They’ve Done (?!?) It (7 pm)
Returning after three hours – their late lunch going until 6:15 pm – the Rules and By-Laws Committee has passed two motions. The first dealt with Florida, predictably accepting the proposal to seat all Florida delegates, but give each only one-half a vote. Then came Michigan.
The more complex Michigan situation – resulting from the fact that Obama wasn’t on the Michigan primary ballot – was much more contentiously resolved. Or was it? Harold Ickes, a longtime Clinton retainer and member of the committee, opposed a motion to seat the Michigan delegates, give about sixty to Clinton and awarding nearly that many to Obama, each to have – like the Florida delegates – one-half of a vote at the convention.
As the motion was debated, Ickes said repeatedly that the motion "hijacked" the process and threatened to take the question to the next highest appeal – the DNC credentials committee. If this isn’t a bluff by the Clinton campaign, it may signal that this fight isn’t over, regardless of what the Rules group decided today.
Will Compromise Resolve Dems Dispute? (4 pm)
The Obama camp was offering a compromise on the seating of disputed delegations from Michigan and Florida that might resolve the intense infighting among Democrats gathered at the Wardman-Marriott hotel here today. But, as the Rules and By-Laws Committee of the DNC recessed for a very late lunch, "Team Clinton" wasn’t buying.
Former Michgan Rep. David Bonior, formerly national campaign manager for John Edwards and now a top Obama troubleshooter, explained the compromse to me after the recess. Under the compromse offered by Obama’s high command, Bonior said, "all delegates from Florida will be seated, but would only have half a vote at the national convention." This would mean a net gain of nineteen votes for Clinton, he added.
The Obama compromise would also seat all delegates from Michigan, Bonior added, "but they would be split 50-50" between the remaining Democratic contenders.
Another reporter reminded the former congressman that the Clinton campaign had in effect rejected the compromise when Harold Ickes, a key Clinton strategist, said he supported "full seating" and did not believe in penalties for Democratic delegates. Bonior fired back with quotes from Ickes from a 1990 Rules Committee meeting in which he said publicly he favored penalties in a dispute over seating.
"Mr. Ickes is changing his tune because the politics isn’t with him this time," said Bonior. One reason that Ickes and others in the Clinton high command are dismissive of the compromise could be that in giving the Florida delegates only half a vote, the overall universe of delegates from throughout the country is not increased–meaning that Obama’s near-grasp of the nomination stays the same.
Michigan’s Case Drones On and — Finally — Lunch! (3 pm)
As Chairman James Roosevelt, Jr. gently implored everyone to move on because the Rules and By-Laws Committee of the Democratic National Committee had still had not had lunch by 2:30 PM, the case for Michigan getting delegate representation at the Democratic National Committee droned on.
The remarks of former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard on behalf of the Clinton campaign was a sharp demonstration of the split between Democrats in this state on resolving the issue of Michigan’s banned delegates. Where State Party Chairman Mark Brewer had made the case earlier for seating delegages based on the primary votes in January (and the exit polls and surveys they conducted) Blanchard maintained that Democrats have "got to honor the 600,000 voters in Michigan" who actually cast votes and thus allocate 73 delegates to Clinton and 55 for Obama.
That’s only slightly different from the 69-Clnton and 59-Obama allocation sought by Brewer and other Democratic leaders who testified earlier: Sen. Carl Levin, Democratic National Committeewoman Debbie Dingell, and Reps. John Conyers and Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick. But when one is taking about increasing the universe in which front-runner Obama needs a universe to be nominated, any number of delegates help Clinton.
Blanchard argued that denying delegates would disenfranchise those who participated–a more than slight demonstration that he and other Clintonites disagreed with Brewer’s complex formula for including those who might have voted but were discouraged–and that "Michigan Democrats have been punished enough" by candidates who withdrew from the race and did not engender media and tourist attention to the state.
He also underscored the importance of Michigan and noted that only one Democratic President in sixty years has not been elected with Michigan’s electoral votes (Jimmy Carter in 1976, who lost the state to Michigander Gerald Ford).
The former governor tried to make light of the tense situation, noting that he was heading back to Michigan to celebrate his mother’s 98th birthday and addressing Chairman Roosevelt–"and she cast her first vote in 1932, for your grandfather Jim" FDR). But even the reference to his mother was a point of reference for criticism. Panel member Donna Brazile said "I hope your mother has a happy birthday" and then noted her own mother "always taught me one thing–to play by the rules."
At 2:50, the panel finally adjourned. They’ll be back around 4:15.
Florida Down, Michigan Up–DNC Panel Getting Hungry! (1 pm)
The intense and emotional case about seating Florida delegates to the Democratic National Convention has just ended. Led by Sen. Bill Nelson (D.-Fla.) and with emotional invocation of the names of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and the civil rights movement, Florida Democrats made an emphatic presentation to the Rules and By-Laws Committee at the Marriott-Wardman Hotel in Washington today.
