DNC Chair Defends Decision To Dump WMUR As Debate Partner

Dec 18, 2015

Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Credit Associated Press

The Democratic candidates for president will take the stage at Saint Anselm College in Manchester Saturday night for New Hampshire’s first debate of the primary season.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley will take part in the debate, which will air on WMUR here in New Hampshire and ABC affiliates nationally.

The Democratic National Committee last week stripped WMUR of its co-sponsor status for the debate due to an ongoing labor dispute at the station.

Speaking to NHPR’s Morning Edition, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz defended that decision.

“We simply asked that the negotiations be at least scheduled prior to our debate so that we could make sure that those workers had an opportunity to take the next step in the process. (WMUR) refused to do that.”

While WMUR will no longer have a moderator on the panel, Wasserman Schultz says ABC’s moderators will be asking the same questions

Saturday night’s debate begins at 8 p.m.

Below is the full transcript of Wasserman Schultz’s interview with Morning Edition:

Let’s start with the decision by the DNC last week to strip WMUR-TV of its co-sponsor status. That was done in response to a labor dispute at the station. This got a lot of reaction in political circles here in the Granite State. Republicans here were quick to criticize the move.

Can you speak to the rationale behind the decision?

We stand by the working men and women of this country. We take seriously our support for the labor movement and for the right to collective bargaining and negotiations in good faith. There is a collective bargaining unit that has not been treated fairly and we simply asked that the negotiations be at least scheduled prior to our debate so that we could make sure that those workers had an opportunity to take the next step in the process. (WMUR) refused to do that.”

One impact of that decision is that WMUR will not have a moderator on the panel, as was planned. This is New Hampshire’s only Democratic debate, so you’re losing that local participation. Do you believe this was an issue that was worth making that sacrifice?

It’s absolutely worth the sacrifice to stand up for the working men and women of this country. That is a core principle of the Democratic Party. And let’s keep in mind the debate is still going to air on WMUR. It’s an ABC affiliate. In fact, ABC national is going to be asking the questions that would have been asked by WMUR’s moderator, so there will be local and national issues addressed. There’s nothing lost in that regard.

As you know, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have expressed concern about the lack of debates, but I want to ask you about the scheduling of this one.

The last Democratic debate held on a Saturday night and was the lowest-rated debate among either party this primary season.

This debate is also being held on a Saturday night, and the Saturday before Christmas, at that, which has the potential for low viewership.

Are you concerned at all that people may not be tuning in?

Our first debate set a record at 15.8 million viewers. That was 50 percent more than the previous record set at the height of the Obama-Clinton primary in 2008. The 8.5 million in Iowa last month was also one of the highest-rated Democratic debates ever. Let’s be clear on the facts: half of our debates are on weekdays. And let’s be clear as well that we have most of our debates on broadcast networks, which are free and over the air, so you’re not limiting access to people who can watch to people who are paying for those channels. And the Republicans have a number of their broadcast debates on weekends, as well. Unfortunately, network time is less flexible than cable time. I’m very comfortable with the mix of debates. We have three during the week, three on the weekends, and we’re proud of the fact that we’re making sure voters have a variety of opportunities to take a good, close look at our candidates.

Attacks among the candidates are sure to get more pointed as we get closer to the first votes being cast. But even in the last debate, Sen. Sanders was pretty direct in his criticism of Secretary Clinton, particularly when it comes to her ties to Wall Street.

After the primary, are you worried about fractures in the party?

I’m not. I’m very confident that we’re going to come back together at the end of the primary when we eventually have a nominee. That’s because each of our candidates stands in stark, remarkable contrast to any of the Republican candidates on the other side of the aisle. At their debate the other night, I really could have closed my eyes and would not have thought these were candidates running for President of the United States; it felt more like they were running for president of an autocratic, third-world country in which their support for oppression and discrimination stands in stark contrast not only to our candidates and our party’s agenda and principles, but American values. So when we have a nominee who stacks up against the Republican nominee, I absolutely am confident that we’ll have the unity we’ll need to support the nominee and propel them to the White House.

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