After a tumultuous two days, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston sought Monday to refocus the political spotlight on Hillary Clinton — and away from herself — by relinquishing Democratic National Convention gavel.
Her move came on the second day she was at the center of a hurricane-force controversy over leaked emails that show the national Democratic Party under Wasserman Schultz was helping Clinton’s campaign while Bernie Sanders was still a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.
On Sunday, Wasserman Schultz announced her resignation as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee — effective at the end of the convention this week in Philadelphia.
She still planned, as of Sunday evening, to gavel the convention to order and speak to the delegates.
On Monday that all changed.
In the morning, she was greeted by protesters at a Florida delegation breakfast, which turned her speech there into a chaotic scene that was widely shared in internet videos, resulted in a fresh round of negative news coverage, and provided fresh fodder for cable TV talking heads.
Later Monday morning, a news conference by Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook was dominated by questions about the emails and Wasserman Schultz.
Less than three hours before she was supposed to gavel the convention to order, Wasserman Schultz said she was ceding that role to the national party’s secretary, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore.
“I have decided that in the interest of making sure that we can start the Democratic convention on a high note that I am not going to gavel in the convention,” Wasserman Schultz said in an brief telephone conversation with the Sun Sentinel.
“I stepped down [as DNC chairwoman] the other day because I wanted to make sure that having brought us to this momentous day and to Philadelphia and planned the convention that is going to be the best one that we’ve ever had in our party’s history that this needs to be all about making sure that everyone knows that Hillary Clinton would make the best president,” she said.
Wasserman Schultz declined to answer further questions.
Her move didn’t silence the criticism:
• In South Florida, Wasserman Schultz’s challenger in the Aug. 30 congressional primary, Tim Canova, said she should resign from her Broward/Miami-Dade County congressional seat.
“She should step down. I think what we see with her stewardship of the DNC is somebody who exercised terrible judgment. And I think it raises questions about her character,” Canova said, citing Wasserman Schultz’s claims of presidential primary neutrality when people at the DNC were trying to help Clinton.
Canova also said he may file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, citing leaked emails that show national Democratic Party staffers were used to monitor his campaign and develop strategy. “My lawyers tell me this is not a technical matter. It’s real violation. We’re looking into it. I haven’t given the green light to file the complaint, but it’s in the works.”
Wasserman Schultz’s campaign spokesman Ryan Banfill declined to comment.
• In Roanoke, Va., Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump used the DNC emails and Wasserman Schultz to undermine Clinton.
Trump said the end of Wasserman Schultz’s tenure was a “vicious firing” that showed “Hillary Clinton’s total disloyalty” when Clinton “threw her under the bus.”
“For months now I’ve been saying, I’ll take Reince [Priebus, the Republican chairman] over Debbie. And everyone said, ‘Oh, but Debbie’s a superstar,’ and I said ‘So is Reince.’ And then turned out Debbie flamed out and she’s gone,” he said. “Honestly, whether you like her or not she worked very hard to rig the system so that Hillary [Clinton got the Democratic nomination.]”
• In Philadelphia, protesters nearly drowned out her speech to the Florida delegation breakfast, crowding the stage and screaming, “You’re ruining our democracy!”
“It is so wonderful to be able to be here with my home state,” Wasserman Schultz said, as a cascade of boos and heckling began. “All right, everybody. Now, settle down.”
She also acknowledged the unusual attention to her. “I can see there’s a little bit of interest in my being here,” she said. “I appreciate that interest. And a little bit of interest from the press. But that really shows you that Florida is the most significant battleground state that will make sure that Hillary Clinton is elected president of the United States.”
A row of police officers stood between the stage and the protesters as Wasserman Schultz finished her speech. Several of her supporters stood on chairs and waved T-shirts bearing her name, while some yelled at the Sanders’ supporters to step back or sit down.
The Sanders supporters held paper signs that said “E-mails” on one side and “Thanks for the ‘help’ Debbie,” on the other.
“I was shocked that Congresswoman Schultz showed up,” said Miguel Valdez, a Sanders delegate from Gainesville. “I had thought that she would have thought better of it, but she did not.”
Some Sanders supporters said they were upset that Clinton gave Wasserman Schultz a title as honorary chair of he campaign’s “50-state program.”
“For the Clinton campaign to reward her with a job in 32 minutes after she stepped down is just like, ‘We don’t need you Bernie supporters; we’re good. We’ve got this wrapped up. Why are you even here?’ It’s very disrespectful,” said Shane Harris, a Sanders delegate from Orlando.
But Wasserman Schultz supporters argued that what was disrespectful was the treatment of the party chairwoman at the breakfast.
“I thought they were rude and obnoxious and that we need a discourse,” said state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, a Clinton delegate.
In an interview three weeks ago, Sobel said Wasserman Schultz wouldn’t have any problem defeating Canova in the primary. On Monday, she was less certain. “I hope not,” she said when asked if Wasserman Schultz is in danger of losing.
“I don’t know. I think there are people just like myself who believe that Debbie has done so much for our community. She’s a known entity. We know what she can do. And she will continue fighting,” Sobel said.
Canova renewed his long standing call for Wasserman Schultz to debate him before the primary, something she has so far declined to do.
“It’s probably dawned on her, your guess is as good as mine, that she’s going to have to fight for her seat. I hope that means that she’s not going to run away from debates. She’s been saying she’s too busy with party business to debate,” Canova said, adding “that excuse” is no longer tenable. “She owes it to the voters to defend her record in an unscripted forum like a debate.”
Information from the Associated Press and News Service of Florida was used in this report.
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