2008 - %3, May

At DNC Meeting, Obama Rules

| Sat May 31, 2008 9:17 PM EDT

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The rule-breaking Florida and Michigan primaries will count, but not as much, and not how Hillary Clinton wanted them to, the Democrats' Rules and Bylaws Committee decided Saturday in D.C. The Clinton campaign had asked that both states' delegations be seated in full, with full votes, according to the results of the states' January primaries. Instead, the 30-member RBC, citing party rules and the possibility of setting bad precedent for next primary season, voted to seat Florida and Michigan's delegates with a half-vote each.

In addition to halving the votes of Florida and Michigan delegates, the rules committee endorsed the Michigan Democratic Party's compromise 69-59 split on Michigan delegates. It was a move that especially enraged Clinton supporters. The Clinton campaign had asked for the 73 delegates it says she won in January's disputed primary, with 0 delegates going to Obama, who was not on the ballot. In Clinton's plan, the 55 remaining delegates would have been seated as "uncommitted" delegates, and would function essentially as superdelegates.

Not even the Clinton campaign's best-case scenario would have netted her enough delegates to catch Barack Obama in the delegate race. Still, today's decision, which netted Clinton just 24 delegates, was clearly a disappointment to the New York Senator's camp. But the Clinton campaign still had a choice. They could calmly but strongly express their disagreement with the decision, as Clinton adviser and rules committee member Harold Ickes did after the vote on the Florida delegation didn't go his way. Or they could cast aspersions on the legitimacy of the decision and accuse the rules committee of "hijacking" the will of the voters. That's what Harold Ickes did after his side lost the vote on the allocation of the Michigan delegates:

"I am stunned that we have the gall and the chutzpah to substitute our judgment for 600,000 voters," Ickes said. "Hijacking four delegates is not a good way to start down the path to party unity," he added. Then came the kicker: "Mrs. Clinton has instructed me to reserve her rights to take this to the credentials committee."

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Harold Ickes Is Not Happy

| Sat May 31, 2008 7:40 PM EDT

It seems obvious now that there is majority support for the solution supported by the Michigan Democratic Party. That would mean 69 delegates for Hillary Clinton and 59 for Barack Obama (with each delegate getting one-half vote).

But Harold Ickes (and, by extension, Hillary Clinton) are very unhappy. "I am stunned that we have the gall and the chutzpah to substitute our judgment for 600,000 voters," Ickes said. He used the word "hijack" a lot, and said "Hijacking four delegates is not a good way to start down the path to party unity." The big news of the day was the final words of Ickes' argument: "Mrs. Clinton has instructed me to reserve her rights to take this to the credentials committee." If the crowd in the meeting room is any indication, Mrs. Clinton's supporters want her to exercise that right.

It could be a bluff. But make no mistake: if Hillary Clinton takes this dispute to the credentials committee, she'll be going to the mattresses. Most of the top leaders of the Democratic party have indicated that they do not support this process extending to the convention. If Clinton wants to go down that road, she'll face a lot of opposition.

Before the final vote, Michigan Democratic Party chair Mark Brewer got a final chance to speak in favor of the motion supporting the party's 69-59 split. He thanked the committee for its consideration and promised to work hard for the Democratic nominee.

The measure passed, 19-8.

Now it's time to wait and see how the Clinton campaign responds. If Ickes' speech opposing the motion was any indication, they won't respond well.

Denver! Denver! Denver! Denver! Denver! Denver!

| Sat May 31, 2008 7:28 PM EDT

The Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting is getting fairly raucous. When the motion to fully seat Florida's delegation failed, the crowd started shouting: "Denver! Denver! Denver!" The debate is being constantly interrupted by heckling. But Alice Munro, speaking in the debate over giving the Florida delegates half-votes, called for unity. After having supported the first motion, Munro said: "The world's not perfect, but it's good. What this party needs is unity." Ickes echoed her sentiments.

The motion to give the Florida delegates half votes passed with 27 yes votes.

Rules Committee Votes Against Fully Seating Florida

| Sat May 31, 2008 7:09 PM EDT

The RBC returned after a three-hour lunch with a motion that Florida's delegates be seated in full with their full votes. The Clinton supporters on the committee apparently forced the vote. In support of her motion, committee member Alice Huffman emphasized that the Florida Democrats were not responsible for changing the date—that was the Republican-controlled legislature.

David McDonald, who opposed the motion, agreed with Huffman that it was not the fault of Florida voters that their primary didn't count. Yvonne Gates, who also opposed the motion, said "What we were trying to do was to respect the rules. It was not the voters fault. But when you have rules, they must be followed. And if they're not followed you have chaos."

Tina Flournoy, who is one of the two most avowed Clinton support, said she planned to "strongly support" the motion although it "has no chance" of passing.

Other committee members spoke in favor and against, but it was obvious that the motion was doomed from the start. It failed, 15-12.

Remember That "Smoke-Filled Room" Everyone Told You About?

| Sat May 31, 2008 6:19 PM EDT

That smoke-filled room you've heard so much about is apparently where the members of the Democrats' Rules and Bylaws Committee are as of 5:30pm on Saturday. They adjourned for lunch at 3:00 and have yet to return to the meeting room. Rumors of back-room deals are flying about. We could be waiting a lot longer, too: the committee members had "5 1/2 hours of cocktails, chicken dinners, and coffee" last night, according to James Pindell. Then again, they were up until 1:30. Maybe they're just catching some collective shut-eye.

