MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
With Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton locked in a battle for the Democratic nomination and no resolution in sight, we now turn to the man on the hot seat, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean.
Governor Dean, welcome.
Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, Democratic National Committee; Former Governor, Vermont): Robert, thanks for having me on.
SIEGEL: If for several more weeks, we hear Senator Clinton saying, he is not equipped to be commander in chief and Senator Obama is saying, she must have something to hide in her taxes or she'd release them, is that good for your party?
Mr. DEAN: No, but I don't think - that wouldn't be good for the party but I doubt very much that you're going to hear that. I think you're going to hear that both people are capable of being commander in chief and you're going to hear that both people are far, frankly, more ethical than Senator McCain, who has managed to spend a lot of the taxpayers' money running up a huge deficit, getting himself ferried around to various vacations and so forth at the expense of various lobbyists. And he's not what he appears to the American people at all and frankly, has used the public trough to get on the ballot and then denied that he was going to take public financing. I think he has gotten off to an awfully shaky start in terms of ethics and I think that matters to people.
SIEGEL: But while you're talking about Senator McCain, and the two Democratic senators are as well, they're talking about each other, too, a lot and it has been pretty critical.
Mr. DEAN: You know, in general, Robert, I think that being in front of 25 or six million voters, huge turnouts, huge crowds everywhere we go including in a hailstorm yesterday in Ohio, is pretty good. You know, the tendency in Washington is the official Washington wring their hands and say, oh, my Lord, what if we have a conflict? Well, I'm looking at a 50-state campaign for the first time. We've been in 42 or three states now. I think that's terrific. When the election comes along, the fact that we had this spirited contest in Ohio six months ago or eight months ago is going to really mean a lot for the fall.
SIEGEL: Have you been quoted out of context as telling Democratic leaders in Congress that you like to see this resolved soon?
Mr. DEAN: Well, that's not exactly what I told Democratic leaders in Congress. I think what we all met about is how to resolve the very close race and maintain party unity. That does not mean we're circumventing the will of the voters. We want the voters to vote and they have so far in huge numbers. And after the voters vote, if there's still no verdict, then we'll have to figure out how to keep the party together as we get a verdict but right now we want to focus on the voters voting.
SIEGEL: Let's take that hypothetical possibility. That after all, the voters...
Mr. DEAN: Well, let's not take too many hypotheticals, because I try not to answer hypotheticals.
SIEGEL: Well, do you believe that winning a larger number of pledged delegates in primaries and caucuses as opposed to superdelegates should, in any way, privilege a candidate? Is that (unintelligible)…
Mr. DEAN: You know, I'm going to leave that argument. That's the kind of argument the candidates have among themselves. I don't get into all that stuff.
SIEGEL: But at some point, if your party says, thank you, 30-million-plus Americans for voting in our primaries and caucusing. Now, a few hundred party hotshots will decide who the nominee is, not a very good message.
Mr. DEAN: First of all, there are no such thing as a few hundred party hotshots. The superdelegates look exactly like the Democratic Party. Some of them are governors and senators and so forth. Most of them look like the 21-year-old college student that was interviewed on CNN from Wisconsin. He's a superdelegate.
SIEGEL: He's the youngest superdelegate in the country.
Mr. DEAN: Yeah. But our superdelegates look like the rest of America and they look like the Democratic Party and they got elected by the same people who voted in the primaries, just at a different time. They're uncommitted, but that doesn't mean they're party hotshots and cigar-smoking people clapping each other on the back and figuring this all out in a smoky room.
SIEGEL: No problem. Not even a cosmetic problem for the Democratic Party if the winner of the pledged delegates is overwhelmed - if that margin is overwhelmed by superdelegates.
Mr. DEAN: I think that would be surprising for that to happen.
SIEGEL: You think superdelegates would follow the lead of the others.
Mr. DEAN: Look, there's already been, I think, over 400 superdelegates that have already committed. So, look, I just don't - I think this is all wonderful speculation, lots of fun for the press. We're going to nominate a candidate who's going to beat Senator McCain. Senator McCain is a flawed candidate. And I think either one of our candidates is going to win.
SIEGEL: Okay. Back to another Democratic Party problem which is called Florida and Michigan.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: Florida and Michigan. I want you to listen to what Florida's Republican governor, Charlie Crist, said today on what he would like to see happen, which is make the primaries in Michigan and Florida count. Here's what he said.
