Sanders meets with Obama, says president will remain neutral in primary race

Bernie Sanders Meeting Privately with Pres. Obama

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders had a rare Oval Office meeting on Wednesday with President Barack Obama, just days after Obama praised Hillary Clinton, Sanders' rival and the front-runner in the race to become the Democratic presidential candidate.

Emerging from the White House after an hour, Sanders said the meeting was "constructive" and said Obama was trying to be as "even-handed" as possible in the race, dismissing commentary that Obama was favoring Clinton, his former secretary of state.

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"I don't believe that at all," the senator from Vermont told reporters on the White House driveway.

While Obama has not explicitly endorsed a candidate, he showered praise on Clinton's experience in an interview with Politico while noting that Sanders has had the "luxury of being a complete long shot."

Obama suggested Sanders has not yet faced intense scrutiny and would need to broaden his populist message to go further in the race to be the Democratic candidate in the November election.

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Sanders said he gotten an overview of current foreign policy issues from Obama, and said the two talked "a little politics."

The White House said the meeting had been in the works since Sanders asked Obama for some face time when he saw him a month ago at a holiday party for lawmakers.

It came just ahead of the first contests to pick the Democratic and Republican nominees: Iowa, on Monday, and New Hampshire, on Feb. 9. While Sanders has surged in recent opinion polls, Clinton still has the edge nationally.

See photos of Sanders on the campaign trail:

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Sanders meets with Obama, says president will remain neutral in primary race
PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 15: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to a crowd gathered at the Phoenix Convention Center during a campaign rally on March 15, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary elections in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, while Missouri and Illinois remain tight races. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 26: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks to the media after holding a campaign event with United Steelworkers Local 310L, on January 26, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Sanders continues his quest to become the Democratic presidential nominee.. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - US Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, January 24, 2016, ahead of the Iowa Caucus. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, participates in the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. Hours before Sunday's Democratic debate, the two top Democratic contenders held a warm-up bout of sorts in multiple separate appearances on political talk shows, at a time when the polling gap between the pair has narrowed in early-voting states. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 05: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) shakes hands with supporters after outlining his plan to reform the U.S. financial sector on January 5, 2016 in New York City. Sanders is demanding greater financial oversight and greater government action for banks and individuals that break financial laws. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
LEBANON, NH - NOVEMBER 11: Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) marches in the Veterans Day Parade November 11, 2015 in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Sanders goes into the Democrats second debate this weekend still running strong in the polls.(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. While next Tuesday's first Democratic presidential debate will probably lack the name-calling and sharp jabs of the Republican face-offs, there's still potential for strong disagreements between the party's leading contenders. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks about the Workplace Democracy Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US Senator from Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses striking low-wage contract workers from the US Capitol and religious leaders at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, DC, on September 22, 2015 for an interfaith service ahead of the arrival of Pope Francis for a six-day visit to the US. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - SEPTEMBER 19: Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) talks on stage during the New Hampshire Democratic Party State Convention on September 19, 2015 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Five Democratic presidential candidates are all expected to address the crowd inside the Verizon Wireless Arena. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
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Obama and his aides have regular contact with Clinton - his former secretary of state - and her staff, which includes former Obama White House staffers.

Clinton dropped by the White House for an informal lunch on Dec. 7 and had an hour-long chat in March.

The White House visitor logs show Sanders making only one previous solo visit with Obama in the Oval Office, on Dec. 15, 2014. Sanders has regularly attended group meetings at the White House with other Democractic lawmakers as well as social events.

On Tuesday, Sanders put a hold on Obama's nominee for the Food and Drug Administration, claiming the nominee is too close to the pharmaceutical industry.

Until lifted, the hold would prevent the Senate from holding a vote on confirming cardiologist Dr. Robert Califf for the top regulatory job.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he did not know whether the FDA appointment came up during the meeting.

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