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The Trap: Clinton's "Briarpatch" Strategy For The DNC Rules Committee Meeting


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FOREWORD: Barack Obama and Howard Dean are about to walk into Harold Ickes' trap tomorrow, and they aren't likely to even realize their mistake until Hillary Clinton cries "foul!" next week and announces that "justice" and "voters' rights" are forcing her to carry her campaign all the way to the Democratic Convention next August.

By leaning toward implementing a compromise "split the baby" decision tomorrow on how to allocate the Michigan and Florida delegates -- a compromise that nearly all observers see as a setback for Clinton -- the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee ("RBC"), the Obama campaign and other well-meaning Democrats will actually be throwing Brer Clinton into the briar patch -- giving her exactly the excuse she wants to continue her Quixotic campaign.

In this post, written early yesterday, I make some predictions to test whether, in fact, the Clinton camp has a counterintuitive secret "briar patch" strategy for tomorrow's RBC meeting. Just in the last 24 hours, some of those predictions have started to come true:

• I predicted that some Clinton backers on the RBC will vote to split the Michigan and Florida delegations tomorrow, which will be reported as a setback for Clinton but actually will help her gain the "loss" that will allow her to appeal and keep her campaign going until the Credentials Committee meets in August; today Clinton strategist Harold Ickes announced such "defections."

• I predicted that Clinton would use "voters' rights" as her excuse to keep fighting through the summer; today the "spontaneous" protests outside the RBC meeting are gathering steam (while the Clinton campaign continues, incredibly, to deny any involvement).

• I predicted that the Clinton campaign had no intention of stopping its juggernaut after the last primaries on June 3; late yesterday Clinton surprised the traveling press corps, which thought it would finally get a break, by distributing a campaign-trail travel schedule extending their servitude well into next week.

• I predicted that Clinton would expand her sales pitch from undeclared superdelegates, to all superdelegates, and then to all delegates (including pledged); yesterday she sent a letter arguing her case to all superdelegates (even those currently supporting Obama).

It won't stop there.

The rules meeting is a trap. Clinton wants the RBC to give Florida and Michigan not the full votes she is fruitlessly advocating for and which would in any case not translate to a win for her but the half-vote compromise she is publicly advocating against. When the committee does award half-votes, she will have cause to extend her campaign through the summer, guaranteeing a divided Convention and possibly killing Democrats' chances of capturing the Oval Office in November (and of preventing pro-life , pro-Imperial Presidency Republicans from replacing the two remaining Democrats on the nine-member Supreme Court).

It's a trap, and the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party are about to walk blindly into it. No one seems to be noticing that -- let alone implementing the equally counterintuitive, Aikido strategy that would stop Clinton's game: letting her have her way tomorrow, 100 percent, so that she lacks grounds to appeal, and Obama, instead, becomes the one holding the "I could appeal!" trump card.

It's a trap. Will Obama and the DNC open their eyes in time?

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ORIGINAL POST: In a pair of conference calls with reporters, one last week and one yesterday morning (audio excerpts below), Hillary Clinton's senior staffers finally answered everyone's burning questions about Clinton's carefully guarded plan to graciously concede defeat and begin winding down her valiant but hopeless campaign next month:

She doesn't have one.

She's not quitting. Instead, it's now clear that she's heading to the Convention, where only chaos theory and the laws of raw politics apply, everything that's happened for the preceding 18 months becomes irrelevant, and she might be able to moot all previous scorecards and grab the Golden Snitch by dint of backroom deals, emotional appeals, and "unexpected" developments like street protests or military developments overseas. It's not about number or logic any more (and hasn't been for a long time). She can't win this thing in the primaries, or by the water-torture, drip-by-drip accumulation of superdelegates -- but if she can make it to the Convention floor, all bets are off.

