(Bloomberg) — The No. 2 Senate Democrat has a message for Bernie Sanders: the presidential candidate can get either a warm embrace or a cold shoulder when he returns to the Senate, depending on how quickly he backs Hillary Clinton.
“That’s a critical element for his positive return to the Senate,” Dick Durbin of Illinois told reporters Tuesday, hours before Clinton claimed the Democratic presidential nomination.
So far, Sanders is showing little sign of doing so. He told supporters in California late Tuesday he is continuing his campaign, scheduling a rally in Washington, D.C., ahead of its primary on June 14.
“We will continue to fight for every vote and every delegate we can get,” Sanders said.
The once-obscure senator from Vermont is expected to return to the chamber as one of its most visible members, with a broad national following. But how warmly he is embraced by his colleagues could depend on how he winds down his presidential bid.
In public, many top Democrats have said they are giving him time to make his decision. Vice President Joe Biden told reporters Wednesday, “We should be a little graceful and give him the opportunity to decide on his own” when to exit the Democratic presidential race. Sanders is scheduled to hold separate meetings Thursday with Minority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama, who are both expected to discuss the future of the Democratic race.
But some Senate Democrats are suggesting they don’t have much patience left.
Bill Nelson of Florida said Tuesday that it’s time for Sanders to “stand down,” urging him to use his new influence to unify the party to defeat Republican Donald Trump. “I think he will come back here with elevated respect and appreciation by his fellow senators,” Nelson said.
Dianne Feinstein of California said Sanders needs to get on board quickly or he will be hurting the party’s chances in November. She also dismissed the idea that Sanders’ gambit might give him a bigger say in the platform.
“By ticking everybody off, I don’t think that’s the way to do it,” she said.
Durbin said that Sanders called him a few weeks ago, likely because the Vermont senator anticipates returning to the Senate at some point.
“I think he wants to be part of the Senate and its future. How he handles this from the convention forward to November is going to be a critical part of his image and his effectiveness,” Durbin said.
Durbin said Sanders, a longtime independent who caucused with Democrats, is poised to have a greater say in the party.
“It’s pretty remarkable what this man has accomplished. I mean, here he is, a back-bencher in the Senate, a socialist Democrat who managed to win millions of votes, break all records for presidential candidates in small contributions, bring out rallies of tens of thousands of people. It’s a different Bernie Sanders who will return,” Durbin said. “He has a national following and I think a lot of credibility for his effort.”