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Wasserman Schultz to Resign as Democrats Seek Convention Unity


Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz at a debate last December in New Hampshire - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz at a debate last December in New Hampshire
Updated at 9:32 p.m.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said Sunday she would resign her chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee at the conclusion of the party's convention this week in Philadelphia.

The move came as party leaders sought to quell an uproar over leaked DNC emails suggesting that committee staffers had undermined Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign. In one internal email, released Friday by WikiLeaks, DNC chief financial officer Brad Marshall asked two other party officials whether the organization could "get someone" to ask Sanders about his faith — an apparent effort to hurt his electoral chances in Kentucky and West Virginia.

Speaking Sunday morning on CNN's "State of the Union," Sanders called the emails "outrageous," but "not a great shock to me."

"I mean, there's no question, to my mind, and I think no question to any objective observer's mind, that the DNC was supporting [presumptive Democratic nominee] Hillary Clinton — was in opposition to our campaign," he said. "So I'm not quite shocked by this."

The Sanders campaign has long alleged that Wasserman Schultz conspired to tip the scales toward Clinton by limiting the number of debates in the Democratic primary. The feud escalated last December when the DNC briefly denied the Sanders campaign access to its voter file after several low-level Sanders staffers improperly accessed Clinton campaign data.

While Sanders had previously called for Wasserman Schultz's ouster — and endorsed her congressional primary challenger, Tim Canova — he told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that "the time is now for [her] to step aside." Later that day, after the chair announced her plans to resign, Sanders said in a statement that she had "made the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party."

Discord over the leaked emails threatened Democratic efforts to project party unity at this week's convention. The Clinton campaign had hoped to avoid the sort of rancor on display at last week's Republican National Convention in Cleveland, in part by giving Sanders a primetime speaking slot Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

In his Sunday morning talk show appearances, Sanders continued to express support for Clinton and opposition to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Though fellow progressives have criticized Clinton's choice of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) as her running mate, Sanders argued that "the pick is Secretary Clinton's" to make.

"Tim is a very, very smart guy. He's a very nice guy," the senator from Vermont said on "Meet the Press." "His political views are not my political views. He is more conservative than I am. Would I have preferred to see somebody like an Elizabeth Warren selected by Secretary Clinton? Yes, I would have."

But, Sanders added on "State of the Union," Kaine "is 100 times better than Donald Trump will ever be."

A day earlier, Clinton and Sanders avoided another potential flashpoint when their respective delegates agreed to form a "unity commission" to draft changes to the Democratic presidential nominating process.

The Sanders campaign had sought to strip party leaders of their ability to cast unpledged ballots at future conventions. Under the current rules, so-called superdelegates control 15 percent of the vote. In this year's primary, they overwhelmingly supported Clinton.

Anthony Iarrapino, a Montpelier attorney and Sanders backer, represented Vermont on the convention's rules committee. In an interview earlier this week, he called the current system "fundamentally undemocratic."

"An election is supposed to represent the will of the people," he said. "The best way to express that is by how they actually vote at the polls."

But during a daylong rules committee meeting Saturday in Philadelphia, Iarrapino and his fellow Sanders supporters were outvoted 108 to 58 on their amendment to eliminate superdelegates. Several other Sanders-backed measures were also shot down.

"We tried so many different ways to get the Clinton people to engage and to debate and to acknowledge that there was a problem with the superdelegate system. And vote after vote we were losing," Iarrapino said Sunday. "The Clinton people were disciplined. They were a wall we just kept crashing up against."

Late that evening, Clinton and Sanders campaign negotiators unveiled the "unity commission" compromise. A new panel would be established to study the issue and report recommendations to the DNC by January 2018.

The 21-member commission was given some specific guidance: Members of Congress, governors and other top elected officials would retain their status as unpledged delegates. But the remaining superdelegates, such as state party leaders, would be "required to cast their vote at the convention for candidates in proportion to the vote received for each candidate in their state."

In a written statement, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver called the compromise "a tremendous victory for Sen. Sanders' fight to democratize the Democratic Party and reform the Democratic nominating process." It passed by a vote of 158 to 6.

Iarrapino was among those who voted in favor.

"We just decided as a group that what was negotiated was real," he said. "It wasn't a guarantee, but it was a real commitment to reform the party. And it was better to walk away yesterday with something real that had the promise of genuine reform than just an opportunity for a protest vote."

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