Saturday, May 31, 2008
Democrats Meet Over Fla., Mich. in Late-Night Session
By Katharine Q. Seelye - New York Times - May 31, 2008
Outside the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting in Washington on Saturday. (Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)
WASHINGTON — Democratic Party officials met privately for five and a half hours late Friday night to discuss the Michigan and Florida delegations to the party’s convention but did not resolve their differences.
The officials, who are members of the party’s rules committee, are to begin an all-day public session Saturday to try to settle one of the most contentious issues that has developed during the presidential primaries between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton — whether to seat the delegations from Michigan and Florida and if so, in what proportion.
During the private meeting, Harold Ickes, who is Mrs. Clinton’s chief delegate counter, repeatedly pressed the Clinton view that the full delegations from both states be seated, with full votes, committee members said. They also said that Allan Katz, a lawyer from Florida, emerged as the chief advocate for Mr. Obama, who has said he wants the delegates seated, but has not specified how or in what proportion.
“It was a full discussion, we’ll see what happens,” Mr. Ickes said afterward. “And I think there was some agreement on some issues and still some disagreement on others.”
Mr. Katz told reporters: “There’s a strong push from the Clinton campaign to try and make believe that those primaries were real primaries, that everyone competed in them like they did in everything else. And there’s a strong push back from the Obama campaigns that, well, the rules were that this is not how we were going to select the delegates.”
They took a few straw votes, but those votes were “so close as to be meaningless,” one committee member said.
One of the biggest points of dispute, committee members said, was over how to apportion the delegates from Michigan, where Mr. Obama’s name was not on the ballot.
The committee is also wrestling with how to bring voters from these two battleground states into the party fold while still upholding party rules and signaling to other states that they will be punished if they don’t abide by the calendar.
The private dinner, at a hotel here, stretched from 8 p.m. Friday to 1:30 a.m. Saturday. Of the 30 members of the committee, 28 attended the dinner, as did Howard Dean, the party chairman.
Some told reporters they expected to reconcile their differences during the public session on Saturday, but they offered little evidence of how they would do so.
“There are some really, really tough issues across the board,” said Martha Fuller Clark, a committee member who is a state senator from New Hampshire and backs Mr. Obama.
She said they discussed their options and the implications of them, adding, “there was no clear pathway at the end of this evening.”
The discussions left them bleary-eyed and somewhat bedraggled. After more than three hours, they took a break and a few of them could be seen hugging each other in a hallway.
Told later that the meeting lasted for five and a half hours, Thomas Hynes, a lawyer from Illinois who supports Mr. Obama, said, “It felt like five and a half weeks.”
He said that discussion ranged from barring the two states from seating any delegates to seating their delegations in full.
“A consensus has not been forged,” he said, but said he expected it would be on Saturday. The lengthy private session “gave us a chance to find out where everyone was,” he said.
James Roosevelt Jr., one of the co-chairmen, called the meeting “productive,” adding, “it was not unpleasant or heated.” He said it gave the committee members a chance to step back and examine the implications of the various options.
“I can’t predict that it will be unanimous,” he said of any decisions reached on Saturday, “but I can predict that it will be unifying for the party.”
At the Saturday session, representatives from Florida and Michigan will present their cases, as will the two campaigns, which had originally both agreed to the decision to strip the two states of their delegates. The committee then expects to break for lunch and begin its own discussions in the afternoon