Sen. Bernie Sanders will get highly unusual say over the drafting of the Democratic Party platform this year even if, as expected, he loses the primary contest to Hillary Clinton.
The two Democratic candidates have agreed with Democratic Party officials to a new apportionment of the 15-member committee that writes the platform, according to Democratic officials familiar with the compromise worked out this month.
Sanders will name five members and Clinton six, based on the number of popular votes each has received to date, one official said. Democratic Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz will name four. The campaign choices were selected in consultation with the campaigns and the DNC from larger slates of 12 and 10 suggested by the campaigns.
I can add more: Sanders’s policy director, Warren Gunnels, will have a major hand in trying to influence the outcome of the platform, a source familiar with ongoing talks tells me. Gunnels may not end up being a voting member of the platform drafting committee, but he will play a staff role at a minimum.
Gunnels and the Sanders campaign are already at work producing a draft of the bullet points it hopes to get into the party platform, the source continues. Some things the Sanders camp will push for include firm opposition to a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership in this Congress; requirements to break up too-big-to-fail financial institutions; more in infrastructure spending; a $15-per-hour minimum wage; tuition-free public college, and, possibly, a carbon tax, in keeping with the ambitious agenda Sanders has campaigned on.
Having a trusted loyalist who has worked with Sanders for many years and is intimately familiar with his agenda and aspirations — such as Gunnels — could be a real plus for the Sanders team’s efforts to shape the party’s agenda heading into the elections.
Dem Rep. Elijah Cummings will chair the platform committee, a decision that was made by the DNC in consultation with both campaigns. The key context here is that Rep. Cummings has previously worked with Sanders on policy, including efforts to regulate prescription drug pricing, sources note. Dem Rep. Barbara Lee will also be one of the DNC’s picks.
It’s unclear whether the Sanders campaign will be satisfied with this outcome, which comes at a moment when Sanders is criticizing the nominating process as rigged, angering supporters and potentially complicating efforts to unify the party against Donald Trump. The new move is designed to help dispel some of the sense among Sanders and his followers that the process has been unfair, skewed to help Hillary Clinton, and has shut new Sanders voters out of it.
But the Sanders campaign had demanded more than this. Previously, the DNC had suggested that both the Sanders and Clinton get four appointees on the 15-person committee, with the DNC picking the remaining seven. But Sanders was unhappy with this arrangement, and fired off a letter to the DNC earlier this month demanding that both campaigns get seven slots, with the DNC picking one.
Sanders argued that giving his campaign more representation and influence over the platform would help send a message that the Democratic Party is open to “the millions of new people” the Sanders campaign has attracted, and “the full range of views of voters who have participated in the Democratic nominating contests.”
The current split, then, falls short of the Sanders camp’s request for seven slots for each campaign, plus only one for the DNC. The Sanders camp may also be angered by the four slots kept by the party, since it has been arguing that the party is essentially in the bag for Clinton. But the DNC has pared back its own influence over the committee somewhat, and has now given Sanders a level of representation on the committee, relative to that of Clinton, that is likely to be proportional to their differences in the pledged delegate count after the voting concludes. According to Democrats involved in the talks, party officials had concluded it would be unfair to give both campaigns equal representation, given that Clinton has won substantially more popular votes than Sanders has.
One big question looming over the endgame of the primaries is whether Sanders will do everything he can to persuade his supporters that the outcome — resulting in Clinton’s nomination — was legitimate. Whether the DNC’s latest moves will help make that more likely — and whether they will lead Sanders supporters to be more accepting of that argument — remains to be seen.
UPDATE: Hillary spokesman Brian Fallon responds:
“We’re pleased that the upcoming Democratic Convention will ensure supporters of Senator Sanders are well represented in the drafting of the party’s platform. The Democratic Party has been a big tent, representing a diverse coalition, and Hillary Clinton is committed to continue welcoming different perspectives and ideas.”