Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Explore our coverage of government and politics.

Sanders Supporters' Challenge Of DNC Leadership Reflects A Growing Party Divide

Stephen B. Morton
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Party, on Jan. 17. Sen. Bernie Sanders' supporters are calling for Wasserman Schultz to resign for what they say are efforts to derail Sanders' campaign.

Bernie Sanders’ supporters in the Democratic Party are calling for the resignation of the head of the DNC for what they say are her efforts to derail his campaign.

The move reflects a growing divide in the Democratic Party in what’s become a closer primary contest.

Sanders, Vermont’s junior senator, wasn’t taken seriously by party leaders when he kicked off his campaign. But he’s become a thorn in the side of the party’s establishment that’s firmly behind Hillary Clinton.

The DNC has been accused of quietly backing Clinton by doing things like burying Democratic debates on the weekends when no one is paying attention. Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva supports Sanders and says the DNC is alienating progressives.

“Bernie runs against: ‘The system is rigged,’ and I think Democrats and the DNC can’t give the appearance that they’re part of the rig or you’re going to lose those voters,” Grijalva says.

Sanders’ campaign sued the DNC for cutting off access to his voter contact information after one of his staffers accessed Clinton’s data. Three progressive petitions have attracted tens of thousands of signatures calling for the head of the DNC to step down for using party resources to back Clinton.

Progressive group CREDO action is spearheading the latest petition calling on DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign. CREDO Deputy Political Director Murshed Zaheed says Wasserman Schultz is stifling Sanders’ grassroots support.

“She is hurting the interests of the party, she is hurting the interests of the base of the party who the party is going to need in a very bad way in an election that is already shaping up to be a potential base election,” Zaheed says.

"She [Wasserman Schultz] is hurting the interests of the party." - Murshed Zaheed, CREDO deputy political director

But Wasserman Schultz doesn’t seem to be phased by the backlash from progressives.

"The national party [chairs] – of both parties, frankly – are going to make decisions that people like, some decisions people don’t like,” Wasserman Schultz says. “I’m going to say things that some people agree with; say things that some people don’t agree with. I just have to stay laser-focused on doing everything I can to elect a Democratic president.”

Wassserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, has also sparred with President Obama’s political team over how she’s run the DNC, and she got in a public spat with a DNC co-chair for limiting the number of Democratic debates. But Wasserman Schultz says Vermont’s former governor, Howard Dean, had a more controversial stint as DNC chair when he stripped Florida and Michigan of their delegates for moving up their primary dates.

“That controversy was far more intense than this one is,” she says. “And Howard Dean went through similar criticism. It is the nature of being a party chair. You’re going to get bumped and bruised. It’s just the way it is. I just have to stay focused. I know what my role is; I know what my job is. I’m working my tail off to do it. Just like with any job … you’re not going to please everyone all the time.”

"I know what my job is. I'm working my tail off to do it. Just like with any job ... you're not going to please everyone all the time." - Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

But Congressman Grijalva says DNC officials are tone deaf to the growing angst from Sander’s base.

“Absent a gesture on the part of leadership at the top, those calls are going to intensify,” Grijalva says. “I think you need to come forward and say, ‘We need to talk. We need to fix this.’”

Grijalva says the DNC needs to tap into the anger from progressives as a force for the party, not against it. 

“Not to expand [the base], or to be too controlling, I think is going to be a problem,” he says. “And merely empowering the state parties to do their thing is not the answer either. Beause, maybe, some of the state parties are even more rigid and calcified when it comes to new people and new ideas and progressive thought.”

Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison is Sanders’ only other supporter in Congress. He says even if Clinton wins, she will need Sanders and his people on her side.

“You know, when I was campaigning for Bernie a week ago, in very small towns, he had very large crowds,” Ellison says. “And you ask people, ‘Who can draw a crowd better?’ And people are saying Bernie can.”

As of now, DNC officials have shrugged off criticisms from Sander’s supporters and it doesn’t seem like they’re planning to change courses anytime soon. Whether that will spur more support for Sanders or stifle his message is one of the great unanswered questions of this election cycle.

Matt Laslo is a reporter based in Washington, D.C. He has been covering Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court since 2006. 

Latest Stories