ORLANDO, Fla. — With Bernie Sanders expected to endorse Hillary Clinton next week, the Democratic platform meeting that started here Friday afternoon will be his last chance to make his mark on the document that codifies the party’s values and goals.
Sanders got in the presidential race more than a year ago more to advance his ideas than to actually win, many felt, and this moment is what that was all building toward.
Team Sanders is preparing for a final push on a dozen policy items at the first meeting of the full Democratic Platform Drafting Committee, with the top priority being an amendment opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Over two days, the Platform Committee’s 187 members will consider new amendments and changes to the platform, which will then be sent for ratification to the floor of the Democratic National Convention later this month.
Michael Lighty, policy director of the Sanders-aligned National Nurses United union, said everything rides on the Orlando meeting as the Sanders and Clinton campaigns prepare for an endorsement.
“They're in the final stages of negotiating an agreement between the two campaigns. I don't know if they're going to get one, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist here at the Kennedy Space Center to know that once that deal is cut, there's nothing left on the table. So this is the table,” he said.
Delegates in Orlando will build off the draft party platform that was previously written by a 15-member working group.
Sanders praised the draft as a good first step that included many of his properties but said, “Much more needs to be done.”
The Vermont senator lost the Democratic presidential nomination over a month ago, and many Democrats have been frustrated by his refusal to back Clinton earlier. Sanders still receives Secret Service protection, even as some major allies have said it’s time to move on.
But he’s stayed in the race specifically to influence the platform process, even though some Democratic critics say he’s lost leverage by waiting too long.
“The entire focus right now is to continue to improve the platform in Orlando,” said Warren Gunnels, Sanders’ top policy adviser.
Sanders allies hold 73 seats on the committee, while 105 are committed to Clinton and the rest are Democratic National Committee appointees. That means that for Sanders to get a majority of votes to pass something, he will need to find about 20 extra votes from beyond his own ranks.
Sanders aides are pushing a wish list of a dozen amendments on everything from nuclear weapons to immigration to pension reform.
At the top of the list is an amendment explicitly opposing a vote in the lame-duck session of Congress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal opposed by both Clinton and Sanders.
President Obama supports the TPP, and the White House has been lobbying Platform Committee members against the amendment. Obama even personally spoke with Sanders on the TPP, according to a Sanders aide.
Delegates appointed by Clinton and the DNC feel it would be disrespectful to the president to include platform language affronting one of Obama's top goals. But Sanders is insistent, rounding up 700,000 petition signatures in support of his desired amendment.
Next on Sanders’ list is stiffening the language from the draft platform on the $15 minimum wage. Clinton supports a federal $12 minimum wage and encourages states and cities to raise it if they wish, but she says the higher standard is not right for poorer and rural areas.
Third on Sanders’ list is a ban on fracking, using language proposed by anti-fracking filmmaker Josh Fox. The current draft says nothing about fracking. Clinton has a more nuanced approach to fracking, which calls for tightly regulating — but not banning outright — the controversial natural gas extraction process, similar to the approach taken by California.
Sanders’ expected endorsement of Clinton Tuesday in New Hampshire would be a major turning point in the election and would help Clinton consolidate the Democratic Party against Donald Trump.
While it’s unclear what role Sanders will play in Clinton’s campaign, at a minimum he can help her win New Hampshire.
On Wednesday, both campaigns took a major step towards reconciliation when Clinton rolled out a plan to provide free tuition to in-state colleges for a large number of families, something that Sanders championed during the primary. Sanders hailed the plan, which his staff had helped develop with Clinton’s, as a “very bold initiative.”