Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said it might be time to give Sen. Bernie Sanders a break.
At a time when the underdog presidential candidate and his supporters have taken on the Democratic party establishment with endorsements, lawsuits and the promise of a messy convention , Reid cautioned restraint Tuesday.
“I think we should kind of lay off Bernie Sanders a bit, OK?” Reid said at a news conference, responding to a question about whether he was concerned about the Vermont senator’s loyalty to the Democratic Party .
“He has done, I think, some really good things. The party has changed during his tenure here. And we’ll see what happens,” Reid said. “I think Bernie’s a good man, he tries to do the right thing, and everything will work out well.”
Reid’s comments come at a time when Democrats are trying to integrate Sanders into the party fold. The candidate and his energetic supporters could prove critical to electing a Democrat to the White House this year, as well as to supporting the party’s candidates for Congress.
Recently though, Sanders has troubled some party members with his continued pursuit the presidential nomination, despite being well behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in both pledged delegates and superdelegates.
Reid, who has endorsed Clinton, predicted that Sanders would return to his legislative role in a stronger, more influential position.
“I think that he has the ability to be a tremendously more powerful Senator in our caucus than he was,” Reid said in a weekend MSNBC interview. “He was not a patsy to begin with. He can be something much more than what he was.”
It is possible that Sanders, who has served for years in Congress as an independent caucusing with Democrats, could become the chairman of the Budget Committee if Democrats retake control of the Senate in November.
The Vermont senator, though, is still fighting to win the nod for president. This week Sanders went after the party establishment, backing the primary opponent trying unseat Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In California, his supporters filed a lawsuit over voter registration.
Last week Sanders defended the conduct of his supporters who disrupted the Nevada Democratic Party convention on May 14. Sanders delegates reportedly threw chairs, shouted and made threats against the state’s Democratic Party chairwoman due to discontent over delegate distribution. Sanders condemned the violence , but pointed to what he saw as irregularities at the Nevada convention.
The Senate minority leader offered no commentary on how Sanders dealt with the situation at the convention.
“I have no criticism of Bernie at this stage,” Reid said Tuesday.
Maryland Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who has backed Clinton, said he didn’t see Sanders’ recent actions as a problem.
“Look, when you’re in a battle it gets competitive and it gets, at times, a little bit challenging,” Cardin said. “But at the end of the day I think our nominee will be stronger as a result of the primary she’s gone through.”
Reid indicated that Sanders will still support the party’s choices in other races. Reid said he spoke on Tuesday to former Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who is challenging current Sen. Ron Johnson, the minority leader was pleased to hear that Sanders was supporting Feingold’s bid for his former seat.
But it’s not clear to what extent Sanders would be willing to assist other Democratic candidates. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Tester of Montana told CQ Roll Call he hadn’t spoken with Sanders in almost six months about helping the committee’s fundraising efforts
“I owe him a call,” Tester said.
But in the presidential race, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a Clinton ally who’s been touted as a potential vice presidential pick, said Sanders’ recent actions would not affect Clinton’s strategy.
“She is now focused on the general election, that’s what she needs to do,” Kaine said. “I don’t think she needs to, now, engage in any back and forth with Bernie.”
Reid’s comment on Sanders didn’t bother Kaine or several other Senate Democrats interviewed
“I agree [with Reid],” said Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii. He said that party leaders shouldn’t necessarily be more forceful in calling on Sanders to drop out, explaining, “because we’re family.”
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.