Dems mull big changes after Brazile bombshell

Democratic senators are talking about wholesale change to their party’s rules in the wake of Donna Brazile’s explosive allegations about the 2016 presidential primary.

Brazile claims that she discovered, upon taking the reins of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) last year, that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMcAuliffe says he won't run for president in 2020 Chuck Todd slams reports that DOJ briefed Trump on Mueller findings: 'This is actual collusion' Crowdfund campaign to aid historically black churches hit by fires raises over M MORE’s campaign began asserting control over the DNC’s operations months before the first primary vote was cast.

The claim has reopened the wounds of Clinton’s bitter primary battle against Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Health Care: DOJ charges doctors over illegal opioid prescriptions | Cummings accuses GOP of obstructing drug pricing probe | Sanders courts Republican voters with 'Medicare for All' | Dems probe funding of anti-abortion group Ex-Obama campaign manager: Sanders can't beat Trump Booker calls for sweeping voting rights reforms MORE (I-Vt.), creating fresh urgency for reforms.

Democratic senators are hesitant to air their disagreements about how to overhaul the party’s structure but say there are vigorous discussions happening behind the scenes.

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“I hope we’re going to have a robust conversation over superdelegates, and I hope we’re going to have a robust conversation over ensuring the neutrality of the DNC as a level playing field for all candidates who run in 2020,” said Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Long-shot goal of nixing Electoral College picks up steam MORE (D-Ore.), one of the few who endorsed the insurgent candidacy of Sanders during the primary.

Some say the most important step for Democrats to take is to eliminate superdelegates — the senior party officials and members of Congress who are not bound by the results of voting in their states.

Sanders called the concept of superdelegates “problematic” during the primary; he urged them to declare their allegiance based on how their states voted.

But the overwhelming majority of superdelegates backed Clinton, regardless of their state’s choice, giving Sanders virtually no chance of staging a late comeback in the race for the nomination.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was a strong Clinton backer, has called for eliminating superdelegates, and few in the party publicly defend them.

Merkley said he’s not sure when party leaders will formally discuss reforms to the primary but said “it’s happening right now among many members” of Congress on an informal basis.

The DNC will hold a meeting in December where some reforms may be discussed, followed by a broader party meeting in February. 

Merkley identified the February meeting as an opportunity to enact changes. 

Brazile alleges collusion with the Clinton campaign in her new book, “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report MORE in the White House.”

She stepped in as interim DNC chairwoman following Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s (D-Fla.) resignation in July 2016 after hacked internal emails revealed that the party committee helped Clinton at the expense of Sanders and other primary rivals. 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections MORE (D-W.Va.) said the national party committee shouldn’t tip the scales in favor of one candidate or another during a primary.

“There should be reforms. The primary process should be open and the strongest survive,” he said.

“Where I come from in West Virginia, no one has control over the primary process until the primary is over. Then that person comes in and selects their own chair for the party. That’s the way things are done,” Manchin added.  

Asked about Brazile’s allegations, current 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 acknowledged Tuesday that the party committee made mistakes in the 2016 election.

“I’ll be the first to admit that we have to earn the trust of everybody,” Perez told “The Thom Hartmann Program.” “And I’ll be the first to admit that the DNC didn’t put its best foot forward in 2016, and because of that we have trust gaps.”

Only 37 percent of Americans have a positive opinion of Democrats, compared to 44 percent who viewed the party favorably earlier this year, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, an independent research company.

Suspicions that the party establishment tilted the playing field in favor of Clinton during the primary disillusioned many Sanders supporters and may have depressed turnout in the general election, Democratic strategists believe.

Then-candidate Donald Trump sought to exploit the divisions by repeatedly accusing Democratic leaders of rigging the primary against Sanders — a charge he’s revived in the wake of Brazile’s book.

The DNC scheduled televised debates between Clinton and Sanders during odd times that weren’t likely to draw big audiences and froze the Sanders campaign’s access to a key voter database before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

“I think we understand some things happened that should not have happened,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinCongress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal Overnight Defense: Transgender troops rally as ban nears | Trump may call more troops to border | National Guard expects 3M training shortfall from border deployment | Pentagon to find housing for 5,000 migrant children MORE (Ill.).

Still, Brazile has taken criticism from Democrats, with some saying she has exaggerated the extent to which the DNC helped Clinton.

One senior Democratic senator expressed shock over Brazile’s broadside against Clinton, who remains beloved in the party.

“I have a hard time figuring out why she did this,” said the lawmaker, who requested anonymity to discuss internal party squabbles candidly. “I don’t for the life of me understand, unless there was some kind of personal slight.”

The senator noted that Clinton gave $20 million to the DNC to help pull it out of debt.

Democratic lawmakers by and large don’t want to talk publicly about Brazile’s most startling claims, including that she was thinking about replacing Clinton and her running mate, Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Dems ask Justice Dept to release findings of Acosta-Epstein investigation MORE (D-Va.), at the last moment with a ticket of then-Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenMcAuliffe says he won't run for president in 2020 Ex-Obama campaign manager: Sanders can't beat Trump Trump says he'd like to run against Buttigieg MORE and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Booker calls for sweeping voting rights reforms 20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall MORE (D-N.J.).

Nor do they want to weigh in on Brazile’s charge that Clinton’s senior campaign staffers were guilty of sexist behavior toward her or that Clinton’s campaign had “the odor of failure.”

“That’s way out of my swimming lane. I think we ought to move on,” said Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) Tester20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology MORE (D-Mont.).

“What I don’t like about this is we lost the last election,” he said. “We ought to be looking at ways we can win the next one and not focusing on why we lost the last one.”

“I refuse to look back,” added Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillBig Dem names show little interest in Senate Gillibrand, Grassley reintroduce campus sexual assault bill Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate MORE (D-Mo.), who was a vocal Clinton supporter in 2016. 

When asked about the need for reform, she said those discussion are “occurring.”

“I’m fully confident that we’re going to look at the mistakes that were made, the positive things and negative things, both that occurred in that election, and we will do what we need to do to go forward,” she said.

Even some of Clinton’s strongest supporters say they’re open to doing away with superdelegates and embracing other rule changes.

“We should have a broader conversation about the undemocratic features of our primary process. Superdelegates are part of that,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Long-shot goal of nixing Electoral College picks up steam MORE (D-Conn.), a potential White House candidate in 2020.

Murphy said he also favors doing away with presidential primary caucuses, in which liberal activists have historically had the most sway. Sanders was more successful in caucuses than he was in primaries last year.