PHILADELPHIA — Donna Brazile is trying to clean up the mess at the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
The veteran party operative was brought in to lead the beleaguered committee on the opening day of the Democratic National Convention amid a major leaked-emails scandal and lingering divisions between Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation MORE loyalists and supporters of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Democrats urge Biden to commute sentences of 4K people on home confinement Briahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' MORE (I-Vt.).
Her job this week: try to unite the fractured party and heal primary-election wounds that were reopened last weekend after WikiLeaks released a trove of internal committee emails showing DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other top party officials tilting the primary in favor of Clinton, who is now the party's presumptive presidential nominee.
Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, announced late Sunday night that she was resigning over fallout from the DNC email leaks. After her disastrous speech before her home-state delegation Monday morning, it was announced that Wasserman Schultz would have no speaking role at the four-day Democratic convention, which she had been planning for the past year and a half.
Democratic insiders said Brazile was a no-brainer to replace the embattled chairwoman, who officially will step down at the end of the convention on Thursday.
The 56-year-old Louisiana native, who until Monday had been a CNN and ABC News contributor, is a talented communicator, experienced campaign strategist, and one of a handful of DNC vice chairs, giving her deep knowledge of the internal workings of the organization. She worked on a number of presidential campaigns throughout the past several decades — Jesse Jackson, Dick Gephardt, Michael Dukakis and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBusiness coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader Obamas, Bushes and Clintons joining new effort to help Afghan refugees MORE.
But in the 2000 election, Brazile got her big break. Vice President Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreTrump's election fraud claims pose risks for GOP in midterms Don't 'misunderestimate' George W. Bush Why the pro-choice movement must go on the offensive MORE hired her to lead his presidential campaign, making her the first African-American to lead the presidential campaign of a major-party nominee.
Brazile’s new interim appointment — approved by President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOur remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Chelsea Manning tests positive for COVID-19 MORE, Hillary Clinton's campaign and top DNC officials — puts three African-American women in charge of this week’s gathering, with Leah Daughtry serving as convention CEO and Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeSanders goes back to 2016 playbook to sell .5T budget Activists detail legal fight against HUD for Philadelphia housing Photos of the Week: Rep. Cori Bush, Beirut clash and duck derby MORE (D-Ohio) as the new convention chairwoman.
Brazile’s “a longtime Democrat, a woman of color who served on the DNC Credentials and Rules committees,” former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, a convention co-chair and longtime friend of Brazile’s, told The Hill on the convention floor. “She’s magnanimous. She brings people together. She’s a prominent figure. She’s someone who goes way back with the Clintons and also is close with Barack Obama.
“She’s going to be an adult and has said, ‘Yes, there were maybe some bad things that happened, but now let’s move on,’ ” Solis said.
“She’s smart and forthright and doesn’t take s--- from anybody,” said a House Democratic lawmaker who knows Brazile.
Added New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is close to her: “Donna has devoted her life to serving the Democratic Party with honor and integrity. She is a common-sense voice and a fighter for our values.”
Early in Monday night’s program, Sanders supporters booed every mention of Clinton and her new running mate, Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (D-Va.), exposing the intraparty fissures that still remain weeks after the former secretary of State wrapped up the nomination.
But even some of the most devoted Sanders fans view Brazile as a unifying figure at this critical moment in the general election. Louisiana delegate Kyle Green Jr., a Sanders backer who grew up in the same New Orleans area parish as Brazile, said she would be able to steady the ship during a rocky start to the Democratic convention.
“From what I’ve seen in my life, she’s done great things for the Democratic Party,” said Green, noting that Brazile worked on Gore’s 2000 campaign and Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCassidy wins reelection in Louisiana Bottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth MORE's (D-La.) successful reelection bid in 2002. “I think that she provides a steady hand. She’s seen as someone who is nonbiased, not attached to any particular camp.”
The DNC email leak “doesn’t help the cause,” Green said, “but hopefully we can unite as one big family and keep our eye on the prize and win the election in the fall.”
Matt Killen, one of the Sanders delegates who booed Wasserman Schultz at the Florida delegation breakfast Monday morning, said he’d like to see Clinton name Sanders the next DNC chairman if she wins in November.
But he knows that’s unlikely to happen and praised Brazile as a “good” choice that will help the DNC move past the email scandal.
“If Bernie says supporting Hillary is what he wants us to do, that’s what I’m gonna do,” Killen said. “Supporting Hillary is still 100 million times better than Trump.”
This is Brazile’s second stint atop the DNC. She briefly served in the same interim chairwoman role in 2011 after Kaine, then the DNC chairman, stepped down to run for Senate. He is now the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee.
For her part, Brazile said she’s doing all she can to bring the two camps together. She’s been huddling for the past 24 hours with both Clinton and Sanders backers. And in television interviews, she apologized to Sanders for the DNC emails while also projecting a message of unity.
“We talked about how we protect the sanctity of this floor. ...” Brazile told CNN, her former employer. “But again, these are Democrats. They’re not going to sit there and be silent. At the end of the night you’ll see more joyful noises than [we saw] from the activists today.”
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said he’s certain his House colleague, Wasserman Schultz, would have been booed off the main stage Monday night if she had insisted on carrying out her ceremonial role.
“I thought it was appropriate that she resign and that she didn’t appear at the convention,” Cohen told The Hill in the convention’s Facebook hub.
As for Brazile, Cohen said: “I think the world of her. She’s personable. She’s smart. She’s sincere. She understands the whole panoply of issues and the diversity of America, and she’s a helluva cook.”
“What’s her specialty?” a reporter asked.
“Gumbo,” Cohen replied with a smile.