Sen. Bernie Sanders has no doubt that should he win the Democratic nomination he will have a very powerful figure by his side: former President Barack Obama.
Obama has chosen to sit out his party’s 2020 presidential primary fight but has promised to support whomever the nominee is. Sanders, in an interview Thursday with CNN, said he looks forward to the former president’s support.
“If I win, I’m sure he’ll be there at my side. If somebody else wins, he’ll be there at their side,” the Vermont independent said. “But I expect and know that he will play an enormously important role in helping us to defeat Trump.”
Sanders and Obama have, on occasion, not seen eye to eye on specific policy issues. Sanders was opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade plan, a signature issue for the Obama administration. However, despite not shying away from clashing with Obama from time to time, Sanders could be counted on as a reliable vote for some of Obama’s most important policy initiatives, including the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Sanders now describes a warm relationship with the former president and said the two are in fairly regular contact.
“I’m not going to tell you that he and I are best friends, but we’re friends. And I have talked to him on and off for the last many years, was sitting down alone with him in the Oval Office on more than one occasion. Talked to him on the telephone every now and then. He is an icon, clearly, in the Democratic Party, and I have absolute confidence that he will play a vigorous, vigorous role,” Sanders said.
While several of Obama’s former aides have been publicly critical of Sanders and his candidacy, the former president himself has refused to offer public support or criticism of Sanders or any of the other candidates, who include Joe Biden, his former vice president.
Sanders said he believes Obama has played an appropriate role in the primary.
“Everybody, I’m sure, is tugging at his sleeve. I’ve talked to him a couple of times in the last month or two. And I’m sure everybody else has. And I think, by the way, he did this in 2016 as well, and I think that’s exactly the right thing,” Sanders said. “I think his view is ‘Play it out, and I’ll be there.’ I don’t want to talk for him, but I think his view is ‘Play it out, let’s see who wins and I’ll be there for the winner,’ and I think that’s the right decision.”
CNN’s Kevin Brunelli and Gregory Krieg contributed to this report.