PHILADELPHIA — Under pressure, Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she will quit following the convention, faced with little choice after leaked DNC emails triggered an uproar on Sunday, the day before she will gavel the first session to order.
Wasserman Schultz had been a target of Bernie Sanders and his supporters, who claimed throughout the primary season the Florida lawmaker and her team were not neutral. The emails showed some DNC staffers plotting against Sanders and using the DNC to help Clinton.
The DNC chair for more than five years, installed with the support of President Barack Obama, Wasserman Schultz will call the convention to order, close it and briefly address the delegates – risking boos from Sanders supporters who are not ready to put the long primary season behind them.
Wasserman Schulz decided to step down as the Clinton team is looking to spread a message at their convention at the Wells Fargo Center of how America can be greater by pulling together — indeed, “Stronger Together” is a central campaign slogan.
Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton will amplify that “together” message in keynote speeches, capped by Hillary Clinton on Thursday, all to contrast with Donald Trump’s Cleveland convention, where the GOP nominee offered himself as a singular source to “Make America Great Again.”
While Obama, Biden and even Clinton herself lavished praise on Wasserman Schultz — the reaction of the Vermont senator, who will deliver a keynote address on Monday night, along with first lady Michelle Obama — was more terse.
Wasserman Schultz “has made the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party,” Sanders said in a statement.
Sanders was an Independent, but he ran as a Democrat to get more media attention and far easier ballot access in all 50 states.
“While she deserves thanks for her years of service, the party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people,” Sanders said in a statement, admonishing the party leadership to “remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something that did not occur in the 2016 race.”
Clinton had to tread more carefully when it came to dealing with Wasserman Schultz, who is popular among the Jewish high-end donor community and coming from the crucial swing state of Florida.
She thanked her “longtime friend” in a statement, carved out a role for her in the campaign and pledged to help in her own House re-election bid.
“There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie, which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states,” Clinton said in the statement.
“I look forward to campaigning with Debbie in Florida and helping her in her re-election bid — because as President, I will need fighters like Debbie in Congress who are ready on day one to get to work for the American people,” she said.
Wasserman Schultz had hinted that she was not going to stay on at the DNC when her term ends in a few months; still she was a lighting rod that attracted the anger of Sanders and his followers who complained about a “rigged” primary system.
Obama said “her critical role in supporting our economic recovery, our fights for social and civil justice and providing health care for all Americans will be a hallmark of her tenure as party chair.”
“Her fundraising and organizing skills were matched only by her passion, her commitment and her warmth,” he said. “And no one works harder for her constituents in Congress than Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Michelle and I are grateful for her efforts, we know she will continue to serve our country as a member of Congress from Florida and she will always be our dear friend.”
Wasserman Schultz, known as a forceful advocate for Obama and Clinton, said in her statement, “I will address our delegates about the stakes involved in this election not only for Democrats, but for all Americans. We have planned a great and unified Convention this week and I hope and expect that the DNC team that has worked so hard to get us to this point will have the strong support of all Democrats in making sure this is the best convention we have ever had.”