Sanders returns to Washington, meets with Obama on next steps

Sanders to meet with Obama
Sanders to meet with Obama

WASHINGTON, June 9 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders returned to Washington for meetings on Thursday with President Barack Obama and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid as Democrats pressured him to end his presidential campaign and support Hillary Clinton after a hard-fought primary race.

Clinton, a former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, secured enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination this week and become the first woman to lead a major U.S. party as its presidential nominee.

Despite Clinton's commanding victories in California and New Jersey in presidential contests on Tuesday, Sanders vowed to carry his populist campaign to the Democratic National Convention in July, when the party's nominee is formally chosen.

RELATED: Bernie Sanders supporters

Obama, who is expected to endorse Clinton soon, was scheduled to meet with Sanders at the White House on Thursday at 11:15 a.m. (1515 GMT). Sanders will meet with Reid, his Senate colleague, in the afternoon.

The Sanders campaign, which waged an unexpectedly strong challenge to a better-known and better-funded Democrat, has decried what it called Clinton's anointment by the party establishment and the media.

In an interview taped on Wednesday for broadcast on the NBC's "Tonight" show on Thursday, Obama said he hoped that divisions between Democrats would start to heal in coming weeks now that Clinton has clinched the party's nomination for the Nov. 8 presidential election.

At a fund-raiser in New York City on Wednesday, Obama said he was not too worried about bruised feelings after the primary and said "it was a healthy thing for the Democratic Party to have a contested primary."

Obama praised Sanders, the democratic socialist senator from Vermont, for bringing new energy and ideas to the party. "He pushed the party and challenged them," he said. "I thought it made Hillary a better candidate."

Democrats are striking a delicate balance between the need to unite behind Clinton in the looming battle against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and not alienating Sanders and his supporters.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, herself a progressive known as a fiery critic of Wall Street, is preparing to endorse Clinton in the coming weeks after staying neutral in the Democratic primary, people familiar with her thinking told Reuters.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott)