Campaign

Clinton faces decision on Wasserman Schultz

Greg Nash

Hillary Clinton has a decision to make: what to do with embattled Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Bernie Sanders has put ousting Wasserman Schultz at the top of his list of demands, putting pressure on Clinton to get rid of an ally accused by her rival’s supporters of tilting the race in her favor.

{mosads}The demands are meaningful, coming at a point when Clinton wants to unify the party and win vociferous support from Sanders, who remains popular with progressives even as he nears the end of his presidential campaign.

But it’s far from clear where she is headed with the decision.

In an interview published Wednesday with USA Today, Clinton did not rule out replacing Wasserman Schultz but noted she had not picked her to chair the DNC and said she planned to move forward with a revitalized party.

She said Wasserman Schultz was “committed” to defeating presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump and that President Obama had praised her stewardship, saying at a recent fundraiser that he had her back.

“I’ve not heard any conversations in the party about changes,” she added. “Obviously, we’re going to go forward after this election with a new and invigorated party.”

One top Democratic strategist and Clinton supporter said it would be best if Wasserman Schultz stepped aside — but predicted it wouldn’t happen.

A forced resignation negotiated by the Clinton and Sanders camps would be extreme and is likely something Clinton would like to avoid at this point.

Some Democrats worry that an upheaval in top leadership just over a month before the party’s national convention would put Democrats in disarray at a time when they’re trying to unite behind a common enemy in Trump.

Clinton has recently established a lead over Trump in the national polls, and replacing the chairwoman of the DNC could be viewed as a sign of weakness.

“It would symbolize disarray on our side,” one Clinton ally said.

Some Clinton allies also believe she’s already been dragged too far to the left by Sanders, who is pushing her to accept concessions in the Democratic platform.

Sanders is also demanding an end to the superdelegate system, which gives officials and party elders votes at the nominating convention. And he wants more open elections that would allow independents to vote in Democratic contests.

At the very least, the Clinton campaign is considering a reduced role for Wasserman Schultz at the convention in Philadelphia in July over fears that she will be booed onstage.

There is also talk about allowing Wasserman Schultz to keep her title but to greatly reduce her campaign responsibilities by sending her on the road to speak to constituency groups or focus on television appearances on liberal news outlets.

Clinton allies, even those who once staunchly defended Wasserman Schultz, appear resigned to her playing a smaller role going forward.

“She’s had a good run,” one Wasserman Schultz ally said.

The DNC declined to comment for this story, but in a Tuesday interview on MSNBC, Wasserman Schultz insisted that she would at least finish out her current term, which ends in January.

“I am planning on continuing to focus all the way through the election to the end of my term on making sure that we can elect Democrats up and down the ballot, especially including the president of the United States,” she said.

The discussions about Wasserman Schultz’s future come as Clinton’s campaign staff transitions to payroll at the DNC. That’s a common practice in a presidential election cycle to ensure that party building functions — including field, data and political operations — are paid out of the DNC to keep Clinton’s cash available for advertising and travel.

Clinton can assign staffers to the DNC, and sources expect that some staff rearrangements will come in the following weeks.

Wasserman Schultz has done everything she can in recent weeks to avoid giving the impression that the party had settled on a candidate.

The DNC has still not declared Clinton the presumptive nominee, even though the primary season is over and Clinton finished in first place with nearly 400 more pledged delegates than Sanders.

In a vague written statement after the final Democratic primary on Tuesday night, Wasserman Schultz congratulated both candidates on finishing the primary season and stressed the need for a Democrat to win the White House.

In addition, the DNC has given Sanders supporters an outsized role on the platform drafting committee. He will be represented by five people, compared to six for Clinton. That’s a larger presence than second-place finishers have had in the past.

But Sanders has given no indication that he intends to back away from his demand that she be replaced immediately.

At an impromptu press conference at his campaign headquarters on Tuesday, Sanders called for a “fundamental transformation of the Democratic Party” and reiterated his desire for new leadership at the DNC.

There is still roiling anger among Sanders supporters at Wasserman Schultz over her handling of the primary.

“A lot of people would like to see her not just no longer be chair of DNC, but they no longer want to see her in Congress at all,” said Neil Sroka, communications director for the progressive group Democracy for America.

Jake Limon, Sanders’s state director in Texas, worries that the party will fail to capitalize on the legions of new supporters Sanders has drawn into the process because of negligence by the DNC.

Linon said that if Wasserman Schultz were to go, it would “send a bold message” to those progressives that the party is undergoing the kind of “fundamental transformation of the Democratic Party” Sanders has called for.

“We’ve got hundreds of thousands of new supporters down here,” Limon said. “I’m not talking about turning the state blue, but we could use their help to win House seats and seats in the state legislature that could change the whole landscape. We haven’t seen an effort to integrate them, and that’s reflective of what’s going on at the DNC.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Hillary Clinton
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