Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is closing the door on adding more Democratic presidential debates, and says that a controversial clause penalizing candidates for participating in unsanctioned debates will stand. 

Speaking at a breakfast with reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, Wasserman Schultz said the debate schedule was final and there would be no changes.

ADVERTISEMENT
“We’re not changing the process. We’re having six debates,” said Wasserman Schultz, who has been under fire from several Democratic presidential candidates over the debates. “The candidates will be uninvited from subsequent debates if they accept an invitation to anything outside of the six sanctioned debates.” 

In recent weeks, pressure has been building on the DNC to grow the debate schedule. The national party has sanctioned six debates, a dramatic cutback from 2008, when there were about two-dozen. 

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley has been railing against the national party, calling the debate process “rigged” and claiming that the DNC was “facilitating a coronation” for front-runner Hillary Clinton.

“Every day someone is going to say something about my intentions, but I have a party to run,” Wasserman Schultz said. “I have to simultaneously make sure that we’re getting ready to make sure the party is prepared to support our eventual nominee, and at the same time manage a neutral primary nominating process, which I’m going to do. I’ll make decisions that will make some people happy and some people unhappy. I can’t worry about that.”

O’Malley’s lawyer has challenged the legality of the DNC’s “exclusivity clause,” which states that any candidate who participates in an unsanctioned debate will be barred from attending future sanctioned debates. 

The former Maryland governor is urging his supporters to rally outside DNC headquarters next week along with an outside group called #AllowDebate that has the same aim. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has also argued that the party needs to hold more debates, as have prominent party officials and activists in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Late Wednesday, two DNC officers publicly rebuked the national party’s debate schedule. 

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, both of whom are DNC vice-chairs, wrote a joint Facebook post urging the national party to add more debates and to drop the threat of exclusion for candidates that participate in unsanctioned debates. 

Wasserman Schultz on Thursday said she consulted with past chairmen and current DNC vice-chairs before settling on the number of debates. 

She defended the schedule, saying six debates offered plenty of opportunity for the candidates to distinguish themselves, and that too many debates would be a burden on the candidates, pulling them off the campaign trail and eating up valuable resources and time. 

Wasserman Schultz noted that in addition to the debates, there have already been at least a dozen other forums the candidates have been invited to appear at, and that at least a half-dozen more have been planned.

“You can see that our candidates are gaining steam on their own,” she said. “Look at the crowds Bernie Sanders is drawing. We have not had any debates yet and Bernie Sanders has found a way to really catch fire with our base.”

Regarding the exclusivity clause, Wasserman Schultz said it was to ensure the “debate process doesn’t get out of control.” She cited 2008, when the party sanctioned six debates but the candidates participated in about two dozen. 

“If you don’t have the national party put a reasonable number of debates on the schedule and insist that the number is adhered to, it starts to spiral out of control and the entire contest becomes built around the debate schedule,” she said.