PHILADELPHIA — Sen. Bernie Sanders addressed hundreds of delegates at the Democratic National Convention Monday afternoon but seemed unable to convince some of his most passionate backers they should work to elect Hillary Clinton.
Sanders spoke inside a packed ballroom at the Pennsylvania Convention Center early Monday afternoon ahead of his primetime address on national TV at the Wells Fargo Center — the main convention site. It was among the first bits of action for the four-day long convention that will culminate Thursday with Clinton, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state, accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.
Sanders, who battled Clinton for the nomination until the last primary — long after it was apparent he could not win sufficient delegates to wrest the nomination from her — is now looking to unite the party. But after months of convincing his supporters that he had a viable path to the nomination, many did not seem ready Monday to shift their support elsewhere.
“Immediately, right now, we have got to defeat Donald Trump, and we have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine,” Sanders said, to some cheers and, more noticeably, a steady string of boos from the capacity crowd.
Sanders then tried again to make the case for electing Clinton.
“Brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters, this is the real world that we live in. Trump is a bully and a demagogue. Trump has made bigotry and hatred the cornerstone of his campaign. Throughout this campaign he has insulted Mexicans and Latinos, he has insulted Muslims, he has insulted women and African Americans.”
“Trump does not respect the Constitution of the United States or civil liberties. That is not just my opinion. That is what many conservative Republicans believe. Trump is a danger for the future of our country and must be defeated,” he added. “And I intend to do everything that I can to see that he is defeated.”
Sanders first endorsed Clinton at an event in Portsmouth, N.H., on July 12. However, he has yet to officially release his pledged delegates, so some, including state Rep. Kevin “Coach” Christie, say they plan to cast their vote as a delegate for Sanders.
“I believe that in listening to what the senator said, over and above his endorsement, he never released us. So, to me, that was very telling. If he had said, ‘Coach, we’re done.’ Then we’d be done,” Christie said.
Christie, from Hartland, Vt., said Vermonters have overwhelmingly instructed him to cast a vote — at least on the first ballot — for Sanders.
“I had 115,000 Vermonters that said, ‘That’s what you need to do,” because I was an elected delegate,” Christie said.
Meanwhile, adding to the discord, many of Sanders’ supporters were still digesting the resignation of Democratic Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is stepping aside after internal party emails were revealed by Wikileaks. The emails among some party officials show how some party leaders sought to use Sanders’ religion against him and seem to show little regard for his campaign.
With that backdrop, Democrats kicked off their convention inside the arena late Monday afternoon. It was quickly apparent, however, that there was still some healing to be done. As the convention chairwoman, Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, spoke, many in the crowd booed when Clinton’s name was mentioned and chanted “Bern-ie.”
She interjected with “excuse me,” before urging delegates to respect each other.
“We are all democrats and we need to act like it,” Fudge said.
Sanders, perhaps sensing the growing frustration, sent an email and a text message to his delegates asking them to refrain from demonstrating on the convention floor. And the DNC release a statement apologizing for the email scandal.
“On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email. These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process. The DNC does not — and will not — tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates. Individual staffers have also rightfully apologized for their comments, and the DNC is taking appropriate action to ensure it never happens again,” the statement reads, in part.
Despite the unease Monday, plenty of Sanders delegates are looking to bring the party together, including Christie.
“I would hope so, because we need to, because of the opposition. That is scary,” he said.
Unity, which party officials hope to leave Philadelphia with in abundance, will require both Clinton and Sanders supporters, Christie said.
It’s going to be a combination. It’s going to take leadership, and I’m not sure what that leadership will look like,” he said. “It’s a little scary, but at the same time, I hope we can do it the Vermont way versus some of the other ways that we’ve seen.”
For Anthony Iarrapino, a Vermont delegate who serves on the party’s rules committee and pushed for Sanders-backed provisions, the resignation of Wasserman Shultz and the announcement that she would be stripped of all convention duties, is a good start to unification.
“If you look at the officers of the convention you’ll notice she is not one. She’s been dropped. That’s for good reason, because we’re talking about unity and she is closely associated with division,” Iarrapino said. “I’m looking forward and I think we need to look past Debbie Wasserman Schultz because she is the past.”