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Sanders Says the People — Not the Party Elites — Should Decide the Nomination

The other candidates suggested they would accept a situation in which superdelegates and party insiders decide who wins.

As the primary season heads into the Nevada caucuses on Saturday, we unpack the ninth Democratic presidential debate in a roundtable on the tensions at work on the Las Vegas debate stage. Sen. Bernie Sanders, currently the front-runner in the race, said the candidate with the most delegates should become the nominee; all his rivals on stage suggested they would be open to a brokered convention, with superdelegates and other party insiders potentially deciding the nomination.

We continue our discussion with Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of The Nation; Raquel Willis, journalist, activist and executive editor of Out magazine; Ana María Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy; and Annise Parker, former mayor of Houston and president of the Victory Fund.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, broadcasting to you from Indiana, as we debrief on the Democratic presidential primary debate last night in Las Vegas, where the six leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination squared off. Let’s go to a question from MSNBC’s Chuck Todd on delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

CHUCK TODD: Should the person with the most delegates at the end of this primary season be the nominee, even if they are short of a majority? Senator Sanders, I’m going to let you go last here, because I know your view on this. So instead, I will start with you, Mayor Bloomberg.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Whatever the rules of the Democratic Party are, they should be followed. And if they have a process, which I believe they do —

CHUCK TODD: OK, I’m trying to do this yes or no to make it fast.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: — so that everybody else — everybody can —

CHUCK TODD: So you want the convention to work its will?


CHUCK TODD: Senator Warren?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: But a convention working its will means that people have the delegates that are pledged to them, and they keep those delegates until you come to the convention.

CHUCK TODD: Should the leading person?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: All of the people.

CHUCK TODD: No. OK, all righty. Vice President Biden?

JOE BIDEN: Play by the rules.

CHUCK TODD: Yes or no, leading person with the delegates, should they be the nominee or not?

JOE BIDEN: No, let the process work its way out.

CHUCK TODD: Mayor Buttigieg?

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Not necessarily. Not ’til there’s a majority.

CHUCK TODD: Senator Klobuchar?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Let the process work.

CHUCK TODD: Senator Sanders?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, the process includes 500 superdelegates on the second ballot. So I think —

CHUCK TODD: All right.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: — that the will of the people should prevail, yes.

CHUCK TODD: OK, all right. Thank you, guys.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: The person who has the most votes should become the nominee.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice, of course, Senator Bernie Sanders, who at this point, according to all the polls, is the front-runner, with the Nevada caucus on Saturday. Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of The Nation, explain the brokered convention and what Bernie Sanders was saying and what the other candidates were saying.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Let me step back for a minute, though, if I might, Amy. One reason The Nation is holding a debate this coming Monday, February 24th, Sanders versus Warren, “Sanders and Warren: Time to Choose,” is that The Nation has not endorsed a candidate yet, except we’ve endorsed the deepening of the left lane in our politics, the deepening of issues, of bold issues that both Sanders and Warren have pushed, in the belief that in solidarity — and you saw last night at the debate a kind of tacit truce between them. When the moderator asked Warren to talk about Bernie Sanders’ supporters and the alleged abuse online, she said, “No, I’m going to talk about Bloomberg. He’s the real threat to what we believe.”

And I think that solidarity is important, moving forward to the convention, because if Bernie Sanders comes in and doesn’t have enough delegates — he is winning pluralities, but the size of the turnout is going to be critical in these next states to bring him enough delegates to get into that convention with 50-plus — he’s going to need to turn to allies. If you don’t win on that first ballot, as Bernie Sanders said — he got it a little wrong, because I think it’s 700 superdelegates, not 500 — it will get thrown to the superdelegates, who are — you know, they are the establishment of the Democratic Party. In some cases, they’re also organizers. Ai-jen Poo of the domestic care workers is a superdelegate, which surprises some. But for the most part, they are the electeds, the establishment, those who really were for Hillary Clinton in 2016. So if you have a contested election, it goes to a second ballot, and the superdelegates throw it not to the one with the most delegates — maybe Bernie Sanders, with support from Warren. You could see a outrage and a sense of a rigged convention, that would deflate enthusiasm, deflate turnout in the general. And I think that is a real concern for many. And I think that’s why the process should play out fairly and why people should come to our debate on the 24th to hear two candidates, their views. We will have their surrogates, too, Zephyr Teachout, great expert on corruption who ran for attorney general recently, Bhaskar Sunkara of Jacobin, and on the side of Elizabeth Warren, Maurice Mitchell of the Working Families Party, Brad Lander of the City Council. But I think this is a moment, arguably, where America is really eager for bold leadership, bold progressive ideas.

I will say one more thing about Chuck Todd and the moderation. This is something that you have talked a lot about, Amy: the media coverage. The media coverage almost seems, especially television panels, cable panels, or these moderated debates — people seem to have a hard time with the framework for understanding progressive politics. There is a rootedness in the status quo and a failure of imagination, to imagine a world beyond the status quo. And I think that really hurts our discussion, our politics. Imagine if a moderator asked Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, “What are the costs of not doing the Green New Deal or Medicare for All?” Or why are there no questions from the moderators often, Amy, about the cost of endless war, but there is always a question about the cost of doing major bold programs that would improve the lives of the people?

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, there were no major questions on foreign policy. But I wanted to go — to end with Ana María Archila, who has just come back from Nevada and going back there. In 2016, although Hillary Clinton won, I believe that Bernie Sanders polled a great deal higher among the Latino community. And the Latino community is coming out in force in Nevada, which is about something like almost 30% of the vote, a third of the vote. Your final thoughts as we move into the Nevada caucus on Saturday?

ANA MARÍA ARCHILA: Well, Latino communities — the Latino community has been under intense attack by this president, by President Trump, but also has been at the bottom of our economy, has been at the bottom of school graduations. And I think what Sanders speaks to my community is this idea that he is committed to building a country that includes all of us. So, when he says that we’re going have healthcare for all, and that includes everybody, including undocumented people, that’s what my people hear. When he says that he’s committed to making sure that we have debt-free college, and that will include also young people who are new in this country, that speaks volumes to my community. I think what we are seeing — a big difference that we’re seeing from 2016 to now is that Bernie Sanders has really been able to create the most multiracial, most diverse coalition of young people, people of color, black folks, Latinx folks, immigrants, who see in his —

AMY GOODMAN: Ana María Archila, I’m going to have to end it there, but I want to thank you so much for being with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Ana María Archila, co-director of the Center for Popular Democracy; Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher of The Nation magazine; activist and editor Raquel Willis, executive editor of Out magazine; and former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, I want to thank you all for being with us.

Democracy Now! is currently accepting applications for a development manager position and news production fellowship and news producer. Check our website at

Tomorrow, it’s the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. The case is being reopened. I’m Amy Goodman, from Indiana. Thanks so much.

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