How Bernie Sanders Is Flexing His Muscles on the Democratic Party Platform
Bernie Sanders’ still-impassioned campaign electrified debate over a draft of the Democratic Party’s policy positions Saturday, winning concessions on climate change but failing to include opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
During a frequently combative session in an Orlando hotel ballroom Saturday, members of the Democratic National Convention’s full Platform Committee voted down amendments to the party platform to explicitly oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. But Sanders supporters exploded in cheers when they won environmental amendments that included support for pricing greenhouse gases, prioritizing renewable energy and limiting fracking.
“None of this would have happened in this forum without Bernie Sanders pushing this issue front and center over and over again,” said environmentalist Bill McKibben, a supporter of the Vermont senator.
Hillary Clinton backers offered support for the environmental language, but stressed that pricing greenhouse gases was a reflection of the views of some party members and was not a part of her current climate plans. “Her plan is clearly articulated on her website,” said Energy Policy Adviser Trevor Houser. “It’s not her plan.”
Since Clinton effectively clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders has aggressively campaigned to include his progressive policies in the party platform. He has avoided endorsing Clinton, but appears to be closing in on backing her campaign. He told reporters Saturday that the campaigns are “coming closer and closer together in trying to address the major issues facing this country.”
As the policy meeting concluded after midnight on Sunday morning, aides to Clinton and Sanders both hailed the newly amended platform draft as the “most progressive” in party history. The draft includes many of Sanders’ priorities, including a call for a $15 federal minimum wage over time, steps to break up large Wall Street banks and support for the end to the death penalty.
“I think if you read the platform right now, you will understand that the political revolution is alive and kicking,” said Sanders policy adviser Warren Gunnels.
Despite coming together on many pieces of the platform, there were still evident tensions in the room. In the closing moments of the meeting, Sanders supporters shouted down an amendment that implied Clinton was the nominee.
The platform is a nonbinding document that serves as a guidepost for the party. After the Orlando meeting, the document will be voted on at the convention in Philadelphia this month. The Orlando meeting is not the final stop for Sanders, who should have support to file reports that would allow for votes on some of these issues at the convention.
While platform talks are often an afterthought, Sanders’ focus on the document brought more heat to the proceedings in Orlando, which stretched late into the night on Friday and Saturday. The fight over the trade deal was punctuated with boos and shouting at times, as members debated the nuances of the language.
Sanders and Clinton have come out against the trade deal, but President Barack Obama supports it. Clinton supporters, including labor leaders, believed that toughening the trade language made enough of a statement without directly opposing the president, whom they did not mention during their public comments. The amendment said that trade deals “must protect workers and the environment and not undermine access to critically needed prescription drugs.” It went on to say that Democrats would apply those standards “to all trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
Labor leaders said after the vote that their amendment made clear where they stand on TPP and that they oppose “bad trade deals.” But Sanders backers expressed their frustration with boos and angry shouts.
Sanders supporter Benjamin Jealous, a former president of the NAACP argued that language opposing the TPP would help Democrats win the presidential election in November. “I want us to stop making it harder for us to win and start making it easier for us to win,” he said.
Clinton senior policy adviser Maya Harris said in a statement that Clinton opposes the TPP and is not interested in “tinkering around the margins” of the deal. She added that the TPP “fails the test that is now laid out in the platform as a result of this amendment.”
The compromise language on climate change said that the Democratic Party believes “that carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases should be priced” to reflect their negative economic impact. It backs renewable fuels over natural gas power plants. And it offers support for more regulation of fracking and says fracking should not happen where there is local opposition.
Sanders had sought a carbon tax and national ban on fracking.
An effort failed to add language in a section on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements.” The committee instead kept language that advocates working toward a “two-state solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict” that guarantees Israel’s security with recognized borders “and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity.”
Both sides agreed on an amendment focused on criminal justice reform, calling for an investigation by the Department of Justice to investigate on any police-involved shootings. And on a narrow vote, the committee approved language to remove marijuana as a “Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”