WASHINGTON (AP) — Bernie Sanders is back in the Senate minority. Hillary Clinton is selling books and playing with grandchildren. And the Democratic Party is still navigating the fallout from their bitter 2016 presidential nominating fight.
The latest reminder came this week as party leaders failed to agree on how to reduce the influence of so-called “superdelegates” in picking Democrats’ next White House nominee. That class of party leaders — Democratic National Committee members, elected officials and others — overwhelmingly favored Clinton two years ago, inflaming Sanders backers who accused Democratic power players of stacking the deck.
Democratic national Chairman Tom Perez is promising the party will curtail superdelegates’ role at the 2020 presidential nominating convention, but he’s been unable to broker a shift he says is needed to avoid charges of favoritism that dogged Clinton.
A key Democratic National Committee panel this week opted to delay specific action until this summer. Instead, the full DNC on Saturday is expected to ratify a generic commitment to reduce superdelegates’ “perceived influence.” That essentially repeats a deal that Clinton and Sanders negotiated ahead of the party’s 2016 convention in Philadelphia.
“We will improve the democratic process” before 2020, Perez insisted in an interview. “If we’re going to win elections, you’ve got to earn the trust of voters, and many voters had a crisis of confidence in the Democratic Party,” the chairman told the Associated Press, adding that the notion of DNC players “putting their thumb on the scale” had “a lot of negative consequences” in 2016.
At the 2016 convention, unpledged superdelegates accounted for about 15 percent of the all presidential nominating votes. To be clear, Clinton almost certainly wouldn’t have needed any of them to become the nominee. She won at least 3 million more primary votes than Sanders nationally, giving her a clear lead among pledged delegates who made up the overwhelming majority of the votes in Philadelphia.
Sanders’ backers, however, resented her ability to rack up early endorsements and claim a significant delegate lead before any primary or caucus ballots were cast. Adding to the umbrage since the election is the confirmation by longtime party players that the DNC made fundraising deals with Clinton’s campaign before she was the nominee.
Some DNC members want to bar superdelegates altogether from the first convention ballot. That would mean a candidate would win the nomination with a majority of pledged delegates who are bound by primary and caucus results.
“I’d like to see us go all the way to not even being able to endorse, at least get to a place where we can have that discussion,” said David Bowen, vice chairman of the Wisconsin state party.
More privately, other DNC members defend the existing system, saying they’ve earned the right through years of work in the party to have the freedom to vote how they please at the convention.
A special party commission last year recommended a compromise. The group, appointed by Sanders, Clinton and Perez, proposed tying most DNC members’ nominating votes on the first convention ballot to the primary and caucus results. But elected officials who are convention delegates — members of Congress, sitting governors, former presidents and vice presidents — would retain their unpledged status. That outline irritated some state party leaders who don’t want elected officials to get special treatment.
The DNC’s powerful Rules and Bylaws Committee decided not to advance that or any proposal for now.
Washington state Chairwoman Tina Podlodowski said a split system that involved unpledged superdelegates still would expose the 2020 nominee to charges of an illegitimate process. “Take everybody out of the first ballot,” Podlodowski said. “Make it fair and transparent. I don’t want to spend the next two years having to explain and defend this process.”
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