How Bernie came to back Hillary

How Bernie came to back Hillary
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It was an endorsement nearly one month in the making.

Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Sanders still sees 'narrow path' to Democratic presidential nomination Tenants call on lawmakers to pass rent freezes MORE’s backing of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much GOP challenger seizes on outrage against Massie Juan Williams: Mueller, one year on MORE on Tuesday in Portsmouth, N.H., came after many delicate conversations between the two camps, sources say. 

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The successful conclusion to that process — the former secretary of State and the Vermont senator smiling broadly as they stood side by side — was a ­welcome sight for Democrats who have been desperate to build a united front to help defeat presumptive GOP nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIllinois governor says state has gotten 10 percent of medical equipments it's requested Biden leads Trump by 6 points in national poll Tesla offers ventilators free of cost to hospitals, Musk says MORE in November. 

“Secretary Clinton has won the Democratic nominating process, and I congratulate her for that,” Sanders said. “She will be the Democratic nominee for president, and I intend to do everything I can to make certain she will be the next president of the United States.”

The onetime rivals stood on a stage flanked by decorative pillars spelling out a Clinton slogan, “Stronger Together,” that seemed apposite for the occasion.

As they embraced at the end of Sanders’s speech, a microphone picked up Clinton telling him, “That was so great.”

Democrats are now headed to the nominating conventions far more unified than the GOP. Trump has not won any backing from his most serious rivals, though Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFlorida sheriff asks for new leads in disappearance of Carole Baskin's former husband after Netflix's 'Tiger King' drops Ted Cruz jokes about quarantine boredom, 'Tiger King' Trump faces mounting pressure to unleash Defense Production Act MORE (R-Texas) has agreed to speak at the Republican National Convention next week.

Trump on Tuesday released a statement as Sanders was speaking that accused the Vermonter of having become “part of a rigged system.”

The relief for Clinton and her party was all the deeper because of how bitter the contest with Sanders had become.

The former first lady had at times portrayed Sanders as a left-wing demagogue, issuing grand promises that, she argued, had little chance of coming to fruition. 

Sanders, for his part, had come perilously close to casting Clinton as a tool of big-money interests, attacking her use of super-PAC money and her lavishly paid speeches to Goldman Sachs.

Sanders also took much longer to endorse Clinton than the then-New York senator herself took to back Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Obama urges voters to 'demand better' after Trump rolls back fuel standards Trump administration rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards MORE for president in 2008, when she announced her endorsement just days after the final primaries.

But while he did not formally abandon his campaign on Tuesday, Sanders’s tone now is a far cry from what it was as the final state contests were held, when he openly contemplated fighting on to the Democratic National Convention.

The coming-together finally occurred after long talks involving Clinton, Sanders and his wife, Jane, as well as top campaign officials on both sides. The negotiations centered on how the two candidates could push forward with an agreed-upon agenda.

A critical moment in the process, Clinton aides said Tuesday, was the meeting between the two candidates last month at the Washington Hilton. The talk helped to break the ice, with Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver and Clinton counterpart Robby Mook lingering at the hotel for another two hours.

In the weeks after that initial meeting, Mook and Weaver continued the discussion in a string of calls and text messages. Last month, they had a one-on-one dinner at the Farmhouse Tap and Grill in Burlington, Vt., one Clinton aide said. 

Over a burger for Weaver and a salad for Mook, they discussed issues including Sanders’s tuition-free college proposal. They were interrupted several times by diners asking to take selfies with Weaver, the Clinton aide said. The dinner meeting went well into the night, lasting until about 11 p.m.

Other players in the Democratic Party also got involved in the unity push. New York Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell launches ad touting role in passing coronavirus relief Joe Biden can't lead the charge from his home in Delaware Texas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill MORE, who is expected to become the next Senate Democratic leader, worked the phones to bring the sides together on policy, another source said, and dined with Sanders at a Chinese restaurant on Capitol Hill recently to talk about an endorsement of Clinton.

Clinton agreed to move toward Sanders in accepting a $15 minimum wage, a public option for health insurance in ObamaCare and the elimination of tuition at in-state universities and colleges for many families.

With those concessions squared away, Sanders made the decision to back Clinton.

Clinton did her part to appeal to Sanders’s supporters on Tuesday, noting during two separate passages of her speech that she had worked with the independent on her college proposal.

She also sought to mollify Sanders supporters by saying “thank you” to those who had “poured their heart and soul” into her competitor’s campaign. 

In a wry nod to Sanders’s oft-repeated claim that the average donation to his campaign was $27, Clinton said, “We accept $27 donations, too, you know,” and her campaign added a button on her website for giving that amount. 

Progressive groups, long tepid about Clinton, seem to have been won over by her policy shifts.

Democracy for America announced its endorsement of Clinton as Sanders spoke, while major progressive group MoveOn followed suit soon after. Sanders won DFA’s endorsement in December.

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDemocratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories House bill would ban stock trading by members of Congress Lawmakers ask Trump administration to help Gulf oil and gas producers MORE (D-Ore.), Sanders’s only backer in the Senate, praised the event as “an absolutely fabulous moment” and a “full embrace of the progressive movement” by Clinton.

“This was a speech that, if you had just seen it on paper, you’d have said this speech was written by Bernie Sanders,” he said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”

In Clinton’s Brooklyn campaign headquarters, aides were glad to see an end to a grueling primary campaign where Sanders did better than predicted.

“I’m relieved it’s over,” one Clinton aide said on Tuesday.

After receiving the endorsement from Sanders, Clinton said she couldn’t “help but reflect how much more enjoyable this election is going to be now that we are on the same side.”

“We are joining forces to defeat Donald Trump, win in November, and yes, together, build a future we can all believe in,” she said, incorporating Sanders’s campaign slogan.

Lisa Hagen contributed.