Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo This week: Congress starts year-end legislative sprint Restless progressives eye 2024 MORE (I-Vt.) gave Senate Democrats his presidential pitch on Tuesday — and left his colleagues thankful for not attacking Democratic front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE.
Democrats said that the Vermont senator struck a familiar tone with them, after roughly a quarter century of pushing his populist economic positions in Washington.
"It was warm and friendly. We know him. We love him,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks 91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill Bipartisan senators press FBI, inspector general for changes following Nassar case MORE (D-Ill.). “He's the real deal. He's genuine. His message to our caucus hasn't changed one bit."
Sanders’s presentation at the Tuesday lunch came just two weeks after Clinton herself drew wide praise from House and Senate Democrats in briefings about her 2016 campaign. After Clinton's visit to the Capitol this month, Sanders made an extensive case to reporters for why he was the more progressive candidate.
A spokesman for Sanders didn’t respond to requests for comment about the candidate’s pitch to Democrats.
The Vermont senator has closed the gap on Clinton, in both national polling and early primary states, while distancing himself from other Democratic contenders seeking to be the Clinton alternative.
Both Durbin and Sen. Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerLawmakers take aim at 'Grinches' using bots to target consumers during holidays Democratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills Schumer mourns death of 'amazing' father MORE (N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ next leader, said the caucus didn’t hear much new from Sanders, who has drawn big crowds at events across the nation in recent weeks. Sanders has long pushed for policies, like higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, and a more robust minimum wage.
But Durbin and Schumer said Senate Democrats were perhaps most pleased that Sanders has refrained from personally attacking Clinton — a stark contrast, they said, to the Republican field. Sanders, however, did criticize Clinton on Tuesday for dodging questions on the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project he opposes.
“He has a very coherent, strong message,” Schumer said. “And people also were appreciative of the fact that he’s not attacking any other candidate. He’s just laying out his view.”
Durbin said it was undeniable that Sanders, who is popular among grassroots liberals, has had an impact on the Democratic campaign.
Liberal activists have hoped that Sanders and others can pull Clinton’s policy prescriptions to the left. But Sanders’s longstanding push to roll back corporate influence of the U.S. economy has not been warmly received by activists, who think he could speak out more about racial injustice.
"He not only got a warm reception, but several senators stood up and said, ‘You know, I'm supporting Hillary, but I respect you because you've kept it at the issues.’ It's not the personal attack that's going on in the Republican primary,” Durbin said.