Bernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate

Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersResurfaced Buttigieg yearbook named him 'most likely to be president' On The Money: House Dem says marijuana banking bill will get vote in spring | Buttigieg joins striking Stop & Shop workers | US home construction slips in March | Uber gets B investment for self-driving cars Buttigieg joins striking Stop & Shop workers MORE is back in the Senate, and his return has been a bit awkward.

The Vermont senator enjoyed roaring crowds on the 2016 campaign trail and quickly became a political celebrity, raking in donations and appearing on “Saturday Night Live.” He received a standing ovation at the Senate Democratic caucus lunch last week, where he was allowed to speak for nearly half an hour. 


But otherwise, his return has been described by a variety of sources as “low key.”

Sanders attracted more than 12 million votes in the Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses — including the support of hundreds of thousands of young liberals — by calling for a “revolution” and an overhaul of the Democratic Party.

That message has been less enthusiastically received in the Senate, where lawmakers often note that Sanders enjoys the full privileges of membership in the Democratic caucus even though he is technically an independent.

A senior Democratic aide said Sanders “annoyed” some colleagues last week by proclaiming in a speech his desire to “transform the Democratic Party so that it becomes a party of working people and young people, and not just wealthy campaign contributors.”

Sanders made similar remarks during his return speech to the Democratic caucus last week, where he discussed the lessons to be learned from his campaign.

“He thinks it meant if we really want to empower people, we’ve got to change the party,” said Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) Tester20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology MORE (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “He did talk about money versus outreach and how we need to do more outreach.

“It wasn’t a ‘Rah! Rah! Do back flips [speech],’ ” Tester added. “It was, ‘I’ve been everywhere and this is what I saw and this is what I heard.’ ” 

Despite far exceeding the low expectations that most Democrats in Washington had of his campaign before it caught fire, Sanders doesn’t return with a halo. 

“He’s still Bernie,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who sat next to him at a lunch meeting. 

Schatz said he wanted to make sure the 74-year-old Sanders feels welcomed.

“I asked him if he had a chance to rest and he said yes,” he said. “It’s our responsibility that the relationship between him and colleagues stays strong.”

Sanders cast his first votes since Jan. 12 on Monday.

Colleagues including Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Budowsky: 2020 Dems should debate on Fox Overnight Health Care: How 2020 Dems want to overhaul health care | Brooklyn parents sue over measles vaccination mandate | Measles outbreak nears record MORE (D-Ohio) and Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenWinners and losers from first fundraising quarter Election analyst says Gillibrand doesn't have 'horsepower to go the full distance' Gillibrand campaign links low fundraising to Al Franken backlash: memo MORE (D-Minn.) patted him on the shoulder to welcome him back as he wandered around the floor during a four-vote series on gun control that stretched over an hour.

But as the votes dragged on, Sanders didn’t gravitate to any of the friendly huddles of lawmakers. He got into an animated conversation with Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandResurfaced Buttigieg yearbook named him 'most likely to be president' Court orders EPA to make final decision on banning controversial pesticide Buttigieg says he wouldn't be opposed to having Phish play at his inauguration MORE (D-N.Y.) and Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezWe can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange MORE (D-N.J.), two strong allies of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Former Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' Seth Rich's brother calls for those pushing conspiracy to 'take responsibility' MORE, the presumptive Democratic nominee. The conversation didn’t seem especially jovial; Sanders still has not dropped out of the presidential race.

A Sanders aide said by way of explanation, “He’s not the world’s greatest backslapper.”

The aide also disputed the notion that Sanders will melt quietly back into being one of a hundred members of the upper chamber.

“Sen. Reid and Sen. Schumer said some things to indicate he’s coming back here with enhanced stature,” the staffer said, referring to Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSanders courts GOP voters with 'Medicare for All' plan Glamorization of the filibuster must end Schumer won't rule out killing filibuster MORE (Nev.) and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage Former FBI official praises Barr for 'professional' press conference MORE (N.Y.), who is slated to take over as Democratic leader in 2017.

“I feel Bernie’s in a good place with my caucus, and I feel he’s in a good place with the country,” Reid told reporters after meeting in his Capitol office with Sanders earlier this month.

“He has a lot of stature here,” Reid added, noting that Sanders has chaired the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and now serves as the ranking minority member on the Budget Committee. 

In an interview with C-SPAN released Wednesday, Sanders said he wants to lead the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which has jurisdiction over many of the health and educational issues he has raised during his campaign.

But it’s not clear whether Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide' Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (Wash.) will give up her post as senior Democrat on the panel.

“Sen. Murray has said that she won’t be making any decisions like these until after the election and after conversations with her colleagues and constituents,” said Murray spokesman Eli Zupnick.

“But she loves the work she is doing on the HELP Committee to fight for policies that help women, students, families, seniors, workers and the economy — and there is a whole lot more that she’d like to get done,” he added.

If Democrats were to recapture the Senate majority in November, Murray or Sanders would serve as chairman of the panel. Otherwise, one of them would serve as ranking member.

“Bernie seems startled that people aren’t more deferential,” observed one Senate Democrat, who noted that Sanders was waiting for colleagues to come to him instead of going to them to initiate friendly chatter. “He thinks he’s bigger than just the Senate. He’s the head of a movement and his colleagues aren’t quite there.”

The notion that the White House hopeful is holding himself higher than his colleagues is reinforced by his decision to keep his Secret Service detail, at the reported cost of $38,000 a day — a subject of some grumbling among colleagues.

Sanders pulled up to the Capitol for a vote Wednesday morning in his motorcade, with police lights flashing and sirens wailing. The pomp didn’t necessarily befit a vote on an amendment to the commerce, justice and science appropriations bill.

Senate Democrats, however, have been careful not to criticize Sanders publically or to provoke him in any way that might make it more difficult to unify the party at the Philadelphia convention.

They want the formal nomination of Clinton as their nominee to go as smoothly as possible and know they need Sanders on board as a happy warrior for their cause in the fall.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDurbin calls Mueller report findings on Trump team 'troubling' 20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems prep for Mueller report's release MORE, the chamber’s senior Democrat and Sanders’s colleague from Vermont, said Sanders’s reintegration has gone “very well.”

“People are happy to see him back,” he said.

Leahy said his wife, Marcelle, sat next Sanders’s wife, Jane, at a Senate spouses lunch this week “and it was like old times.”