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Democrats add $15 minimum wage to party platform

Posted at 12:12 PM, Jul 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-09 15:12:38-04

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Bernie Sanders' crusade to shape the Democratic party platform scored a win late Friday night, with the approval of an amendment calling for increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 over time.

The fight to get more explicit platform language around wages showed the Vermont senator's campaign still fighting for the liberal issues that made up his "political revolution" even as his clout fades.

In the weeks since Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination, her primary rival won a few policy concessions and influenced the party's platform. But he's also angered fellow lawmakers for not promptly endorsing his primary foe and has seen his influence wane as President Barack Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren stepped in to unify the party behind its presumptive nominee.

Sanders is still seeking more platform concessions at the party meeting in Orlando that broke up just after 1:30 a.m. Saturday, with plans to return later in the day. But he appears to be winding down this period of denouement, with his endorsement of Clinton now expected to come at a joint event next week.

The meeting of the Democratic National Convention full Platform Committee began slowly in an Orlando hotel ballroom on Friday, but Sanders' supporters were pleased when they approved an amendment to the platform backing raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour "over time," indexed to inflation. The earlier draft did not explicitly call for the $15 federal minimum wage.

Sanders supporter Benjamin Jealous, a former NAACP president who serves as a member of the committee, called the amendment "a victory for the Bernie Sanders campaign and for working people across the country."

Still, Sanders' supporters want more changes. Many were wearing stickers stressing that they want the platform to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Clinton has come out against but Obama supports. They also want a carbon tax to address climate change and seek a freeze on hydraulic fracking.

The roughly 15,000-word platform is a nonbinding document that serves as a guidepost for the party. After the Orlando meeting, the document will be voted on at the convention in Philadelphia this month. The draft under review already shows Sanders' influence, as it endorses steps to break up large Wall Street banks and urges an end to the death penalty.

Also on Friday night, the committee narrowly backed an amendment to strike mentions of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump's name in the platform.

Sanders has avoided endorsing Clinton for weeks as he focused much of his energy on shaping the platform to mirror his liberal campaign, citing his millions of supporters as motivation to keep pushing his agenda. But he says the party will ultimately unite.

Two Democrats with knowledge of Sanders' plans told The Associated Press that Sanders is closing in on offering his public endorsement of Clinton. The Democrats spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations they were not authorized to disclose. Clinton's campaign has announced a stop in New Hampshire on Tuesday but did not say that Sanders also would attend.

The Sanders and Clinton campaigns are still discussing policy areas where they can reach agreement, including ways to expand access to health care coverage. Clinton's campaign outlined plans earlier this week to expand college affordability and place a three-month moratorium on student loan payments, a proposal that was developed with the Sanders campaign.

For many Democrats, the endorsement is overdue. Sanders' reluctance to endorse Clinton drew catcalls from Democratic lawmakers during a private meeting this week. While he has hung back, other party leaders have coalesced around Clinton.

"He ran a remarkable campaign; he didn't win," said Bob Shrum, a longtime Democratic strategist and politics professor at the University of Southern California. "Hillary Clinton and her campaign have handled him very well. I think the time is coming to resolve this and to prepare for a convention where hopefully he will give a powerful speech."

Back in 2008, after a bruising primary race against then-Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton ended her presidential bid and endorsed him in a speech on June 7. The two then campaigned together in Unity, New Hampshire, three weeks later. Asked Wednesday why he was not doing the same, Sanders told CNN he was working to ensure "we have the strongest Democratic platform out there that represents working families, and we have made good progress on that."

Sanders could take these issue fights to the Democratic convention and his campaign is making sure it is ready to do so. His aides stress his millions of votes and his highly motivated delegates to the convention. Still, Clinton will have more delegates in attendance.

"He's earned the right to stay on the clock," said Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, a Sanders delegate who has endorsed Clinton since she became the presumptive nominee. Sanders' presence and voice, Grijalva said, will be important to unity.