Saturday, May 31, 2008

Live from the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee Meeting

Just about to break for lunch, I wonder if the cable news networks will return this afternoon? I hope they do. If you thought the presentations today have been interesting, you will probably find the debate later riveting. 

Sec. Herman said they will reconvene at 4:15 pm. 

2:45 Donna Brazile just said she will support the proposals to give the states' their voices back. "My mama always taught me to play by the rules, and to respect the rules... and my mama taught me that when you decide to change the rules - especially in the middle of the game - that's called cheating." But who is trying to change the rules? Both Clinton and Obama are advocating positions not totally based on the outcome of the actual election. And everyone in the room is cheering - I guess both camps think they are playing by the rules (or maybe they just love Donna?). Maybe what Donna really means is that Michigan and Florida broke the rules (not the campaigns), and that is why she will support reinstating some - but not all - of the states delegates.

2:30 Jim Blanchard, former governor of Michigan, is speaking now on behalf of the Clinton campaign. He just made a good point that is often overlooked in this discussion of Michigan and Florida - Florida has a state law that makes it almost impossible for a presidential candidate to take his/her name off the ballot. Basically a candidate has to end his campaign nationwide in order to be removed from the Florida ballot. Michigan should have made its ballot access law as strong, and they would not be in this mucky position today about how to allocate the delegates fairly according to presidential preference.

2:10 The discussion about Michigan is wrapping up, but the real action will take place after lunch. It is amazing to me that so many people are still in the room - it seems like no one has left since 9:00 this morning, even though it is now after 2:00 pm. 

The committee members will have lunch in a private room - more for logistical convenience, not so they can retreat to some back room (smoke-filled or not) to decide in private what decision they will make publicly this afternoon.  Chances are that some negotiations will take place over lunch, but anything could happen when the committee reconvenes this afternoon. I think the proposals (with a chance of success) on the table will be:

- Seat the full Florida delegation with 1/2 vote each.
- Seat the full Michigan delegation with 1/2 vote each, allocated according to the 69-59 compromise (although there will be more debate about the validity of exit polls in determining this).
- What will they do about the superdelegates? Part of Jon Ausman's proposal was that it was against DNC rules to sanction superdelegates. But will the RBC members halve the pledged delegate votes while giving full votes to supers?

1:50 David Bonior is speaking on behalf of the Obama campaign. Right now he is denying that it was Obama's fault that there was no "do-over" primary in Michigan. I happened to be in Michigan at the time that the do-over primary was being discussed in the legislature, and it was reported at the time (as I remember) that the Obama campaign would not comment on the legislation until they read it, but that the legislators drafting it would not put anything in writing until they got an agreement from the Obama campaign - a kind of chicken and egg problem. Hillary, on the other hand, made an appearance in the state to try to get the second primary to happen. In any case, a do-over primary would have been terribly problematic, since who knows how many Democrats voted in the Republican primary (like my Dad) and those voters would not have been allowed to participate in the second Dem primary.

1:35 "Fair reflection" -- Harold Ickes has mentioned this concept a few times, and Elaine Kamarck referred to it too. This is an important part of the DNC delegate selection rules (Rule 13). It means that the pledged delegates in a state must be allocated according to the "fair reflection of the presidential preferences" in the state - so 55% of the vote Hillary should translate to 55% of delegate, and 40% for "uncommitted" (which is a real line on the ballot, and comes from the tradition of allowing voters to participate in the primary even if they don't have a candidate they want to support). Harold says "as a matter of law" the committee must respect the sanctity of those uncommitted votes, "this resolution as drafted is not even legal under the rules". He is really drilling into Sen. Levin. 

Sen. Levin: "Let me clarify, you are calling for a fair refection of a flawed primary?" (Applause)
"How do you have a fair reflection of a flawed primary?"

1:27 Anyone interested in the protest that happened (maybe is still happening?) outside the hotel, check out the HotlineOnCall blog for a few updates on that. They say it was a "lovefest" - no serious squabbles between Clinton and Obama supporters. 

