Thwarted presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders arrived at the White House on Thursday for talks with President Barack Obama on how to unite the Democratic party after a testy primary campaign.
Obama is to play peace broker, coaxing Sanders to recognize Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee and focus with her on beating Republican rival Donald Trump in November. The two men strode along the West Wing colonnade, both laughing at one point, with the president placing his hand on Sanders’ back as he opened the door to the Oval Office.
Obama is expected to tread softly, “hearing Sanders out”, according to a Democratic source familiar with preparations for the White House meeting and offering him a very public show of respect for his insurgent campaign.
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“I thought that Bernie Sanders brought enormous energy and new ideas,” Obama said on Wednesday. “I thought it made Hillary a better candidate.” “My hope is that over the next couple of weeks, we’re able to pull things together,” Obama said, recalling his own bitter campaign rivalry with Clinton in 2008.
“What happens during primaries, you get a little ouchy. Everybody does.” Sanders told his defiant supporters that “the struggle continues”, even after crushing defeats to Clinton in California and New Jersey.
But there is unlikely to be fist thumping or angry demands for Sanders to face political reality and drop out. “I think there is a recognition that this is emotionally very challenging,” said the Democratic source, who asked not to be named.
“Sanders has poured his energy into this, there is a tremendous amount of pressure. It’s like a battleship,it takes a while to change course.” Sanders and Obama have spoken three times in the last month and are said to have a good rapport.
Obama was always certain to back Clinton, his former secretary of state, but he has so far refrained from making any formal endorsement. “I think she is whip smart. She is tough.” Obama told The Tonight Show.