Endorsed by Warren and Sanders, can Biden win their supporters?

With major endorsements rolling in, Joe Biden still faces push back from progressive voters. Bernie Sanders warned his loyalists that it would be "irresponsible" to oppose the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Matt Rourke/AP
Then-rivals Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden participate in a primary debate in Charleston, South Carolina on Feb. 25, 2020. After endorsing Mr. Biden for president, the progressive senators face the challenge of rallying their supporters.

Bernie Sanders said Tuesday that it would be “irresponsible” for his loyalists not to support Joe Biden, warning that progressives who “sit on their hands” in the months ahead would simply enable President Donald Trump's reelection.

This comes as Elizabeth Warren endorsed Mr. Biden on Wednesday, becoming the last of the former vice president's major Democratic presidential rivals to formally back him.

The Massachusetts senator dropped out of the race last month, shortly after a disappointing third-place finish in her home state. She refused to immediately endorse Mr. Biden or her fellow progressive Mr. Sanders.

Mr. Sanders, who suspended his campaign last week, endorsed Mr. Biden on Monday. A day later, former President Barack Obama announced his public backing of Biden.

And lest there be any question, the Vermont senator confirmed that “it’s probably a very fair assumption” that he would not run for president again. He added, with a laugh: “One can’t predict the future.”

Mr. Sanders spoke at length about his decision to endorse Mr. Biden, his political future, and the urgent need to unify the Democratic Party during an interview with The Associated Press. He railed against the Republican president but also offered pointed criticism at his own supporters who have so far resisted his vow to do whatever it takes to help Mr. Biden win the presidency.

He seemed to distance himself from his campaign's former national press secretary, Briahna Joy Gray, when asked about her recent statement on social media refusing to endorse Mr. Biden.

“She is my former press secretary – not on the payroll,” Mr. Sanders noted. A spokesman later clarified that all campaign staffers were no longer on the payroll as of Tuesday, though they will get a severance check in May.

Mr. Sanders said his supporters have a simple choice now that Mr. Biden has emerged as the presumptive nominee: “Do we be as active as we can in electing Joe Biden and doing everything we can to move Joe and his campaign in a more progressive direction? Or do we choose to sit it out and allow the most dangerous president in modern American history to get reelected?”

He continued: “I believe that it’s irresponsible for anybody to say, ‘Well, I disagree with Joe Biden – I disagree with Joe Biden! – and therefore I’m not going to be involved.’”

Mr. Sanders said he would not actively campaign or spend money on advertising in the primary contests that are still on the calendar in the coming months. But he still encouraged Democrats in those states to vote for him, hoping to amass as many delegates as possible for leverage to shape the party platform and the direction of Mr. Biden's campaign.

He also vowed to continue fighting for progressive priorities such as his signature “Medicare for All” as a senator, even though Mr. Biden has refused to embrace the government-backed single-payer health care system.

“If people want to vote for me, we’d appreciate it," Mr. Sanders said of the roughly 20 primary contests that remain where his name will appear on the ballot. He later added, "I think you’re going to see significant movement on the part of the Biden campaign into a more progressive direction on a whole lot of issues.”

Mr. Sanders did not outline any specific plans to begin helping Mr. Biden in earnest, though he noted that he held dozens of rallies for former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton four years ago and would be at least as active for Mr. Biden. In the short term, he said he's essentially “incarcerated in his home" because of coronavirus social distancing guidelines and did not know when he would return to the campaign trail.

Mr. Sanders brushed away questions about why he was willing to back Mr. Biden so much sooner than he did Mrs. Clinton, whom he waited until June to endorse. He said recent conversations with former President Barack Obama did not influence his decision. It came down to simple math, he said.

In 2016, Mr. Sanders said he had a mathematical path to the nomination all the way until the California primary, which was held on the last day of voting in June. That simply wasn't the case this year.

“What would be the sense of staying in, of spending a whole lot of money, of attacking the vice president, giving fodder for Trump – what's the sense of doing that when you can’t win?” he asked.

“I will do everything I can to help elect Joe," Mr. Sanders continued. "We had a contentious campaign. We disagree on issues. But my job now is to not only rally my supporters, but to do everything I can to bring the party together to see that [Trump] is not elected president.”

Ms. Warren's endorsement could fuel speculation that Mr. Biden may choose her as a running mate.

Ms. Warren made no mention of that possibility in announcing her endorsement, instead saying in a statement that Mr. Biden "grew up on the ragged edge of the middle class.” That phrase that was a centerpiece of Ms. Warren's own campaign and referred to her own upbringing in Oklahoma.

Ms. Warren also referred to the pandemic by tweeting: “In this moment of crisis, it’s more important than ever that the next president restores Americans’ faith in good, effective government – and I’ve seen Joe Biden help our nation rebuild. Today, I’m proud to endorse @JoeBiden as President of the United States.”

Some of Ms. Warren's allies note that, in the days before her endorsement, Mr. Biden embraced some of the senator’s plans to combat the coronavirus, including calls to cancel student debt and expand Social Security benefits during the crisis. He also has adopted a plan she promoted as a candidate to overhaul the nation's bankruptcy system.

In her statement, Ms. Warren also referenced the pair's sometimes rocky relationship. They clashed in 2005, when Mr. Biden was a Delaware senator and Ms. Warren was a Harvard Law School professor and bankruptcy expert, during a congressional hearing over a bankruptcy bill. It was a scene that Mr. Biden, as vice president, recalled when he swore Ms. Warren into office eight years later.

“Joe Biden was there at the very moment I became a Senator," Ms. Warren wrote Wednesday. "And when he did, he said ‘you gave me hell! And you’re gonna do a great job.’”

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

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