Four days before New Yorkers head to the polls for a contentious Democratic primary, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders touched down in Rome, visiting on an invitation from the Vatican. He was asked to speak about the economy and social justice — issues at the core of his campaign — in a move many see as risky given its timing. Just hours before his departure, he was going head-to-head with opponent Hillary Clinton during a CNN-hosted debate in Brooklyn.
Sanders is expected Friday morning to deliver a 10-minute speech at a Vatican conference hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. He was not expected to meet with Pope Francis, a religious leader he says he greatly admires, and the invitation did not mark an official endorsement for the Democratic candidate.
At 11 a.m. EDT, Sanders will speak to reporters at the Vatican. His speech will be available via live stream on C-SPAN’s website.
The Vermont senator was joined by his family, including all four children, his four grandchildren, and his wife, Jane. A group of staff, security detail and members of the press accompanied him on the trip, ABC News reported. Despite scrutiny of the decision to head to the Vatican with a looming major primary contest, where 247 delegates are at stake, Sanders’ senior strategic adviser, Tad Devine, emphasized the importance of the trip.
"He is not going to give a political speech," Devine said Thursday evening ahead of the CNN debate, according to ABC. "He is going to go and talk about an issue that he cares deeply about, which is a moral economy in the world, and dealing with the tremendous income and inequality not just in America but everywhere. Bernie is a tremendous admirer of Pope Francis ... and he really appreciates the opportunity to speak about this on the world stage.”
Clinton currently holds 1,289 pledged delegates, while Sanders trails behind with 1,038. When superdelegates are included, the former secretary of state’s lead widens, with 1,758 delegates, compared with Sanders' 1,069.