Dems near decision on superdelegates

Dems near decision on superdelegates
© The Hill illustration

A year before the 2020 presidential campaign begins kicking into high gear, Democrats are still squabbling over what to do about superdelegates. 

It’s a big fight for Democrats trying to piece together their splintered party following the grueling 2016 primary between Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton: FBI investigation into Kavanaugh could be done quickly Hillary Clinton urges Americans to 'check and reject' Trump's 'authoritarian tendencies' by voting in midterms EXCLUSIVE: Trump says exposing ‘corrupt’ FBI probe could be ‘crowning achievement’ of presidency MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersWarren joins Sanders in support of striking McDonald's workers Kavanaugh allegations could be monster storm brewing for midterm elections      Senate approves 4B spending bill MORE (I-Vt.).

“The Sanders folks want the superdelegates gone,” said one Democratic National Committee (DNC) member. “They still believe he would have won if the system was designed differently.”

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The DNC is edging closer to a solution that would scale back the power of superdelegates, though DNC Chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE is facing criticism from members of Congress who want to keep their clout.


Democratic superdelegates consist of lawmakers and other office holders and party officials who get their own votes in the Democratic primary that are independent of their states’ primaries and caucuses.

The rules give enormous power to these office holders, who in the 2016 primary helped keep Clinton on top of Sanders. Clinton won 544.5 superdelegates in that year’s primary compared to 44.5 for Sanders. Clinton won more pledged delegates through nominating contests than did Sanders, ultimately winning the Democratic nod by 977 delegates.

Those delegates voted at the 2016 convention to create a Unity Reform Commission, one that would propose reforms to the Democratic Party’s rules. And atop the list of reforms Sanders backers wanted to see implemented was an end to — or at least a curtailment of — the superdelegates’ powers.

Those opposed to superdelegates argue the office holders can stack the deck against an anti-establishment candidate. Those in favor of them say it is important to give party leaders a stake in the primary, and that can work to prevent a candidate like Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE from taking over.

“I understand what the perception is, but I also understand what the facts are,” Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksTrump Jr., Dem congressman spar over Ellison's association with Farrakhan Ocasio-Cortez tiptoes into Washington New Dem star to rattle DC establishment MORE (D-N.Y.), who wants to retain the old rules, said in an interview. 

Meeks and other lawmakers have met with Perez to push back on his proposed changes to the system.

“We didn’t leave with any animosity,” Meeks said. “This is politics. It is what it what is.” 

The plan the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee is expected to embrace would prevent superdelegates from voting on the first ballot at the next Democratic convention, a big change from previous primaries.

Superdelegates would still get to endorse their candidate of choice, attend the convention and vote on other issues. But they would not vote on the presidential nominee unless a primary fight led to a second ballot.

That would ensure that delegates not allocated through the presidential nominating process would not have a disproportionate role in choosing the nominees, say those pressing for the change.

The DNC’s rules panel will hold a telephone meeting on Wednesday where committee members will review recommendations for the changes made by the unity commission.

The proposed reforms are getting favorable reviews from Sanders supporters who had been pressing for change.

Jeff Weaver, who served as Sanders’s campaign manager in the 2016 race, said in an interview with The Hill that he’s pleased with how the issue appears to be shaping up. He also offered support for Perez.

“Chairman Perez, to his credit, is working very hard on this,” Weaver said, adding that Clinton allies have also been helpful in crafting a system that works in the 2020 race and in future elections. “He has done exactly the right thing. He deserves credit for it.” 

“It’s all about benefiting the Democratic Party and there’s a lot of grass-roots opposition to superdelegates,” he said. “There are going to be a number of candidates running the next time, not just two or three, and it’s unfair to them and to the voters who might choose to support them to have all these superdelegates weighing in before a single vote is cast in Iowa.”

Critics accuse Perez, who has been knocked during his tenure over the DNC’s paltry fundraising numbers, of caving to pressure from Sanders allies. 

“It seems as though the chairman had made up his mind without talking to folks,” said one Democratic lawmaker.

The DNC did not respond to a request to comment for this story.

Overall, it appears that the changes are winning broad support.

“It’s important for superdelegates — and I’m one of them — to get over themselves,” said Robert Zimmerman, a longtime DNC member. “It’s important to do a reality check here. … It’s lived its day and it’s time to abolish them. It’s been a growing frustration for years and a really unnecessary distraction from the nominating process.”

Elaine Kamarck, a longtime member of the DNC rules committee, said that while she’s a “big backer” of superdelegates, she will support some reduction in their power 

“Doing nothing is not an option,” Kamarck said. 

Still, she said, the party needs superdelegates going forward — in part to keep the Democratic Party from ending up with a nominee like Trump.

“All you have to do is look at the Republican Party,” Karmack said. “Basically, the first line of protection against people who are manifestly unfit to be president is the nomination system. No other democracy in the world nominates its leaders this way.”

She said using superdelegates “gives you some check against demagogues and authoritarians.”

“Just because the Republicans were the first party to fall off the rails and nominate somebody like Trump doesn’t mean that the Democrats couldn’t do it as well,” Kamarck added. 

“Which is why political parties around the world do not nominate their leaders through primaries. They nominate their leaders through internal party procedures.”

Bob Mulholland, a DNC member from California, said the issue is only being debated because the Sanders supporters have forced the DNC to talk about the delegate selection process for the past 18 months.

“It’s embarrassing, to be frank,” Mulholland said. “I don’t know one family in America that’s talking about delegate selection over dinner. It’s just a distraction, and it’s so typical of Democrats.”