Has Bernie Sanders Moved Hillary Clinton To The Left? Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders insists he isn't in the race to move Hillary Clinton to the left. But progressive activists say he's doing just that.

Has Bernie Sanders Moved Hillary Clinton To The Left?

Has Bernie Sanders Moved Hillary Clinton To The Left?

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/472500966/472500967" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders insists he isn't in the race to move Hillary Clinton to the left. But progressive activists say he's doing just that.


Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is a different candidate than she was a year ago. She's not a different person, of course, but has taken more definite policy positions in her competition against Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders could claim to have won a victory here even if he doesn't win the Democratic nomination. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Let's start by acknowledging Bernie Sanders and his supporters don't consider moving Hillary Clinton to the left a goal or even really a victory of any kind. They want to change America, not the stated positions of another candidate. Though, if Sanders hadn't been in the race, would Clinton have taken a firm position on the Keystone XL pipeline, the minimum wage and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal? In the early weeks and months of the campaign, she was vague on all of them. Here she was in July, responding to a question about her position on the trade deal, the TPP.


HILLARY CLINTON: I can't comment yet because I haven't seen it.

KEITH: Clinton had praised the deal in its early stages when she was secretary of state. But she spent the first six months of her campaign saying she couldn't weigh in on it without seeing the details of a final deal.


CLINTON: But I don't know if there have been enough changes. And I won't know until I actually see what's been negotiated.

KEITH: Sanders pushed her to take it stand.


BERNIE SANDERS: I kind of think people would prefer to hear what your position is - are you for it or against it? - rather than passing the buck and saying, well, in a sense, I have no position. That is not leadership.

KEITH: Clinton didn't say she opposed TPP until October, after the White House announced negotiations were complete. That also happened to be a week before the first Democratic presidential debate, where trade likely would have been a much bigger issue if all of the leading candidates hadn't suddenly been in agreement. When asked, a spokesman for the Sanders campaign listed off several areas where Clinton has moved - trade, climate change, Social Security, Wall Street reform and the minimum wage. Clinton campaign strategist Joel Benenson tried to bat that idea down in a call with reporters.


JOEL BENENSON: I don't think he's pushed her. I think she has said repeatedly she's a progressive who likes to get things done.

KEITH: That well-worn phrase of Clinton's seems tailor-made to draw contrast with Sanders. But even before Sanders jumped into the race, Clinton hit more progressive populist notes than many liberal activists had expected. Just listen to her very first remarks of the campaign.


CLINTON: I think it's fair to say that as you look across the country, the deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top. And there's something wrong with that.

NEIL SROKA: That was a real dog whistle to us.

KEITH: Neil Sroka is with Democracy for America, a group that tried to draft Senator Elizabeth Warren to run and now supports Bernie Sanders. Sroka says the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has had a far greater influence in the 2016 race than in past cycles. And Clinton has clearly adjusted her rhetoric to the moment.

SROKA: There's no doubt in my mind that, you know, Bernie Sanders - incredibly strong primary challenge. And, you know, the Run Warren Run campaign that came before it has all yielded a front-runner in this race who understands where the base of the Democratic Party is and has tried very hard to work her way towards that base.

KEITH: Sanders and the voters he represents have pushed Clinton to take firm positions. But she rarely meets Sanders all the way. Take college affordability. Clinton answered Sanders' call for free public college with a plan her own for debt-free college. And on the minimum wage, early on, Clinton expressed support for the Fight For 15 campaign. But she resisted taking a position on what the federal minimum wage should be. Meanwhile, Senator Sanders introduced a bill.


SANDERS: All of our workers from coast to coast need at least 15 bucks an hour.

KEITH: Eight days later, Hillary Clinton took a firm position on the federal minimum wage. She said it should be raised to $12 an hour.


CLINTON: I think that it's going to be important that we set a national minimum, but then we get out of the way of cities and states that believe that they can and should go higher.

KEITH: Clinton threw her support behind a less ambitious bill than Sanders, but one with significantly more cosponsors. Her reasoning, it was more politically practical. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.