Unity commission another challenge for Democrats

Unity commission another challenge for Democrats
© Getty Images

Supporters of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonShelby endorses Shalanda Young for OMB director should Biden pull Tanden's nomination Jennifer Palmieri: 'Ever since I was aware of politics, I wanted to be in politics' Cruz: Wife 'pretty pissed' about leaked Cancun texts MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersKlain says Harris would not overrule parliamentarian on minimum wage increase Romney-Cotton, a Cancun cabbie and the minimum wage debate On The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers MORE (I-Vt.) are set to join a new Democratic Party committee intended to heal the divisions of the party’s presidential primary race and re-examine the controversial role of superdelegates in the process.

But the bad blood from last year’s election and daunting prospects for some reforms favored by progressives have set up a challenge for the Democrats and new party Chairman Tom Perez.  

“Like anything else, this is about politics and developing relationships. He’s done a very good job in making Keith Ellison a part of his leadership team,” said one former party official, noting Perez’s emphasis on keeping the Minnesota representative and former rival for Democratic National Committee chair, who endorsed Sanders during the primary, in the fold. 


“But to the degree you can make fundamental changes to the primary process, which is largely run by the states themselves, that will prove difficult. Some of those proposed changes are just not possible, so it’s got to be about bringing folks into the process.”

Perez’s late-February election started the countdown for the commission’s work, which must start 60 days after that election, on April 26. Clinton will appoint nine commission members to Sanders’s seven, with Perez filling the final three spots. 

Former DNC executive director Jennifer O’Malley Dillon is Clinton’s representative as the group’s chair, while longtime union leader and Sanders confidant Larry Cohen is the vice chair. 

Sanders walks a fine line, joining Senate Democratic leadership while refusing to officially join the party. The commission is one way he’ll have a hand in how the party moves forward. 

The slates are still being finalized, but The Hill has learned that Sanders’s appointees will include his former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, as well as Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb and progressive journalist and activist Nomiki Konst. 

Clinton representatives, including O’Malley Dillon, did not return requests to comment. 


Democrats birthed the 21-member commission out of the controversy surrounding the 2016 party convention, which saw aggrieved Sanders supporters attempt to push a slew of party rules changes through during the convention. 

The commission was a compromise meant to give Sanders supporters an avenue for their concerns while postponing a contentious fight past the general election.  

With most Democrats assuming that Clinton would win on Election Day, the party expected the events surrounding the unity commission to look quite different. 

But Clinton faltered. That left her supporters frustrated about the criticism she took from Sanders and his supporters during the primary. Sanders supporters, on the other hand, saw that Clinton’s electability argument amounted to nothing and smarted at a perceived “rigged” system. 

So now the commission is the next stepping-stone to help to repair the rift within the party as it looks to rebuild after disastrous election losses.

The superdelegate issue has been largely addressed. When the convention created the commission, it stipulated that the group must create rules to force DNC members with superdelegate status to vote in proportion to their state’s primary or caucus results. 

Democrats from all sides soured on the superdelegate system during the primary, even as analysts showed that Clinton, the favorite of most superdelegates, would have won even if the system was scrapped. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called for eliminating superdelegates altogether. 

But a host of other issues will likely come up too.  

Some, like the debate over rules on caucuses and primaries, proved contentious during the primary. Progressive calls for open primaries have been met with concerns that new Democratic voters may not share the party’s values. And while Sanders performed better in caucus states, many Democrats have pushed to open those up too, as caucusing sometimes requires a heavy time commitment that can depress turnout.

The commission also has the power to conduct an autopsy on the party’s disastrous 2016 as it calls for recommendations on issues like making the party more competitive across the country, empowering the grassroots and cutting the reliance on big donors. 

Cohen, the Sanders vice chair, said he’s confident the group can avoid factionalism, declaring that “we all want to start out as one group of 21 people.”  

He told The Hill that the commission must work to cut out barriers for entry for grassroots supporters and give them a broader say in the party mechanism if the Democrats want to harness the energy of Sanders’s progressive base.

  Cohen specifically pointed to issues such as early deadlines in New York, where an October 2015 deadline to switch party registration shut out many voters on both sides of the aisle.

“If this party is going to have the faith of Democratic activists around the country, they need to know that when they do, there is a direct relationship between that involvement and how decisions are made,” he said. 

But other Democrats warn that there’s little that can be done within the party structure to address those state-level issues, since many rules depend on state law. 

One former Clinton campaign aide told The Hill that it’s encouraging to see all the Sanders supporters, both inside and outside of the commission, who care enough about the party to want to rebuild it. 

“It’s a really important point, because people aren’t just criticizing, they are saying, ‘We have ideas and we want to help make a change.’ ”

Konst, one of the commission members chosen by Sanders, told The Hill that she’s more concerned about larger issues than the primary process, which just crops up once every few years. She promised to push issues about the party’s finances “until their heads hurt” and call for better checks on conflicts of interest and a participatory budget.

“The problem we have is that we lost 1,000 seats in eight years. Where did the money go? We raised more money than ever and lost more seats than ever,” she said.