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At Democratic Convention Kickoff Breakfast, Outgoing Chairwoman Booed


The Democratic National Convention kicks off this morning and not in the way delegates, party leaders or the presumptive nominee would have hoped. News came yesterday that the Democratic National Committee chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, would be leaving that position. That comes after the revelations of the WikiLeaks email dump that showed party operatives favored Hillary Clinton during the nominating process over her rival Bernie Sanders. Wasserman Schultz was at a breakfast hosted by the Florida delegation. She hadn't started talking yet when the room erupted in boos and jeers. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy tried to keep the peace.


CHRIS MURPHY: So, listen, let me tell you this.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Be courteous. Sit down.

MURPHY: Let me have everybody sit down for a second.


MONTAGNE: All right, we're going to hear now from colleagues Tamara Keith and Don Gonyea who are in Philadelphia at the convention. Now, let's start with you, Don. This is a tumultuous start to a convention that was billed as a unity convention. Hillary Clinton set to take the stage with her running mate, Tim Kaine. This is not a great start.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Absolutely not. They - you know, they would have liked all of us to be talking about this new partnership between Secretary Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine and running through Tim - his resume, but not so. Instead, we've got the - you know, the jeering. And we've got - what you didn't hear in that particular clip. Moments later, Wasserman Schultz stepped up to the microphone and tried to speak and tried to speak. And the shouts got louder, and the shouts got louder. And all of this after the Democrats had hoped to show how organized they are after the Republican convention and the dissent, say, around Ted Cruz and others last week in Cleveland.

MONTAGNE: And let me go to you, Tamara.


MONTAGNE: Bernie Sanders has had a long-standing - and his followers have had a long-standing objection to Hillary Clinton, have claimed throughout that they were not being treated well by the Democratic National Committee. You've covered this campaign. What in these emails confirmed, or maybe suggested, that that might be true?

KEITH: Yeah. I think that Sanders and his supporters feel vindicated by the emails. In the emails - one particularly damning thing in the emails was - there was a message from a finance chair that suggested maybe they should question - someone should, without fingerprints, question whether Senator Sanders was an atheist or not leading into some primaries in Southern states.

So there were definitely things in those emails that made it look like the DNC was putting its finger on the scales. And of course, Sanders and his campaign have had complaints all along about the schedule of debates, for instance or when there was the situation with the DNC database and the Sanders campaign breaking into the database - or accidently breaking into the database and then getting locked out by the DNC for a day.

MONTAGNE: Right. So how is Hillary Clinton, the campaign, dealing with this?

KEITH: The Clinton campaign would like to not have to deal with it at all. Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepping down helps with that. Debbie Wasserman Schultz continuing to be at the convention and reminding everyone of why they are upset - it doesn't necessarily seem to be helping. But what the Clinton campaign is hoping to do is present a united front on primetime TV. Now whether that is able to happen or not is unclear and will probably depend on the Sanders delegates that are in the convention hall and how they decide to proceed.

But the Clinton campaign was reassuring people today that Bernie Sanders is going to give a speech that moves forward on what he has already done, which is endorse Hillary Clinton. They're going to have Elizabeth Warren on the stage, again, going strongly in favor of Hillary Clinton. They're going to - they're going to present this united front, at least with the big-name speakers. And simply by having big-name speakers, they are attempting to point out party unity and a contrast to the RNC, where there just weren't that many big-name Republicans on stage.

MONTAGNE: Well, almost a yes-or-no answer here, Don. The Republicans are seizing (laughter) on this already...

GONYEA: Indeed, indeed.

MONTAGNE: ...An email scandal.

GONYEA: Donald Trump tweets here - here we go again with another Clinton scandal and emails yet. (Laughter) And he goes on, and there are all kinds of those he's tweeting.

MONTAGNE: All right. Well, thank you NPR's Don Gonyea and also to NPR's Tamara Keith. Glad to have you with us. And we're going to hear now from our colleague Mara Liasson, who has been thinking about the importance of this moment for women.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton will make history this week. She'll break the penultimate glass ceiling and become the first female nominee of a major American political party. And that has many women wondering why this milestone feels like not such a big deal at all. Debbie Walsh is the director of the Center for the Study of Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

DEBBIE WALSH: I find it fascinating that it has not been talked about, as historic as I think it is. This is a significant moment in American history.

LIASSON: One reason is that it's been such a long time coming, almost 100 years after women got the right to vote and after women have been heads of state and government all over the world. Great Britain just got its second female prime minister. Melanne Verveer, who was the first U.S. ambassador for Global Women's Issues is a longtime colleague and friend of Clinton's. She says she's looking forward to the day when having a female president is utterly ordinary.

MELANNE VERVEER: I hope that, at some point, the novelty of all of this will just go away, and we will see it as something not so new but something that is part of the expected and that a woman can do this job in a very competent way, the way Chancellor Merkel has done or Theresa May will likely do as prime minister in the U.K. and so many women are doing in other parts of the world.

LIASSON: Even before she's nominated, you could argue that Hillary Clinton has already done that. She's made the idea of a woman in power normal. Case Western Reserve political scientist Karen Beckwith.

KAREN BECKWITH: She was in the Senate. She was secretary of state, very visible in both arenas. She was first lady for eight years, so people do know her. Many people adore her. A lot of people don't like her, but she's not a big shock.

LIASSON: As soon as Clinton left the State Department and became a candidate, her approval ratings began to drop. And after the FBI director's scathing assessment of her, quote, "extremely careless handling of classified information," she's now seen as unlikable or dishonest by majorities of voters. This week in Philadelphia, Clinton will try to fix that problem. Donald Trump's angry, divisive convention will let her draw exactly the contrast she wants. The Democrats are planning a program designed to be optimistic, realistic, uplifting, inclusive and unified. The convention also gives Clinton a chance to help voters identify with her. Pollster Peter Hart has done lots of focus groups on Clinton. He says voters have a hard time relating to her.

PETER HART: When I asked them what member of your family would she be - well, very few people see her as necessarily a mother, though there are some. Very few see her as a close aunt. Many see her much more as an intimidating aunt or a mother-in-law. So there's that sort of distance between her and the voters.

LIASSON: But, says Debbie Walsh, conventions are a second chance to make a first impression, even for someone as well-known as Hillary Clinton.

WALSH: And that's what conventions are about, right? This will be a time for her to redefine herself, reintroduce herself and reframe herself to the American public. But she has been someone who is kind of a fixture in American politics, for good and for bad. So that's part of the challenge that she has to overcome.

LIASSON: It's almost impossible to figure out how much of Hillary Clinton's problems are because of the actions she's taken and the enemies she's made and how much is because of her gender. In this year's campaign, gender has never been very far offstage.


DONALD TRUMP: You know, she's playing the women's card. By the way, if she didn't play the women's card, she would have no chance - I mean, zero - of winning.

LIASSON: That's fine with Clinton.


HILLARY CLINTON: If fighting for women's health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in.


LIASSON: But there is one area of the campaign where there's complete gender equality.


TRUMP: They attack my hair. My hair - it's mine.


TRUMP: Come here. Would anybody like to inspect?


CLINTON: A lot of people have said a lot of things about my hair over the years.


CLINTON: So I do kind of know what Donald is going through.


CLINTON: And if anyone wonders if mine is real, here's the answer. The hair is real. The color isn't.

LIASSON: This week's Democratic convention will give Clinton a chance, not only to show voters her real hair, but also the real her. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Philadelphia. 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.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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.
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