WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are ending the primary calendar with a face-to-face meeting on Tuesday that could set the tone for Democratic unity and next month’s party convention in Philadelphia.
Clinton and Sanders plan to meet on the night of the final presidential primary in the District of Columbia, a contest that will have no bearing on Clinton’s role as the presumptive nominee but marks a transition in the lengthy primary fight between the two rivals.
The Vermont senator vowed again Tuesday to do all he can to prevent Republican Donald Trump from reaching the White House but declined to endorse Clinton. Sanders has said the private meeting will help him determine how committed Clinton will be to the policy issues he has staked out during his 13-month campaign.
“Our goal must not be to allow politicians, Donald Trump or anyone else, to divide us,” Sanders said outside his Washington headquarters Tuesday, telling reporters he will continue to “fight as hard as we can” to transform the Democratic Party.
Earlier Tuesday, Sanders was warmly received by Senate Democrats at their weekly luncheon, where he offered an update about his campaign and some of the lessons he had learned during the past year. Lawmakers in attendance said Sanders did not indicate his future plans.
“He had an opportunity to talk to us about his campaign and how it has changed him and what he has learned,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. “I think we all listened intently because we are anxious to always do better and grow as a party and be more inclusive.”
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who leads the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, said Sanders “absolutely will” support fellow Senate Democrats in the fall elections. “It was productive, it was good, it was vintage Bernie,” Tester said.
Sanders met last week with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who both later endorsed Clinton, and signaled to Democrats that he hopes to play a constructive role in helping the party regain control of the Senate in the 2016 elections.
The self-described democratic socialist says he will take his campaign to the convention in July and advocate for his policy issues in the platform while urging Democrats to be more inclusive of independents, young people and working-class voters, all of whom were pivotal in his victories in 22 states. But what that will look like still remains unclear and Sanders has been soliciting advice from supporters on how he should take his campaign forward.
Clinton will hold a rally in Pittsburgh and attend a private Washington fundraiser before her meeting with Sanders. A Clinton campaign official said the two agreed to meet when they spoke last Tuesday and the former secretary of state looks forward to discussing how they can “advance their shared commitment to a progressive agenda and work together to stop Donald Trump in the general election.”
The mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, has commanded the attention of both campaigns and prompted Democrats to point to Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S., an issue they view as a key contrast in the general election.
Without mentioning Trump by name, Clinton warned during a speech in Cleveland that demonizing Muslims would only empower extremist groups. “We should be intensifying contacts in those communities, not scapegoating or isolating them,” she said.
Sanders attended a vigil in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont, on Monday night to show solidarity with the victims. Pointing to Trump’s comments about Muslims, Sanders said the shooting was conducted by “one hateful person” and not committed by the Muslim people.
“Our job is not to allow politicians, Mr. Trump or anyone else, to divide us up by where our family came from, the color of our skin, our religion or our sexual orientation,” Sanders said.
Looking forward, Sanders has begun helping Democrats preparing for congressional races and the battle to regain control of the Senate.
An early test of his clout will come Tuesday in Nevada, where a Sanders-backed congressional candidate, Lucy Flores, competes in a three-way primary.
Sanders has opened up his campaign’s massive email donor list to several Democratic candidates, hauling in more than $2.4 million for his allies. Flores has been the top recipient of those appeals, collecting about $390,000 from an email Sanders sent in April on behalf of her and two other candidates.
AP Congressional Correspondent Erica Werner and writer Wilson Ring in Burlington, Vermont, contributed to this report.
On Twitter follow Ken Thomas: https://twitter.com/KThomasDC