WASHINGTON (JTA) — Acknowledging for the first time that he will not be the Democratic presidential nominee, Bernie Sanders said he was not yet ready to endorse Hillary Clinton.
In an expansive interview aired Wednesday on C-Span, Sanders said he hoped to speak at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia next month, but did not yet know if he would.
“It doesn’t appear that I’m going to be the nominee, so I’m not going to be determining the scope of the convention,” he said.
During the hourlong interview Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win major nominating contests, spoke of the prejudices that American society had overcome, including against Jews, only to encounter them again in the campaign of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. The Independent senator from Vermont said he remained dedicated to defeating Trump.
He also reflected on how moved he was by the support his insurgent campaign garnered and joked about the influence that comedian Larry David, who handled Sanders impressions on “Saturday Night Live,” had on his campaign.
“Think of what this country has had to go through since its inception, since we had slavery and discrimination, what we’ve done to the Native American people, the prejudice against the Irish, the Italians, the Jews,” Sanders said.
“Now to have a candidate for president of the United States who is insulting Mexicans and Latinos and Muslims and women and veterans and African Americans,” he said of Trump. “This guy must not become president of the United States. I’m going to do everything I can to prevent that.”
On Thursday evening, Sanders is scheduled to speak in New York to his followers on “Where do we go from here.” Sanders, 74, said he hoped to chair the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the next Senate, and would likely run again for the body — for a third term — in 2018.
Clinton has secured the needed number of delegates for the nomination. Sanders said he was holding out his endorsement of the former secretary of state because he wants to see how much of his platform she embraces.
“We want to see Secretary Clinton stake out the most progressive positions that she can,” he said, adding that Clinton should also select a progressive running mate, one who does not “have roots” on Wall Street.
Sanders appeared relaxed and at times relieved to be out of the race. He implicitly acknowledged one of the top Clinton campaign criticisms: That he was underexposed to the gritty American reality as a white senator from an overwhelmingly white state.
“I’m kind of a small-town guy,” he said.
Sanders was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and attended the University of Chicago, but apart from a stint in Israel in the mid-1960s has lived in Vermont since the late 1960s.
He said he had not been viscerally aware of issues like institutional racism and the plight of undocumented immigrants until he started traveling for the campaign.
“There are beautiful people all over this country,” said Sanders, a campaigner otherwise notorious for his one-note focus on economic policy and hating feel-good talk. He acknowledged being moved to near tears at times by the support he encountered.
Sanders was enthusiastic about reshaping the Democratic Party platform. As part of a peacemaking effort, the Democratic National Committee, which has feuded with Sanders, allowed him to name five members of the 15-member platform drafting committee. Clinton named six.
Outlining where he hoped his views would influence the platform, Sanders notably did not mention Israel or foreign policy. Three of his appointees are Israel critics who are striving to have the platform recognize that Israel is occupying Palestinian land in the West Bank.
“It is fair to say that the Democratic platform will be by far the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party,” he said, “in terms of economics, in terms of climate change, of criminal justice, in terms of immigration reform, in terms of higher education and in many other areas. Yeah, I think it is going to be a very progressive platform.”
Asked by his C-Span interviewer why terrorists “hate the United States,” Sanders’ reflex was to first blame extremist attitudes in the Middle East for creating a breeding ground for terrorism.
“They do not believe that girls should get an education,” he said of groups like the Islamic State. “They have a weird sexual approach. They feel threatened by a society that has a looser sexual approach.”
Sanders said other factors included extreme poverty in the region driving frustrated young men toward terrorist groups. He also faulted previous American administrations for an overly interventionist policy that lacked follow-up.
“There is a perception out there that the United States thinks it has the right to impose regime change without thinking about what happens the day after,” he said.
Freed from the bitter rivalry that characterized the last months of the election, he praised Clinton as capable and intelligent.
Sanders laughed heartily when reminded of the David impressions of him and suggested that he benefited from the mimicking of his Brooklyn accent, especially David’s pronunciation of the word “huge.”
“Let me tell you something, it has an impact, in any speech that I gave, if I used the word ‘yuuuuuuge,’” he said. “It had a huge reaction.”
David, he said, nailed him.
“He is good, my God, yes,” Sander said. “I was trying to convince him to get out there on the campaign trail, he could be a clone there — but it didn’t work out.”