U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday fully threw his support behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in a prime-time first-day speech at the Democratic National Convention, drawing sharp contrasts between her and Republican Donald Trump on key issues such as the minimum wage, campaign funding and who should serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We need leadership which brings our people together and makes us stronger — not leadership which insults Latinos and Mexicans, which insults Muslims, women, African-Americans and veterans and divides us up,” Sanders said. “By these measures, any objective observer will conclude that — based on her ideas and her leadership — Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States. The choice is not even close.”
His address, the last of the night, capped a day that, at least early on, did not at all go according to script.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as chair of the Democratic National Committee and got shouted down by hecklers at her own state delegation breakfast, the FBI announced it opened a cyber security probe into hacked DNC emails and supporters of Sanders demonstrated in the streets of Philadelphia.
Even the opening prayer included chants of “Bernie!” and “Hillary!,” setting the stage for a contentious opening of a convention that Democratic party leaders had hoped would be a unified coronation of Clinton as the first woman in history to be nominated for president by a major political party.
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Sanders’ speech, and others throughout the evening, seemed designed to bridge the differences between two sides that fought bitterly through the primaries and focus instead on what would happen if Trump got elected president in November.
“If you don’t believe this election is important, if you think you can sit it out, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump would nominate and what that would mean to civil liberties, equal rights and the future of our country,” Sanders said.
Taking to social media, Trump tweeted during Sanders’ speech: “Sad to watch Bernie Sanders abandon his revolution. We welcome all voters who want to fix our rigged system and bring back our jobs.”
“Bernie Sanders totally sold out to Crooked Hillary Clinton,” Trump tweeted later. “All of that work, energy and money, and nothing to show for it! Waste of time.”
First lady Michelle Obama said Clinton is the only candidate she trusts to shape the lives of American children for the next four or eight years. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great…this right now is the greatest country on earth,” she said in delivering a full-throated endorsement of Clinton.
“Hillary understands that the presidency is about one thing and one thing only,” Mrs. Obama said, “leaving something better for our kids.” She added, “Because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters now take for granted that a woman can be elected president of the United States.”
The Democratic National Committee used its star power and well-known progressive voices to make the case for Clinton in the prime-time television slots. Sanders, Michelle Obama, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Al Franken of Minnesota, anchored the string of speeches.
Throughout the day surrogates of Sanders — and even Sanders himself — tried to insist that defeating Trump is the best way to accomplish the type of change sought by the political movement led by the Vermont senator. Sanders fired off a text to his delegates that said: “I ask you as a personal courtesy to me to not engage in any kind of protest on the floor.”
It may have worked. The cheers for Clinton seemed to increase with each speaker. But the electricity in the arena really surged when Sanders took the stage and he had to pause numerous times before resuming his speech.
Ohio Democrats said the party will unite behind the cause of defeating Trump.
“We must come together and vote together and stand together because if we do not we will lose in a way that I think is going to be something that our country cannot recover from for the rest of my life,” said U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Cleveland, who is the new chairwoman of the Democratic National Convention. “We cannot afford to do that.”
Butler County Democratic Party Chairwoman Jocelyn Bucaro, a Clinton delegate, said: “Senator Sanders’ supporters in Butler County have been out working alongside Hillary supporters for weeks. We have been working together because the stakes in this election could not be higher. And ultimately we share the same progressive values and priorities.”
The drama on display in Philadelphia followed a strange week at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where protesters demonstrated daily, thousands of cops stood on guard, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich refused to endorse Trump, Melania Trump got caught plagiarizing part of her speech and big-name Republicans skipped the scene all together.
No matter how the next three days plays out for the Democrats, the start of the convention was rocky.
WikiLeaks released emails on Friday that suggest that the DNC was favoring Clinton over Sanders during the primary, prompting Wasserman Schultz to step down as DNC chairwoman. Emails indicated how the party planned to stop Sanders’ rise during the primary and some even hinted that his religion could be made an issue.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed Monday that it is investigating how thousands of DNC emails were hacked.
“The FBI is investigating a cyber intrusion involving the DNC and are working to determine the nature and scope of the matter. A compromise of this nature is something we take very seriously, and the FBI will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace,” the FBI said in a statement.
The Clinton campaign has suggested that the Russians were responsible for the hack and released the material to benefit Trump, who has paid compliments to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At the Florida delegation breakfast, hecklers shouted “shame!” at Wasserman Schultz as she tried to call for unity.
Fudge said Wasserman Schultz’ resignation will not hamper party unity and she claimed that the majority of Sanders supporters are now backing Clinton.
“I think of the 1,900 or so Bernie delegates that are here, we have about two-thirds of them already,” she said.
For some Sanders delegates, the way the Democratic primaries and caucuses played out has left a bad taste in their mouths.
Sanders delegate David Sparks likened the DNC to referees conspiring on how to officiate the Michigan-Ohio State football game ahead of time. “It is going to be tough for a lot of people to say ‘Hey, you know, I’ll unite with you guys.’ We know the referees involved in this colluded and we have proof of this now,” he said.
Mathias Detamore of Dayton, another Sanders delegate, said: “I’m definitely not voting for Donald Trump, but I want Hillary to earn my vote. So far she has not done that. She has pushed progressives away. I think Tim Kaine as the vice president choice proves that. It seems she is going to court Republicans instead of the Bernie Sanders folks.”
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said a leading advocate of party unity is Sanders himself.
“Big picture: this is a four day convention,” Pepper said. “We’ll spend the four days coming together.”
Already polls show more Sanders supporters are on board with Clinton than Clinton supporters were backing Barack Obama at this point eight years ago, Pepper said. “So, there is a lot of narrative here, but the reality is we’re already seeing a lot of that happen and I think we’ll keep seeing it happen in the coming days.”
U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Columbus, a Dayton native and a Clinton backer, said, “We are stronger together and this is our time to stand together. Hillary won with an electoral votes as well as the popular vote by almost 4 million. I think that speaks for itself.”
“We don’t want to be like my Republican colleagues, who did not present unity at all because they are not united,” Beatty said. “Democrats are better than that. We will be united.”
Fudge said when it comes down to a choice between Trump and Clinton, the Sanders supporters will back Clinton.
“Let’s be realistic about this. There is too much at stake for us to play games with politics,” she said. “We must win. Winning is what it is about.”
Contributing writer Joe Hallett contributed to this report.