House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday defended Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows - Russia standoff over Ukraine dominates Sanders says Biden can't count on him to support 'almost any' spending package compromise Sanders says Republicans are 'laughing all the way to Election Day' MORE (I-Vt.) from Democratic critics growing restless with his long-shot presidential campaign.
National party leaders have become increasingly concerned that Sanders's extended primary contest with front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNo Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way The dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE will bruise the Democrats' image while distracting from the party's ultimate fight against Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHeadaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Stormy Daniels set to testify against former lawyer Avenatti in fraud trial Cheney challenger wins Wyoming Republican activists' straw poll MORE, the presumptive Republican nominee.
But Pelosi hailed Sanders for energizing young voters, arguing that his appeal will play to the advantage of all Democrats in November.
"Bernie Sanders is a positive force in the Democratic Party," Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol.
"He has awakened in some people an interest in the political process that wasn't there. He has encouraged young people to channel their interest in public service and community leadership into a political place, because this is where decisions are made that'll affect their future and their lives. And I think that's positive."
Sanders has won a surprising number of state primaries, largely by energizing young and blue-collar voters distrustful of Clinton, and he's vowing to carry that momentum to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in July.
But the Vermont senator is also trailing Clinton significantly in the delegate count, leading to suggestions that his bid is futile and damaging Democrats' chances in November.
Party leaders are growing eager to shift their resources to the general election — a sentiment that's only swelled since last weekend's violence-plagued Nevada state convention.
Pelosi, who has not endorsed a presidential candidate, has a different take. While condemning the Nevada violence, she also downplayed the Democratic divisions, saying they pale in comparison to those dogging the Republicans struggling to unify behind Trump's likely nomination. On most issues, she noted, Clinton and Sanders agree.
Pelosi also rejected the comparisons some are making between the conflicts underlying this year's primary contest and the violence that erupted during the Democratic National Convention in 1968, which she attended.
She characterized the 1968 gathering as "a colossal … clashing of people who had a completely different view about the [Vietnam] War and how we go forward." The two political environments have "nothing in common," she said, and conflating the contests is "ridiculous."
"We were at war in Vietnam. That fueled the unhappiness," she said. "That matter was handled in a way that was not appropriate."
Pelosi said she's encouraged by the enthusiasm Sanders has generated among his millions of supporters. Still, she said Democratic leaders also have a responsibility to convey to those new to the process "that there are rules that exist."
"The exuberance of our members is always something wonderful to behold," Pelosi said, "and at some point to channel."