Bernie Sanders began meeting with President Obama and other leading Democrats in Washington on Thursday, determined to exit the presidential race on his own terms, even as he was being increasingly nudged to focus on party unity.
The senator from Vermont came to the White House around 11 a.m. for a meeting with Obama and had an early afternoon get-together planned on Capitol Hill with Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who has sought to play the role of peace broker at the end of a contentious nominating contest between Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
Obama and Sanders smiled and chatted as they walked along the White House colonnade Thursday, as a throng of White House reporters recorded the moment. They then walked into the Oval Office to have their private meeting.
White House officials said the meeting was not aimed at pressuring the senator to concede the race, but rather to discuss Sanders’s priorities and how to best incorporate them into the broader Democratic Party agenda.
“This is not a meeting about the logistics of the path forward, but about the policies and issues the party should be focused on moving forward,” said White House communications director Jennifer Psaki.
The president and Sanders have had five conversations since January, according to White House officials, two of which have been in person.
Before flying back home Thursday night to Burlington, Vt., Sanders plans to stage the kind of large-scale rally that has become a signature of his campaign, this one at RFK Stadium in the District.
The rally comes four days ahead of the Democratic primary in the District, the final contest on the long and grueling Democratic calendar. Twenty delegates are in play, but there is little at stake following Clinton’s clinching of the nomination this week, punctuated by her decisive win Tuesday in California, the nation’s most populous state.
Sanders has vowed to stay in the race through the Democratic convention in July, in a last-ditch bid to win the nomination by flipping the allegiance of hundreds of superdelegates who have already announced support for Clinton. A growing number of Sanders’s supporters have acknowledged the scenario is far-fetched.
Increasingly, Sanders’s aim seems to be using the leverage that he and his millions of loyal followers now have to assure his campaign agenda — anchored around issues of income and wealth inequality — has a central place in the Democratic Party’s platform and general-election strategy.