Somehow I doubt it. I'll get you more news as soon as the meeting resumes.

Clinton Rep.: Uncommitted Delegates Could Switch "In August"

| Sat May 31, 2008 3:30 PM EDT

Whoa there, tiger. Former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard, who is representing the Clinton campaign at today's Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting, just drew the first boos from the Obama people in the audience. Blanchard, discussing the uncommitted delegates that the Clinton campaign wants assigned from the Michigan primary, said that while most would probably go for Obama, they could be "switching back and forth" "in August." A not-so-subtle signal of Clinton's plans to take this to the convention, perhaps?

That's not the only controversial statement Blanchard made. He also claimed that "no one in Michigan," including "the news media" "was saying the votes wouldn't count" in January. That seems unlikely.

More when the committee comes back from lunch later this afternoon.

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Obama Campaign: Primary Contest Will Soon "Come to a Close"

| Sat May 31, 2008 2:45 PM EDT

The Obama campaign has exhibited excellent message control throughout the primary process. Saturday's Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting was no exception. The campaign's two official representatives at the meeting, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and David Bonior, a former member of Congress from Michigan, made sure to slip one telling claim into their testimony: that the primary contest will soon "come to a close." Even while they're arguing this issue out, the Obama people are still looking towards the general election.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) Calls Out Harold Ickes (D-Clinton)

| Sat May 31, 2008 2:32 PM EDT

Harold Ickes, a rules committee member and Hillary Clinton adviser, just spent 10 minutes badgering Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) in support of the Clinton campaign's Michigan position. The Clinton campaign says that it should get 73 delegates from the Michigan primary and the Obama campaign should get 0, with 55 going as uncommitted. Ickes said that the delegate allocation has to consider the principal of "fair reflection," with voters' preferences for "uncommitted" being accurately reflected. Since no one actually voted for "Barack Obama" on the ticket, that would mean Obama would get no delegates. But Sen. Levin told Ickes he had the concept of fair reflection all wrong. "You're calling for a 'fair reflection' of a flawed primary," Levin told Ickes, to massive applause. "What we're trying to do is to keep a party together so that we can win a critical state in November. And let me tell you the precedent that we set it seems to me is a good precedent if circumstances like this ever existed again. ... It's an unusual circumstance."

RBC Challenge: Michigan Has Been "Punished Enough"

| Sat May 31, 2008 1:24 PM EDT

Mark Brewer, the chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, told the Democrats' Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) Saturday that Michigan has been "punished enough" for violating party rules and moving its primary forward. Brewer, who is also a member of the RBC, said that the Michigan Democratic party believes that its proposed 69-59 delegate split accurately reflects Democratic voter preferences at the time of the primary. His challenge is asking the committee to allocate the delegates in accordance with its proposal.

The Michigan situation is trickier for the RBC to resolve than the Florida situation is. Neither Barack Obama nor John Edwards, who recently endorsed Obama, was on the ballot in Michigan. Instead, many Obama and Edwards supporters voted for "uncommitted." The Clinton supporters on the RBC argue that the uncommitted delegates should go to the convention as "uncommitted", meaning they would function essentially as superdelegates. The Michigan Democratic Party believe the vast majority of the uncommitted delegates should be assigned as pledged Obama delegates.

Both positions have serious flaws. The Michigan party's delegate allocation is based not just on the votes cast, but also on exit polls and the party's guesses about the names on 30,000 sealed write-in ballots. It's a sort of mishmash of the available information, and it's definitely not a normal election result. The problem with the Clinton camp's position is that the votes cast also don't represent a normal election result. It was an election that was essentially Hillary Clinton vs. Uncommitted. None of the ballots in the other primary states looked anything like that.

The Obama campaign supports a third option. In their plan, the delegates for the states would be divided equally between the two candidates, 64-64. They argue that the primary was flawed (Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who supports the Michigan Democratic Party solution, admitted as much in his testimony today). The Obama proposal says that while Michigan should still get a voice at the convention, neither candidate should get an advantage from the flawed contest.

We'll find out what the committee thinks later today.

Clinton Surrogate Says FL-MI Struggle = Civil Rights Movement

| Sat May 31, 2008 12:15 PM EDT

Arthenia Joyner, a Florida state legislator who is making Hillary Clinton's case to the Rules and Bylaws Committee, opened by comparing the struggle to get the Florida delegates counted to the civil rights movement and the fight against apartheid. Joyner should know; she was arrested in civil rights sit-ins and protested outside the South African embassy during the 1980s. Like Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who testified before her, Joyner cited examples of specific primary voters who are being "disenfranchised" by the DNC's decision to strip the state of its delegates. Echoing a common theme of the morning, Joyner pointed out that it was the Republican-controlled legislature, not Florida Democrats, who moved up the state's primary date and triggered the DNC's sanctions.

"You have an opportunity right here and right now to write the people of Florida back into this election's story," Joyner said, citing the U.S. constitution and natural rights in her argument for "righting that wrong".

When asked whether she supported full votes for delegates or the alternative proposal for half votes, Joyner smiled and said: "I've been taught that when you want something, you ask for what you want.... I want it all." Laughs and applause filled the room, especially when Joyner unintentionally echoed Mick Jagger: "in life, you can't always get what you want."