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Bernie Sanders Tells Defiant Supporters to Back Clinton: ‘The Choice Is Not Even Close’

Bernie Sanders Democratic National Convention
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

After a day of friction between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Senator gave Clinton his unconditional endorsement to close the first night of the Democratic National Convention Monday, saying the choice was “not even close” between his Democratic opponent and Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Sanders arrived to a roar from the crowd and chants of “Bernie!” that continued for nearly three minutes. When the demonstration would not be quelled, Sanders appeared moved and bit his lip as if to hold back tears.

Before turning his attention to his support for Clinton, Sanders used his speech to give a shout out to what he called the “historical” movement he built. He mentioned the more than 13 million people who voted for him and the record eight million who gave donations, averaging $27 apiece.

The 74-year-old senator signaled that he did not intend to disappear from the political scene.

“The struggle of the people to create a government which represents all of us and not just the 1 percent,” said Sanders, “a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice – that struggle continues.”

Sanders reiterated his concern about closing the gaping income gap in America, which he told the convention was “grotesque” and worse than at any time since the lead-up to the Great Depression. “It is not moral, not acceptable and not sustainable that the top one-tenth of one percent now own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, or that the top 1 percent in recent years has earned 85 percent of all new income,” he said. “That is unacceptable. That must change.”

Though he acknowledged his disappointment that he had not been able to win the Democratic nomination, Sanders told the crowd “the choice is not even close” when it comes to picking Hillary Clinton as the next best choice and miles ahead of Donald Trump.

He said only Clinton understood the need to raise the minimum wage above “starvation” levels, while Trump did not. He said Clinton understood the need to overturn the Citizens United decision to restore greater controls on campaign spending, while Trump did not. He said that while Clinton was ready to make changes to slow climate change, Trump was rejecting the findings of science.

Sanders said that based on her experience and ability to bring people together Clinton “must become the next president of the United States.” He said the damage to civil liberties and equal rights from justices who would be appointed to the Supreme Court by Trump should be enough to get voters to come out in support of Clinton.

And he said Trump’s caustic remarks about multiple groups virtually disqualified him from being president. He added: “While Donald Trump is busy insulting one group after another, Hillary Clinton understands that our diversity is one of our greatest strengths.”

While Sanders acknowledged many differences remained with Clinton, he said the party platform had been brought around to become “by far the most progressive” in the history of the Democratic Party. He praised, in particular, calls to block the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and for a breakup of big Wall Street institutions. He also described a proposal he said he and Clinton had recently agreed on which would allow the majority of students in the United States to go to college tuition-free.

He concluded his remarks by saying “Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here tonight.”

Earlier in the evening even some ardent Sanders supporters signaled it was time to move on. Comedian Sarah Silverman spoke before Sanders and, although she lauded the candidate and professed her support for him, she also drew a roar from Clinton supporters when she said: “Can I just say to the ‘Bernie or Bust’ people: You are being ridiculous.”

Sanders appearance came just days after secret emails were published, revealing that top Democratic Party officials had talked about ways they could derail his candidacy, including by questioning his religious convictions. Some of his delegates in the hall had said earlier in the day they were still hoping that Superdelegates might reconsider and support a Sanders presidential candidacy.