Tensions explode in Dem primary

Tensions explode in Dem primary
© Greg Nash

Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo This week: Congress starts year-end legislative sprint Restless progressives eye 2024 MORE is standing by his supporters in the face of mounting criticism from Democratic leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidVoters need to feel the benefit, not just hear the message Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama Mellman: Are independents really so independent? MORE, over the increasingly nasty tone of the Democratic presidential primary.

Sanders on Tuesday issued a statement rejecting claims by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE’s allies that his campaign has shown a penchant for violence as “nonsense.”

ADVERTISEMENT

It was released just minutes after Reid went before cameras in the Senate to call on Sanders to do “the right thing” and hold his supporters accountable for the chaotic scene that took place Saturday at Nevada’s state convention.

The starkly different messages showed off a Democratic split that is getting worse than the fight within the GOP over presumptive presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE.

Reid said he had spoken to Sanders for 10 minutes on Tuesday but in an interview with CNN called the release from the Sanders campaign a “silly statement” that “someone else prepared for him.”

“Bernie should say something — not have some silly statement,” Reid said. “Bernie is better than that. ... I’m surprised by his statement. I thought he was going to do something different.”

While Republicans are now rallying around Trump, a Democratic rift between party officials overwhelmingly loyal to Clinton and liberal activists and younger voters drawn to Sanders is growing wider and more contentious.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday said things have gotten out of hand and made clear they see Sanders as primarily responsible.

“When it breaks down to shouting matches, demonstrations and violence, it’s unacceptable,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks 91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill Bipartisan senators press FBI, inspector general for changes following Nassar case MORE (Ill.). “Shouting down speakers and throwing chairs in hotel gatherings — those things aren’t consistent with reasonable discourse.”

Tensions spiraled out of control at the Nevada Democratic convention over the weekend when frustrations among Sanders’s supporters erupted into shouting, angry demonstrations and thrown chairs.

Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFirst senator formally endorses Bass in LA mayoral bid Bass receives endorsement from EMILY's List Bass gets mayoral endorsement from former California senator MORE (D-Calif.) was booed off the stage in Las Vegas when she appealed for Sanders backers calm down. She said she feared for her safety.

Death threats and vulgar messages were left with Nevada Democratic Party Chairwoman Roberta Lange — and then were posted online by Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston.

“I just wanted to let you know that I think people like you should be hung [sic] in a public execution to show this world that we won’t stand for this sort of corruption,” says the caller on one voicemail, who left his phone number.

Lange told CNN on Tuesday that Sanders has done nothing to apologize or crack down on the behavior.

“They have high-level campaign people that were trying to incite their people going into the convention,” she said. “I have not received an apology. I have not received anything from the Sanders campaign.

“It’s going to continue unless, you know, people are made to feel this isn’t OK,” she said. “Some of the text messages and emails I’ve received have told me that it’s going to go into Philadelphia.”

In his statement, Sanders, an independent senator, accused his newly adopted party of not treating his campaign fairly and favoring Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

He argued that the Democratic Party needs to change its ways, distance itself from “big-money” donors and “open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change.”

While Sanders’s statement included the disclaimer that “it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals,” it was more of a call for the party establishment to change itself.

The statement came on the day of primaries in Kentucky and Oregon, two states where Sanders was seeking to drive his supporters to the polls.

“If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned,” said Sanders, who has long caucused with Democrats in the Senate but only registered with the party last year to run for president.  

The statement also accused party officials at the Nevada convention of failing to take a head-count vote on the convention’s rules and of refusing to accept motions from the floor or petitions to amend the convention rules.

The defiant tone of the release was clearly not what Reid, who backs Clinton for president and is widely believed to have helped her campaign in the state, had expected.

“He and I had a very long conversation,” Reid told reporters Tuesday just minutes before the Sanders campaign statement was released. “I laid out to him what happened in Las Vegas. I wanted to make sure he understands and he’s heard what went on there, the violence and all the other bad things that have happened there.”

Reid said that how Sanders would respond to the violent outbursts over the weekend would be a “test of leadership.”

“I’m hopeful and very confident that Sen. Sanders will do the right thing,” he said.

But things didn’t quite play to that script.

The back-and-forth provided little reassurance to Democratic lawmakers who want the growing animosity between the two camps to stop, and there’s growing alarm that it could hurt the party’s chances of keeping the White House and winning back the Senate.

“We’ve got to cut that out. We’ve got to very soon get them on the same page. We’ve got to get them working toward a peaceful resolution,” said Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallRubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees Senate confirms Thomas Nides as US ambassador to Israel Flake, Cindy McCain among latest Biden ambassadors confirmed after delay MORE (D-N.M.), who has endorsed Clinton.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Ex-Rep. Akin dies at 74 Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (D-Mo.), another Clinton backer, warned that the intraparty strife could hurt Senate Democratic candidates.

“I just think for us to have chaos and security guards at our state conventions is not a positive thing for candidates that are appearing on the Democratic ballot,” she said.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinProgressive groups urge Feinstein to back filibuster carve out for voting rights or resign Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Five faces from the media who became political candidates MORE (D-Calif.) said Sanders should drop out of the race if he doesn’t have enough delegates to win the nomination after the last primary in June. Sanders has vowed to keep his bid going all the way until the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in late July.

“Although the numbers are very positive for Sen. Clinton, I think the fact that Bernie Sanders doesn’t recognize this is really a difficulty because it precipitates a lot of this confrontation. It’s not helpful,” said Feinstein.

Senate Democrats worry the anger could spread like a wildfire if it isn’t soon contained.

“It sets off an alarm bell that a small percentage of the delegates could disrupt the convention in a way where we can’t really think about why this election is important,” Boxer told The Washington Post Tuesday.

“If all we’re addressing is how to keep a convention peaceful because a small minority of people are disrupting it, it’s very difficult, and it doesn’t bode well for the election,” she said. 

Updated at 8:35 p.m.