All she needs to get her Convention shot is an excuse to string things out until then -- and by edging toward a reasonable compromise to "resolve" the Michigan and Florida conundrum Saturday, both the Democratic National Committee's Rules & Bylaws Committee ("RBC") and the Obama campaign are unwittingly playing right into her hand. Do the fair thing? Do the reasonable thing? That's just what she wants! Clinton's worst-case scenario is for the RBC, this Saturday, to give her everything she's asking for, thereby denying her any grounds for an appeal -- but it doesn't look like David Axelrod, David Plouffe or Howard Dean have realized that yet.

It's all there in the last two Clinton campaign press conference calls -- sometimes clearly stated, sometimes in wink-wink, nudge-nudge format, but there. If you put your ear to the wall and listen carefully, here's what you'll hear the Clinton campaign saying:

• If the RBC comes up with a reasonable compromise Saturday that completely satisfies the representatives from Michigan and Florida, Clinton will be ecstatic -- because regardless of what those states want, she'll have grounds to appeal the RBC's decision to the Credentials Committee, and to the Convention.

• If the RBC gives Clinton all the delegates she claims from Florida and Michigan, and (as Michigan wants) assigns Michigan's "undecideds" to Obama in recognition that his name wasn't on the ballot, Clinton again will be delighted -- because she asserts that the RBC doesn't have that authority, and will appeal the "undecided" part of the decision at the Convention.

• If the RBC gives Clinton all the delegates she claims from Florida and Michigan and denies Obama the Michigan undecideds instead calling them "uncommitted" as Clinton demands -- then the race stillwon't be over, because Clinton will claim momentum and proceed to fight for both super- and pledged delegates between now and August. (Though that's her weakest gambit.)

• Clinton's senior staffers admit that Obama will have the majority of elected delegates when voting ends on June 3 -- but they're adamant that the race won't be anywhere near over by then.

• Obama might have the majority of elected and super delegates after June 3, including any additional delegates the RBC restores to Michigan and Florida Saturday -- but the race still won't be over.

If Obama can come up with 2210 total delegates -- a majority of all delegates using Clinton's special rabbithole math, in which the Rules & Bylaws Committee's rulings are completely ignored and the Michigan and Florida delegations are counted at full strength -- then the nominating contest might be over.

Maybe.

But probably not even then.

Dig through two hours' worth of prepared statements and Q&A by Clinton's top representatives, and you reach this bedrock: in their minds, there is no conceivable combination of circumstances conclusive enough that she would be forced to concede defeat, short of her personally seeing a majority of all conceivable delegates actually cast recorded votes for Barack Obama in Denver. Until that moment, it's all completely up for grabs.

That's the Clinton endgame.

Rachel Maddow is right: Clinton's going to the Convention. Everything else that happens between now and then -- the speeches, the remaining primaries, the spurious comparisons of Florida to Zimbabwe, the monthly "who outraised whom" campaign finance reports, the superdelegate endorsements, TV appearances, hearings, lawsuits, and 90% of the words spoken on MSNBC between 2 and 7 p.m every evening -- everything else that occurs for the next three months will be either irrelevant window dressing designed to distract us from Clinton's sleight of hand, or careful groundwork for the only primary that matters to Clinton any more: the Hillaryland Caucus that begins on August 25 and ends on August 28 and will be conducted at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.

In their conference calls, Clinton's staffers did drop hints of a rosewood stake -- a fabled, magic talisman that could stop the Clinton campaign sooner than August. But even magic is useless unless someone has the courage to stride straight up to the lurching, undead thing and pound the stake deeply into its scarily fibrillating heart -- and the Clinton campaign is betting, probably accurately, that no one in the Democratic Party has the guts to play the role of Van Helsing (or Buffy). And the stake I'm talking about can only be wielded by a crowd of frenzied, torch-bearing villagers large, well-coordinated posse of convention delegates, including a significant number of delegates currently pledged or declared for Clinton.

So unless such a posse is ready to shut things down, and soon, it's time to toss the magnetic checkers set and a sack of sandwiches into the back seat of the Democratic Family's battered old station wagon and settle in for the three-month road trip to Denver. It's no use constantly asking poor, frazzled Howard Dean "are we there yet? Are we there yet?" because we already know the answer: no, we're not there yet. (And to answer your other question: no, we're not taking restroom breaks, so you'd better go now, while you can.)

