Democrats faced dramatic eruptions of party discord Monday that threatened to distract from high-profile speeches meant to convey unity on the first day of their national convention, as the FBI said it was investigating an email breach that triggered much of the friction over the weekend.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was cheered by supporters Monday afternoon when he celebrated the resignation of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whom he has long criticized.
“Her resignation opens up the possibility of new leadership at the top of the Democratic Party that will stand with working people,” said Sanders at a rally with supporters.
But minutes later, when Sanders encouraged Democrats to elect Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the crowd started booing loudly.
Sanders tried to talk them back, arguing Republican nominee Donald Trump “must be defeated.”
Wasserman Schultz faced an angry backlash at a meeting of her home state activists Monday morning. And liberal delegates stood ready to shower her with boos the moment she steps onto the stage at the convention, according to a top Democrat familiar with their plans.
The four-day convention begins here Monday afternoon. Looming over the convention is the leak of embarrassing DNC emails that showed staff apparently scheming to help Clinton win the Democratic primary. Wasserman Schultz has resigned over the matter effective at the end of the convention.
The FBI released a statement Monday saying that the agency was “investigating a cyber intrusion involving the DNC and are working to determine the nature and scope of the matter. A compromise of this nature is something we take very seriously, and the FBI will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.”
As she took the podium at a Florida delegation breakfast, the South Florida congresswoman faced boos, which competed with many of the cheers she received.
“If I could ask everybody to settle down,” she told the rowdy crowd as she struggled to maintain order. Moments later she repeated herself: “All right everybody, now settle down. Settle down, please.”
Another official then stepped in to try to restore order.
Trying to speak over the noise, Wasserman Schultz acknowledged, “There’s a little bit of interest in my being here, and I appreciate that interest.”
In spite of vocal opposition to Wasserman Schultz from some Democrats, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said she plans to continue with her ceremonial role chairing the convention.
Convention officials are trying to move past the drama. Two of the Democratic Party’s most popular liberal stars – Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the keynote speaker – will give speeches Monday night. First lady Michelle Obama will also address the convention.
Addressing supporters Monday afternoon, Sanders reflected on what he sees as key accomplishments during and after his campaign. He praised supporters for helping secure “by far the most progressive platform ever written in the history of the Democratic Party” here at the convention.
“We showed in a way that will change politics in our country forever that you can run a competitive national campaign without begging billionaires for campaign contributions,” said Sanders.
Volunteers from the Sanders campaign were trying to pressure convention organizers for roll call votes on the presidential and vice presidential nominations, which would stretch out the process and highlight pockets of disagreement.
The Clinton campaign said there will be a roll-call vote on the nomination of Clinton to be president.
“We anticipate there will be a roll-call vote tomorrow night and that every vote will be counted, that we’ll go through all 50 states. We’re happy to have it,” said Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon. Fallon said he wasn’t sure whether the plan extended to the vice presidential process.
Sanders’s address will be closely watched following months of bruising competition with Clinton that left many of his supporters deflated and angry with the process. Those hard feelings threatened to boil over again here Monday after the email leak showed party strategists appearing to plot against him during the campaign.
In an interview on MSNBC Monday morning, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said the campaign had not seen a copy of the Vermont senator’s speech.
Wasserman Schultz was forced aside by the release of thousands of emails among party officials that appeared to show coordinated efforts to help Clinton at the expense of her rivals in the Democratic primaries. That undercut claims by the party and the Clinton campaign that the process was open and fair for Sanders.
“It’s best for Hillary Clinton that we have a new chair of the party. We’ll have that with Donna Brazile,” Podesta said on MSNBC. Brazile, a veteran party strategist, will take over as interim chair.
The email messages released by hackers were posted Friday on the website WikiLeaks.
The Clinton campaign – and several cybersecurity experts – said the leak was a political ploy carried out by the Russian government to aid in the election of Trump. National security officials are increasingly concerned about possible efforts by Russia to meddle in the election, according to several individuals familiar with the situation.
Mook said that the DNC has begun a comprehensive review of its internal emails to determine what damaging correspondence might be in the hands of Russian hackers.
A group of well-connected delegates spent Sunday coordinating their plan for what they hope would be a defining moment showcasing hundreds of them inside the arena and jeering at the party establishment, the Democrat familiar with the plans said, requesting anonymity to discuss his private conversations.
Wasserman Schultz has been told to be prepared for this unwelcome reception, the Democrat added.
Republicans, led by Trump, jumped to portray the leaked email episode as evidence that the system was rigged for Clinton, whom Trump calls “Crooked Hillary.”
“The State of Florida is so embarrassed by the antics of Crooked Hillary Clinton and Debbie Wasserman Schultz that they will vote for CHANGE!” Trump tweeted Monday.
As Democrats start their convention, Trump will be campaigning in two swing states: Virginia and North Carolina.
Also campaigning in North Carolina Monday, Clinton took a swipe at Trump, who once said he counted heavily on himself for foreign policy advice.
“You will never hear me say that I only listen to myself on national security,” Clinton said.
A pair of new polls released Monday showed a competitive race heading into the convention. A CNN/ORC survey conducted after the GOP convention showed Trump jumping ahead of Clinton. A CBS News poll showed that the contest is effectively tied.
Throughout the first day of the convention, Democrats are expected to try to cast a spotlight on Clinton’s work on behalf of families.
Later in the week, the party stalwarts will hear from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former president Bill Clinton, among others. The convention will culminate Thursday in a speech from Hillary Clinton, who is poised to make history as the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party.
Volunteers with the Sanders campaign were at a breakfast for the Maryland delegation Monday morning gathering signatures for a petition calling on the DNC to do a roll call Monday night at the convention. The volunteers said the Sanders campaign has staff at every delegation’s breakfast, with a goal of ensuring the most accurate count of delegates.
Democrats were hoping to showcase a smooth, error-free convention that would contrast sharply with last week’s Republican gathering in Cleveland, which was marred by plagiarism and intra-party skirmishes.
Instead, the email leaks and the upheaval at the top ranks of the party threatened to upend Clinton’s plan to paint the Democrats as the party best prepared to lead a divided and anxious country and herself as the leader who can offer an optimistic alternative to Republican nominee Donald Trump.
While Brazile is taking over as interim chair, discussions were underway Sunday about who might be suitable to step in as chair between now and the November election. Among the Democrats mentioned: former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, Rep. Steve Israel of New York and EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock. All are loyal supporters and trusted allies of Clinton.
The emails revealed a DNC official apparently discussing how to use Sanders’s religion against him to help Clinton ahead of the Kentucky and West Virginia primaries. In another email, a Clinton campaign lawyer suggested to the DNC how it should respond to claims from the Sanders campaign that it was improperly using a joint fundraising committee with state parties.
The Washington Post reported last month that Russian government hackers penetrated the DNC, stealing opposition research about Trump and compromising the party’s email and chat systems.
In addition to the friction with Sanders and his supporters that was revealed in the email hack, donors were upset about the way they were talked about in some of the emails.
Clinton issued a statement in which she announced that Wasserman Schultz would serve as honorary chair of the campaign’s 50-state program as well as continuing as a surrogate nationally and in Florida.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Sean Sullivan, Anne Gearan