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 Clinton5 things to watch in the Democratic debates Democrats leery of Sanders plan to cancel student loan debt Mellman: Are primary debates different? 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 SandersBernie SandersTrump says he'll watch Democratic debate while en route to Japan 'because I have to' The Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? 5 things to watch in the Democratic debates 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 MerkleySenate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Congress unlikely to reach deal on Trump border bill before break Chaos within the EPA exposes Americans to toxins like asbestos 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 TrumpTrump campaign buys full page ads in Miami newspapers ahead of Dem debates Trump administration's 'forced diplomacy' with Iran isn't working Roy Moore trails Republican field in Alabama 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) ManchinOvernight Energy: New EPA rule could expand officials weighing in on FOIA requests | Trump plan to strip conservation fund gets bipartisan pushback | Agriculture chief downplays climate concerns Trump plan to strip public land conservation fund gets bipartisan pushback Republicans, Trump Jr. signal support for embattled West Virginia governor 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 DurbinDemocrats leery of Sanders plan to cancel student loan debt McConnell opens door to vote on Iran war authorization Negotiators face major obstacles to meeting July border deadline 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 KaineGOP lays debate trap for 2020 Democrats Overnight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need exit strategy with Iran | McConnell open to vote on Iran war authorization | Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales McConnell opens door to vote on Iran war authorization MORE (D-Va.), at the last moment with a ticket of then-Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says he'll watch Democratic debate while en route to Japan 'because I have to' The Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? 5 things to watch in the Democratic debates MORE and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerTrump says he'll watch Democratic debate while en route to Japan 'because I have to' The Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? 5 things to watch in the Democratic debates 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) TesterDemocrats leery of Sanders plan to cancel student loan debt VA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments 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 McCaskillConservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Lobbying world 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 MurphyGOP lays debate trap for 2020 Democrats Overnight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need exit strategy with Iran | McConnell open to vote on Iran war authorization | Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales 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.