WASHINGTON — President Obama decided he didn’t want to wait for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to leave the Democratic primary race to start hitting the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton.
Obama met with Sanders at the White House today; the senator afterward thanked Obama and Vice President Joe Biden “for the degree of the impartiality they established during the course of this entire process.”
“I will, of course, be competing in the D.C. primary which will be held next Tuesday. This is the last primary of the Democratic nominating process. The major point that I will be making to the citizens of the District of Columbia is that I am strongly in favor of D.C. statehood,” Sanders told reporters outside the White House. “Also, I look forward to the full counting of the votes in California, which I suspect will show a much closer vote than the current vote tally.”
“I spoke briefly to Secretary Clinton on Tuesday night and I congratulated her on her very strong campaign. I look forward to meeting with her in the near future to see how we can work together to defeat Donald Trump and create a government which represents all of us and not just the one percent.”
Before the first polls closed on Tuesday, Obama had recorded a video in which he endorsed Clinton. That was released today.
“I want to congratulate Hillary Clinton on making history as the presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the United States,” Obama said. “Look, I know how hard this job can be. That’s why I know Hillary will be so good at it. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been someone so qualified to hold this office. She’s got the courage, the compassion and the heart to get the job done. And I say that as somebody who had to debate her more than 20 times.”
Obama will join his former rival on the campaign trail next Wednesday in Green Bay, Wis. Sanders won the state 56-43 percent in April.
“So I want those of you who have been with me from the beginning of this incredible journey to be the first to know that I’m with her,” Obama added. “I am fired up and I cannot wait to get out there and campaign for Hillary.”
Bringing up statements that the Clinton-Sanders battle had left the Democratic Party more divided, Obama said, “Well, they said that eight years ago, as well.”
He then congratulated Sanders for running an “incredible campaign” and bringing new voters into the process, and called Clinton and Sanders “both patriots who love this country.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that the video was not shot “at government expense” but paid for by either the Hillary campaign or the DNC.
Earnest said Sanders and Obama had a “friendly conversation focused on the future,” particularly on the “importance of the general election” and long-term future of the Democratic Party in terms of the young supporters who flocked to Sanders.
“What’s clear is there’s a lot of agreement about the way forward,” Earnest said. “Sen. Sanders has been quite clear that he intended to compete for votes in the upcoming D.C. primary; I don’t think anybody had the expectation that Sen. Sanders was going to deviate from that.”
The president spoke with Bernie three times over the past week, he added, so it’s “fair to say Sen. Sanders was not surprised at all by today’s announcement.”
Obama’s video release was followed by a short blast from the not-too-distant campaign past: former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley endorsed Clinton, arguing in a statement that “the voters have spoken, it is time now to unite our party.”
“For the future of the country we carry in our hearts, I am committing my energies to the election of Secretary Clinton as the next President of the United States,” O’Malley said. “Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike must come together to confront the fascist threat to our democracy presented by Donald Trump.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Obama’s endorsement “makes clear what Hillary Clinton has telegraphed this entire campaign – she is running to give President Obama’s failed polices a third term.”
“President Obama has trampled the Constitution, buried our country in $9 trillion of crushing new debt, presided over the weakest economy in a generation, and with Clinton’s help, pursued a weak and dangerous foreign policy that has made us less safe,” Priebus said. “…I don’t think there’s been a candidate for this office more unethical and untrustworthy than Hillary Clinton.”
Earnest said during today’s press briefing that “there’ve been a number of occasions” he’s pointed out differences between Obama and Hillary as “they do not have the same opinion on every issue.” At another point, he called her one of the “architects” of Obama’s foreign policy.
Clinton tangled with Trump on Twitter over this point: