Sanders-backed DNC plan sparks superdelegate revolt
Politics A band of Democratic National Committee superdelegates is staging a revolt against a Bernie Sanders-endorsed plan to reduce their influence in the presidential nominating process, mounting a longshot bid to block the measure when the DNC meets in Chicago next month.The proposal, a priority of Sanders' supporters since the Vermont senator's defeat in a bitterly contested 2016 primary, would prohibit superdelegates — who made up roughly 15 percent of the delegates during the 2016 convention — from voting on the first presidential nominating ballot at a contested national convention.But even as the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee moved forward with the proposal Wednesday, superdelegates outside of Washington were beginning to organize opposition ahead of the August vote by the full DNC in Chicago."If we don't have a vote, then what good are we?" said William Owen, a superdelegate and DNC member from Tennessee who has been contacting fellow DNC members ahead of the Chicago gathering, especially in the South. "In Chicago, this will not be rubber stamped."Bob Mulholland, a superdelegate and DNC member from California who has been in talks with superdelegates in the West, said, "The more DNC members realize that this so-called reform is to throw them off the floor … I think there will be a lot of complaints in Chicago."The resisting superdelegates' odds of success are long. The proposal has the support of DNC Chairman Tom Perez and two former DNC chairs — former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, Clinton's 2016 running mate. And the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee, following months of discussion, voted without dissent on Wednesday to recommend the plan to full DNC.But even if the superdelegates fall short in their opposition, controversy surrounding the issue threatens to once again focus national attention on Democratic Party feuding at the height of this year's midterm elections.Invoking unrest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Mulholland said, "Unfortunately, while the Republicans are winning elections and taking over the Supreme Court, we'll be in Chicago looking like 1968."The proposal to reduce the power of superdelegates reflects a broader effort by the DNC to mend divisions still lingering from a fiercely contested 2016 presidential primary. Superdelegates, including members of Congress, governors, DNC members and other so-called "distinguished party leaders," overwhelmingly sided with Clinton.Perez has said the proposal to reign in those superdelegates will help ensure "that no candidate will be able to have an accumulated lead, whether it's real or perceived, before a ballot has been cast."Sanders, meanwhile, has called the plan "a major step forward in making the Democratic Party more open and transparent." In a prepared statement last month, Sanders said the rules change "will ensure that delegates elected by voters in primaries and caucuses will have the primary role in selecting the Democratic Party's nominee at the 2020 convention."But the proposal has infuriated many superdelegates, who stand to lose significant influence over the party's selection of a nominee and complain elected officials and longtime party operatives are being disenfranchised. Under the proposal, superdelegates would be allowed to vote on the first ballot only if a candidate earned enough pledged delegates from state parties and caucuses to win the nomination.During the committee meeting Wednesday, Don Fowler, a former DNC chairman and outspoken critic of the rules change, asked, "For what? Why? … Why vote if you can't affect the outcome?"Eliminating superdelegate votes on the first ballot, Fowler said, would only increase the likelihood of a convention going to a second ballot, where superdelegates would have their votes restored — potentially weighing in against the top vote-getter on the first ballot.He described that scenario as a "great horror" that "this party would have a very difficult time surviving."Fowler abstained from the committee vote Wednesday but said he will vote against the measure in Chicago.Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who accused Perez of flinching in the face of criticism of the superdelegate process, called the proposal a "craven capitulation to what [Perez] describes as a perception of elitism."Connolly, like other opponents of the plan, argued that "disenfranchising the elected leadership of the party" would disconnect elected leaders from the party's presidential ticket, ultimately weakening its prospects in 2020."I also believe the timing is wretched," Connolly said. "We're in the midst of the battle of our lives to win back the majority of our House, and to schedule this vote with this recommendation that came out of nowhere … is to me just wretched timing and political malpractice."DNC officials said the timing was dictated by the election calendar and unavoidable.In an apparent nod to superdelegates' concerns, the Rules and Bylaws Committee voted Wednesday to allow superdelegates to run instead for positions as pledged delegates in their states, an unusual move that would allow them to vote on the first ballot. But critics of the amendment said few elected officials and other superdelegates are likely to run to become pledged delegates — and that those who do would only displace grassroots activists who typically fill pledged delegate spots.Christine Pelosi, a DNC member from California and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's daughter, said she has opposed the use of superdelegates since the process was created in the early 1980s, and she will vote for the proposal to reduce their influence in August. But she said she would prefer that the DNC simply bind superdelegates' votes to the vote of their state or to the national pledged delegate winner.Of superdelegates preparing to oppose the rules change in Chicago, Pelosi said, "They are very forceful.""This is a very deeply held position for people who have served the party for years," Pelosi said. "I wouldn't be surprised if what happens at this committee in Washington might not be changed again, either in Washington or Chicago."DNC officials were preparing to undertake an outreach effort ahead of the gathering in Chicago to win support for the recommendation. Jim Roosevelt, co-chairman of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, acknowledged the DNC will be asking superdelegates to "vote against their self-interest." But he said the committee will impress on delegates that the proposal is the best plan "to deal with a perception about elites influencing the nomination."Meanwhile, Owen said he has been contacting other DNC members in recent weeks and that opponents of the proposal plan to meet before the Chicago gathering."This is serious," Owen said. "We have a saying in the South that's 'as worthless as nipples on a boar hog' … which means you can suck on them all you want, but you don't get anything out of it."If the proposal is adopted, Owen said, "That's what we'll be."