At 12:30, Co-Chairmen James Roosevelt, Jr. and Alexis Herman noted that, while they had planned to adjourn for lunch, the panel would continue listening to the part of the case made by Michigan Democrats, who were also penalized for violating national party admonitions not to hold their primary in January.
So, as tensions between the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton camp rose, the Democrats who would determine the fate of their backers in Florida and Michigan were hearing the respective cases as they grew hungry. Outside the hotel, more than 400 delegates–much of them who rode or jetted in from Michigan and Florida–gathered for a rally across the stret. "COUNT OUR VOTES, COUNT OUR VOTES," went the chant that one could hear stepping outside the hotel.
Against this backdrop, Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer laid out the case for seating "all of our delegates" –with 69 for Clinton, 59 for Obama. Obama was not even on the Michigan primary ballot, Brewer explained that he and other party leaders would use a formula that actually went beyond the estimated 549,000 votes that were cast for the two leading Democratic hopefuls.
Brewer’s case for allocating Obama delegates came under immediate fire from the panel. The Michigan party leader explained that the party had used primary votes , exit polls, and survey of voters who didn’t vote to come up with that number.
"I felt a little like ‘Alice in Wonderland,’" former Democratic National Chairman and panel member Don Fowler icily said of Brewer’s case, suggesting that if his case for a waiver and seating of a full delegation had been applied to the ’04 election, "John Kerry would have been elected President."
"’Uncommitted is a presidential preference," another panel member pointed out to Brewer, "They are just like the superdelegates, bound to nothing." The same panel member, a veteran of Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign manager, suggested that acceptance the Michigan case for a full seating was a "willly-nilly assignment of delegates. In this way lies chaos."
He went on to deride allocating delegates on the basis of "data from primaries, primaries from exit polls, and primaries from assumptions they made" and invoked the 1968 Democratic National Convention, to which "many went with no relationship to what voters did in primaries no relationship to reform movement." To accept Brewer’s plan for seating would violate the "reform movement" that began after 1968, she suggested.
"This is a unique situation," fired back Brewer.
Even before the Michigan case was argued, there appeared to be strong evidence that the disputed delegates would not be decided quickly or easily–and everyone was growing hungry!
Tension Soars in and Outside DNC Rules Meeting: (11 am)
Not since Paul Wolfowitz’s final meeting as president of the World Bank have I covered a conclave at which emotions ran so high in and outside the building as Democratic National Committee panel on contested national convention delegates from Michigan and Florida on Saturday.
Arriving at the Marriott-Boardman Hotel in Washington, site of the DNC Rules and By-Laws Committee, I found demonstrators flooding the driveway. Almost to a person, the placard-bearing demonstrators were backers of Hillary Clinton and they demanded that the contested delegates from the two states be counted–or else.
"Half Votes in Fla. and Mich.=No Votes in Nov." read one sign. It was not too difficult to get the message: unless there was some compromise at the panel that would permit more than half the delegates from Michigan and Florida to be counted at the national convention this summer (and thus increasing the total number required for Barack Obama to overcome Clinton), the Clinton backers would not be there in November.
When I asked demonstrator and former Clinton campaign staffer Renee Hope of Virginia what she would do if the committee keeps more than half the delegates from Michigan and Florida from voting, she replied: "For the first time in my life, I won’t vote for the Democratic nominee. It’s not because of Sen. Obama, but because of the disenfranchising of voters."
"Would a compromise satisfy you?" I asked Hope.
"It depends on the compromise," she replied. Hope said that "they should be counting every single vote" and "Michigan voters should not be penalized for what the delegates [she obviously meant the Democratic committee that would decide the two states’ votes] do."
"All votes need to be counted," echoed Trudy Mason, a member of the Democratic State Executive Committee from New York who was here for the meeting and demonstration. "In 2000, the Supreme Court stopped the recount in Florida." Diane Weiss of Boca Raton, another Democrat here for the events, chorused: "They [Michigan and Florida Democrats] voted in good conscience. Why should they be disenfranchised?"
For all the talk of a suitable compromise (and some delegates from the contested states being seated), the remarks of Hope, Mason, Weiss, and other Clinton backers/demonstrators made it clear: the only "compromise" that would satisfy them was one in which all Michigan and Florida delegates were seated and thus kept their candidate’s chances alive for a while longer.
Both Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean in his opening remarks and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson in his opening testimony invoked the memory of the photo finish in the 2000 election, with Dean saying "Al Gore had the presidency snatched from him 40 days after the election by five intellectually bankrupt Supreme Court justices."
Trying to put the best face on a highly-charged situation, Rules and By-Laws Committee Chairman James Roosevelt, Jr. commenced the meeting by saying that with "so many giving up their weekends" and the passion in the room and in what he called "the overflow room" (the demonstration outside), Democrats were aroused for 2008 and "we’ll be knocking on your door" in the fall.