Centrist Democrats insist Sanders would need delegate majority to win

Centrist Democrats insist Sanders would need delegate majority to win
© Greg Nash

Democrats backing moderate presidential candidates are rejecting an argument put forth by front-runner Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersStudy: Test detects signs of dementia at least six months earlier than standard method The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Omicron tests vaccines; Bob Dole dies at 98 Democrats see Christmas goal slipping away MORE (I-Vt.) that the candidate with the most delegates heading into the convention, even if it’s not a majority, should be the party’s nominee.

Democrats are closely watching how things shake out during the South Carolina primary on Saturday and the 14 state contests four days later on Super Tuesday. But several Sanders critics said they would probably try to deny the Vermont independent the nomination if he fails to reach the required 1,991 delegates on the first ballot at the convention in July, even if he has more than any other candidate. 

If a candidate does not secure a majority of pledged delegates on the first ballot, so-called superdelegates — members of Congress and other party officials — would be able to cast votes for any candidate during subsequent rounds. That presents a range of possible scenarios, including one in which remaining centrist candidates collectively have more pledged delegates than Sanders.

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Some supporters of moderate candidates are already declaring they have no intention of voting for Sanders if a second ballot is needed.

“I’m going to vote for who I see as the best representative of Democrats and, most importantly, the person I see as most likely to beat Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 Trump endorses David Perdue in Georgia's governor race MORE, plain and simple,” centrist freshman Rep. Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsBiden touts infrastructure bill in Minnesota swing district Five takeaways: House passes Biden's sweeping benefits bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Emergent Biosolutions — Boosters for all MORE (D-Minn.), a supporter of Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharGOP Sen. Braun says abortion laws should be left up to states Klobuchar says 'best way' to protect abortion rights is to codify Roe v. Wade into law Sunday shows preview: Multiple states detect cases of the omicron variant MORE, told The Hill on Thursday. “Right now, I don’t believe it is Bernie Sanders.”

“At this stage, I don’t envision” backing Sanders on a second ballot, Phillips added.

Two Mike Bloomberg backers also told The Hill they would not vote for Sanders on a second ballot.

“I can’t see that right now,” said Rep. Scott PetersScott H. PetersBiden points to drug prices in call for Senate social spending vote Overnight Health Care — Presented by Emergent Biosolutions — Pfizer, US strike COVID-19 pill deal CBO: Democrats' package saves about 0B on drug prices MORE (D-Calif.), who represents a San Diego area district. “We’re not bound by anything. That’s the way the rules work, and we’re just following the rules.”

“We’re going to vote for Michael BloombergMichael BloombergBiden cannot allow his domestic fumbles to transfer to the world stage Jovanni Ortiz in talks for potential Harris job The economic challenges facing Jerome Powell and Joe Biden MORE right now,” added Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksWhite House announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Democrats ask what went wrong on Election Day On The Money — Presented by Citi — Pelosi plays hardball with Manchin MORE (D-N.Y.), the Queens Democratic party boss. “It depends on what’s the deal, who’s still in the race, who’s not in the race. I reserve the right to make the determination of what I would do.”

The comments come after House Democrats attended a briefing at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters a few blocks from the Capitol about the convention delegate rules.

Thursday’s hourlong briefing, led by DNC staff, served to give lawmakers a refresher on the process. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Dole to lie in state in Capitol Rotunda House to vote on Uyghur bill amid diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics MORE (D-Calif.), who requested the briefing, downplayed it as “strictly a housekeeping meeting” and “really just a reading of the rules.”

Attendees said there were “no fireworks.”

Pelosi, in an effort to maintain her neutral stance, declined to say if she would back whichever candidate had the most pledged delegates at the convention.

“The person who we nominate will be the person who has the majority plus one. That may happen before they even get to the convention. But we'll see. The people will speak, and that's what we're listening to,” Pelosi said at a press conference ahead of the briefing.

At last week’s presidential debate in Las Vegas, Sanders was the only candidate to argue that whoever has the most pledged delegates by the Milwaukee convention should be the party’s nominee.

The 2020 convention rules are a result of a change, advocated by Sanders’s team after his 2016 primary loss to former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE, to reduce the power of superdelegates. Previously, superdelegates could vote on the first ballot, awarding influence to party insiders in the establishment.

Sanders’s position this time around is a reversal from 2016, when he called for superdelegates to override Clinton’s pledged delegate majority that she won in the primaries. Veteran Democrats are now only too happy to draw attention to Sanders’s involvement in rewriting the convention rules.

“The rules provide that you have to have a majority. He wrote the rules,” said Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenLofgren: Many Jan. 6 panel witnesses are former Trump officials One congressional committee is rejecting partisanship to protect state votes Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — China's president to video in for climate confab MORE (D-Calif.), the House Administration Committee chairwoman who has not endorsed a presidential candidate.

“The rules were set up primarily as a concession to [Sanders],” added Meeks. “We’re going to follow the rules and the rules say we have to have a majority.”

But Sanders supporters in Congress argue that, assuming he continues to rack up delegates like he has in the first three states, whoever is closest to a majority should win the nomination.

“If you have somebody who has 45 percent of the vote, 47 percent of the vote, and the next person has 20 percent of the vote, then I think it's important for that second round of people to consider the will of the voters,” said Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDemocratic caucus chairs call for Boebert committee assignment removal Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season 91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill MORE (D-Wash.), a co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

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She suggested that lawmakers’ open musing about voting against Sanders at a contested convention even if he has a plurality of pledged delegates reeked of a double standard.

“If any other candidate had gotten 47 percent of the vote in Nevada and had the kind of turnout that Bernie Sanders did, I think that perhaps some people would have a different reaction to exactly what we should be doing right now,” Jayapal added. “So let the voters vote. Let's stay and allow these contests to continue. And let's see what happens.”

The last conventions where a candidate didn’t win the nomination on the first ballot were in 1952, for both Democrats and Republicans.

The unsettled 2020 field is increasing speculation among Democrats that they could face a contested or brokered convention this summer.

“I think it could be a second ballot,” said Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenProgressives win again: No infrastructure vote Thursday Liberals defy Pelosi, say they'll block infrastructure bill Can the US Navy fight and win a war? MORE (D-Tenn.), who has not endorsed a candidate. “I don't see that the candidates and the money that are involved, anybody having a majority after the first ballot.”