Bernie Sanders pushed through internal turmoil Wednesday night to launch a new group designed to carry the torch of his former presidential campaign.
Tens of thousands of supporters, many of whom had gathered at house parties across the country, tuned in to watch a livestream as Sanders officially announced Our Revolution, which plans to support progressive candidates across the country, especially down-ballot.
"We need many, many Bernies," said environmental activist Bill McKibben.
Sanders also used the opportunity to take a victory lap for his presidential campaign, saying that even though he lost, his message won. "Our ideas, our vision, are the future of this country," he said.
Despite his plans to campaign for HIllary Clinton, Sanders did not reiterate his endorsement for her, nor his opposition to Republican nominee Donald Trump (the group’s non-profit status may have kept him from being more explicit about the election). Earlier in the day, Jane Sanders, the senator’s wife, suggested on Twitter that the group’s donors would have "zero to do w/HRC."
And Sanders implied he would hold Clinton to the policies she agreed to include in the Democratic Party platform.
"If anybody thinks that document, and what is in that platform, is going to be on a shelf collecting dust, they are sadly mistaken," Sanders said.
For supporters watching at a house party in Washington, D.C., it was a smooth kickoff for a group that has been roiled by disputes.
Two-thirds of Our Revolution’s staff resigned over the weekend after former Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver was brought in to lead the group. The staffers objected to Weaver’s aggressive management style and his interest in soliciting donations from wealthy donors for a group that doesn’t have to disclose its contributions.
But some in progressive circles were unsure the group’s original leader, Sanders’ former body man, had enough experience to run a national organization.
It remains unclear what exactly the group will do to help candidates, as legal questions and departures have complicated planned training and organizing programs.
Before it launched, Our Revolution tapped Sanders' lucrative email list to raise $1 million for its own war chest, and helped raise $600,000 directly for candidates it supports, former staffers told NBC News.
The group had to stop email fundraising efforts after questions were raised internally about whether it was violating the rules governing its non-profit tax status.
Staffers who resigned blame Weaver for the group’s structure as a so-called 501(c)4 non-profit organization, which they say forced it to forfeit millions of dollars in lost fundraising opportunities. They also complain the choice prevented the group from coordinating with the candidates they were supposed to be helping.
Sanders seemed to respond to criticism of Weaver by taking extra time to praise his longtime aide. Sanders also praised executive director Shannon Jackson, who had been running the group before Weaver came in above him.
Sanders vowed a new governing board was coming after NBC News reported that the organization’s board was composed entirely of white men following Jane Sanders' resignation as chairman.
"A new, very diverse board of strong progressive men and women from across the country is now being put together under the leadership of Larry Cohen, the longtime president of the Communications Workers of America," Sanders said.
Sanders also said he would be keeping his distance from the group, after campaign finance experts had raised questions about his involvement.
"As a United States senator, I will not be directing or controlling Our Revolution. But I have the utmost confidence that this leadership team and the board being assembled shares the progressive values we all hold, and I expect big things from them and all of you who join with them to carry the political revolution forward," he said.
Sanders supporters’ loyalties are to the senator, so his arms-length involvement are likely to present challenges for fundraising and political activity.
The senator also called out five candidates the group will support from a full list that will include "at least 100" people running for office.
Sanders mentioned three candidates for local office, New York congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout, and Wisconsin Senate candidate Russ Feingold.
He did not mention Tim Canova, who is trailing in next week’s primary against former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Canova expressed frustration this week that Sanders had not campaigned for him.