Convention Uproar Over Wasserman Schultz, Sanders Protest
PHILADELPHIA -- The Democratic convention opened amid turmoil here on Monday, with the embattled party chairwoman booed by her hometown delegation and Bernie Sanders’ supporters plotting a disruption aimed at the party establishment.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced a little more than an hour before the convention was set to begin that she would not gavel it into session – the traditional role for the party chair.
"I have decided that, in the interest of making sure that we can start the Democratic convention on a high note, that I am not going to gavel in the convention," she told the Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Her earlier insistence on doing so Monday evening had members of her party concerned about the negative response she was bound to receive on the floor and the shadow it could cast over a convention programmed to contrast the Republicans’ contentious gathering last week.
If Democrats hoped Wasserman Schultz’s announced exit -- after a DNC email hack showed party officials favored Hillary Clinton over Sanders in the primary race -- would stamp out fires before the convention’s start, it may instead have fanned the flames.
A group of Sanders’ supporters predicted that like-minded delegates would boo or otherwise register objections during the Monday night session that will features a prime-time speech by the Vermont independent.
During a welcome rally for supporters Monday afternoon at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Sanders was booed when he encouraged support for the Democratic ticket.
“We have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine,” he said, adding that Donald Trump is “a danger for the future of our country and must be defeated. And I intend to do everything I can to see that he is defeated.”
“We want Bernie,” the crowd chanted as he spoke.
“What he said about Hillary Clinton, I'm not sure too many people agree with what he's saying,” Colorado delegate Joseph Salazar told RCP.
“We have to hope that the big-D Democratic Party would be in favor to some degree … of being seen promoting” the convention protest, Karen Bernal, a Sanders delegate from Sacramento told reporters.
Bernal was one of three spokespeople representing the Bernie Delegates Network, a loosely organized band of 1,250 of the 1,900 Sanders delegates gathered at the convention. The group is soliciting input from Sanders’ supporters, exploring the potential use of party rules to try to block Tim Kaine’s nomination to be Clinton’s running mate -- if an alternative candidate would agree to challenge the ticket.
Supporters of Sanders cheered his mention of the DNC chairwoman’s resignation.
“Her resignation opens up the possibility of new leadership at the top of the Democratic Party that will stand with working people and that will open the doors of the party to those people who want real change,” the runner-up to Clinton said. “The question now is, where do we go from here? How do we build on our successes? How do we continue the political revolution?”
Meanwhile, Wasserman Schultz was met with a chilly reception when greeting her home state delegation. She struggled to find her footing amid chants of “shame” and signs that read “emails.”
“I can see there’s a little bit of interest in my being here, and I can appreciate that interest,” Wasserman Schultz said after repeated attempts by her and others to calm the crowd. The congresswoman promptly left the room with her security detail.
The Clinton campaign was faced with a barrage of questions surrounding the DNC emails -- which the FBI is formally investigating -- and the chairwoman’s ouster on a day designed to showcase party unity, with a prime-time program highlighting Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Michelle Obama.
Campaign manager Robby Mook said it had been the chairwoman’s decision to open the convention Monday afternoon despite the controversy surrounding her. Asked whether there should be further repercussions from the scandal, Mook said the DNC is reviewing the email leaks and “they will take appropriate action.”
The Clinton campaign also continued to argue, without its own evidence, that the Russian government was responsible for breaching the DNC’s email system and feeding the data to Wikileaks in an effort to favor Trump in the election. The campaign has cited news reports quoting experts making the assertion, but has not found concrete evidence of its own.
“All we know right now is what experts are telling us,” Mook told reporters on Monday.
Campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri told reporters that while foreign countries often conduct their own reconnaissance, it is unusual to publish the information they uncover.
“So, what’s the intent there?” Palmieri said. “That’s not something we have seen happen before. It does appear that whoever is doing this is trying to influence how our convention is reported on.”
Trump, who is campaigning in Virginia and North Carolina on Monday, watched the drama unfold here with glee. He took to Twitter to criticize the DNC and “Crooked Hillary” for what he has called a “rigged” system.
“The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me,” Trump tweeted.
The Clinton campaign would not speculate about potential successors for the DNC position, as a replacement will be appointed by the president. The post will be temporarily held by Vice Chairwoman Donna Brazile.
Sanders supporters objected to an “honorary” position for Wasserman Schultz within the Clinton campaign organization, as was announced Monday, and said Kaine is the wrong choice to be Clinton’s running mate because of his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and other centrist positions he staked out as Virginia’s governor and now senator.
Nonetheless, they said Sanders delegates are unlikely to vote for Trump, but they predicted many liberals, independents and even moderate Republicans who favored Clinton’s primary adversary may fill out ballots for independent candidates in November.
“There will be a lot of people that will go third party,” Bernal said, noting she may be one herself.
Nathanial J. Hiatt contributed to this report.