staff reporter at The Intercept.
As the Democratic National Convention begins in Philadelphia, tension is rising between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The Democratic National Committee chair, Florida Congressmember Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigned Sunday following WikiLeaks’ release of nearly 20,000 emails revealing how the Democratic Party favored Hillary Clinton and worked behind the scenes to discredit and her rival, Senator Bernie Sanders. When Sanders speaks tonight at the Democratic convention, he is expected to praise the Democrats for agreeing to what he describes as the most progressive platform in Democratic Party history. But he lost a major battle with the platform when the Democratic National Committee defeated an amendment brought by his delegates to abolish superdelegates. We speak with Zaid Jilani of The Intercept, who reported on how the "DNC Votes to Keep Superdelegates, But Sets Some Conditions."
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Democratic National Convention begins here today in Philadelphia, but tension is rising among supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. On Sunday, Democratic National Committee chairwoman and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned following the release of nearly 20,000 emails revealing how the Democratic Party favored Hillary Clinton and worked behind the scenes to discredit and defeat Bernie Sanders. The emails were released Friday by WikiLeaks.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Sanders is scheduled to speak at the Democratic convention tonight. According to his campaign, Sanders will state Hillary Clinton is by far superior to Donald Trump. He’s also expected to praise the Democrats for agreeing to what he describes as the most progressive platform in Democratic Party history. But Sanders lost one major battle with the platform when the Democratic National Committee defeated an amendment brought by Sanders delegates to abolish superdelegates.
Joining us now is Zaid Jilani with The Intercept. His most recent article, "DNC Votes to Keep Superdelegates, But Sets Some Conditions."
Welcome, Zaid. It’s great to have you with us, to be in person with you here in Philadelphia. Talk about this superdelegate challenge.
ZAID JILANI: So, the Sanders campaign brought a challenge to what’s called the DNC’s Rules Committee. The Rules Committee sets up various party functions and rules, and basically creates sort of the template for how presidential primaries are run every four years for the Democratic Party. Sanders’s delegates brought a resolution basically saying that we should just abolish the superdelegate system. The superdelegates are basically unelected party elites who have basically an equal vote per delegate versus every pledged delegate, which are the delegates who are elected by the voters. Roughly 15 percent of the total delegate count is the superdelegates, and they tend to be party elites, such as former mayors or former elected officials. Some of them actually are currently paid lobbyists either for multinational corporations or for foreign governments. So the Sanders campaign was arguing that basically this was an undemocratic setup, that hundreds of these superdelegates had pledged their support to Clinton before even a single state had voted, tilting the race in her favor, tilting the delegate counts in her favor, and also using their own constituent list to back her. That amendment failed; 58 to, I believe, 108, that amendment was defeated.
There were a number of folks at the Rules Committee who had argued the current system allows for more diversity, which is sort of a curious argument, given that something like 58 percent of the superdelegates are men, which is nowhere near gender parity, which is actually a law for the pledged delegates, that each state convention has to send sort of a gender-paired delegation. And we had a number of sort of arguments like that, that were somewhat curious. And that amendment was defeated. However, there was another amendment that was offered later as a compromise, that basically said that the Clinton campaign and the Sanders campaign and the DNC would set up a so-called unity commission, and they recommended to that commission that all of the superdelegates who aren’t currently elected officials or in high positions in the party, that their votes for presidential nominee would have to be bound to how their states voted in the actual election. So, that would actually pare back some of the power the superdelegates have in the system.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And for those who are not aware, how did the superdelegate situation develop originally?
ZAID JILANI: I mean, basically, it’s a matter of, over a number of decades, we saw party leaders look at their own voters as sort of activists that would create a situation where, you know, maybe they would bring a candidate to the fore that the party elders oppose, that maybe is unelectable. You know, it was a way, basically, for the party to assert some level of control over the election. And the actual power of the superdelegates has diminished somewhat since they were first started. I think it was something closer to like 20 percent of delegates in 2008 were superdelegates, and this year it’s 15 percent. So it’s not—it’s not necessarily that they played a decisive role, but they’ve always sort of played a role in signaling where the party wants its nominee to be.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the leaked Democratic National Committee emails revealing how the Democratic Party favored Hillary Clinton and worked behind the scenes to discredit and defeat Bernie Sanders. Sunday night, Hillary Clinton appeared on 60 Minutes with her running mate, Tim Kaine, and she was asked by Scott Pelley about the leaked emails.
SCOTT PELLEY: You have people in the Democratic National Committee who are supposed to be, if you will, agnostic about who the nominee is going to be. And they seem to have their thumb on the scale for you. They seem to be working against Bernie Sanders, their fellow Democrat.
HILLARY CLINTON: Again, I don’t know anything. I don’t know anything about—about these emails. I haven’t followed it. But I’m very proud of the campaign that I ran, and I’m very proud of the campaign that Senator Sanders ran.
SCOTT PELLEY: In your view, any effort in the DNC to favor one candidate or another would have been improper?
HILLARY CLINTON: Again, I don’t have—I don’t have any information about this, and so I can’t answer specifically.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton on 60 Minutes. Zaid Jilani, the significance of what she said?
ZAID JILANI: Well, it’s interesting that Clinton was saying that, because her campaign actually put out a statement—I believe it was either—believe it was Saturday, but may have been Sunday—saying that, "Hey, you know, these emails, they’re part of a Russian conspiracy to hack the DNC to help Donald Trump." So, you know, her campaign had quite a bit more to say about it than she herself was willing to say. And they seem to be taking a posture of saying it’s not really a big deal what’s in these, you know, it’s just a plot by a foreign government. So, it’s interesting to see, you know, the candidate herself and the campaign sort of give conflicting messages there. But, you know, it is something that she should speak to. I think that there are a lot of people who voted in this primary, certainly the 13 million who backed Sanders, and I’m sure many other people who wanted to see, you know, if this process was run fairly. And I think these emails, to a large extent, show that it wasn’t.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the signal that she sends for when Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigns as chair, but then is immediately hired as Hillary Clinton—into her campaign?
ZAID JILANI: Well, it’s interesting. It’s sort of a lateral move for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, you could say, in the sense that the DNC was typically favoring Clinton. But also, you know, viewers should remember that Debbie Wasserman Schultz was actually one of the—I believe one of the co-chairs of Clinton’s primary campaign in 2008, right? You know, she had been loyal to Clinton for years and years and years. And it’s simply not surprising that, you know, despite her stepping down at the DNC, that Clinton would feel like she owes her something. I mean, she’s done a lot of work for her over the years.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk for a minute about Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s pick for vice president. This is Senator Sanders speaking on Meet the Press about Senator Kaine.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Tim is a very, very smart guy. He’s a very nice guy. His political views are not my political views. He is more conservative than I am. Would I have preferred to see somebody like an Elizabeth Warren selected by Secretary Clinton? Yes, I would have.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Bernie Sanders. Zaid Jilani?
ZAID JILANI: Well, here, actually, another curious story we broke. So, on Thursday, which was two days before Kaine was picked, I actually spoke to Kaine. I interviewed him about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and he said that he was undecided on voting, you know, in favor or against. He said that in many ways it’s an improvement over the status quo. He likes the intellectual property protections, which would, of course, raise drug prices for the very poor. Two days later, the Clinton campaign did damage control. An anonymous aide told The Huffington Post, "Oh, you know, Kaine, he opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership now, just like we do, because in this form, you know, it’s not acceptable." So it’s interesting that in two days there was such a swing in what he was saying publicly about this.
And I think that’s what Sanders is talking about. You know, Kaine, I’ve known him for years. I’ve followed his career. I think he’s an ethical man. He’s a public servant. There’s no doubt about that. But he tends to side with business interests over labor. You know, he supported so-called right to work. He has, in the past, until two days ago, supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He has supported offshore drilling off the coast of Virginia. He has definitely deferred to business and corporations in ways that I think Bernie Sanders doesn’t want, and I think probably the majority of Democratic voters in America don’t want.
AMY GOODMAN: Zaid, you wrote a piece, "Chamber of Commerce May Prefer Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump," suggesting that Clinton would implement TPP.
ZAID JILANI: Yeah. So, Tom Donohue is the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, probably the most powerful corporate lobbying group and the longest-running one. And basically what he said quite recently was that he believes that Clinton would implement the TPP, despite what she’s saying now. He made a point to say that he doesn’t necessarily buy the election rhetoric coming from the political parties, and that, you know, he may very well have a preference for Clinton. I believe it was last week he was interviewed—or, earlier this month, he was interviewed, and he was asked, you know, "Does business prefer Clinton or Trump?" And he said, "Well, we don’t know yet. We’d love to see the debates. We’d love to see, you know, so on and so forth." It’s a very unusual question—or, answer from Tom Donohue, given the fact that the Chamber of Commerce has traditionally been allied with the Republicans. They spent tens of millions of dollars wiping out House Democrats in 2010. And yet, when it comes to this race, Tom Donohue is saying favorable things about Hillary Clinton, not quite as favorable about Trump, but it seems to be undecided. It’s just—it’s a bizarre realignment of the business community.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Zaid, we want to thank you for being with us. We’ll continue to follow your work, and we’ll link to your piece at The Intercept at democracynow.org. Zaid Jilani is a staff reporter at The Intercept. We’re all here in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention with expanded two-hour daily coverage of Democracy Now! Stay with us.