On CNN Monday, New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin said Bernie Sanders is likely to hold out for some enormous concessions from Hillary Clinton before he takes steps to unify the Democratic Party.
What I think he’s ultimately gonna want is some influence over who she would appoint as president of the United States. And Bill and Hillary Clinton are not gonna want to give Bernie Sanders that kind of say over who they pick as, say, Treasury Secretary.
This sounds less definitive (viz. Sanders could really escalate his demands!) than CNN made it seem with its headline (“Reporter: Sanders wants say over Clinton cabinet picks”).
But it’s been hanging out there for a full day, and the campaign hasn’t knocked it down. So assuming for the sake of argument that this is where the Sanders brain trust is, it’s worth considering whether this would cross a line between “driving a hard bargain” and being destructively spiteful.
As a senator, Sanders is already poised to have unusual sway over the Clinton cabinet. Thanks to a rule change Senate Democrats imposed in 2013, confirming executive branch nominees requires only 51 votes—no filibuster. If Democrats win a thin majority of Senate seats in November, and Republicans treat Clinton with as much disdain as they’ve treated President Obama, Sanders will be able to watchdog Clinton pretty effectively. Elizabeth Warren did this a year ago when she spiked Obama’s designated Treasury undersecretary Antonio Weiss almost singlehandedly.
Clinton surely understands this, and Sanders could easily make a point of it publicly: “We’re not going to confirm lobbyists and Wall Street fat cats to anyone’s cabinet.” But that’s different from asking Clinton to preemptively cede executive powers to him. There’s a difference between public demands Sanders might issue that reflect a savvy use of his leverage and those designed to give Clinton a choice between groveling and brushing him off. This would fall in the latter category, which is why I’d be genuinely surprised if he goes there.