Can Clinton appease Sanders' liberal base through the election?

In a matchup against Trump, Sanders supporters have largely rallied behind Clinton as their best chance of championing progressive causes like economic equality and debt-free college. But some of Clinton's leaked emails may give them pause. 

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens to Vice President Al Gore talk about climate change at a rally at Miami Dade College in Miami, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2016.

WASHINGTON - Liberals say they're watching.

Some Democratic activists say Hillary Clinton's private speeches to Wall Street bankers and other moneyed interests in 2013 and 2014 confirm their long-held suspicions she will revert to more moderate positions€” and choose like-minded members of her Cabinet and administration if she's elected president.

The speech revelations have been overshadowed by the past week's firestorm over presidential rival Donald Trump's vulgar comments about women. But Clinton's comments will surely be an undercurrent in her transition and the start of her presidency if she wins the White House.

"Wall Street doesn't pay a quarter of a million dollars for her to come and tell them how bad they are. What she said is pretty much exactly what we expected," says Charles Chamberlain of Democracy for America, which unsuccessfully tried to draft Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the 2016 campaign and then backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

"The day after she's elected president, progressives will have to hold her accountable and fight with her to make sure she passes powerful, progressive populism," he said.

Clinton's campaign has neither confirmed nor denied the content of the material that emerged after campaign chairman John Podesta's personal email account was hacked by the WikiLeaks organization. But a summary of potentially troublesome comments flagged in a January 2016 email from Clinton's campaign research director underscored concerns about how the speeches might be perceived by Democratic primary voters.

Clinton spoke of a need for political deal-making, telling real estate investors "you need both a public and private position," and told another group that both political parties should be "sensible, moderate, pragmatic." Before Deutsche Bank, she said financial reform "really has to come from the industry itself." On trade, she said she dreamed of a "hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders."

In a 2013 discussion with Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Clinton said there was a bias in politics "against people who have led successful and/or complicated lives." She also told Morgan Stanley that the findings of the Simpson-Bowles commission to cut the national debt, which called for raising the retirement age for Social Security, achieved the right framework. "You have to restrain spending, you have to have adequate revenues, and you have to have growth," she said.

In a matchup against Trump, whose campaign has been rocked by his 11-year-old caught-on-tape comments about women, Sanders supporters have largely rallied behind Clinton as their best chance of championing progressive causes like economic equality, debt-free college and climate change.

But they say the speeches reinforce the need to scrutinize her future choices to lead the Treasury, Justice and Commerce departments as well as the deputies who often wield enormous power over regulations and policy.

"I don't think it's about her. I think it's about us. She is only going to do as much as we're going to push her to do," said Barbara Fretonte, a Sanders primary delegate from Austin, Texas.

Norman Solomon, a Sanders delegate from California, said there are "deep and wide reasons to be worried" about how Clinton would conduct her administration's economic policy. Pointing to Bill Clinton's presidency, Solomon added, "There was a de facto formula of 'talk progressive and serve corporate power' and we don't really see any contradiction of that in the transcripts."

Clinton's team has long been aware of the problem. In a January 2015 email that was part of the WikiLeaks disclosure, Clinton speechwriter Dan Schwerin described meeting with Warren adviser Dan Geldon, who offered an extensive case against "the Bob Rubin school of Democratic policymakers," a reference to Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary.

"They seem wary and pretty convinced that the Rubin folks have the inside track with us whether we realize it yet or not but open to engagement and to be proven wrong," Schwerin wrote. "He mentioned that everyone will be watching carefully any leaks about who HRC is meeting and talking to."

During the primaries, Sanders repeatedly demanded that Clinton release the transcripts of her paid speeches. Often injecting a dose of sarcasm, Sanders said at the time if a group was willing to pay her more than $200,000 for speeches, they must have been written in "Shakespearean prose."

Sanders has since campaigned extensively on Clinton's behalf and warned that a Trump presidency would damage their shared policy goals. He said in a statement that "the job of the progressive movement now is to look forward, not backward. No matter what Secretary Clinton may have said years ago behind closed doors, what's important today is that we stand united and demand that the Democratic Party implement the most progressive platform in the history of our country."

Sanders noted that he worked with Clinton to develop a platform that "stands up to the billionaire class and represents the interests of working families. That has to be the agenda of Secretary Clinton if she is elected president and of Democrats in the Congress."

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