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Party gives Sanders bigger say on platform

The Democratic National Committee made a bid to quell an escalating feud with Bernie Sanders this week by giving him more clout on the panel that will write the party’s platform, a decision made with an eye toward coalescing the party around likely nominee Hillary Clinton.

With Clinton having all but locked up the nomination and looking for ways to bring Sanders’ supporters into the fold before the general election, the DNC on Monday gave the Vermont senator five picks for the Philadelphia convention’s platform drafting committee. Clinton gets six members and four others are appointed by DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whom Sanders has accused of tilting the nomination process in Clinton’s favor.

Sanders said he was satisfied with the plan.

“We believe that we will have the representation on the platform drafting committee to create a Democratic platform that reflects the views of millions of our supporters who want the party to address the needs of working families in this country and not just Wall Street, the drug companies, the fossil fuel industry and other powerful special interests,” he said in a statement.

Sanders’ selections run the gamut of the Democratic Party’s left-wing and progressive causes: civil rights activist Cornel West, environmentalist Bill McKibben, Native American advocate Deborah Parker, pro-Palestine activist James Zogby and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress.

Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon praised the DNC’s move.

“We’re pleased that the upcoming Democratic Convention will ensure supporters of Senator Sanders are well represented in the drafting of the party’s platform,” Fallon said in a statement. “The Democratic Party historically has been a big tent, representing a diverse coalition, and Hillary Clinton is committed to continue welcoming different perspectives and ideas.”

The DNC’s move is an important olive branch to Sanders, whom some see as damaging Clinton’s chances of winning the general election by continuing to fight for the nomination even as his own path to victory disappears. Sanders, who is seeking to maximize his leverage ahead of the convention to press for changes within the party, further turned up the heat over the weekend by endorsing Wasserman Schultz’s Democratic opponent in the Florida House primary.

The deal is a compromise between the DNC’s initial proposal and the Sanders’ counteroffer. Earlier this month Sanders sent a letter to Wasserman Schultz proposing that he and Clinton’s campaigns each be allowed to pick seven members of the committee, with both campaigns selecting the 15th member. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Clinton backer who was selected for the committee by Wasserman Schultz, will chair the committee.

Sanders, who would have long odds of catching Clinton in the delegate count by the time of the last primary in June, has been outlining his demands for the party platform, including support for a $15 an hour federal minimum wage and free tuition at public colleges. Democrats concerned about party unity have argued in favor of giving Sanders a large role in shaping the platform, partly because the party platform is seen as more of a symbolic document than a binding agreement for the nominee.

Steve Schale, who led Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign in Florida, said changes to the platform wouldn’t necessarily have a major impact on the party and could reduce tension at the convention.

“From an issues standpoint, whether something gets adopted in the platform or not is sort of inconsequential — whether he gets 20 words in the platform that nobody’s going to read,” Schale said, indicating that Sanders may also “try to get some commitment on reforming the delegate process going forward,” including the superdelegate system, “open primaries going forward and changes in the calendar.”

Howard Dean, a 2004 presidential candidate, former Democratic National Committee chairman and fellow Vermonter, said he also believes there should be room in the platform to accommodate Sanders.

“I think Bernie’s people would like some movement on some key issues and there’s no reason she can’t make some movement,” Dean, who is supporting Clinton, said in a recent interview.

He suggested that the platform can be sharper on progressive goals like more affordable housing, banking reform and tax changes to help middle and working class Americans. But he insisted that it “has to be a positive platform, not a blaming platform.”

“We don’t want to make this look like a vendetta, even though there’s no doubt the banks have been responsible for a tremendous amount of pain,” Dean said. “I would avoid using particular ideological buzzwords in the platform.”

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