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Lone Senator To Endorse Bernie Sanders Reacts To Clinton Victory

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Hillary Clinton has enough delegates to be called the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, and her four primary wins last night added an exclamation point to her victory. But there has been no announcement that her primary challenger, Senator Bernie Sanders, will leave the race, although it has been reported that he intends to lay off at least half his campaign staff.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Back in April I spoke with Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, the lone senator to endorse Bernie Sanders. In that interview, he told me that if Hillary Clinton were to win the majority of pledged delegates, Senator Sanders should absolutely endorse her. Well, she now has, so when I spoke with Senator Merkley again today, I asked him if now's the time for Senator Sanders to do just that.

JEFF MERKLEY: Yes, last night she did meet the goals of winning a majority of the pledged delegates and a majority of those voting. And we have our nominee, and it's is Secretary Clinton. I do hope that Secretary Clinton will take into account the huge resonance of the vision that Senator Sanders was putting forward.

This has inspired millions of citizens - a style of campaign we've never seen before winning 22 states, extraordinary number of caucuses. Now the challenge is to bring the two halves of the party together.

SIEGEL: Well, I'm going to play for you a clip from Santa Monica last night where Bernie Sanders spoke. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: I am pretty good at arithmetic, and I know that the fight in front of us is a very, very steep fight. But we will continue to fight for every vote and every delegate we can get.

(CHEERING)

SIEGEL: Does that sound to you like a campaign in opposition to Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention, or is that the prelude to endorsing her?

MERKLEY: I think it is the prelude. It's also the fact that he had pledged to carry his campaign through all of the primaries. And the last primary is next Tuesday in D.C., and he will honor that pledge. He has noted that he had a good and productive call with Hillary Clinton, that he will be talking to Democratic leaders to discuss how we defeat Donald Trump in the fall and that we will be a unified party at our convention.

SIEGEL: Well, in terms of policy positions that Senator Sanders took, what would be an appropriate acknowledgment of his campaign in the platform that emerges from the Democratic convention?

MERKLEY: Well, certainly that's a question best put to Bernie Sanders himself, but I think that he will probably put forward ideas that are related to the corrupting role of Citizens United and Buckley versus Valeo court decisions and the need to restore a by-and-for-the-people republic envisioned in our Constitution instead of the of-, by- and for-the-most-powerful system that we have right now.

SIEGEL: So you're saying campaign finance.

MERKLEY: Campaign finance, key efforts related to global warming and pivoting off of fossil fuels. I'm sure there will be discussion about things related to working Americans. Perhaps it will be endorsement of the national minimum wage, which is woefully inadequate and has been greatly diminished by inflation.

SIEGEL: Are you confident that Hillary Clinton, if elected as president, would implement the kind of policies you associate with the Sanders campaign, or is this the time to bring everybody under the same tent? And then is next January the time to move back to the middle?

MERKLEY: Well, I certainly hope that Secretary Clinton will embrace and champion these core strategies to save our republic, to save our planet, to save our working-class. This will be important for bringing the party together, but it's also - be very important in terms of putting our nation back on track.

SIEGEL: If you were to sum up what you think the legacy of the Sanders campaign has been this year, what would you say?

MERKLEY: He has changed the conversation in America. Americans have powerfully sensed that we're off track. There is a structural challenge in our economy that needs to be addressed. What Sanders has done is he's focused the nation on the fact that these things are not inevitable. They are the result of policies. We can do better to create an economy that works well for working Americans.

SIEGEL: Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, thanks for talking with us today.

MERKLEY: You're very welcome. Take care. Thank you.

SIEGEL: Senator Merkley, a Democrat, was the one senator who endorsed Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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