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How will leadership changes affect the DNC?

July 24, 2016 at 5:59 PM EDT
Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Convention, announced she is resigning today following a leak of thousands of emails, some that implied the party was partial to presumptive candidate Hillary Clinton. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield reports on the latest developments.

Read the full transcript below:

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Good evening and thanks for joining us.

As about 5,000 delegates are descending on Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention that starts tomorrow, the party is experiencing a change in leadership. Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, quit her post today, following the leak of embarrassing e-mails. Wasserman Schultz who just yesterday introduced Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine at the ticket rollout in Miami had succeeded Kaine as party chair five and a half years ago.

Her resignation comes two days after WikiLeaks released 19,000 party e-mails, some suggesting officials worked to undermine the campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. In one, Wasserman Schultz called Sanders campaign manager a liar. In another, party officials suggested questioning Sanders Jewish faith as a wedge with Southern voters.

Donna Brazile, a long time political strategist who ran Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000, will serve as interim party chair.

Earlier today, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager blamed Russian hackers for the e-mail breach.

ROBBY MOOK, HILLARY FOR AMERICA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Our experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole these e-mails and other experts are now saying that the Russians are releasing these e-mails for the purpose of actually helping Donald Trump.

SREENIVASAN: The Trump campaign spokesman tells the “NewsHour”, the Clinton campaign’s time would be better spent apologizing to Bernie Sanders for the mistreatment he received at the hands of the Democratic National Committee.

Joining us to talk about the implications of Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepping down is Jeff Greenfield.

Jeff, put this in context for us at the eve of the major event for the political party, the leadership changes?

JEFF GREENFIELD, NEWSHOUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, like they say about the secret of good comedy, timing is everything. There is a heat wave hitting here, but that’s nothing compared to the political heat that was rising around the DNC and the Clinton campaign in the wake of those revelations from WikiLeaks. The Sanders people had long suspected that the DNC was in league with the Clintons and these leaked documents seem to undermine that or support it.

And there was no way the Democrats could conduct a week long convention with the constant drum beat of anger and demands that Debbie Wasserman Schultz step down. So, she fell on her sword.

SREENIVASAN: We know the intent of the party’s decision here, to try to make this perhaps a healing moment where they can get over this. But does this potentially add more fuel to those Bernie Sanders who feel slighted throughout the entire process?

GREENFIELD: Look, it’s possible that they think that having scored one kill, they may start ratcheting up demands, maybe trying to refocus on the superdelegate issue.

But the other part is that the Democrats have made much sport out of all the stumbles on the Republican campaign, the plagiarism, the Ted Cruz blowup, all that stuff. It’s very hard for the Democrats now to argue, we know how to run a campaign. We know how to run a convention. Therefore, we know how to run the country.

So, I think we’re not likely to see the end of the turmoil but at least the most visible target has now been removed.

SREENIVASAN: So, what are the practical implications, does it affect the speaker line-up. Is there likely to be any sort of a change that the audience at home sees?

GREENFIELD: No. I think the convention will go on as planned. They’ve got their 60 plus speakers. There is no reason why the removal of Schultz should cause any change in that.

The question, and you raised it earlier, is this going to embolden the Sanders people to try to make floor fights out of issues that they in the past have said, OK, we’ll settle this in committee. I wish I could tell you the answer to that, but as I often said, if I could see the future, I’d buy the Powerball ticket.

SREENIVASAN: You know, people forget sometimes that not only is this a place for speeches, but this is actually the place where the party platform gets hammered out. Whether Bernie Sanders has some influence on this entire process, it’s actually happening in committee meetings that are very boring and long and don’t really get national primetime television attention.

GREENFIELD: That’s right. Unless the Sanders people decide to take the power they have and now force a floor fight, it is possible that on a couple of these issues which sometimes do make the eyes glaze over, they will have that power. The question now is, is the resignation of Schultz enough for them to say, OK, let’s move on, or whether there are, we won’t call them “Never Trumpers” or “Never Clintonites” but the kind of hard-bitten opponents of the establishment Democrats, are they going to say, “You know what, let’s go for another kill”?

And that’s not what Secretary Clinton or the Democratic National Committee wants to hear.

SREENIVASAN: All right. Jeff Greenfield, joining us from Philadelphia tonight — thanks so much.

GREENFIELD: Nice to be here.

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