Bernie Sanders declined Tuesday to endorse Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, saying that he would continue to push for a “fundamental transformation” of the party up until its convention next month in Philadelphia.
“The American people are hurting, and they are hurting badly,” Sanders said during a news conference outside a campaign office off Capitol Hill. “They want real change, not the same ol’, same ol’.” His comments came as voters in Washington, D.C., were casting the final ballots of the long Democratic nominating contest, and as Sanders and Clinton were preparing for a highly anticipated meeting Tuesday night to discuss the party’s agenda heading into the fall election against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
During his news conference, Sanders ticked off several policy priorities and political changes he would like to see, including new leadership at the Democratic National Committee, which he said has not focused enough on bringing new voters into the party.
Though Sanders has not officially bowed out of the race, his focus in recent days has shifted from pursuing a long-shot strategy to wrest the nomination from Clinton to finding ways to advance the agenda he has championed after his candidacy ends.
Sanders has made clear that he wants to leverage his unexpectedly strong showing in the primaries to advance his priorities in the Democratic platform and in the party’s future legislative agenda. Sanders has staked out positions to the left of Clinton on a series of issues, including his stances on providing universal health care, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and offering tuition-free college.
At his news conference, Sanders called for “the most progressive platform ever passed by the Democratic party.”
His campaign also announced that Sanders will host a live nationwide video address Thursday night to talk about how his “political revolution continues.” And this weekend, more than 2,500 progressive activists, many of whom supported Sanders’s campaign, are planning to convene in Chicago to talk about many of the same issues Sanders championed.
Absent from his rhetoric of late is a vow to stay in the race to make a last-ditch attempt to win the nomination by flipping the allegiances of hundreds of superdelegates who have announced their support for Clinton. Sanders has said little about that strategy in recent days, and there has been no evidence that he is actively pursuing it.
The meeting with Clinton in Washington on Tuesday night is part of a busy day for Sanders, who also addressed a lunch meeting of the Senate Democratic caucus and plans to attend a picnic hosted by President Obama at the White House for members of Congress. He then intends to return to his home in Burlington, Vt.
Several of Sanders’s Democratic Senate colleagues indicated Tuesday that they are comfortable giving him the time he needs to wind down his campaign before coming fully on board with Clinton.
“I have total confidence that Bernie’s going to be on board, doing the right thing, saying the right thing, putting all of himself into this campaign,” said. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “Of course, everybody wants him to do it sooner, rather than later, but the timetable’s up to him. I’m giving no advice, nor judging him, for how he decides.”
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said he could see “a scenario where [Sanders’s] campaign continues all the way to the convention.”
“As long as it’s in the spirit of unity, it could still work,” Schatz said. “For voters, they’ll just look at whether we’re in alignment. They don’t need to know that Bernie and Hillary are having breakfast every morning.”
Clinton, a former secretary of state, is widely expected to prevail in the Democratic primary in D.C., where 20 delegates are at stake – not enough to have any significant effect on the overall race.
Clinton’s meeting with Sanders comes as her pivot to the general election against Republican Donald Trump has been complicated by this weekend’s massacre in Orlando. On Monday, she changed the focus of a campaign stop in Cleveland from the economy to national-security issues and terrorism in the wake of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub.
As part of a pared-back schedule, she campaigned in Pittsburgh on Tuesday before traveling to Washington for a fundraising event and the meeting with Sanders.
Clinton and Sanders agreed to meet when she called him last Tuesday, on the night of six other nominating contests, including the California primary, a Clinton official said.
“She looks forward to the opportunity to discuss how they can advance their shared commitment to a progressive agenda and work together to stop Donald Trump in the general election,” the official said.
On Sunday, Sanders met at his Burlington home with a few dozen leading supporters. Speaking to the media, he did not say he was exiting the race.
“Are we going to take our campaign for transforming the Democratic Party into the convention? Absolutely,” he told reporters.
As of Tuesday, Clinton had accumulated 2,784 delegates, including superdelegates, exceeding the number needed to clinch the nomination by more than 400, according to the latest Associated Press tally, which put Sanders’s total at 1,877.
To have a shot at wresting the nomination from Clinton, Sanders would need to flip the allegiances of at least 400 of the 581 superdelegates who have announced their support for Clinton – about 70 percent of them.