- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Emerging from a White House meeting with President Obama, Sen. Bernard Sanders said Wednesday he doesn’t think the president is favoring rival Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary.

“I think he and the vice president have tried to be fair and even-handed in the process and I expect they will continue to be that way,” Mr. Sanders told reporters.

Their meeting came two days after Mr. Obama said in an interview that Mr. Sanders was the “bright, shiny object” in the race because he is relatively unknown, and that Mrs. Clinton is “wicked smart” would be ready to lead on “day one.”

The president’s praise of Mrs. Clinton came just a week before voters begin deciding the race in the Iowa caucuses.

Mr. Sanders acknowledged that some people believe Mr. Obama was “tipping the scale towards Secretary Clinton” in the interview with Politico.

“I don’t believe that at all,” he said.

In response to a reporter’s question, Mr. Sanders said with a smile that the president didn’t give him any advice for beating Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Obama, of course, defeated Mrs. Clinton in a long primary battle in 2008.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Mr. Obama is “keeping his private preference private” in the primary contest, at least for now.

“The president wants to encourage a robust debate within the Democratic Party,” Mr. Earnest said. “He’s not the only person who should have the opportunity to decide. Democratic voters should be engaged in this process.”

The meeting was a delicate move for Mr. Sanders to pull off. He has built his campaign essentially on the argument that Obama administration hasn’t done enough to rein in Wall Street abuses or to broaden economic opportunities and reduce social injustice.

But he sought the meeting with Mr. Obama nonetheless, to be shown huddling one-on-one with the leader of the Democratic Party in the power setting of the Oval Office, and to let voters know about his high-level briefing of sorts on foreign policy. It was the kind of meeting that Mrs. Clinton has had several times since leaving her post as secretary of state.

The underdog in the race reminded reporters again that, unlike Mrs. Clinton, he voted against the war in Iraq. He said he agrees with Mr. Obama’s reluctance to send U.S. ground troops back into the Middle East to fight the Islamic State, instead working with local Muslim forces.

“As I mentioned to the president, I, in my small state of Vermont went to too, too many funerals of wonderful young people and I am very happy to tell you that in the last few years, I’ve not gone to funerals of young men or women in our military,” Mr. Sanders said. “I think what the president is trying to do is the right thing, and what he is trying to do is keep our young men and women in the military out of a perpetual war in the quagmire of the Middle East.”

Mr. Sanders went out of his way to praise the president’s domestic agenda, despite some major policy differences over the years, such as tax policy and the free-trade Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that Mr. Obama is hoping Congress will approve.

Recounting how Mr. Obama took office in the depths of a recession, Mr. Sanders told reporters, “I say it every day, that we have got to do a lot better to protect the middle class and working families. But it is also important to remember how far we have come in the last seven years under the leadership of President Obama and Vice President Biden.”

Mr. Sanders said he and the president had a wide-ranging discussion on foreign policy and “occasionally a little bit of politics.” He said it was “just a discussion to just get myself updated on some of the current issues” such as the Islamic State, Iran and Syria.

Mr. Earnest said the president believes that Mrs. Clinton served “ably” as his secretary of state, and “has made no secret of the fact that over the years of campaigning against one another and then working together in the administration, that the two have become genuine friends.” But Mr. Obama also has been clear, he said, that “at this point, he does not plan to offer up a specific endorsement in the presidential race.”

As the campaign heads into balloting in other key states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina, Mr. Sanders offered his assessment of the race. The Vermont independent said turnout will be the key factor in Monday’s Iowa caucuses.

“If there is a large turnout I think we win, if not I think we’re going to be struggling,” Mr. Sanders said.

He said he has “a pretty good chance” in New Hampshire, and believes “we’ll do a lot, lot better” in Nevada and South Carolina than expected.

“We’re feeling pretty good,” Mr. Sanders said. “I think the American people are working people, young people, want to see real movement in this country. And I think we’re tapping into that energy. And I think we stand a very good chance to do well in Iowa and forward.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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