Sanders tests Wasserman Schultz

Sanders tests Wasserman Schultz
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Democratic presidential candidate Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOn paper, Wilkie is the perfect candidate for VA secretary, but his qualifications go further Sacha Baron Cohen mulls arming toddlers with guns in inaugural episode Ocasio-Cortez to campaign with Bernie Sanders in Kansas MORE’s demand that a pair of prominent Democrats be removed from two national convention committees presents a test for party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) chief has been at the center of the fight between Sanders and Democratic front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' 10 things we learned from Peter Strzok's congressional testimony Get ready for summit with no agenda and calculated risks MORE, and Democrats on Capitol Hill in the last 10 days have discussed whether she needs to step down in the name of party unity.

Wasserman Schultz has pushed back hard at such talk and won public support from a host of her colleagues, including the entire House Democratic Leadership team and influential senators such as Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDems launch pressure campaign over migrant families California Dems endorse progressive challenger over Feinstein Kavanaugh paper chase heats up MORE (Calif.). 

On Saturday, the Sanders campaign appeared to shift its focus, calling for the removal of Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy as a co-chairman of the platform committee and former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank as co-head of the rules committee.

The demand, coming after a separate deal with the DNC involving the platform committee that won plaudits from people in the Sanders camp, is a challenge to Wasserman Schultz to make additional changes. 

“Governor Malloy and Mr. Frank have both been aggressive attack surrogates for the Clinton campaign,” Sanders campaign counsel Brad Deutsch wrote in a letter to the party’s rules and bylaws committee. “Their criticisms of Senator Sanders have gone beyond dispassionate ideological disagreement and have exposed a deeper professional, political and personal hostility toward the Senator and his Campaign.”

The letter said Frank had criticized Sanders as far back as 1991 and that in a March interview he had described the Vermont senator as “outrageously McCarthyite.” It also noted that Frank has offered acerbic comments toward Sanders supporters.

Malloy was described by Deutsch as an “incendiary critic” of Sanders and one who unfairly blamed loopholes in gun control laws on the Vermont senator.

Sanders’s request is a challenge to Wasserman Schultz — she could take things into her own hands and pressure Frank and Malloy to leave their committees, even though there is not a formal mechanism for her to do so.

Senior party officials wrote the Sanders campaign a response letter Saturday dismissing its request, explaining that it failed to cite a violation of rules governing the conduct of elections or delegate selection.   

Sanders supporters are likely to point to this refusal as evidence that the DNC is not willing to go far enough to create a level playing field at the national convention this July.

But if Wasserman Schultz were to ask Frank and Malloy to resign from their posts, they would be under heavy pressure to comply. Doing so would earn her goodwill with Sanders supporters, who argue she has tilted the Democratic primary in favor of Clinton.

But it’s something of an Augean task — Frank and Malloy were appointed months ago and ratified by a vote of the DNC’s executive board, of which Wasserman Schultz is a member. 

“There is no formal mechanism for the chair to remove members since they were voted on back in January,” a party official told The Hill Saturday. “In the case of a vacancy, the exec committee would have to reconvene to vote on the appointment.”

Faced with talk of her own resignation to appease Sanders supporters, Wasserman Schultz has made it clear she will not leave her post without a fight. 

And while Senate leaders have been notably silent about her future — Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick The dishonesty of the deep state The SCOTUS nomination clearly demonstrates that elections have consequences MORE (Nev.), incoming Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerRed-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Trump's latest win: More Americans are saying, 'I quit!' MORE (N.Y.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Dems in terrible bind on Kavanaugh nomination Election Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race MORE (Mont.) all declined to offer public support this week — she has received support from other quarters, including the Clinton campaign.

Some influential Democrats have also said the Sanders campaign has gone too far in suggesting Wasserman Schultz should be removed. 

“This is absolutely the wrong time to consider that,” Feinstein, who supports Clinton but is a respected pragmatic voice in the Democratic caucus, said this week.

“To use this as a wedge issue in a campaign, I think, is kind of dreadful. It’s not what Democrats are all about. There’s a regular order for making these changes.”

Wasserman Schultz made a significant concession to Sanders this past week by allowing him to pick five members of the 15-person platform-drafting committee ahead of the convention. The committee will write the draft platform to be later approved by the full 187-member platform committee.

To further placate critics, the DNC announced Friday that it would hold four forums around the country on the party platform in the weeks ahead, to give rank-and-file progressives more input. The first two sessions will solicit testimony; the third will be a meeting of the drafting committee to put ideas to paper; and the fourth will be a gathering of the full platform committee.

“I was very concerned that the DNC was failing to provide a fair playing field for the presidential candidates, but the action taken Monday, in which there was an appropriate and fair allocation of platform seats, may well represent the pivot where the DNC got the message,” said Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyHillicon Valley: Hacker tried to sell military docs on dark web | Facebook fined over Cambridge Analytica | US closer to lifting ZTE ban | Trump, Obama lose followers in Twitter purge | DOJ weighs appeal on AT&T merger Demanding accountability from private companies detaining children FCC proposes overhaul to comment filing system MORE (Ore.), the only member of the Senate to have endorsed Sanders, in an interview. 

“It’s not sufficient, but it may be indicative of the fact that they’re changing pathways. If they’re changing pathways, that’s certainly a response to the concerns many of us have raised,” he added.

Pro-Sanders lawmakers want the party’s platform to embrace his proposals, including calls to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and expand Medicare and Social Security benefits. Clinton initially endorsed raising the wage floor to $12 an hour but later said that as president she would sign a bill raising it to $15 an hour.

A Senate Democratic aide said Wasserman Schultz’s fate will depend largely on whether Clinton, the likely nominee, wants to keep her on as the convention nears.

Polls show Clinton in a tight race with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE, whom many Democrats had perceived to be a weak candidate. 

While Republicans still face their own challenges in unifying around Trump, the last few weeks have highlighted discord on the Democratic side and raised questions about whether Clinton can attract young Sanders supporters.

Several Democratic senators who support Clinton fear the DNC chair has become a drag on her. Sanders and his surrogates have repeatedly criticized Wasserman Schultz’s decisions, such as the debate schedule and the DNC’s joint fundraising committee for Clinton. 

They were also angered by public comments Wasserman Schultz made criticizing Sanders and his supporters for chaos at the Nevada Democratic state convention earlier this month. 

Sanders is also demanding changes to party rules that could make it easier for outsider candidates to compete in Democratic contests, heightening pressure on Wasserman Schultz to change things up.

Specifically, Sanders wants to see the DNC create incentives to allow independents to vote in future presidential primaries and the influence of the superdelegates to be reduced. Under the current rules, every Democrat in Congress is automatically a superdelegate. Many of them endorsed Clinton before votes were cast in the first primary contest, putting Sanders at a significant disadvantage from the start.  

“We need to reform the Democratic primary process. It’s time to open up all our primaries to include independents,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, a progressive advocacy group with 270,000 members that backs Sanders.

“If we need independents to win in November, we need to let independents help us choose our candidate. We need to get rid of superdelegates.”