The president of a liberal think tank responded to criticism from Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday, the latest development in the biting back-and-forth between the progressive presidential candidate and an organization with ties to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment.
The Vermont lawmaker on Saturday sent a letter to the board of the Center for American Progress and CAP Action Fund rebuking the think tank for playing what he called a “destructive role” in the “critical mission to defeat Donald Trump,” The New York Times first reported. Sanders referenced an article and video published on the website of ThinkProgress — a news site started by CAP — that railed against the senator for his growing personal wealth.
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Neera Tanden, president and CEO of CAP, noted in a statement Monday that ThinkProgress is editorially independent of CAP and CAP Action, and called the video attacking Sanders “overly harsh.”
“We believe the content of the ThinkProgress video critiquing Sen. Sanders is overly harsh and does not reflect our approach to a constructive debate of the issues,” Tanden said.
The clash represents a deeper tension within the Democratic Party as 18 candidates vie for the chance to take on President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. As a number of progressive contenders threaten to pull the party farther left — a charge led by Sanders, who’s currently polling as the frontrunner among those in the race — more-centrist Democrats worry that the liberal shift could harm their chances in the general election and challenge the party leadership’s control on the nomination process.
“This counterproductive negative campaigning needs to stop,” Sanders wrote in the letter. “The Democratic primary must be a campaign of ideas, not of bad faith smears. Please help play a constructive role in the effort to defeat Donald Trump.”
Sanders accused CAP of publishing content that “dishonestly attacked me for hypocrisy in my efforts to address income inequality in America.” ThinkProgress slammed the senator for not yet releasing his tax returns and called his millionaire status, earned in recent years from book royalties, “off-brand and embarrassing.”
ThinkProgress has also published content attacking Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), posts that Sanders said belittled progressive ideals.
Tanden was a close adviser to Clinton during her 2016 campaign and has been criticized by Sanders supporters for helping stifle progressive activists, who complain that the Democratic Party’s leadership orchestrated the nomination process and are beholden to corporate donors.
CAP was founded in 2003 by John Podesta, who served as chairman of Clinton’s 2016 campaign and chief of staff to her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Leading Democrats have worked to reach out to Sanders supporters in the wake of Trump’s 2016 victory, though the senator’s letter illustrates the ease at which the fragile efforts toward party unity might be hindered.
“I will be informing my grassroots supporters of the foregoing concerns that I have about the role CAP is playing,” Sanders wrote. “Should your actions evolve in the coming months, I am happy to reconsider what kind of partnership we can have.”