But don't take my word about all this. Here, for the benefit of your own lyin' ears, are the audio highlights of the Clinton campaign's two important, recent press conference calls:

1. First Things First: Clinton Now Admits Obama Is Not An Obstacle to Resolving Michigan and Florida:

Clinton has been painting Obama as the bad guy in the Florida-Michigan mess (notwithstanding the facts that Clinton's longtime backer and Senior Advisor Harold Ickes, who also is a RBC member, voted to disenfranchise both states; that both candidates endorsed that decision; that Clinton is who blocked a proposal by Florida officials to hold an inexpensive caucus to replace the flawed primary; and that it wasn't Obama but Sen. Carl Levin, who helped create the Michigan mess in the first place, who blocked a revote there).

But all that's moot now, since Clinton's Communications Director, Howard Wolfson, clearly stated on May 22 that both Clinton and Obama want those delegations seated:


There is some remaining disagreement: Obama, consistent with the DNC's longstanding "minimum penalty" rule, believes those states' delegations should be discounted to some extent, while Clinton (now, anyway) wants them seated at full strength. But both want them seated.

2. It Won't Be Anywhere Close to Over When Voting Ends on June 3, Even Though Clinton Herself Admits She'll Be Behind by Over 100 Delegates:

Bill's galvanizing speeches, and Hillary's (fundraising, always fundraising) emails to supporters, keep claiming that "every vote counts" and "voters decide." But behind the scenes, her campaign admits that the voters won't be decisive - and that the race will be far from over when the last two states vote on June 3. In response to a question from Ken Vogel of Politico, Ickes admitted that Clinton has privately been telling key supporters that she will trail Obama by over 100 delegates even after the voting is through:

What's notable is that this fact doesn't even faze the Clinton camp. Yes, there are some elections left -- but just as Obama's trying to switch to "general campaign" mode against McCain, Clinton's people are already making the shift to the "backroom" mode they'll be in all summer, hoping to persuade unelected delegates -- or even pledged delegates! -- to vote for Clinton in August.

UPDATE: Supporting this argument is today's news that the Clinton campaign has issued the traveling press corps a travel schedule for after June 3. ABC News' Eloise Harper is reporting:

The press traveling with Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign received an email Thursday afternoon informing reporters they could sign up for travel through June 6 on the campaign website.

Given the speculation surrounding plausible outcomes from this Saturday's DNC Meeting and the final Democratic primaries on June 3, many confused looks passed between reporters on the back of the press bus.

When asked for comment, Clinton spokesman Jay Carson looked past Tuesday's primaries to the general election.

"There are a lot of places for us to go between June 4 and November," Carson said.

The Boys (and girls) On The Bus are justifiably confused about why this is - but it makes perfect sense if the end zone is August 25, not June 3.

3. The New Goalpost: 2,210 Delegates - No Matter What the DNC, RBC, or MI and FL Say:

According to the Democratic National Committee, which is still pretending to referee this game, there currently are 4051 delegates to the Convention, so the first candidate to gain the support of over half those delegates, or 2026, wins the nomination.

But the Clinton campaign, with some logic, says it's not even reasonable to talk about 2026 anymore. To them, the fact that the Obama campaign is open to compromise and wants the Michigan and Florida delegations seated means that the total delegate pool is now higher than 2026. If those delegations are seated in full as Clinton wants - all their delegates, with every delegate having a full vote, no penalties for intentionally flaunting the DNC's clear rules about primary timing - then the delegate pool increases to 4419, and it will take 2210 delegates to win.

Will Clinton settle for anything less than 2210? Nope. In an interview with the Associated Press on May 21, Clinton was asked whether she would take the Michigan/Florida fight all the way to the Convention floor. She answered:

"Yes I will. I will, because I feel very strongly about this.... I will consult with Floridians and the voters in Michigan because it's really their voices that are being ignored and their votes that are being discounted, and I'll support whatever the elected officials and the voters in those two states want to do."

