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Bernie Sanders Won by Waiting to Endorse Hillary Clinton

7 minute read

When Bernie Sanders arrives in Portsmouth, N.H., on Tuesday to endorse his bitter rival Hillary Clinton after overwhelmingly losing the Democratic primary, he will be holding a handful of policy victories.

From free college to a tax on carbon emissions, Sanders has managed to finesse some of his liberal policies into the Democratic Party’s platform and cajole Clinton’s campaign into accepting some of his most liberal proposals. Weeks of backroom and telephone negotiations resulted in Sanders-backed policy ideas landing on Clinton’s platform and in the Democratic Party’s blueprint, outlined in a hefty platform draft that was finished last weekend in Orlando.

Sanders’ moderate successes brings him to Portsmouth on Tuesday with something of the swagger of a victor, despite failing by a long shot at his biggest goal of winning the nomination.

“We have made enormous strides,” Sanders boasted in a statement to reporters two days before his expected endorsement for Clinton. “Thanks to the millions of people across the country who got involved in the political process — many for the first time — we now have the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.”

Sanders’ endorsement will be billed as a unity moment in the Democratic Party when its two wings — the Vermont Senator’s and Clinton’s — come together in an effort to defeat Donald Trump. Sanders, famously stubborn, would likely not give Clinton a full-throated backing without major concessions.

In the short term, it could be a Pyrrhic victory: the policies laid out are not binding, and most of them would likely be rejected in a Republican-controlled Congress. Sanders lost on some major ideas, including Medicare for all and a fracking ban.

And Sanders’ victories may have come at a political price. For weeks after losing the primary, he refused to endorse Clinton, bucking tradition in both parties. He exasperated Democrats and worried even some of his own supporters. He was playing games with the Democratic platform, some detractors charged, and he was losing leverage the longer he refused to get on board. Would he risk installing Trump in the White House?

It was a gamble that depended on Clinton and her allies to cooperate. In fact, Clinton’s camp did play along, in public negotiations in hotel lobbies and private backrooms between Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver and his Clinton counterpart, Robby Mook, as well as their policy teams and political aides. Much of the platform was officially decided in meetings in St. Louis and Orlando, where Democratic delegates and party officials met to vote on various amendments and proposals.

But Sanders’ coyness in endorsing Clinton may have paid off. By not withholding his endorsement, he pulled Clinton to the table. After all, Sanders could only ever endorse Clinton and help her win the White House if he really agreed with her platform. “We believe we got at least 80% of what we’ve been fighting for,” said Warren Gunnels, Sanders’ top policy adviser.

And by pushing the ideas into the Democratic bloodstream, Sanders may yet see some of them enacted, although it could be years from now.

Here’s a look at some of the issues decided since the final primary in Washington, D.C., on June 14.

Making public college free
The Clinton and Sanders campaigns agreed last week on a policy that would make college free for all families making less than $125,000 per year, or 80% of American families. The proposal “will revolutionize the funding of higher education in America,” Sanders said. Sanders has pushed for universal free public college during the primary. The new plan is as close to Sanders’ goal as he could have hoped.

However, even if this plan passes Congress, the plan will be expensive and difficult to implement, and it would rely on skeptical states to take federal grants to pay for many thousands of students’ tuition, a situation that tripped up the Affordable Care Act’s implementation as well.

Expanding health care coverage
Sanders did not achieve his favored proposal, which would give Americans government-paid-for health insurance, paid for by a middle-class tax increase. Instead, he won a semblance of a compromise, which Clinton announced over the weekend: an expansion of community-based primary-care services and establishing a public-option insurance plan.

“It is a significant step forward as we advance toward the goal of health care for all Americans,” Sanders said in a call with reporters on Tuesday. The plan is nowhere close, however, to Sanders’ Medicare-for-all plan, a large government program that was voted down by the Democratic platform committee.

Instituting a $15 minimum wage
Over the weekend, Sanders supporters won firm language in the party platform in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Clinton supported a $12 minimum wage during the Democratic primary, and her delegates initially opposed including firm language in the party platform. This was a centerpiece of Sanders’ campaign speech.

No firm language on the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Both Sanders and Clinton opposed the massive new free-trade deal in its current form, but Sanders went a step further: he wanted it to never even appear for a vote. He pushed for that specific language in the Democratic Party’s platform, a move that would contravene the sitting President, who supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The party refused, and Sanders lost. “The loss on TPP was a very significant defeat,” said Gunnels, the policy adviser, who wanted to ensure it is not voted on in the lame-duck session between the November election and the start of the next President’s first term in January.

More banking regulation
Sanders won a tenet in the party platform that recommends calls for breaking up large Wall Street institutions that are “too big to fail” and creating a wall between commercial and investment banking, or a “modern-day Glass-Steagall” act. That was a position that Clinton did not support during the primary: she has her own Wall Street regulation plan that focuses on hedge funds and what the campaign has called “shadow banking.” Sanders’ allies and progressives see this as a major victory.

Abolishing the death penalty
The party’s draft platform calls for abolishing the death penalty, a view that Sanders maintained during the primary. Clinton has supported the death penalty in rare cases.

Taxing carbon emissions
A contentious platform issue that Clinton did not take a position on during the primary, Sanders pushed hard for a carbon tax, which conservatives see as a major burden on businesses. Sanders’ delegates on the platform committee were able to push for an aggressive price on carbon and methane emissions.

No ban on fracking
Sanders had made a ban on fracking a centerpiece of his campaign, culminating in a testy exchange during a Democratic debate. Clinton has said that she will regulate fracking. The Vermont Senator campaigned on it heavily in New York State and employed surrogates to make his case. But the party platform ultimately voted against a fracking ban.

The party platform calls for removing marijuana as a Schedule-1 drug, a category that includes drugs with no currently accepted medical use, like heroin. This was a position Sanders supported throughout the primary.

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