Lawmakers, not Dean, take lead on delegate dispute

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are taking the lead in attempting to resolve the intensifying debate over how to address Michigan and Florida delegates while Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean is -- at least for now -- punting on the sensitive topic.

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During an appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, Dean declined to speculate what will happen with the states’ delegates, which were stripped of their delegates by the DNC as punishment for moving up their primaries.

Dean said that “the first thing we’re going to do is follow the rules...Both parties -- both Michigan and Florida have an opportunity to either have some sort of a process that is within the rules, or simply appeal to the credentials committee. But we are going to follow the rules that were voted on by all 50 states, a year and a half ago.”

Asked which approach he favors, Dean replied, “That’s really up to the states. I’ve had very good decisions with Sen. [Bill] Nelson [D-Fla.], in the last few days. Sen. [Carl] Levin [D-Mich.] called me the other day, and they are working on a process.”

Pressed whether he is “going to sit and wait until the states tell you what to do,” Dean said there are two options: 1. an alternative voting process that's under discussion; or 2. appealing to the credential committee of the DNC convention.

During his appearance on Face the Nation, Nelson -- a backer of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) -- floated a mail-in vote process for Florida. Dean called the idea “comprehensive,” noting that Oregon uses a mail-in process for its general elections and “you get to vote if you’re in Iraq or in a nursing home.”

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), expressed skepticism about the mail-in idea on the Sunday show.

However, Dean’s approach to wait for plans from the states is not enough for some within the party, who call on Dean to step in and settle the delegate dispute.

“He is the chairman, and the chairman ought to be getting the two campaigns together on a buy-in of how we’re going to resolve this,” said Nelson.

Kerry said that “Dean is doing his best to hold the rules, but also to be fair and inclusive.”

It’s unclear who would pay for new Michigan and Florida primaries, no matter what form they take.

{mospagebreak}Dean said he and Nelson have discussed whether the Florida Democratic Party would raise the money, adding, "I don't know if that's possible in Michigan or not. And there's some discussion about that, too."

He stressed the DNC will not pay for any new voting process because its job to "tell the American people about Senator [John] McCain's [R-Ariz.] record on Iraq and the deficits and so forth..."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a Clinton backer, disputed the notion on Fox News Sunday that counting Florida as it voted in January would be unfair to Obama even though the leading Democratic presidential candidates agreed not to campaign there.

Wasserman Schultz said, "...the argument that somehow the January 29th primary was unfair to either of the candidates I don't think really holds water, because if that were true and voters felt like they didn't know enough about either of the two candidates to come out and make a decision, then we wouldn't have had the biggest turnout in Democratic primary history.

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"This isn't the 1860s where you have voters deciding who to cast a ballot for based on seeing two candidates stand on a box and debate the issues in front of them," she added. "We have a global communication system now, and people make decisions, and obviously 1.75 million Democrats felt comfortable enough with their choice to be able to go to the polls and cast a ballot.”

Unlike Nelson, Wasserman Schultz does not favor the mail-in idea: "I would resist a re-vote for a couple of major reasons. Number one, the re-vote that's being talked about right now would be a mail-in ballot. And we have never conducted a mail-in ballot in Florida. And in an election that is this important, an experiment like that is -- now is not the time to test that....The other problem with a mail-in ballot is that you have transient populations. Poorer communities would really be disenfranchised in a scenario like that because their addresses are not consistent, and so the odds of them getting a ballot and even knowing about the election are much smaller than middle class and upper middle class populations."

DNC superdelegate Debbie Dingell said on Fox News Sunday that all options are on the table regarding the Michigan primary, asserting a solution will developed by consensus with both campaigns that the DNC will have to approve.

Dingell is married to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), who has endorsed Clinton.

She said holding another election is "much more expensive than any of us thought" and that "we've heard offers from people outside of the state, and we would welcome those people showing us how we could raise money for some alternative [election.]...the resources are not there inside the state."

Dingell, who has not endorsed Clinton or Obama, said it “is the most fluid situation I’ve ever been in.”