Governor CHARLIE CRIST (Republican, Florida): Every vote should count, and the notion the party leaders and bosses in Washington would deny my fellow Floridians and Jennifer Granholm's - Governor Granholm's fellow Michigan citizens not to be heard is unconscionable.
SIEGEL: He said party leaders and bosses. Let's not go after that for too long. That's his characterization. Can you, first of all, for Florida and Michigan, can you rule out a redo primary or a substitute caucus to choose convention delegates?
Mr. DEAN: There is actually a way within the - the first thing, let me say, about this, Robert, is you've got to stick the rules. Once the rules in - I wish Florida and Michigan had done that because it would make this much easier - but once the rules are set, everybody knows who's running for president, what the rules are. And if you change the rules in the middle of the game, you're disadvantaging or advantaging one of the candidates. That you cannot do because it destroys the credibility of the process.
Having said that, look, I think Governor Crist is onto something here. There is a process within the rules. They can come and petition, and give the Rules Committee a new plan for selecting their delegates. We're very open to that. He mentioned that himself on one of these talk shows over the weekend. In fact, when this was all happening and we were warning Florida not to do this and not to move out of the rule, out of the window and be unfair to the other states that had done the right thing, we suggested that we would even help them pay for it. They rejected it. They didn't want to talk to us. And so that's all water under the bridge.
But there's another thing. They could appeal to the Credentials Committee, which is the committee elected by the delegates to the convention, which will be constituted in early July. So they can either come before the Rules Committee of the DNC, and say we have a new process for picking our delegates and here it is and see if the Rules Committee will accept it, or they can go to the Credentials Committee in July to see if they can be accepted.
SIEGEL: What's the latest that there could be some event in either Florida or Michigan to select delegates for the convention?
Mr. DEAN: I don't know the answer to that question because so far, frankly, neither state, other than Governor Crist last weekend, has given any indication that they're the least interested in a different process. But it would have to happen some time in late May or early June, I guess.
SIEGEL: Well, what about seating delegates chosen in the primaries that took place? Is that absolutely out?
Mr. DEAN: Well, it's ultimately up to the Credentials Committee. It's a clear violation of the rules of this campaign. And so I'd be very surprised if the Rules Committee of the DNC would do that. What the Credentials Committee does is up to the Credentials Committee. We don't have any control over that. That's the elected delegates of the convention who'll make that decision.
SIEGEL: Can you imagine selecting delegates by some appointment process to reflect a pre-established balance that those two delegations must meet?
Mr. DEAN: No. That's clearly against the rules. That's against the rules. You - basically, we had a plan for how to run the campaigns and the caucuses and the primaries. Everybody, including Florida and Michigan, voted for this and said yes, and this is the way it's doing. We - the biggest thing about this is that we made provisions for two early, very ethnically diverse states to go, first, in addition to New Hampshire and Iowa...
SIEGEL: South Carolina and Nevada.
Mr. DEAN: …South Carolina and Nevada and we did it for two reasons. We wanted geographic diversity, and we wanted ethnic and racial diversity so that the electorate in the early states would look like the Democratic Party. The problem with Florida, moving forward, was not only was it incredibly disrespectful to all the other states who voted for and kept their word, it also stepped on South Carolina which was our way of including large numbers of African-Americans in the process to select the Democratic nominee, who cannot become president without a large number of African-Americans winning in November.
SIEGEL: But just to clarify this, before I let you go here, right now you said an earlier proposal was rejected by Florida, I believe. Right now, are there, what strike you as constructive negotiations going on to solve the problem of the Florida and Michigan delegations or just some proposals being made on cable television?
Mr. DEAN: No, the - we have tried to negotiate with Florida party and the Michigan party for a long time and basically been told they're not interested in negotiating. Now they're making public overtures. We've not had any private overtures but we'd certainly welcome them. We're not interested in disfranchising Florida and Michigan voters. They're important to us. But what we are saying is we have to be respectful of the other 48 states who stuck by the rules, played by the rules and we most certainly have to be respectful of the candidacies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who knew what the rules were, and changing the rules halfway through the game is incredibly unfair to both of those candidates and frankly would split the Democratic Party. So we're not going to do it.
SIEGEL: Well, Governor Dean, Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, thanks a lot for talking with us.
Mr. DEAN: Thanks for having me on, Robert.
SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.