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Democrats Seek to Solve Impasse Over Fla., Mich.

May 28, 2008 at 6:35 PM EDT
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The Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee meets on May 31 in an effort to resolve an impasse over how votes from Michigan and Florida's renegade primaries should be factored into the nominating battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Two committee members preview the meeting.
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KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush was seen with John McCain for less than a minute yesterday. The Phoenix airport photo-op was only the second time McCain had appeared with the unpopular president since March.

While McCain has fought being labeled the heir to Mr. Bush’s presidency, he was in Nevada today hammering Barack Obama for opposing the policy most associated with the president, the war in Iraq.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: And Senator Obama has been to Iraq once. A little over two years ago, he went and he has never seized the opportunity, except in a hearing, to meet with General Petraeus, with General Petraeus.

My friends, this is about — this is about leadership and learning. I went to Iraq right after the initial success of the invasion, and sergeants came up to me, and captains and majors, and others came up to me, and they said, “Senator McCain, we’re going to lose this way. We’ve got to have more troops over here. We’ve got to have a new strategy.”

And I went back and fought for the new strategy. And it took too long. But why did I do that? Because I learned. I learned from the men and women who are serving in the military.

KWAME HOLMAN: Obama didn’t mention McCain during a town hall meeting in Colorado, choosing to focus on education policies and his plans for reforming No Child Left Behind.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: Promising high-quality teachers in every classroom and then leaving the support and pay for these teachers behind is wrong.

Labeling a school and its students as failures one day and then throwing up your hands and walking away from them the next, that’s wrong.

We have to fix No Child Left Behind. We have to provide the funding we were promised, give our states the resources they need, and finally meet our commitment to special education.

And we also need to realize that we can meet high standards without forcing teachers and students to spend most of the school year preparing for a single high-stakes standardized test.

KWAME HOLMAN: Obama also picked up the support of three more super-delegates today, bringing him within 45 delegates of securing the Democratic nomination.

But Hillary Clinton continues to push to include those disenfranchised delegates from Michigan and Florida, stripped because their state parties held early primaries in violation of party rules.

Clinton wants to count those disputed ballots to bolster her argument to super-delegates that she leads in the overall popular vote. Today in South Dakota, Clinton again tried to make the case that she was the stronger candidate to take on John McCain.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: Right now, I am leading in the popular vote. My opponent is leading in pledged delegates, less than 200 out of 4,400. It is so close neither of us have the number of delegates necessary to be the nominee.

We have three more contests in Puerto Rico on Sunday, in Montana and South Dakota on Tuesday. We have to resolve Michigan and Illinois — I mean, Michigan and Florida.

And then what we have to do is determine, who would be the best president and who would be the stronger candidate against Senator McCain? I believe I am. And I believe the states that I have won and the electoral votes that I will win make a very strong argument for that.

KWAME HOLMAN: Clinton today also sent a letter to super-delegates saying, in part, “I hope you will consider not just the strength of the coalition backing me, but also that more people will have cast their votes for me.”

All eyes now turn to Saturday’s meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee in Washington, which will try to solve the impasse over the Michigan and Florida delegations.

Balancing rules and representation

Michael Steed
Democratic Rules Committee
The Democratic Party in the United States is a party of 50 states, not 48 states. And it's terribly important to bring Florida and Michigan into the process with a full vote.

RAY SUAREZ: And Gwen Ifill takes it from there.

GWEN IFILL: As the Democrats try to find a way to settle on a nominee, members of the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee do have some tough negotiations ahead.

We're joined by two of them: Michael Steed, from Maryland, is a Hillary Clinton supporter; and Allan Katz, from Florida, is backing Barack Obama.

Michael Steed, you just heard what your candidate, Hillary Clinton, had to say. Elaborate a little bit on her argument for how she can make this work.

MICHAEL STEED, Democratic Party Rules and Bylaws Committee: Sure. I think the thing that is particularly critical and what we're going to consider on Saturday is the total seating of the delegations from Florida and Michigan.

The Democratic Party in the United States is a party of 50 states, not 48 states. And it's terribly important to bring Florida and Michigan into the process with a full vote, representing the percentages that the various candidates got, especially in Florida and in Michigan.

