Wasserman Schultz and the Democrats’ debate problem
By Evan Lips | September 11, 2015, 15:50 EDT
U.S Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-FLA, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said this week that not only will the DNC hold just six presidential debates, any candidates participating in outside debates will be penalized by the party.
“I’ve got a party I have to run,” Wasserman Schultz said when pressed Thursday during a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor on the fact that several Democratic candidates have asked for more debates.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has openly charged that the DNC is favoring its front-running Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. O’Malley, who is seeking the nomination and is currently trailing Clinton and Vermont U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders in the polls, took advantage of his speaking appearance at a DNC rally in Minneapolis last month to slam his party’s leaders.
“I have carried a lot of water for this donkey,” O’Malley said at one point about his work for the Democratic Party.
O’Malley then took dead-aim at the perception that the lack of debates means someone is “rigging” the nomination process for Clinton.
“This sort of rigged process has never been attempted before,” O’Malley said. “Whose decree is this (from) exactly? Where did it come from? To what end, what purpose, what national party interest does this decree serve? How does this let us tell the story of the last eight years of Democratic process?”
“Get this — the New Hampshire debate is cynically wedged into the high point of the holiday shopping season so as few people will watch it as possible,” O’Malley added.
Candidates who do not adhere to the DNC’s debate exclusivity clause will be banned from participating in any of the party’s six sanctioned debates. Wasserman Schultz during Thursday’s breakfast with reporters pointed out however that the party held six sanctioned debates during each of the last two presidential nominee cycles.
In 2008, however, there was no penalty for participating in an unsanctioned debate. Candidates participated in approximately 26 debates, including the six sanctioned by the DNC.
“I don’t think 26 debates was helpful,” Wasserman Schultz said. “It’s labor-intensive to prepare for debates. It’s my job to manage neutrally and effectively our nominating process.”
There are two vice chairpersons at the DNC who disagree with Wasserman Schultz. U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Ryback recently made their feelings known via Facebook that the nomination process not only deserves more than six debates, but that the practice of levying exclusivity clause penalties must be abolished.
In the 2008 presidential nominee process, Wasserman Schultz openly backed Clinton. It was also Clinton who during that process, despite having access to more than four times as many debates as the current cycle, slammed eventual nominee Barack Obama in campaign ads over declining to participate in a debate in Wisconsin.
O’Malley is still railing against the process and has taken to Twitter to voice his disappointment:
If her remarks at Thursday’s breakfast are any indication, Wasserman Schultz will refuse to budge. She too has used Twitter as a platform for expressing her views.
Wasserman Schultz also used her Twitter account to “welcome” Clinton to the presidential race, something she did not do when Sanders and O’Malley officially announced their respective campaigns:
A review of Wasserman Schultz’s timeline also shows she’s hammered candidates and political parties who’ve turned down debate opportunities:
Moreover, when it comes to politics in her home state of Florida, Wasserman Schultz appears to believe voters “deserve” debates:
O’Malley isn’t the only candidate seeking the Democratic nomination to make a pitch for more debates. In June Sanders wrote to Wasserman Schultz and asked for the DNC to increase the number of debates and also begin holding them during the summer.
“The large number of debates in the 2008 Presidential campaign is probably one of the reasons why that campaign was so successful in helping not only elect President Obama to an historic victory but for the Democrats to control the House of Representative and elect sixty members of our Democratic Caucus in the Senate,” Sanders wrote. “Those debates helped voters, beginning in the primary process, to understand more about the candidates and their positions on issues.”
The first DNC-sanctioned debate is slated for Oct. 13.