In the campaign's conference call the next day, NBC's Andrea Mitchell asked Wolfson to elaborate on that comment. In his response, Wolfson made it a point to move the goal post to 2210, promising that Clinton would support Obama if Obama reached 2210 - and also sending a clear, if implicit, signal that she would not support him at any number lower than that:

And over the subsequent week, Clinton's position has devolved further. Both her commitment to support Obama if he reached 2210, and her promise to "support whatever the elected officials and the voters in those two states want to do," are slipping.

4. On Hillaryland Farms, Delegates Don't Ripen Until August - So 2,210 In June Might Not Count:

While Wolfson sounds sincere when he says Clinton would support Obama at 2210 delegates, the Clinton campaign also has made it clear that nothing's final until the delegates actually vote at the Convention -- so even if Obama wins the support of 2210 delegates before then, Clinton may well decide to keep trying to snake delegates away from him until the very last minute. Here's why I suspect that in Clinton's eyes, June delegates may not be the same thing as August delegates:

In response to a question yesterday from Christina Bellantoni of the Washington Times (who also gave him flak for neglecting to answer an email, much to the amusement of the other participants), Wolfson said that although their current focus is on undecideds, they're preaching to "the entire universe of superdelegates":

As if to reinforce that point, just this morning Clinton sent a letter to all superdelegates -- not just undeclared superdelegates -- outlining "her case for why she believes she is the strongest candidate."

Even more significant, Ickes adamantly told a Florida reporter that not even pledged delegates' commitments were binding - that even on the first ballot, every delegate, not just superdelegates, is free to vote however he or she wants, even if they were pledged to Obama - which means that every delegate is up for grabs (or cajoling, or back-scratching -- or even unregulated, arguably legal, million-dollar bribes) between now and August:

Is Ickes nuts for thinking a pledge isn't a pledge? Nope: one pledged delegate already has switched his allegiance -- from Clinton to Obama, though not at Obama's urging - so it's not unthinkable. (In fact, after that incident, Clinton's people probably are thinking about it a lot.)

Think I'm too cynical for thinking the campaigns might stoop to less-than-savory tactics to tempt delegates to switch sides? Last week, Wolfson noted that any Michigan delegates slotted as "uncommitted" would "get an awful lot of attention" -- and that it's OK for Clinton to pursue those delegates even if they were originally intended to support Obama:

And, again, there's that million-dollar bribe attempt to consider (talk about exceeding the $2,300 individual contribution limit!). So it'll be interesting to watch and see what kind of "attention" the Clinton camp showers on the delegates over the next the next three months, and whether their attention extends to overt courting of voter-selected pledged delegates as well.

5. The RBC Can't End the Race Saturday -- Even If Michigan and Florida Are Content With Its Ruling:

Turning our focus to the big hearing on Saturday: Clinton said on May 21 that she will follow Michigan and Florida's lead in deciding whether to appeal a less-than-perfect RBC decision next Saturday. But like Sir Lancelot (John Cleese) rescuing Sir Galahad the Pure (Michael Palin) against his will from eight score amorous young blonds and brunettes, Clinton appears prepared to do battle for Michigan and Florida's virtue all the way to the Credentials Committee or the Convention floor -- even if those states are perfectly happy to abide by the RBC's decision Saturday and would prefer to drop the matter. (Florida Galahad: "Look, let me go back in there and face the peril." Clinton Lancelot: "No, it's too perilous!")

Even though Clinton is merely "intervening" in the states' formal challenges to the RBC, she's still asking for different relief than those states are seeking. Prodded to elucidate the process last week by Beth Reinhard of the Miami Herald, Ickes explained that the Clinton campaign disagrees both with Michigan's willingness to allocate its "undecided" voters to Obama and with Florida's willingness to accept a reduction to half strength (even though the RBC's own staff have issued a memo stating that DNC rules do not allow it to impose any lesser penalty):

Clinton's simultaneous agreement and disagreement with the states' official positions is significant, because it could allow Clinton to appeal the ruling even if both states are content with it.