And we need to have a united party going forward, and that's what Hillary Clinton is for.

GWEN IFILL: Allan Katz, you are a Barack Obama supporter. Does that make sense to you?

ALLAN KATZ, Democratic Party Rules and Bylaws Committee: Well, not exactly. Actually, what happened, of course, was this, is that Michigan and Florida both violated the rules.

All the candidates, including Senator Clinton, as well as Senator Obama and the others, agreed by a pledge they signed that they would not campaign in Florida or in Michigan. In effect, what they said was, "We understand that this is not the way we're going to select delegates this particular election."

And so, as a result, no one went in and campaigned.

Now, nothing kept Senator Clinton or anyone else from going into Florida or in Michigan during that period of time and bringing out the rallying cry of, "Every vote counts."

The reality is, is they all made a political decision, that the early states were going to matter and that the two states that did not comply with the rules were going to be dealt with later. And at this stage in the game, it seems to me somewhat disingenuous to come back and sort of say, "Well, an election which we all said was not going to choose delegates should be dispositive of how we distribute delegates."

I do agree, however -- and so does the Obama campaign -- that we need to have Florida and Michigan seated at the convention, but I think that the way we do it is probably give them a 50 percent penalty and come up with something that will not have any impact on the ultimate outcome of the nomination.

Popular vote also in dispute

Allan Katz
Democratic Rules Committee
Both of these elections were essentially beauty contests. And whatever impact they were going to have on the campaign in terms of momentum for Senator Clinton, they tried to maximize, as you would expect a campaign to do.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Steed, Hillary Clinton has been making the point for the past couple of days that she leads in the popular vote. This includes Michigan and Florida, which you just heard there is some disagreement about whether it should. Is that a fair argument to make?

MICHAEL STEED: Oh, I think it is. I think that these are 2.3 million citizens of the two states that went and voted in January for the candidates of their choice. And so you can't disenfranchise these people.

If there's anything we've learned from the 2000 campaign is that we need to have every vote counted. There needs to be proportionality in that count. And I think we need to have both of these delegations as full citizens at the convention with full votes.

GWEN IFILL: A hundred percent of them, however, voting for Hillary Clinton, because she was the only one competing in those two contests, as the Clinton campaign has been saying?

MICHAEL STEED: No, I think it's proportional. So, in Florida, Barack Obama was on the ballot. I think we can seat the entire delegation and give each one of the pledged delegates a full vote, in proportion to how the vote was reported in Florida.

I think Michigan is a different situation. And lots of people have said that we ought to, as a party, take the undeclared line and declare it for those people. I don't see how we can do that.

GWEN IFILL: I don't know what you mean by that.

MICHAEL STEED: Well, so Hillary Clinton got 55 percent of the vote and undeclared got 40 percent, 44 percent, 45 percent of the vote. A lot of people have come and said, "Well, let's give that vote to Barack Obama."

It's pretty tough to say to people, "Let's turn your vote over and make it into something that you did not vote for."

So we're in favor of seating the undeclared delegates in Michigan. We're in favor of seating the delegates for Hillary Clinton and then let the campaigns vie for the undeclared.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Katz, what's wrong with that?

ALLAN KATZ: Well, several problems. First of all, I think we have to recognize the fact that everybody said that this was not the way we were going to select our delegates.

And to somehow say now -- and there were a large number of people who did not vote because they realized we were not selecting delegates that way. To somehow come back after the fact and say, "Oh, by the way, we really meant, even though we all agreed this was a violation of the rules, and this was not the way we were going to do it, that somehow it's OK now."

And I think the other thing that's important is this: Every vote was counted. Both of these elections were essentially beauty contests. And whatever impact they were going to have on the campaign in terms of momentum for Senator Clinton, they tried to maximize, as you would expect a campaign to do.

To now come back and sort of, if you will, get sort of a double boost out of an election which they shunned in the first place seems to be somewhat silly.

GWEN IFILL: So what do you suggest?

ALLAN KATZ: What I suggest is that what we do is this, that we seat half the delegation from Michigan and half the delegation from Florida, that we give some -- I believe the appropriate way to do it would be 50 percent to each candidate.

