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Democratic Convention Opens Amid Party Turmoil

Jul 25, 2016
Originally published on July 25, 2016 7:51 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

I'm Audie Cornish in Philadelphia where Democrats opened their party convention this afternoon. But to say the least, they are not all feeling the brotherly love.

(BOOING)

CORNISH: As you can hear there, the opening of the convention has been punctuated by booing. This comes on the heels of a leadership shake-up after leaked emails revealed how party officials worked to undermine Hillary Clinton's primary rival, Bernie Sanders. NPR's Scott Horsley is sitting next to me. And Scott, this is actually considered a quiet moment so far.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Relatively speaking, yes.

CORNISH: What have we been seeing?

HORSLEY: You know, Audie, it's not often you see the pastor booed when she's giving the invocation, but that's what we heard earlier this evening. And that's how agitated this crowd is. I don't think the delegates were booing the Almighty, but it was a mention of Hillary Clinton's name that prompted that sharp retort. And we've been seeing that all day.

A convention that organizers hope would deliver a positive, optimistic message of party unity is instead, at least in these early hours, a total a showcase for the lingering wounds left over from the hard-fought primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

CORNISH: Now, remind us how we got to this point. There's been - this story's been moving quickly all day.

HORSLEY: Yeah. Last Friday Wikileaks dumped a cache of nearly 20,000 emails that had been hacked from the Democratic National Committee. And that gave sort of an unvarnished look at what was happening this past year behind the scenes. It confirmed what Sanders' supporters had long suspected - that DNC staffers were, in some cases, putting their thumbs on the scale for Hillary Clinton.

Now, in the wake of that revelation, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the DNC, announced that she was stepping down. She was still expected to gavel this convention into order this afternoon, but after she was booed by her own Florida delegation this morning, she didn't want to risk that spectacle. So Wasserman Schultz passed the gavel to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, to call the convention to order instead.

There was a little comic relief when the understudy forgot to actually wield the gavel. But you know, Wasserman Schultz's absence this evening has done nothing to quiet the crowd. There's still a great deal of frustration, and it's spilling out in a very visible and audible way.

CORNISH: Right. I mean the DNC has issued a formal apology to Senator Sanders and his supporters. What more do we know about that?

HORSLEY: The DNC issued an apology, saying that the comments that were revealed in those emails do not reflect the values the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality. The DNC does not, will not tolerate this disrespectful language exhibited towards candidates like Sanders. It said individual staffers have also apologized, and the committee is taking appropriate action to ensure it never happens again.

Now, Bernie Sanders himself has said there was no real surprise in those emails. He knew the DNC was stacked against him. But he's also said that he feels it's so important to defeat Donald Trump, he's been encouraging his supporters to get behind Hillary Clinton. It's not clear, though, how many will go along. Sanders spoke to his supporters earlier today, and take a listen to the reaction he got.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: We have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.

(BOOING)

SANDERS: Brothers and sisters, this is the real world that we live in.

HORSLEY: So you can hear a very vocal Sanders' supporters' response, and it makes you wonder what kind of answer he'll get tonight when he gives a similar address on primetime TV. Democrats obviously have a lot of work to do to repair these fractures. And Audie, you found that out earlier today when you were talking to delegates from Colorado where Bernie Sanders did very well. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.