1:15 The issue of the timing of Michigan's primary has been a passionate project of Sen. Levin's for years. He was the one who instigated the creation of the DNC Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling (the commission that added Nevada and South Carolina to the front of the calendar). Kind of ironic, but maybe it was because of his voracity on the issue that Michigan earned a reputation on the committee for being a trouble maker, and because of that they probably never had a real chance of getting one of the early calendar spots they applied for. Terry McAuliffe tells a great story in his book about a shouting match with Carl Levin over the timing of the state's 2004 primary... basically McCauliffe and the DNC promised the commission to Levin in exchange for Michigan staying put in the calendar well after Iowa and New Hampshire. 

1:05 Sen. Carl Levin is presenting now. "The Democratic Party has achieved unity... we are asking you to preserve it." What he means is that the Michigan Democratic Party and both candidate representatives in the state have all agreed to this position. What they are asking for is a 100% reinstatement of the state's delegation, based on the 69-59 allocation of pledged delegates that Brewer described. My guess is that the RBC is in no mood to completely go back on its previous decision to punish Michigan... a more viable solution is to seat the delegation 69-59 (as they are asking) but with each delegate getting just a 1/2 vote each (just like I think they will do for Florida). 

12:56 Brewer's proposal has been endorsed by the Michigan State Party, Sen Carl Levin, and other elected officials in Michigan... but he seems to be having a hard time convincing the committee members of its value. Don Fowler's reference to this feeling like "Alice in Wonderland" has I think led committee members to think the 69-59  proposal is based on a fantasy... but really the whole primary process in Michigan was the Alice in Wonderland scenario; this compromise proposal is really not that wild and seems to me to be the best legitimate way to divvy up the delegates between Clinton and Obama.

Democrats do not like exit polls (I guess this is from Florida 2000 and the perception that the exit polls showed Gore winning?)... I hope they do not let their bias against exit polls get in the way of using them for a fair solution to the Michigan problem.

12:45 Yesterday on this blog, Brian Schaffner offered a good analysis of the "uncommitted" voters in the Michigan primary. He rightly points out that there is no way to determine how many people stayed home because they couldn't vote for Obama, Edwards, etc (rather than casting a vote for uncommitted), but exit polls can help show who people supported.  Mark Brewer is explaining that the exit polls are being used in their analysis that gives them the 69-59 delegate split for Clinton-Obama.

One thing that I haven't heard discussed much is how many Democrats voted in the Republican primary, since they viewed the Dem primary as invalid. My dad - a lifelong Democrat - voted in the Republican primary, just to "screw up their election" as he puts it. How many Dem voters in Michigan acted like he did?

12:40 The Michigan problem is much more complicated than Florida, since Obama took his name off the Michigan ballot. The Clinton campaign will remind you that Obama did this proactively - he and the others who removed their names from the ballot (Edwards, Richardson, etc) had to take specific steps to do this; the default position would have been to stay on the ballot and just not campaign in the state (as Clinton did). The ballot game was motivated by political calculations on both sides: Clinton thought she could win Michigan, Obama and the others thought they couldn't, and bargained that they would get extra favor with the voters in IA and NH for dissing Michigan (remember Iowa and NH voters viewed Michigan and Florida as trying to encroach on their territory as first in the nation caucus and primary)

12:30 Sec. Herman is reviewing the long and sordid history of the 2008 Michigan primary. This is particularly painful for me, as a native Michigander, and also because my dissertation research is on the use of Internet voting in the 2004 Michigan primary. The state party was supposed to use Internet voting again in the 2008 primary, which would have given scholars (like me) an invaluable opportunity to study online voting in the US.

Mark Brewer - one of the longest serving state chairs of one of the best organized and most effective state Democratic parties (Michigan has turned from a swing state to a fairly solid blue state under his leadership) - is presenting now.

12:25 We spent the whole morning on Florida, and have gone waaay over time. Alexis Herman just announced they will hear from Michigan before lunch -- this is important, because the committee members will meet informally at lunch and discuss possible courses of action based on the presentations. There is a mass exodus of the Florida people from the room.

