WASHINGTON — Testifying to Hillary Clinton‘s grit and experience, President Barack Obama endorsed his former secretary of state’s bid to succeed him on Thursday and urged Democrats to line up behind her. It was all part of a carefully orchestrated pressure campaign aimed at easing Clinton rival Bernie Sanders toward the exit and turning fully to the fight against Republican Donald Trump.
Obama’s long-expected endorsement, delivered via web video , included a forceful call for unity and for “embracing” Sanders’ economic message, which has fired up much of the liberal wing of his party. Obama sought to reassure Democrats that Clinton shares their values and is ready for the job.
“Look, I know how hard this job can be. That’s why I know Hillary will be so good at it,” Obama said. “I have seen her judgment. I have seen her toughness. I’ve seen her commitment to our values.”
Obama’s testimonial came less than an hour after the president met privately with Sanders at the White House to discuss the future of Sanders so-called political revolution — one that will not include him taking up residence at the White House. Sanders emerged from the meeting subdued and indicated he had gotten the message.
Although he stopped short of endorsing Clinton, the Vermont senator told reporters he planned to press for his “issues” — rather than victory — at the party’s July convention and would work with Clinton to defeat Trump.
“Needless to say, I am going to do everything in my power and I will work as hard as I can to make sure that Donald Trump does not become president of the United States,” Sanders said, standing in the White House driveway with his wife, Jane, at his side.
Clinton declared victory over Sanders on Tuesday, having captured the number of delegates needed to become the first female nominee from a major party. Her late and somewhat sputtering victory set off a blitz of private phone calls and back-channel negotiations, all aimed at sussing out Sanders’ demands, easing him out of the race and putting the full-court press on Trump.
Obama’s endorsement and Sanders’ visit were the public culmination of that work.
The wording of Sanders’ statement to reporters was prepared in advance of his meeting with Obama. The White House acknowledged it had taped Obama’s endorsement video on Tuesday, before Clinton claimed victory in the primary.
The careful choreography was part of the Democrats’ attempt to show some respect to Sanders, even as they steered the long-time senator toward the campaign off-ramp.
Obama greeted Sanders and his wife in the residence and then strolled with the senator, smiling and laughing warmly, past the Rose Garden to the Oval Office, where he opened the door for the senator as cameras recorded the moment.
The ceremony and scrutiny didn’t appear to faze Sanders. Ever the everyman, he started the day by stopping for a cup of coffee and a scone at the Peet’s coffee shop across from the White House, while dozens of reporters awaited his arrival.
Sanders’ campaign had little to say about his conversation with the president, saying the men discussed “how we can all work together to create an economy that works for all people and not just the 1 percent.”
Sander had vowed to keep up his campaign. But on Thursday, he highlighted a different goal. Sanders said he would compete in the Washington, D.C., primary on Tuesday, the party’s final contest, but said his interest was largely in pushing for D.C. statehood.