Dems Divided as Sanders and Perez Push Plan to Weaken DNC Superdelegates

Rep. Gerry Connolly and others oppose 'craven capitulation'

DNC chair Tom Perez (L) and deputy chair Rep. Keith Ellison / Getty Images
July 11, 2018

The Democratic National Committee’s rules committee is pushing a plan to greatly reduce the influence of unpledged superdelegates in the party’s presidential primary, but Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.) is among the Democratic leaders openly criticizing the possible move.

Connolly termed the proposal a "craven capitulation to what [DNC Chairman Tom Perez] describes as a perception of elitism" that would be "disenfranchising the elected leadership of the party," Politico reports. The measure would prevent superdelegates from voting in the presidential nominating process on the first ballot at a contested convention, and the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee endorsed it without dissent Wednesday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) publicly excoriated the party’s use of superdelegates during his ill-fated presidential run in 2016 and is backing this new plan, which will see a vote when the DNC convenes in August. Perez said the plan is intended to "rebuild the trust" with Democrats who feel alienated from the party, but Connolly argues this would harm future nominees by disconnecting them from the party.

"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."

While no one in the rules committee put up a fight, others in the party are organizing opposition to the proposal in an effort to vote it down at the party gathering Chicago.

"If we don’t have a vote, then what good are we?" said William Owen, a superdelegate and DNC member from Tennessee. "In Chicago, this will not be rubber stamped."

Owen is contacting DNC members, primarily down South, to try to stop the proposal, while Bob Mulholland, a California superdelegate, is talking to DNC members out west.

"The more DNC members realize that this so-called reform is to throw them off the floor," Mulholland said. "I think there will be a lot of complaints in Chicago."

Mulholland even said the division this will highlight in the party could be reminiscent of the famously contentious 1968 party convention.

"Unfortunately, while the Republicans are winning elections and taking over the Supreme Court, we’ll be in Chicago looking like 1968," Mulholland said.

Superdelegates irked many in the party when they sided overwhelmingly with Hillary Clinton at the 2016 convention, as she fended off an outsider challenge from her left in Sanders. For his part, Sanders said this measure would constitute "a major step forward in making the Democratic Party more open and transparent."

Sanders and his allies in the party, such as DNC deputy chairman Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), have demanded changes to the superdelegates system, leading Perez to say reform was a priority. While former two DNC chairmen—former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine—support the measure, former acting chair Donna Brazile has vocally opposed it.

Brazile said reforming the system should be done more carefully, rather than "telling everybody to go to hell." She tweeted last month that she was abstaining from voting on the measure.

Meanwhile, California DNC member Christine Pelosi, daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said superdelegates are "very forceful" in opposing the change.

"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."

Owen echoed others when he said the point of superdelegates would be lost if they were replaced or if their vote was bound.

"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."

"That’s what we’ll be" if the proposal is enacted, he said.