Just when you might have thought the Democratic presidential primary race couldn't get more into the weeds, a new turf war has emerged over who gets to sit on the party's platform and rules committees at the convention in Philadelphia this summer.
This weekend, Sen. Bernie Sanders called for the DNC to remove two prominent Clinton supporters – Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank – from panels that help determine policy positions and procedures for the Democrats because both men have allegedly displayed "political and personal hostility" toward the Vermont lawmaker.
Malloy, whose state was rocked by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012, has taken Sanders to task for not being a stronger advocate for gun control. Frank has been even more frank, accusing the senator's campaign of "McCarthyite" tactics and arguing that "Bernie Sanders has been in Congress for 25 years with little to show for it.”
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The DNC has rejected Sanders' request – which may wind up prolonging an already ugly rift between Sanders and Clinton forces, which appear to be clashing more over process at this point rather than the ultimate primary result. Sanders has long been an outspoken critic of controversial DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and has endorsed her primary opponent Tim Canova.
"Clearly, I favor her opponent," he told CNN's Jake Tapper earlier this month. "His views are much closer to mine than as to Wasserman Schultz's. Let me also say this, in all due respect to the current chairperson: If [I am] elected president, she would not be re-appointed chairwoman of the DNC."
Meanwhile, Clinton holds what appears to be an insurmountable lead in pledged delegates, and Sanders may be beginning to see the writing on the wall. He recently suggested that the Democratic front-runner's VP pick will play a crucial role in winning his voters' support and didn't take his own name out of consideration for the second spot on a general election ticket.
Polls show that Sanders holds considerable leverage over the fate of the Clinton campaign. The former secretary of state, who is currently locked in a dead heat race against presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, would have a substantial lead outside the margin of error should Sanders exit the race and his supporters lined up behind her, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. In the past, Sanders has pledged to provide full-throated support for whoever the Democratic nominee is, in order to prevent a Republican victory in November.
In some ways, Sanders has already scored some significant concessions. He was able to get Dr. Cornel West, one of President Obama's harshest critics on the left (he's called him a "Rockefeller Republican in blackface), and James Zogby, a Palestinian rights activist, on the platform committee, although their selections have led to some concern about whether this will lead to a floor fight over the party's position on Israel.
While Sanders has suggested the party's convention will be "messy," he is still holding out hope that he will win the Democratic nomination outright through semi-traditional means. Besides winning the major primary in California on June 7 (a race that appears to be tightening), Sanders will be forced to persuade hundreds of superdelegates (who overwhelmingly favor Clinton) to switch over to his side.
"We're going to make the case for the superdelegates, 'Your job is to make sure that Trump is defeated, that Bernie Sanders, in fact, for a variety of reasons, not just polling, is the strongest candidate,'" he told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd on Sunday.
And while many Democrats have been troubled by the tone of some of Sanders' attacks on the party's establishment, others have argued that Sanders has earned the right to play hardball.
"This is exactly what Sanders should be doing," wrote Mother Jones' Kevin Drum this weekend. "He won a lot votes. He has a lot of delegates. He has a substantial following that's willing to take cues from him. There's no intelligent politician in the country who wouldn't use that to push the country in a direction he deeply believes in. Hillary would do the same thing in his position."