The Democratic National Committee is moving ahead with its controversial plan to rein in the role of “superdelegates” at the 2020 Democratic convention, despite a lobbying effort by Democratic lawmakers to scale back the proposal.
The dispute has pitted members of Congress and elected officials versus labor leaders and grass-roots activists, with the party base looking like it will win this fight handily.
A group of four House Democrats — Reps. David Price (N.C.), Grace Meng (N.Y.), Gregory Meeks (N.Y.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) — met privately with DNC Chairman Tom Perez on Wednesday to discuss the matter.
During the session, Perez again pushed his plan to drastically reduce the influence of superdelegates — also known as “unplededged delegates” — in picking a presidential nominee, a hot issue for Democratic activists following the 2016 campaign.
Under Perez’s proposal, which appears to have the of a majority of DNC members, superdelegates would continue to exist but be barred from voting during the first round of the presidential roll-call vote. They could vote during the second round or any subsequent roll call, and superdelegates would still be permitted to support any candidate they want. Superdelegates would also be allowed to vote on any rules or platform issues.
Yet since only one roll call is likely to be needed to formally pick a nominee, superdelegates would effectively be shut out of the nominating process on the convention floor, which has infuriated Democratic lawmakers.
There is a June 30 deadline for any proposed amendments to the DNC charter. Those proposals will be voted on during an August party meeting.
Superdelegates include members of Congress, governors, former presidents and vice presidents, DNC members and other assorted “distinguished party leaders.” They made up roughly 15 percent of the delegates during the 2016 convention. Unlike other delegates, superdelegates are not bound to any candidate but are free to vote for whomever they want.
Following the 2016 campaign — and a wave of complaints from Bernie Sanders’ supporters furious over the fact that superdeleates overwhelmingly sided with Hillary Clinton — Democrats voted to slash the number of superdelegates by at least two-thirds.
But Hill Democrats complain that Perez’s initiative would prevent them from playing any substantive role in picking the party’s standard bearer in 2020. House Democrats held a tense meeting with Perez last week, and they used Wednesday’s session to try to float an alternative plan that would lessen the number of superdelegates while still preserving their elite role.
“I was able to talk about some ways the twin objectives could be achieved: to significantly reduce the number of unpledged delegates, and secondly, to do that without denying or overriding anyone’s vote at the convention,” said Price, the North Carolina Democrat. Price worked on the internal Democratic Party commission that created the superdelegates process in the early 1980s.
“All delegates would have a vote on all issues. There is a way to do that. The question is whether all stakeholders involved in this will agree,” he said.
Yet Perez showed no sign of backing down from his proposal.
“The DNC heard concerns that members of Congress had with the current consensus and discussed how any proposal must significantly reduce the role of unpledged delegates, a commitment that the full DNC voted for in March,” said Michael Tyler, the DNC’s press secretary. “We’ll continue to seek input from members of Congress who are integral to our efforts to strengthen the Democratic Party and ensure that our 2020 nominee sprints out of the gates ready to defeat Donald Trump.“
Also attending Wednesday’s meeting were AFSCME President Lee Saunders and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Saunders and Weingarten, who run some of the most political influential labor organizations with Democrats, are strong supporters of cutting back or eliminating superdelegates.
“Both in 2008 and 2016, the role of [superdelegates] was controversial,” Weingarten said in an interview. “Even though they didn’t sway the election, and they didn’t pick the nominee, their role was viewed as very outsized. So the perception became they had more influence in the nomination than pledged delegates.”
Weingarten, whose union has 1.7 million members, added that lawmakers’ complaints “are entirely legitimate. But the point is now the perception of the world, unfair as it may be, that [superdelegates] have an outsized influence. And I think we have to very careful to rebuild trust” with the party base.