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Amid Jeers, Pro-Sanders Delegates Call for Democratic Unity

Convention gets off to raucous start as sentiment from primary battle still raw

An Alabama delegate holds a Bernie Sanders sign Monday during opening proceedings at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
An Alabama delegate holds a Bernie Sanders sign Monday during opening proceedings at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The first boos came during the opening invocation, when supporters of Bernie Sanders reacted to the mention of Hillary Clinton in the prayer.  

After a day marked by protests and disorder , the National Democratic Convention officially opened Monday in Philadelphia with supporters of the leading Democratic candidates trading cheers and jeers.  

Delegates shouted over several speakers, including some Sanders backers arguing for party unity. The Vermont senator, himself, sent a text and e-mail urging his supporters to respect the process.  

As Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland presented the platform report, a number of Democratic delegates chanted “No TPP,” opposing a Pacific trade plan that both Sanders and Clinton now oppose. Despite the protests, delegates move quickly to approve the rules of the convention and the party’s platform within the first hour.  

Earlier in the day at a rally, Sanders’ mention of Clinton and her pick for running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, brought  a chorus of boos .  

To make the case for party unity, elected leaders and hand-picked Sanders delegates kicked off the convention and talked about a need to elect Clinton in November to stop Republican nominee Donald Trump.  

But even before those sales pitches began, Rep. Marcia Fudge , D-Ohio, overseeing the festivities in place of outgoing Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, had trouble getting the night started.  

It was difficult to hear Fudge at times as loud boos came down from some corners of Wells Fargo Arena. Eventually, she felt a need to plead with the Sanders backers for quiet.  

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“Let me say to you, I intend to be fair,” Fudge said. “I want to hear the varying opinions here. I will be respectful of you and I want you to be respectful of me.”  

Democratic officials kept the show going. They used pro-Sanders delegates to introduce the convention rules package and present a “unity report” aimed largely at bringing future changes to the party’s nomination process, including a plan to reduce the number of party leaders and elected officials chosen as super delegates.  

Diane Russell , a state representative in Maine, delivered a passionate pitch for Sanders’ backers to fall in line.  

She called the continuing differences between the Clinton and Sanders camps a “family squabble.” Electing a president, she added “is supposed to be hard work.”  

She asked the Sanders supporters to realize that party leaders were overhauling the nominating process because of their concerns, and said those changes were never about this election cycle. “This is what democracy looks like,” she said  

She also hit on what could be a major part of the sales pitch to bring Sanders’ supporters into the Clinton tent: “A Donald Trump presidency will … hurt our people.”  

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“I will always stand with Bernie Sanders,” she said. “And I will also do everything I can this fall to elect Hillary Clinton so that we have a Democrat in the White House.”  

That line was met with what appeared equal amounts of cheers and boos. But her message seemed to change the mood in the massive basketball and hockey arena.  

In fact, by the time Rep. Brendan Boyle , D-Pa., said it will be “important” for all the delegates to vote for Clinton in November, there only was a smattering of boos. But, on the other hand, when he gave a more forceful call at the end of his remarks, there was but a smattering of applause.

Comedian Sarah Silverman, a longtime Sanders supporter, appeared during the 9 p.m. hour with a message of unity.

She called Clinton a “kick-ass woman,” saying she would “proudly vote for her.” The latter were met with a mix of cheers and boos.

The comedian had perhaps the most controversial line of the night so far, dropping this as Sanders’ backers again piped up: “To the ‘Bernie or bust’ people, you’re being ridiculous.”

In the night’s grand finale, Sanders was welcomed to the stage with raucous applause. He told the audience the election is not about him or any other candidate, but about making a better, and more economically equal, country.

From raising the federal minimum wage to other policies central to the movement he led among liberal voters, Clinton is the remaining candidate who agrees with them, Sanders argued.

“Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States,” Sanders declared to mostly applause, though there seemed to be many jeers mixed in, as well. 

Contact Bennett at Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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