Philadelphia—Democratic National Committee Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced Sunday that she would step down from her position at the close of this week’s Democratic National Convention, shaking to its very foundations the party she has led for five years. The Florida congresswoman’s sudden decision to quit—amid a firestorm over leaked e-mails that suggested the party apparatus was biased in its approach to the 2016 nominating race between presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders—came after party leaders reportedly made moves late Saturday to strip Wasserman Schultz of her speaking slot at the convention and to replace her as the presiding chair for the quadrennial gathering of the party she has officially helmed since 2011.
The end came quickly for a party chair who just days ago had been looking forward to a triumphal convention.
As CNN reported Sunday morning, “The DNC Rules Committee on Saturday rescinded Wasserman Schultz’s position as convention chairwoman, instead naming Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, as permanent chair of the convention, according to a DNC source.”
By Sunday afternoon, Wasserman Schultz was officially on her way out—asserting that she wanted to focus on her Florida congressional district (where she faces a tough primary challenge from progressive Tim Canova) and on her new role as a Clinton campaign surrogate.
“Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals is to step down as Party Chair at the end of this convention,” said Wasserman Schultz in a statement. “As Party Chair, this week I will open and close the Convention and I will address our delegates about the stakes involved in this election not only for Democrats, but for all Americans.”
DNC Vice Chair Donna Brazile, a popular figure in the party who has said the “stupidity” exposed in the DNC emails “needs to be addressed,” will serve as interim chair through the election.
Wasserman Schultz had to go. It was no longer a question of if she would leave. Only how. She will stage manage some parts of her departure. But she is going—and she is going quickly.
Replacing this DNC chair had become a priority for a growing number of Democrats—for Sanders backers, who believed she used her position to undermine the senator’s candidacy; and for many Clinton backers, who were coming to see Wasserman Schultz as a divisive figure.
There was a burgeoning sense that Wasserman Schultz had become a burden to the party, and to efforts to unify Democrats at a convention where many Clinton and Sanders delegates will arrive with distinctly different views on platform planks, party rules, and campaign strategy.
The weekend moves by top Democrats to dramatically diminish the role of the party chair at a national convention where she was once expected to be an omnipresent figure, and then the announcement by Wasserman Schultz that she was quitting, came after the revelation by WikiLeaks of thousands of DNC e-mails that have confirmed the suspicion of Sanders supporters that the committee was seeking to tip the balance of the nominating process toward Clinton. In the e-mails, top DNC staffers speculate about attacking Sanders based on his religious faith; an attorney offers the committee advice on defending Clinton against complaints about her approach to fundraising; and Wasserman Schultz calls Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver “particularly scummy” and “an ass.” The e-mails are frequently dismissive of the candidacy of the progressive senator who won 23 primaries and caucuses, more than 13 million votes, and roughly 1,900 delegates to the convention. When Sanders suggested during the campaign that he would like to replace her as chairman, Wasserman Schultz replied to an aide with a sharp e-mail that declared, “He isn’t going to be president.”