Another link in this chain: in response to a question from AlterNet's Steve Rosenfeld on the same call, asking "how far are you willing to go if you don't get everything you want?" Ickes ducked the specific question -- saying "we're not prepared to cross bridges that we may not have to cross" -- but described the appeal to the Credentials Committee as "automatic" if the RBC didn't completely resolve the issues "in full" (presumably meaning "in the way the Clinton campaign wants"):

Finally, today a DNC member from Michigan who supports Clinton made the waters even murkier by calling Michigan's official proposal to the RBC "fatally flawed" and proposing either that the full delegation be seated or that pledged delegates get half votes and superdelegates get full votes. That -- perhaps intentionally - - presents the RBC with a conundrum: how can it choose one option presented by someone on Clinton's side without leaving room for someone else on Clinton's side take an appeal?

6. "Compromises? Compromises? We Don't Need No Stinking Compromises!"

Clinton's strategy of laying the groundwork for appeals regardless of what action Michigan, Florida, or the RBC might take helps to explain why her representatives are making such exorbitant demands, and why they're so doggedly unwilling to discuss compromise.

On its end, the Obama campaign clearly is willing to cut a reasonable deal to accommodate Michigan and Florida. Last week, Obama campaign Chief Strategist David Axelrod told NPR:

"We are open to compromise. We're willing to go more than halfway. I guess the question is: Is Senator Clinton's campaign willing to do the same?"

In their conference calls, on the other hand, the Clinton team has hewed unwaveringly to their message that they expect the entire Michigan and Florida delegations to be seated, full-strength. Unlike Obama, they're not interested in compromising. In fact, unlike everyone else on the planet, they don't even admit the possibility that the RBC will split the baby Saturday by seating half-strength delegations (though, from a strategic perspective, that's precisely what they want to occur).

In part, their adamance is a ploy to keep the pressure on the RBC, which desperately wants this ordeal to end and conceivably might give Clinton what she wants just to make that happen. But Clinton's representatives also are dead serious, because they know Clinton can't appeal to the Convention if she accepts a compromise. If the RBC doesn't give them the whole baby -- plus the basket he came in -- the Clinton campaign's plan is to raise high the banner of Michigan and Florida's half-enfranchised voters and gleefully carry their appeals through August.

Here are some of the clues that this is their strategy:

When Leigh Ann Caldwell of Pacifica Radio asked yesterday whether there was a compromise number the Clinton campaign would be satisfied with, both Ickes and Tina Flournoy, who like Ickes is both a Clinton supporter and a member of the RBC who will be voting on Saturday, maintained their all-or-nothing stance -- calling for full delegations with full votes with no "uncommitted" delegates being assigned to Obama:

And when NBC's Andrea Mitchell urged Ickes to admit that Saturday's RBC meeting was almost certain to result in some sort of compromise, Ickes still wouldn't budge:

Instead, Ickes simply repeated the take-no-prisoners position Clinton will be asserting on Saturday:

• Florida's delegation must be seated at full strength, even though Florida's challenge itself says it will settle for the 50% minimum penalty prescribed by the DNC's longstanding rules;

• Michigan's delegation must be seated at full strength; and

• None of either state's "uncommitted" delegates may be assigned to Obama -- not even Michigan's, even though Michigan itself is proposing that solution, Obama's name wasn't on the ballot there, and Wolfson himself calls it "a fact" that Obama's supporters there were urged to vote "undecided" instead:

And when Gordon Trowbridge of the Detroit News, using the delightful word "maximalist" to describe Clinton's position, asked Ickes whether the Clinton campaign was "willing to move a little off your position ... in order to come up with some sort of a resolution," Ickes wouldn't bite:

So while normally I'd assume that such a remarkable wish list was just Clinton's starting point for negotiation, in this case it looks more like she's setting a trap for the RBC, hoping it makes a "mistake" -- for instance, quite reasonably giving each state exactly the compromise it has asked for - that will then give her a colorable excuse to keep fighting "for the voters." (I'll even go out on a limb and predict that some Clinton supporters on the RBC will vote for a compromise decision Saturday, not out of a sense of justice or reasonableness but to give Clinton the excuse she needs to string things out.)

