On three separate occasions this July, staffers for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) began preparing for the rollout of his new single-payer health care bill.
But every time they started to do so, Senate Republicans would improbably revive their push to repeal Obamacare — and Sanders's team would postpone the launch of their "Medicare-for-all" campaign, according to aides to the Vermont senator.
"Bernie has repeated to us over and over and over again, 'Our top priority is doing everything in our power to make sure 20 million people don't lose their health care,'" said Ari Rabin-Havt, a senior adviser to Sanders.
This was something of a relief to some Democrats. Just last year, the party warily eyed Sanders as a potential liability as much as a potential ally. After all, he has repeatedly insisted that Obamacare was, at best, a way station on the road to single-payer.
"Obamacare was a small victory for the uninsured, but it is time to take the fight against inadequate coverage even further," he said.
After the election, some feared the Vermont independent would continue to torch Obamacare's inadequacies, while turning his passionate followers against the Democratic Party.
But at least during the Obamacare repeal fight in Congress, Sanders was a team player. He brought crowds to dozens of rallies with Senate Democrats who had once opposed him. He shut a Republican attempt to expose Democrats' divisions, despite the interest of some of his team. And, perhaps most importantly, he marshaled his resources and newfound star power in defense of Democrats' top priority: showing what it might look like for his movement to be incorporated into the party apparatus, rather than having it try to knock down its gates.
"Our job today is to defend the Affordable Care Act," Sanders said at several of his rallies this year. "Our job tomorrow is to create a Medicare-for-all single-payer system."