WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that people should "lay off" Bernie Sanders, sending a message to restive Democrats increasingly anxious to see the party unite behind Hillary Clinton.
Reid is personally close with the Vermont independent senator and presidential hopeful. Last week he disclosed that he'd spoken with Sanders to voice concerns about unruly protests by Sanders supporters at the Nevada state Democratic convention, and subsequently voiced his disappointment over a defiant statement Sanders issued in response.
On Tuesday Reid had a different message, signaling to fellow Democrats that pressuring Sanders is not the way to go.
"I've had conversations with Bernie, he's a good person, he's doing his best to effectuate what he believes in, and I have no criticism of Bernie at this stage," Reid said.
"I think we should just kinda lay off Bernie Sanders a little bit, OK?"
Reid's comment comes as Democrats, including in the Senate, grow increasingly vocal with their impatience over Sanders' continued presidential candidacy. Sanders is showing no signs of quitting despite nearly impossible odds of overtaking Clinton, who is eager to turn her attention to Republican Donald Trump and the general election in November.
Instead Sanders' is warning of a potentially "messy" Democratic Convention in Philadelphia in July while criticizing Clinton and the Democratic Party for their dependence on big money. Many Democrats find such criticism is wearing thin and poses threats to the party, but there's debate over how best to respond. Reid seems determined for now to try to keep Sanders in the fold without alienating him and his backers.
Reid also told reporters that he'd spoken with Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, who is running for Senate, and "I'm very happy that Sen. Sanders is supporting him bigtime." Although it's not surprising that Sanders would back Feingold since they share similar outlooks, Sanders has not thus far gotten involved in endorsing or campaigning for Senate Democratic candidates. Backing Feingold could reassure other Democrats about his intentions and party loyalty.