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A 'Messy, Messy Beginning' At Democrats' Breakfast In Philadelphia


The Democratic National Convention kicks off this morning with news that came yesterday. The Democratic National Committee chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, would be leaving that position. This comes after the revelations of a WikiLeaks email or WikiLeaks emails, a dump that showed party operatives favored Hillary Clinton during the nominating process. Wasserman Schultz was at a breakfast hosted by the Florida delegation. She had not started speaking yet when the room erupted in boos and jeers.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Let's have everybody's attention.


MONTAGNE: It's certainly not the way the Democratic National Convention wanted - those going there wanted it to start out. But to talk more about this, we're joined at this moment by NPR's Don Gonyea. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Hi. So, obviously, not something that those putting on this convention would want, that the head of the Democratic National - you know, basically, the committee but the party is being booed by the delegation from her own state, Florida.

GONYEA: It is her own state, and it is a messy, messy beginning. Here's the interesting thing, too, Renee, Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz is scheduled to gavel the convention into order this afternoon. And then she was going to turn the gavel over and not be present for the subsequent four days, except she was then going to gavel the convention to a close on Thursday. And her resignation is not effective until Friday. So what we saw at the Florida delegation - as you said, her home state - could be a preview of what we'll get when she steps on to the stage in the actual convention hall later on today.

MONTAGNE: And we're going to hear more from one of these delegates from Florida. Let's take a quick listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Bernie said he felt like the election has been rigged against him from the outset. This just proves that it has been. I think in light of that, she needs to step out and not show her face here.

MONTAGNE: And let's bring in also - along with Don Gonyea, let's bring in Mara Liasson. This convention was billed as one of unity. Is this a fissure point for the progressive wing of the party? I mean, are they starting to talk about another contested convention?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: No, we're not there yet. This is definitely an an inauspicious, messy beginning to a convention that the Democrats had hoped would present a contrast to the Republicans in terms of being unified. Now, the big question is Debbie Wasserman Schultz's role in this convention has been dialed back step by step as the WikiLeak's scandal has unfolded. At this point, as Don just explained, she is gaveling the convention to an open. That's kind of the end. That's how her participation devolved. Maybe she won't show up at all. I don't know that. But what you - the big question is now that she has agreed to resign, will that satisfy Sanders supporters to the point where they won't demonstrate on the floor or cause a lot of chaos when the actual convention begins tonight?

Bernie Sanders is speaking tonight. What he says will have a lot to do with how his supporters conduct themselves.


LIASSON: So they got one of the things they wanted, which is Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who they have excoriated for the entire campaign, is now out. Is that enough to satisfy them, or do they want something different? You just heard that Sanders supporter saying he doesn't want to see her at all at the convention.

MONTAGNE: Let me just ask one really quick Mara. For people who aren't following this very closely, give just a brief sample...

LIASSON: Yes, what's the beef? Yes...

MONTAGNE: ...Of what is in - what's the beef...

LIASSON: What's the beef?

MONTAGNE: ...And what's in the emails that suddenly appears to prove that...


MONTAGNE: ...Sanders followers were right?

LIASSON: Right. What happened is that over the course of the campaign, the Sanders campaign felt that the Democratic National Committee had its thumb on the scales for Hillary Clinton, that they favored her. Well, guess what? They did, and that's, as Sander said himself on television, yesterday, he's not surprised because usually the party establishment does favor the front-runner. And - but they - of course, these emails have exposed the private conversations between DNC officials often dissing Bernie Sanders. So he says, aha, it was rigged against me.

Now, would Sanders have won if the DNC had been completely and utterly neutral in every way? That's hard to imagine. I think he was - he lost fair and square. But this feeds all the conspiracy theories in the Sanders campaign that they could have won if only Debbie Wasserman Schultz hadn't been - hadn't had antipathy to Bernie Sanders. Now, this feud has been going on for some time. Bernie Sanders has endorsed Debbie Wasserman Schultz's primary opponent in her congressional district in Florida.

MONTAGNE: Well, in all of this, what has been the reaction from Hillary Clinton? Presumed candidate (laughter).

LIASSON: Well, she issued a statement. She was very - she praised Debbie Wasserman Schultz, considers her a friend, looks forward to campaigning with her. But, you know, the Clinton campaign feels that she did - Debbie Wasserman Schultz did the right thing.

They're also focusing on another aspect of this story, which is that the emails were hacked they believe, and many cyber experts believe, by Russians. And they - the Clinton campaign manager yesterday said that he believes they were handed over to WikiLeaks to be publicized on the eve of the Democratic convention in order to help Donald Trump because Vladimir Putin would like Donald Trump to win this election. Trump has a lot of connections to Putin. He not only has a kind of mutual admiration relationship with him - he's spoken highly of Putin - but also Donald Trump in the Republican Convention did not participate in any of the fights over the platform, except for one, and that was to keep language in favor of Ukrainian democracy out of the platform. That obviously comports with Russia's interest. And he gave an interview to The New York Times during the convention where he suggested that he wouldn't defend the Baltics against Russian aggression. So...

MONTAGNE: It's Donald Trump, again. Donald...

LIASSON: Donald Trump - and there's - and this is something that I think you're going to hear more from the Clinton campaign as the days go on. We also know that Donald Trump owes hundreds of millions of dollars to Russian oligarchs who finance his businesses. In any event, the Clinton campaign is raising this Russian connection.

MONTAGNE: So Mara, would it be fair to say that this gets curiouser (ph) and curiouser?

LIASSON: Oh, no doubt. We are down the rabbit hole now, man.

MONTAGNE: (Laughter) Well, thank you both for joining us. Sorry, Don, we sort of lost you there a little bit. That's NPR's Mara Liasson, also NPR's Don Gonyea, both of whom are in Philadelphia, which has only started this morning the Democratic National Convention, already very interesting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.