Jeff Merkley Bernie Sanders composite

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Jeff Merkley said Bernie Sanders should drop out if his nomination path is closed after California

Merkley is Sanders' only supporter in the 46-member caucus

CNN  — 

Bernie Sanders’ lone supporter in the Senate said Thursday that the Vermont senator should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.

In an interview with CNN, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley argued that the party should be united heading into the July convention. And that if Sanders has no viable path to the nomination after the final round of primaries in June, he should concede to Clinton at that point. He said that Sanders should follow the model employed by Clinton in 2008, who dropped out in June of that year and pledged her support to Barack Obama.

“Secretary Clinton, then senator, said, ‘OK, I had the discussion across America. I’m ready to pivot and work together.’ And Obama reached out, and she reached out, and that should be a model for us to follow,” Merkley said outside of the Capitol on Thursday. “I think after California, June 7, is about the time it would be appropriate – all states will have weighed in by then. It will then give them five weeks to work together” before the convention.

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Asked if that meant he believed Sanders should drop out if he has no viable path to the nomination after the June primaries, Merkley said, “Yes.”

The comments carry weight given that Merkley is the lone Senate Democrat in the 46-member caucus who has pledged his support to Sanders. Nearly every other member has backed Clinton, so Merkley’s risky endorsement has made him an outlier in the clubby chamber. Yet, Merkley’s support of Sanders also gives him a chance to play the role as a peacemaker between the establishment and the progressive wing, and Merkley seems prepared to do just that.

“I would have a concern that whoever loses doesn’t work to reach out – and whoever wins doesn’t reach out,” said Merkley, who waited until earlier this month to throw his support behind Sanders.

But his comment also could undercut the Sanders campaign, which is still promising to take the fight to the party’s nominating convention, even as his chance at the nomination is increasingly grim. Sanders’ campaign, however, has signaled after his poor showing in Tuesday’s Northeastern primaries that he may only be seeking to influence the party platform if he continues his campaign into the convention.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, the liberal Arizona Democrat who backs Sanders, said in an interview Thursday, “I want him to go to the convention. … I think he needs a prominent place at the convention to talk.”

Similarly, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, another Sanders backer, said “there is a lot to be gained” by taking the fight to the convention by giving the self-proclaimed Democratic socialist a chance to influence the party’s agenda.

“I think the party is going to unify in any case,” Ellison said.