Sanders rains on Hillary’s parade

Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton
Francis Rivera / Getty

Hillary Clinton took Capitol Hill by storm on Tuesday with a daylong series of friendly talks with congressional Democrats on the most pressing issues of the day. But if it was Clinton’s parade, no one told Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The Vermont independent, who’s challenging Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary next year, hijacked a set of microphones — usually reserved for Senate leaders — after leaving a private meeting between the former secretary of State and Senate Democrats in the Capitol Tuesday afternoon.

{mosads}He then used the impromptu press conference to question Clinton’s populist bona fides on a range of issues, including trade policy, the Iraq War, regulating big banks and tackling climate change.

“Secretary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues,” he said to a mob of reporters.

On trade, Sanders said three decades of deals — including the North American Free Trade Agreement signed by former President Clinton — “have been disastrous for American workers.”

“Secretary Clinton, I believe, has a different view on that issue,” he said.

On climate change, Sanders noted his staunch opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which will transport “some of the dirtiest fuel on this planet.” 

“I think Secretary Clinton has not been clear on her views on that issue,” he said. 

And on the economy, Sanders is pushing a policy package featuring a $15 minimum wage and $1 trillion in infrastructure spending. 

“I think the secretary has not been quite so clear on those issues,” he charged.

Elsewhere in the Capitol, Clinton’s reception was much friendlier. The former New York senator met with the full House Democratic Caucus, which received her with wild cheers and shrieking whistles, and held separate audiences with the Black, Hispanic, Asian Pacific American and Progressive caucuses, all of which embraced her visit with open arms.

Indeed, whatever liberal angst there is over Clinton outside the Beltway, it was nowhere to be seen in the House on Tuesday. 

“I think some of the progressive issues and members have been kind of crying in the wilderness for awhile, and now those issues like climate change, like income inequality, jobs agenda, they’re resonating with the public. And I think that Hillary understands that,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), another CPC member, emphasized that it’s “too soon to actually rate a person.” 

“But,” she added, “I think she’s doing a phenomenal job in terms of putting the issues out in a way where people understand … the fact that there are millions of people who are fighting and working to get into the middle class who are living in poverty, and they deserve a policy agenda that’s going to lift them up. 

“That’s a big issue, and she’s talked about that in a very bold way.” 

The whirlwind tour provided lawmakers with a private forum to bounce specific policy prescriptions off the Democratic front-runner. The spectrum of issues did not lack for width.

Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), a member of the Hispanic Caucus, said he urged Clinton to shutter the detention centers housing illegal immigrant families in Texas and Pennsylvania — an idea to which Clinton is sympathetic, he said.

Members of the Hispanic and the Asian and Pacific Islander  caucuses, meanwhile, urged Clinton to appoint a racially diverse Cabinet if she wins the presidency.

“We talked about the need for Asian Americans to be included in presidential appointments,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said after the meeting with Clinton. “Right now, there are no APIs [Asian Pacific Islanders] in the Cabinet. There is no API that is a Supreme Court justice. We talked about the pipeline that leads to those kinds of positions and the need for inclusion there as well.”

That topic didn’t come up in the hourlong huddle with the Congressional Black Caucus, which focused on criminal justice reform, gun violence, income inequality and the Confederate flag, according to Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.). That meeting also featured the lone member of the GOP to sit in on Clinton’s day in the Capitol: Utah Rep. Mia Love, the sole black female Republican in Congress.

“She reminded us that we need to continue to have the debate on race in America. We need to have that conversation,” Butterfield told reporters. “It doesn’t need to cease just because the South Carolina flag has been removed from the Capitol grounds.”

Butterfield declined to endorse Clinton, noting the CBC plans a future meeting with Sanders as well.

The Democrats did not appear to press Clinton on some of the topics mentioned by Sanders in his public comments. Neither trade nor Keystone were mentioned in the Progressive Caucus meeting, according to Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.). And although Clinton told the lawmakers she’s committed to hiking the minimum wage, they didn’t push her on the $15 rate they’re championing.

“We didn’t get into specifics about a number,” said Rep.
Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.). 

Clinton’s policy tour was about building relationships as well. President Obama’s outreach to Congress has long been a bone of contention for many Democrats who think he hasn’t done nearly enough to communicate with his allies on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a Clinton supporter, said a part of her barnstorming effort was to send an early message that she would manage the White House differently.

“Coming so early in the campaign cycle to the House Democratic Caucus is a very smart move on her part and absolutely says, ‘I want to build partnerships,’ ” Connolly said. “And she said that: ‘I want to partner with you. That’s why I’m here, and if I haven’t earned your support, I hope to do so and will make every effort to do so. But we’re going to work together.’ ”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who heads the Progressive Caucus with Grijalva, echoed that message.

“Even people who are your friends want to feel the friendship every now and again,” he said. “And so to show up and take questions and just sort of spend some time is indicating that, ‘I value you, I think you’re important, I care about what you say.’ ”

Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) was not so circumspect.

“I’m ready for Hillary, baby!” he said.

This story was updated at 8:00 p.m.

Tags 2016 Democratic primary Bernie Sanders Gerry Connolly Hillary Clinton Keith Ellison Raul Grijalva
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