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 SandersOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure Sanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic 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 John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE, plain and simple,” centrist freshman Rep. Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsLeaders call for civility after GOP lawmaker's verbal attack on Ocasio-Cortez House seeks ways to honor John Lewis Cook shifts 20 House districts toward Democrats MORE (D-Minn.), a supporter of Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Lobbying world 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. PetersLobbying world The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The American Investment Council - Trump, Pence tested, in more ways than one House Democrats press Pelosi for automatic unemployment insurance and food stamp extensions 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 BloombergEverytown on the NRA lawsuit: 'Come November, we're going to make sure they're out of power, too' Hillicon Valley: Trump raises idea of delaying election, faces swift bipartisan pushback | Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google release earnings reports | Senators ask Justice Department to investigate TikTok, Zoom Meme group joins with Lincoln Project in new campaign against Trump MORE right now,” added Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksDemocrats go big on diversity with new House recruits Chamber of Commerce, banking industry groups call on Senate to pass corporate diversity bill Sherman joins race for House Foreign Affairs gavel 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.”

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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 PelosiCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Top Democrats say postmaster confirmed changes to mail service amid delays 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 ClintonTrump touts economic agenda in battleground Ohio The Memo: Campaigns gird for rush of early voting Trump's pitch to Maine lobstermen falls flat 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 LofgrenDemocrats accuse Barr of helping Trump distract from coronavirus State and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November FEC commissioner resigns, leaving agency without a quorum again 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 JayapalSanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Matt Stoller: Big tech House grilling the most important hearing on corporate power since the 1930s Hillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against 'misinformation' | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidence MORE (D-Wash.), a co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

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 CohenTennessee Rep. Steve Cohen wins Democratic primary Democrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat Texas Democrat proposes legislation requiring masks in federal facilities 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.”