The big question is whether Obama and the RBC will fall into her snare. It's far from certain that Obama's strategists, who so far have managed his campaign brilliantly, are even alert to the fact that asking the RBC for a reasonable compromise could have serious, and detrimental, strategic ramifications. Sometimes being a reasonable person at heart can interfere with seeing other people's less idealistic strategery for what it is.

What About That Rosewood Stake I Was Talking About? There is, as I said before, a rosewood stake that could end the undead lurchings of the campaign that will not die. That's for Obama to reach 2210 delegates -- the number Clinton herself says unquestionably wins the nomination -- as quickly as possible; and then, since on Clinton's farm delegates don't ripen until August, for a decisive number of delegates, supers and pledged alike, both Obama's and Clinton's, to make it indisputably clear to Clinton that that number's not gonna change.

The key is that Clinton won't accept 2210 unless she's convinced that trying to poach delegates over the summer would be completely useless. How could she be convinced? One way is for her own delegates to put their party before their politician and pledge that for every Obama delegate who might defect to Clinton over the summer, two Clinton delegates will instantly switch to Obama -- so she might as well not waste energy trying. Better yet, a huge bloc of Clinton delegates, fifty or a hundred or more, could shift en masse to Obama once Obama hit 2210, boosting him to an insurmountable lead. That would preserve the race's fairness - he'd have to get to 2210 on his own - but then lock in the result. Under either scenario, the fact that it was her own delegates that finally shut her down would undercut the foreseeable complaints that "they" (Obama, the DNC, the Masons, the Stonecutters, the aliens) were unfairly forcing her out of the race.

You'll notice I'm calling for pledged delegates, not just superdelegates, to take control. We've all been calling on the supers for months to finally step up and end this thing, to no avail. The sad truth is that a concerted effort by the supers would require the Democratic Party's leadership to demonstrate unity, backbone, and a firm commitment to actually winning an election - the same characteristics that have been so pitifully absent during the Alito filibuster effort, the calls to impeach Bush and Cheney as voters wanted in 2006, and Harry Reid's milquetoasty reluctance kick Joe Lieberman out of the Senate Democratic Caucus before he can pull a Zell Miller act in a RNC keynote speech. Wait for our own party's leaders to organize and act? I think I'll call my travel agent and see if I can still get a hotel room in Denver.

But Clinton's camp has gone out of its way to make clear that it's not just superdelegates who can change their minds about who to vote for. Pledged delegates, who mainly are ordinary citizens who simply care a lot about politics rather than the state party officials and politicians who comprise the majority of superdelegates, can shift allegiances as well. I don't like that fact -- I'm flabbergasted that the Democratic Party changed its rules, which used to force delegates to vote their pledges on the first ballot at least - but Ickes appears to be right: pledged delegates are just as free, and just as powerful, as superdelegates.

Which, if you think about it, could turn out to be extremely useful. Clinton sees the pledged delegates as prey that can be poached -- but if they choose, the pledged delegates could transform themselves into a force to be reckoned with. Instead of waiting for the superdelegates to do the right thing, there could be a grassroots uprising of pledged delegates -- the citizen delegates, the ones without capes -- to do the right thing themselves. All it would take is for the pledged delegates to start talking to each other and decide how they want this fiasco to end. (I'll even go out on a limb: If any pledged delegates read this and want to start talking to each other, shoot a confidential email to msbellows .at. gmail.com, and I'll do what I can to get you in touch with each other -- just facilitate communication, nothing more, privacy respected.)

Buffy the Pledged Delegate: that's who has the power to end the 2008 Democratic primary.

