The Clintons hate the caucus system, and they want to see it die.
First they finished third in Iowa. Then they were out-organized by Barack Obama's campaign in the caucuses after Super Tuesday. Finally, they lost the showdown at the rules committee over how to reinstate delegates from the banned Michigan and Florida primaries.
According to one well-placed source, President Clinton himself is still raw over reports of caucus tampering in Iowa that he believes could have tilted the race in Barack Obama's favor, and has mentioned that possibility several times in conversation. A separate source who is also close to Clinton says the idea that people were "bused in" from Illinois to caucus is still a concern, as well. (The Iowa Democratic Party is not required by law to release its caucus rolls, and has not done so.)
In part, this fits with the pattern of retrospective analysis and persistent "what-if" thinking on the part of some Clinton officials, such as when communications director Howard Wolfson remarked on Fox News that John Edwards cost Sen. Clinton the nomination -- a claim that was later partially debunked.
So while a debate about the use of caucuses might seem moot to some, it remains terribly important to Clinton loyalists. And thus the battle over their use rages on -- sometimes in private, and sometimes in quasi-public forums. The most recent flash point was last weekend's DNC platform committee meeting in Pittsburgh. Included among over 100 proposed amendments to the party's platform was Amendment 93, which would have banned caucuses from future nominating contests.
Not surprisingly, it was a non-starter from the DNC's perspective. According to multiple sources, representatives for DNC Chairman Howard Dean ruled the proposed amendment out of order, since it spoke to a change in party rules, and referred it to the rules committee for a future discussion. Unlike other failed amendments, however, Amendment 93 was not even granted a debate at the platform meeting, a development which set some Clinton supporters on edge.
And after the fact, confusion over which draft of the amendment had even been rejected led to suspicion that it had been improperly referred to the rules committee in the first place.
Bob Remer, a Clinton delegate from Illinois who proposed the language of Amendment 93, told the Huffington Post he could only get a sentence or two out of his mouth before being interrupted at the meeting. Remer believes his preamble -- "The Democratic Party will practice its commitment to voting rights within our own nomination processes" -- would not have represented "a matter of mechanics or a change in rules."
"I just thought i was premature to rule it out of order," he said. Referring to the surrogates at the platform meeting who represented Obama and the DNC, Remer said: "They could have made their case and had it voted down. They could have entertained a motion to table. But at least you'd have a debate. I was caught in mid-sentence."
Still, after that preamble, Remer's amendment pivoted into some pretty rule-impacting language. In part, it read: "Caucuses inherently disenfranchise the elderly, disabled, shift workers, single parents, and others whose circumstance prohibits participation in caucuses. The 2008 primaries illustrated that a caucus vote is worth more than a primary vote because each delegate elected by caucus represents fewer votes than each delegate elected by (a) primary."
The language also went on to assert that "party officials" and "aggressive participants" often assert coercion over voters that is immune from federal oversight. Thus, Remer wrote, the party should "forbid caucuses" in the future and require all states to hold primaries -- an expensive proposition that the DNC points out many states cannot afford.
Remer said he could understand why that language would be referred to the rules committee, though he believes the preamble could have been adopted on the basis of "principals and policy."
DNC platform member and prominent Clinton fundraiser Lynn Forester was even more explicit. In a statement to the Huffington Post, she said: "You must ask yourself, why would the Democratic Party reject the language of Amendment 93, saying the 'Democratic Party will practice its commitment to voting rights within its own nomination processes'? The fact that they used a technicality to deny this language as a statement of the Democratic Party's beliefs is a stain on this process."
While the DNC would not comment on the dispute except to describe it as an internal party matter, a source with knowledge of the committee's thinking said the platform meeting was not the appropriate time or place for the discussion. Noting that the document is meant to bring the party together and speak to broader goals, the source said the prospect of hashing out internecine party disputes was anathema to the DNC.
As for whether caucus rules could be properly addressed in the "voting rights" section of the platform, the source distinguished the party's rules for a private nominating contest from its support for the Federal Civil Voting Rights Act and the 14th amendment. (Indeed, a suit alleging that caucuses and primaries were "voting rights" issues was tossed by a federal judge earlier this year.)
The source also admitted that the DNC knows it has to address the problems of the caucus system and its proportional influence over the entire nominating process, but that it will take time, perhaps years, to properly thrash out the details.
For his part, Remer says that was his only goal. "They sort of said, we know the problem but don't bug me here," he recalled, laughing. But he insists he wasn't interested in calling Barack Obama's caucus wins into question after the fact. "This wasn't for the purpose of changing the course of history. Barack Obama is our nominee and I'm happy with that. I want to change the course of the future."
Forester, however, sees a broader alliance between Chairman Dean and Barack Obama that she feels is bad for the party. "Howard Dean's representative struck down Amendment 93," she said after the platform meeting, which she attended as an appointed Clinton representative. "Governor Dean is afraid of this language and that's an outrage. And by extension he's carrying Obama's water like he has through this whole nominating process. He is compromising the basic principle of one person, one vote, in order to give the nomination to Barack Obama and that means the Democratic party has a big problem."
Remer didn't come away totally disappointed from Saturday's platform meeting, however. Another one of his amendments passed, paving the way for a stronger position on guaranteed health care for all Americans. Another source from the Clinton side expressed gratitude that other Hillary-like language made it into the platform. "The Obama and Clinton people were definitely making an effort to reach out," the source said.
Perhaps the most prominent linguistic olive branch in the platform comes in a passage that reads: "Our party is proud that we have put 18 million cracks in the highest glass ceiling," echoing rhetoric that Sen. Clinton herself used when suspending her campaign.
Still, despite such sounds of harmony, the issue of caucuses is destined to come up again. Remer said he plans to address the rules committee on the matter -- an opportunity he could have as early as next week. Describing an epiphany that occurred while he was carrying a blind and disabled elderly woman up the stairs at an Iowa caucus site in January, he said he determined then and there that "this thing has got to go."
"It doesn't really matter who my candidate was," he said. "But I cut my teeth fighting elections fraud, for the sanctity of secret ballot. When we went to Iowa, I said, 'this is what we've been fighting against all these years in terms of election reform, my God!' Even when we thought our candidate was going to win, I said, 'It doesn't matter. It's very undemocratic.'"
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