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The Democratic Party Chair Wants To Get Rid Of Caucuses

Debbie Wasserman Schultz sits down with No One Knows Anything, BuzzFeed’s politics podcast.

Posted on May 5, 2016, at 11:54 a.m. ET

Jared Harrell / BuzzFeed News

Add Democratic Party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to the growing list of people frustrated by the convoluted and often poorly-run caucus process.

“I prefer primaries just because they’re simpler,” Wasserman Schultz said. “And because they are more democratic.”

“I can say that because I’m not going to be chair the next time, so now I am free to say what my own preference is,” she noted.

Wasserman Schultz sat for an interview with No One Knows Anything, the BuzzFeed News political podcast, Tuesday afternoon — hours before results came in that would reverberate through presidential politics. Donald Trump sewed up the Republican nomination for all intents and purposes, leaving Wasserman Schultz to speculate that Democrats could dramatically expand their map to compete in states like Georgia and Arizona in November.

On the Democratic side in Indiana, Bernie Sanders eked out a win over Hillary Clinton. Despite math showing winning the nomination outright to be all but impossible, Sanders vowed to stay in the race until the Democratic convention, meaning Wasserman Schultz is still presiding over a contested primary that has seen her trashed by Sanders supporters who see her DNC as an arm of the Clinton campaign.

That’s a charge Wasserman Schultz has vehemently denied. She’s run the party through a surprisingly contentious primary that has built a lot of bitterness among diehards on both sides. (But Sanders supporters have said for months a Trump nomination on the Republican side will keep them as activist Democrats — and as that reality sets in, a lot of people think even the Bern-feeling-est of the Bernie contingent will find themselves pulling the lever for Hillary in November.)

Fueling some of the acrimony is the Democratic nominating process itself. The unexpectedly long primary showcased a system ill-equipped to handle the increased turnout brought by Sanders’ challenge to Clinton. Lines, delays, and errors were common at caucuses. Differing primary rules state by state meant sometimes people who chose not to register as a member of the Democratic Party could vote in the Democratic primary. Sometimes they couldn’t.

Reflecting on a primary process near its end, Wasserman Schultz stressed that the Democratic National Committee has review processes in place that could result in changes to the way the nominating contest works in future elections. But she has her own opinion on how things should change — though they're not "crusades" that she's on, just opinions.

First, do away with caucuses, which she said can lead to “intimidation” due to rules that make a caucus-goer’s selection public. “You sort of obliterate the idea of a secret ballot in the caucus, because there are people gathering in a room, and they are pooling themselves around the room for who they are for,” Wasserman Schultz said, “and you know, maybe some people don’t want that to be public.”

Wasserman Schultz favors primaries. But she doesn’t favor the kind of open primaries Sanders supporters want.

“I think the Democratic Party and the Republican Party’s nominees should be chosen by members of our party,” she said. “It’s our job, once we have a nominee, to sell [independents] on our party’s candidate, but if you have chosen not to be a member of our party, then to me, you are not entitled and should not be entitled to help decide who our party’s nominee is.”

“That means you haven’t worked to build the party,” Wasserman Schultz said. (She added that this was also her opinion, and not something she was making a “crusade.”)

Finally, the superdelegates — the party officials and electeds who are given an automatic nominating vote by virtue of their position — should stay, Wasserman Schultz said.

She noted the system has been in place since 1984 and has never been used to actually decide the nomination. “You have party leaders and elected officials who have earned the right, because they helped build our party, because they represent our party, they’re the leaders and the voice, they deserve a role in the convention, too.”

Wasserman Schultz said she was able to speak more freely about her critiques of the process because she’ll be leaving the DNC chairwomanship soon. But the expectations that these things are going to change should be low.

“I’m not going to try to change [open primaries] — you couldn’t anyway,” she said. “Those are also decided at the state level.”

Listen to this episode of No One Knows Anything and subscribe on iTunes.


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