And what we would then do is basically take the two states which, frankly, opted out of the process and treat them accordingly. If we need to give some slight edge to Senator Clinton in order to get us past this particular point in time, I would be willing to support something like that.

Issue could damage party

Michael Steed
Democratic Rules Committee
I think it's been a very positive campaign so far. I think the RBC, the Rules and Bylaws Committee, will make decisions that will seat these two delegations on Saturday and this issue will be behind us.

GWEN IFILL: Do you worry, Mr. Steed, that here we are, virtually within a week of the end of the primary process -- John McCain is happily off campaigning on his own -- do you worry that this continuing dispute -- and clearly, you're not on the same page yet -- is doing damage to the party overall?

MICHAEL STEED: Well, I think it's been a very positive campaign so far. I think the RBC, the Rules and Bylaws Committee, will make decisions that will seat these two delegations on Saturday and this issue will be behind us. And...

GWEN IFILL: But there have been full-page ads in newspapers asking Hillary Clinton supporters to come to Washington and protest.

MICHAEL STEED: Well, so I think protest is part of the process. And I think I can tell you that we've gotten plenty of e-mails; we've got plenty of telephone calls.

I think it's a healthy part of the process, but I think it's also something that now will be behind us come Saturday.

And no matter how you look at it, we've got two of the most terrific candidates against John McCain, either of which I think can defeat him. But I think Hillary Clinton, at the end, has the greatest opportunity to defeat him come November.

GWEN IFILL: What do you think about that, Mr. Katz? Is the party hurting itself at all?

ALLAN KATZ: Well, I think that we're reaching a point now where we're beginning to move towards hurting ourselves. I agree that we have two great candidates. We've had a very exciting process.

And I think, at this point in time, it's pretty clear to just about everyone that Barack Obama is going to be the nominee of the Democratic Party. And I think that, frankly, prolonging the agony at this point is not necessarily constructive.

Clearly, Senator Clinton has the perfect right to go through the 2nd of June to finish out the primary season. She has the right to do whatever she chooses to.

But I think that if we're really interested in getting the party focused on winning the White House, which, frankly, is what I think most of us care the most about, with either one of these candidates, I believe two things.

One, Senator Obama is clearly the stronger candidate to accomplish that. And, secondly, that he has gone through this process, he has secured the nomination, for all intents and purposes, and this sort of hanging on through some sort of esoteric legal theory to try to prolong this through Michigan and Florida is not particularly helpful.

Both sides remain cordial

Allan Katz
Democratic Rules Committee
I think that we're reaching a point now where we're beginning to move towards hurting ourselves. I agree that we have two great candidates. We've had a very exciting process.

GWEN IFILL: Do you think that the other side, Mr. Steed, is operating -- obviously, as a super-delegate, getting all these e-mails, all of this passion directed at you right now, do you feel the other side is operating in good faith?

MICHAEL STEED: I think they are. I think that they're trying to do the best that they can do under the circumstances. We're in new territory here as a party, but I think we're going to do the right thing.

And I think that Barack Obama and I think that Hillary Clinton are for seating these delegations. I think, at the end, we will have these delegations representative of the vote that was taken in January.

I think that we need the states of Ohio, we need the states of Pennsylvania, we need the states of Florida, and these are states where Hillary Clinton is particularly strong. And that's why she can make a difference.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Katz, you're in Florida. What do you think?

ALLAN KATZ: Well, I think that Senator Obama has absolutely energized an entire new group of voters. He was in Florida last week, and he had not been in Florida since the previous November. And we turned out the largest rallies in the history of Florida with four days' notice and no on-the-ground staff.

It was the most phenomenal outpouring you've ever seen. I think that anyone who was in Florida last week recognizes that Senator Obama can absolutely win Florida.

And I think that he has energized people in a way that we haven't seen -- certainly, I haven't seen since Bobby Kennedy. And I happen to believe that he can do this.

GWEN IFILL: All right, Allan Katz in Florida and Michael Steed right here, I guess you guys will be seeing each other this weekend, thank you both very much.