12:20 Alan Katz (RBC member and Obama supporter) is speaking now. The chair confirmed that he will not be allowed to vote on the Florida matter. (But presumably he can vote on Michigan, and Mark Brewer of Michigan will be able to vote on Florida)

12:08 Committee member Tina Flournoy (Clinton supporter) is pressing Wexler to say whether he would support a full restoration of Florida's delegation... she is putting him in a hard place, because as a congressman from Florida he needs to represent his constituents - who surely want a full delegation - but he is here for Obama, who would be harmed by seating the full delegation.

He is really in a tough spot, and the crowd is starting to get a little ugly... shouts for him to "answer the question" (from the Clinton supporters) met with "shhhs" from the Obama supporters. But he just keeps saying he endorses the Ausman position, which is the 50% reduction in delegates. 

11:58 Cong. Robert Wexler is speaking for the Obama campaign, and he is getting the loudest applause of the day so far. He is endorsing the 50% reduction in delegates. Is anyone here not endorsing the 50% reduction in delegates? (Except the Clinton campaign folks, even President Clinton is reportedly supporting it). There seems to be consensus on this, and that is probably what we'll see the committee decide this afternoon.

One area of contention for Florida is what to do with the superdelegates. Wexler just asked for a 1/2 vote for each super... and was met with the first boos of the day from the crowd (I guess since so many of the people here are superdelagtes? Pretty funny). 

You can watch the meeting on C-Span here

11:38 Applause in the hotel lobby (where people are gathered around the TVs watching C-Span) for the conclusion of the remarks from the FL state representative (Arthenia Joyner) who was representing the Clinton campaign. The people here in the lobby must be Clinton supporters hanging out after their protest this morning in front of the hotel. 

11:15 For those not watching on TV, the room is packed with about 300 people in the main audience, which is positioned in front of a u-shaped conference table at which the 30-member committee is seated. There is a balcony overlooking the ballroom, where about 2 dozen bloggers are seated all in a row (and almost all with glowing Apples in their laps). I am sitting in a chair on the floor.

The room is incredibly calm (incredible to me, given the number of people), no protesters - just supporters who interrupt occasionally with applause. I just took a walk out into the main area of the hotel, and nearly ever seat is taken at the bars and lounges with folks watching the proceedings on C-Span. So far it is a very civil meeting (and maybe even a bit boring, even for a rules junkie like me). Boring because there is nothing yet that we haven't heard before... 

10:55 Some things to note:
- Jim Roosevelt (co-chair of the committee) is the grandson of FDR.
- The other co-chair, Alexis Herman, was labor secretary in the Clinton administration.
- Watch for comments/questions from committee member Don Fowler. He is a former chairman of the DNC and had a hand in writing many of the rules.
- Harold Ickes and Donna Brazile are also committee members to watch. Harold is a top adviser to Hillary, but he is also a longtime RBC member and knows the rules perhaps better than anyone. Donna is uncommitted in the race, but her voice is always influential - on the committee as well as in the party.

10:30 Sorry for my late start. I have been working for my credential to get in the room here today... my (small) job was to help get the briefing materials to the members this morning before the meeting started.

If you have been following on TV (assuming it is still being covered, even though it has been about as exciting as a session of Congress on C-Span, complete with charts on poster board) you know that right now we are in the middle of hearing the first challenge, which deals with Florida. The DNC member who presented the case for Florida (Jon Ausman) is basically asking to restore 50% of the state's delegates and all of the supers (he argues that the charter of the DNC does not allow superdelegates to be part of the sanction).

The discussion is really getting into the weeds of the rules, I can't imagine that many in the general public - even those who have been paying unusually close attention to this race - are finding these proceedings very interesting. what we are seeing today is really a legal proceeding, but instead of referencing the US constitution or state statutes, it is the rules of the Democratic National Committee.


Anonymous said...

I don't have access to a TV. What is the scene like? Is the room packed? Can you hear/see any protesters from the room? Does it feel tense or is everyone being friendly with each other?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these great updates. Who are the people in the lobby? Media? Party activists?

Alicia Kolar Prevost said...

The folks in the lobby seemed to be the people left over from the Hillary protest this morning. But others looked like tourists - some were taking pictures of themselves in from of the wall of TVs with CNN running. Those tourists are getting a great DC experience!

- Alicia

Anonymous said...

Has it reconvened after lunch yet...please update.