The Democrats were prepared to kick off their convention in Philadelphia Monday with a confident show of party unity, highlighted by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ prime-time speech. However, following a weekend of devastating leaks of party emails and with massive protests gathering outside the convention arena, projecting unity may be all but impossible.
Speaking under the banner of “United Together,” it is unlikely that Sanders, who endorsed opponent Hillary Clinton earlier this month, will use his speech to attack his party’s chosen standard-bearer like Sen. Ted Cruz did at the RNC. But, that doesn’t mean that Sanders will avoid celebrating his campaigns victories and continue pushing Clinton to accept a more progressive agenda.
Though a preview of Sanders’ speech by The Guardian suggests the senator will focus largely on the importance of defeating Donald Trump, here are some topics that almost certainly will get a call-out tonight:
The Downfall of Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned her position Sunday night following outrage at thousands of leaked DNC emails that showed the committee, which had declared itself impartial during the primary process, had deliberately worked to tip the scales in favor of Clinton’s campaign. Sanders’ campaign has long called for Wasserman Schultz’s resignation, alleging bias against Sanders in the DNC that now appears largely to have been true.
The email chain that essentially forced Wasserman Schultz to step down involved DNC staffers debating how attacking Sanders on his Jewishness and supposed atheism could work in Clinton’s favor.
“It’s highly ironic that the most senior Jewish party member was done in by another Jewish staffer playing the Jew-card against the first potential Jewish presidential nominee,” a DNC source told the Forward on Sunday, hours after Wasserman Schultz resigned.
Sanders offered a polite response to news that Wasserman Schultz had resigned, thanking her for her years of service.
Sanders Statement on DNC Chair Resignation pic.twitter.com/xMA60mnBIT— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 24, 2016
Though a Sanders spokesman confirmed to Politico Monday that the senator’s speech will not mention Wasserman Schultz by name, both the DNC leaks and the chairwoman’s planned absence from the convention are likely to cast a pall over proceedings and magnify the continued divide between Sanders supporters and the Clinton campaign.
Clinton announced Friday that centrist Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine would be her running mate, which solicited a sigh of disappointment from Bernie Sanders supporters who had hoped Clinton would pick a member of the party’s progressive wing, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Though many consider Kaine pro-Israel for his strong support of a two-state solution, some on the right have attacked him for endorsing the Iran nuclear deal and for skipping Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial address to Congress.
Sanders offered a weak endorsement of Kaine in an interview Sunday with CNN where he emphasized that Clinton’s pick was not his pick, but that Kaine is much better than the Republican alternative.
“Are his political views different than mine? Yes, they are,” Sanders said. “Trust me, on — on his worst, worst, worst day, Tim Kaine is 100 times better than Donald Trump will ever be.”
While Sanders may have accepted Kaine as Clinton’s running mate, some of his supporters have not. Norman Solomon, the national coordinator for the Bernie Sanders Delegate Network — an organization that claims to represent nearly 2/3 of Sanders delegates and is independent from the DNC and the Sanders campaign — said in a press conference Monday morning that many Sanders delegates are disappointed and angered by Kaine’s nomination.
“The selection of Kaine will make defeating Donald Trump that much more difficult,” Solomon said. “This is an assault on the progressive base of the Democratic party that has, in the number of 13 million voters, flocked to supporting Bernie Sanders.”
As some Sanders delegates plan for a floor fight over Kaine, it will be interesting to see whether Sanders looks to assuage his delegates’ concerns before the nominating process Tuesday — or whether he allows party disunity to embarrass Clinton.
Kryptonite For Superdelegates
One prominent critique of the Democratic primary process, both by Sanders and his supporters, has been what they say is an undemocratic element: superdelegates. Per the Democratic party rules, nearly 700 party officials and former elected officials can choose a primary candidate to support at the nominating convention — meaning that they aren’t bound to primary and caucus election results. With nearly all of the delegates projected to support Clinton, Sanders and his supporters have described superdelegates as a form of rigging the primary system.
While Sanders has suspended his campaign and formally endorsed Clinton as his party’s candidate, the DNC passed a resolution Saturday agreeing to a “unity reform commission” that has until the start of 2018 to review the role of superdelegates and caucuses and report its recommendations. A big win for both the Sanders campaign and his supporters who have felt cheated, Sanders will likely celebrate this during his speech.
A Party (Platform) For The Progressives
The Sanders campaign managed to insert several campaign priorities earlier this month into the draft of the 2016 Democratic party platform, which will be approved during the convention this week. The progressive wing of the party, in the form of Sanders’ five delegates on the platform committee, fought to include planks recognizing a $15 minimum wage, the abolition of the death penalty, and a pathway for the legalization of marijuana.
Though the Sanders delegates, comprising 1/3 of the committee, pushed through some of Sanders’ campaign proposals, it failed to include platform planks opposing the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, or calling for an end to the Palestinian occupation by Israel.
The party platform is non-binding, but the inclusion of several of Sanders’ issues shows his campaign has forced Clinton to address the desires of her party’s progressive wing. During his speech, Sanders will not only celebrate his platform victories, but most likely will continue to push more progressive policy ideas.
While the plank calling for the end of the Palestinian occupation was blocked from the draft platform, Sanders — or his delegates on the convention floor — may try to draw attention to their criticism of Israel. Three of the delegates named by Sanders to the platform steering committee are critical of Israel, including one delegate who backs the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The Sanders campaign was forced to suspend its Jewish outreach coordinator Simone Zimmerman in April for an old Facebook post that used harsh language to describe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Zimmerman has praised Sanders in recent weeks for speaking critically about Israel and the Palestinian occupation.
Though Israel received numerous mentions at the RNC last week, and the GOP party platform included a plank advocating recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it is unclear whether the Jewish state will receive any significant mention this week. As the only Jewish official speaking now that Wasserman Schultz has pulled out of her speaking slot, Sanders may feel pressured to speak on the topic.