attract them to the Democratic Party. The platform as it is now is the closest to reaching that goal as he’s ever seen — but is not yet the one he and the rest of the Sanders delegates really want.

“I agree with Bill McKibben and with Bernie that we did walk past some awesome opportunities,” Ellison said. “It’s the best [platform] I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t mean it’s the best it could be.”