Bits & Pieces: Usually these telephone press conferences are pretty boring unless you're a hopeless policy wonk. There are exceptions - the best example this season being when Bob Bauer, an election law attorney working for the Obama campaign, crashed a Clinton press conference call. Some were offended, I thought it showed admirable initiative, but in everyone's book it was pretty fun.

Yesterday's conference call was one of the more interesting ones -- especially when Stephen Goldstein, a columnist with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, asked Wolfson to acknowledge that adding John Edwards' delegates to Obama's (in acknowledgment of Edwards' endorsement) would result in an almost even split of the popular vote and therefore of the Florida delegates. When Wolfson refused to go down that road, Goldstein couldn't help letting his own sentiments as a frustrated Florida citizen peek through the normally objective reportorial facade. For anyone who wishes the mainstream media would call a spade a spade from time to time, here's that healthily human, small-d democratic exchange in full:

Finally, for anyone with an hour to kill (sorry, Tock) and an interest in how the Fourth Estate does much of its work, here's yesterday's conference call in its entirety (minus a small snip at the front; technical difficulties):

UPDATE, May 30, 1:42 P.M. EST: In a new press conference call today, I directly asked Clinton Campaign Senior Advisor Harold Ickes and Communications Director Howard Wolfson whether half-seating the Michigan and Florida delegations actually is a "briar patch" that Clinton hopes the RBC tosses her into tomorrow, to give her grounds to reach the Convention floor. In response, they were silent for a brief moment, then reiterated their scripted refrain -- "we are hopeful and expectant that the committee in its wisdom will do the right thing," a phrase they've repeated over and over -- without straightforwardly answering the question. To me, that means the "briar patch" hits close to home. They could have said, "hell, no, it's not what we want!" But you can listen and decide for yourself. The first answer is by Ickes, then Wolfson chimes in closer to the end.

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UPDATE, June 1, 2008, 9:25 ET: There's much to analyze (and for us wonks, delight in) from yesterday's Rules & Bylaws Committee meeting. The result could hardly have been worse for Clinton in terms of her current objective standing - she not only failed in her quest to have full delegations seated, and to have Obama allocated zero delegates from Michigan's "uncommitted" voters/delegate pool, but since the RBC adopted Michigan's complex, three-factor "how would they have voted if we hadn't utterly screwed things up?" analysis, she even had four of her Michigan delegates reassigned to him. As a professional mediator, I'm not surprised: that's what an inflexible hard line tends to get you: inflexible extremists tend to make themselves irrelevant to the discussion of more reasonable-minded people, and wind up with much less than either rational compromise or (even better) creative problemsolving ("think outside the box? naw - how can we make a bigger box?") would have yielded.

I'll be writing much more about this, I think, but in the context of this post, the big question is: did this give Clinton her excuse to appeal? Ickes said yesterday that she had instructed him to "reserve her rights" to do so, which could mean she's waiting a while so it doesn't sound like sour grapes or could mean she's just keeping it in her back pocket in case she comes up just four votes short by August - we'll have to wait and see, though probably not long - but here's the key cud to chew on, from Sheldon Alberts at Canada's National Journal:

WASHINGTON - Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign on Saturday angrily rejected a compromise deal among Democrats that was aimed at ending a bitter fight over disputed primaries in Florida and Michigan.

Clinton's supporters erupted in boos and catcalls after the party's 30-member Rules and Bylaw committee voted to recognize the Florida and Michigan delegates, but award them only half votes at the party's nominating convention this August in Denver. ***

The Democratic committee's decision on Florida and Michigan was a blow to Clinton, who trails Obama by 200 delegates in the Democratic presidential race.

She had argued forcefully that the both states receive full voting rights at the Denver convention.

Harold Ickes, a senior Clinton strategist and member of the rules committee, said the committee had "hijacked" the will of voters immediately threatened to appeal the decision.

Clinton's supporters jeered when results of the committee's vote were announced inside a convention room at a downtown Washington hotel. They shouted "Denver, Denver, Denver" - signaling their hope to fight Obama all the way to the Democratic convention.

Follow M.S. Bellows, Jr. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msbellows