Sen. Bernie Sanders' political team – in an apparent bid for party unity – is asking supporters chosen to represent the former presidential candidate at the Democratic convention to sign agreements preventing them from criticizing Democratic Party leaders or other 2020 contenders either in person or on social media during this summer’s confab.
And that’s not sitting well with some Sanders supporters who’ve received or heard about the agreements.
“I think these restrictions are unreasonable and I don’t think it’s the way they’re going to get unity,” said a 2016 Sanders delegate who’s been picked to represent the populist senator at the August convention in Milwaukee, Wis.
The delegate, one of several who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely in interviews with Fox News, stressed, “There’s pretty widespread agreement that this was bizarre.”
The new push by Sanders’ political team is an attempt to prevent a repeat of the noisy in-person and online protests by many Sanders delegates surrounding the 2016 convention in Philadelphia in opposition to nominee Hillary Clinton.
Sanders endorsed Clinton following a nasty and divisive primary battle, but many of his supporters ended up not voting for Clinton, which helped then-GOP nominee Donald Trump upset Clinton and win the presidential election.
But Sanders – who last month suspended his second straight White House bid and endorsed presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden – is hoping to avoid a repeat of 2016’s fireworks.
The agreements – first reported by the Washington Post and confirmed by Fox News – call on Sanders delegates to “Refrain from making negative statements about other candidates, party leaders, Campaigns, Campaign staffers, supporters, news organizations or journalists. This Campaign is about the issues and finding solutions to America’s problems. Our job is to differentiate the senator from his opponents on the issues — not through personal attacks.”
Another of the 10 rules listed in the document states: “Do your best to avoid online arguments or confrontations. ... If engaging in an adversarial conversation, be respectful when addressing opposing viewpoints or commenting on the opposition.”
And the agreement states that “If a member of the media contacts you about a posting of any kind: do not respond.” Instead, it directs them to contact the Sanders press team.
The document states that “failure to comply with these expectations may result in disciplinary action, including but not limited to your removal from the delegation.”
The agreements were sent to some Sanders delegates across the country last week.
“When delegates attend the Democratic convention, they will be representing Sen. Sanders, the ideas he ran on and the millions of working people who supported his campaign. That is a serious responsibility and we're asking them to follow a basic code of conduct while carrying out that duty,” campaign spokesman Mike Casca said in a statement.
But Sanders delegates who spoke with Fox News were upset with the rules.
“Threatening to remove as people as delegates because of a Facebook post,” a delegate said. “It’s ridiculous.”
The delegate, who asked for anonymity, stressed that the agreement “was poorly crafted and goes against the grain.”
Another delegate said the push to prevent dissent at the convention by Sanders supporters “is going to backfire.”
“It’s going to backfire. It’s not going to create the experience anyone wants and it’s only going to cause deeper resentment,” the delegate argued.
After pushback from delegates, the campaign confirmed that they're considering suggested revisions offered by Sanders delegates from Colorado.
The move by Sanders’ political team comes as Biden is working to unite the party and win the support of the senator’s legions of younger and progressive supporters. The Biden campaign confirmed to Fox News that they were not previously aware of the agreements.
While he stresses that he still holds many policy differences with Biden, Sanders is actively backing Biden. The two camps last week unveiled a half-dozen unity task forces to try and reach agreements on key policy issues. But while Sanders has suspended his campaign and endorsed Biden, he’s kept his name on the ballot in the remaining primaries, as he hopes to win as many delegates as possible in order increase say in the party’s platform and rules, which will be hammered out at the convention.
The new move also comes as a top Sanders political adviser warns that “a significant portion” of the senator's supporters are “currently unsupportive” of Biden.
Jeff Weaver – who managed Sanders’ 2016 campaign and served as senior adviser on his now-suspended 2020 White House bid – cautioned, “The Bernie Sanders base makes up a sizeable group of voters that could have a profound impact in the outcome of the election.” Weaver raised the red flags last week in a four-page document issued by his newly formed "America’s Promise" super PAC.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic – which has forced social distancing and prevented any large gatherings from taking place – the Democratic National Committee postponed their convention a month, from mid-July to the week of Aug. 17, in hopes that health concerns from the pandemic will have alleviated.
But the DNC’s also taking steps to prepare for a scaled-back in-person convention or an entirely online convention.
“Will it be a virtual convention or a convention with a smaller participation in terms of people in place, or a convention that everybody can show up. I don't know yet,” Biden told local TV station WBAY in Wisconsin on Wednesday. “That decision I'm confident will be made sometime probably in July."
Republicans are still publicly moving forward with an in-person convention in Charlotte, N.C., starting the following week, on Aug. 24.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told reporters on Monday that “we are not going to hold a virtual convention.” But she added that the gathering’s “still a long way away” and that there was “ample time to adjust.”