A feud within the Democratic Party spilled into the open Friday at the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting in Minneapolis, as presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley used his speech to the convention to publicly chide DNC leaders for limiting the number of presidential debates.
Mr. O’Malley said that DNC officials had not only silenced debate among Democratic candidates but silenced the party’s ability to respond to Republican presidential candidates, whose recent TV debate reached more than 20 million Americans.
“They malign our president’s record of achievement, they denigrate women and immigrant families. They doubled down, on trickle down, and they tell their false stories,” he said. “And, we respond — with crickets, tumbleweeds, a cynical move to delay and limit our own party debates.”
He questioned what was becoming of the Democratic Party and the way it selects its presidential nominee.
Mr. O’Malley’s criticism of his party officials was greeted with applause and cheers from the crowd of state party chairman in the ballroom of the Hilton Minneapolis.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has suffered a fierce backlash from the state party leaders who make up the DNC membership over her imposing strict limits on the number of debates. But Mr. O’Malley’s speech in front of the DNC membership was the most public rebuke yet.
Ms. Wasserman Schultz, who has allowed for only six debates with the first one postponed until October, has been accused of trying to benefit Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the nomination who would have the most to lose on a debate stage.
Ms. Wasserman Schultz also has threatened that any candidate or media outlet that participates in debates outside the official schedule will be banned from the remainder of the party-sanctioned debates in 2016.
Some state party officials privately confronted Ms. Wasserman Schultz earlier at the meeting, but she refused to consider making changes, saying her decision was final, according to sources familiar with the exchange.
“Four debates. Four debates?” Mr. O’Malley asked with incredulity. “Four debates, and four debates only we are told, not asked before the voters in our earliest states make their decision. This is totally unprecedented in our party history. This sort of rigged process this has never been attempted before.”
The diatribe was punctuated by enthusiastic applause from DNC members.
He continued: “Who’s decree is this exactly? Where did it come from? To what end? For what purpose? What national or party interest does this decree does this serve? How does this tell the story of the last eight years of Democratic progress? How does this promote our Democratic ideas for making wages go up and household incomes go up again, instead of down?”
“How does this help us make our case to the American people? One debate in Iowa? That’s it? One debate in New Hampshire? That’s all we can afford?” Mr. O’Malley asked. “And, get this, the New Hampshire debate is cynically wedged into the high-pint holiday shopping season. So, as few people watch it as possible.”
Later, as the meeting was about to adjourn for the day, a state party official interrupted the proceeding to offer a motion that the DNC members vote on increasing the number of debates.
Cecil Benjamin, state chair of the Democratic Party of the U.S. Virgin Islands, offered a motion, igniting a burst of cheers and applause from the ballroom.
His attempt to put the chair’s debate edict to a vote was quickly derailed by a ruling by Ms. Wasserman Schultz that his motion was out of order.
Under the DNC schedule, the first four debates will occur one per month in early-voting states: Nevada in October, Iowa in November, New Hampshire in December and South Carolina in January, followed by a debate in Miami and one in Wisconsin with dates in February or March to be announced later.