“I think there are ways to deal with this that could limit the number of unpledged delegates and could also limit their independent voting strength,” Price noted.
The controversial issue of “superdelegates” and their future in the Democratic Party led to an angry confrontation on Tuesday night between Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and House Democrats, according to several lawmakers.
But the members’ angst may not help them as it appears that the DNC is ready to rein in the status of superdelegates, also known as “unpledged” delegates, no matter what lawmakers say or do.
Superdelegates include members of Congress, governors, party elders such as former presidents and vice presidents, DNC members and other assorted “distinguished party leaders.” They made up roughly 15 percent of the delegates during the 2016 convention. Unlike other delegates, they are free to vote for any candidate they want.
But the party base loathes this elite class of delegates, created more than 35 years ago following the bitter convention fight between Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination. Democratic activists’ desire to eliminate or scale down superdelegates grew in the wake of the sometimes ugly intraparty contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in 2016. It now appears that those grassroots activists have the support they need to win any contest over the issue, even if the party establishment is upset by the move.
During a two-hour-plus meeting with a group of House Democrats at DNC headquarters, Perez laid out two options under consideration for superdelegates by the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. There’s a June 30 deadline for any proposed amendments to the DNC charter, which will be voted at during a key August party meeting, right in the middle of election season.
The first proposal – a product of the “Unity Reform Commission” established at the 2016 convention to “revise and reduce” the role of superdelegates – would create three categories of superdelegates. Some superdelegates would be allowed to vote in the first roll-call vote for the presidential nominee, while other would not.
However, Perez warned members that this proposal won’t win enough backing to be adopted at the August DNC session.
The second option, which Perez supports and appears far more likely to be enacted, would allow superdelegates to continue to exist, but they couldn’t vote during the first round of the presidential roll-call vote. However, they could vote during the second round or any subsequent roll call, and they still would be permitted to support any candidate they want.
Perez believes this approach ensures “we have an inclusive party, transparent process, democratic principles, and empowers the grassroots,” said a DNC official.
And that’s what set the House members off, as none of them believes there will be any more than one roll-call vote for the nominee.
In their view, that means elected Democratic officials – who have been put into office by hundreds of thousands or even millions of constituents – won’t play a role in nominating their party’s presidential candidate.
“I believe this decision, if they go forward, is going to do terrible damage to party harmony,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who raised his objections with Perez during Tuesday’s dinner. “It disenfranchises the elected leadership of the party. The last time we allowed that to happen was 1972, and we had the worst landslide in our history.”
“I believe that elected officials across the country – Congress and governors – I believe they provide a ballast for the party that we very much need,” Connolly added. “With all due respect to somebody who thinks we don’t need it, when we haven’t had it, Democrats have had disastrous results.”
“I think this is absolutely an insult to us. We’re no better than anybody else, but we stand for election. That has to mean something, that has to stand for something,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). “That’s a lot of baloney.”
In an interview, Pascrell said that he told the same thing to Perez during Tuesday’s night closed-door dinner, but didn’t like Perez’s retort.
“I didn’t really get a response, just more of an explanation,” Pascrell said. “I got the impression that this is pretty much a done deal with the options they had come up with, which I find difficult to handle.”
DNC officials said they plan to hold further discussions with members to over this issue, although there may not be room for a deal that will satisfy lawmakers.
"Tom and the Rules and Bylaws Committee welcome feedback from members of Congress on ways to make our party more inclusive, increase transparency and empower the grassroots,” said Michael Tyler, the DNC’s press secretary. “We look forward to convening a group of members who have expressed interest in providing further input for the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee to consider as they continue their work to reduce the role that unpledged delegates play in our presidential nominating process, a principle on which the full DNC voted to adopt at the March DNC meeting."
Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), executive director of the Hunt Commission in early 1980s that created superdelegates, said lawmakers were “infuriated” by Perez’s stance, although he’s not sure there’s anything that can be done.
“I think there was a good deal of incredulity and some pretty severe criticism,” Price said. “For a lot of people, there was the first they’d seen of these things.”
Price’s view is that the term “superdelegates” is a key source of friction over the issue. “We’re delegates. Party leaders are delegates. They may or may not be unpledged, but there’s wrong with that,” Price asserted. “That doesn’t help at all.” Price said the initial term was the unwieldy “PLEL delegates,” which stands for “Party Leader, Elected Leader delegates.”
“I think there are ways to deal with this that could limit the number of unpledged delegates and could also limit their independent voting strength,” Price noted. “I told [Perez] that I was willing to talk with him and work on this in whatever way he desired.” Price said he hopes to have further interactions with DNC officials on the issue.
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