AUDIE CORNISH, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. Liane Hansen is away. I'm Audie Cornish.
It was a dramatic end to a critical day in the 2008 presidential contest. The Democratic Party's rules committee decided to seat all the disputed delegates from Florida and Michigan, but to give each one only half a vote. Borrowing from King Solomon, the committee hoped to end the month-long battle over the two states that had defied the rules and held their primaries early.
But it was far from clear that the solution worked for everyone.
(Soundbite of people chanting)
Unidentified Man: Fifty states, not 48; 50 states, not 48.
CORNISH: The day began with several hundred demonstrators lining the street outside the hotel where the rules committee met. They were supporters of Hillary Clinton with only a handful of exceptions. But their message was all about counting votes.
(Soundbite of people chanting)
Unidentified Woman: Count those votes, count those votes...
CORNISH: Donna Harroll(ph) of Celebration, Florida came up to Washington with her daughter.
Ms. DONNA HARROLL (Hillary Clinton Supporter): This is my daughter Mallory. This is her first election. And it's sad that this is what we're doing. I get very emotional and sad that this is what we're teaching our young kids, that they have to come out and fight to have their votes counted.
CORNISH: Many people came to express support for Hillary Clinton. But it wasn't all about Clinton. Trina McDonald, Sanford, Florida.
Ms. TRINA MCDONALD (Barack Obama Supporter): I'm actually an Obama supporter. I'm not here to support Hillary Clinton; I'm here to stand up for the rights of the voters. We should be a democracy, and if we can't get our votes counted then are we what we say we are?
CORNISH: But the presence of the outdoors demonstrators and more Clinton supporters inside the meeting room was not enough to move the rules and bylaws committee. In a process that remained orderly, despite noisy onlookers and a heavy media presence, the 30-member committee flogged through five hours of speeches and questions before finally taking a lunch break.
Three hours later, the committee members reemerged at 6:00 in the evening, and some had smiles. It was clear they had worked out a solution and it was soon clear the committee would stick to its guns, or at least half of its guns.
NPR's David Greene was in the hall for the day and into the night. And David joins me now. Tell me what's the bottom line about what the committee actually accomplished yesterday?
DAVID GREENE: Well, the bottom line, Audie, is that these delegates are going to be at the convention as people. They will be there; those seats will be filled and a lot of people thought that's what was going to happen as to bring these states back into the process and not make the voters of Michigan and Florida feel like they were dissed by the Democratic Party.
But the results of these primaries, it's all a very strange system they set up. These delegates are only going to get half a vote. And so the rules and bylaws committee decided not to go back in total on its punishment and to stick by something that is allowed under their longstanding rules, which is to punish states by taking away half of their delegate voting at the convention.
And so basically the committee decided they didn't want to take all of their punishment away. That if these states, Florida and Michigan, moved up their primaries, they had to be punished in some way and they couldn't change that. And Donna Brazile is one of the committee members; she's also a CNN commentator and she is not committed to either campaign at this point. She sort of summed things up yesterday. Let's give a listen.
Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (Member, Democratic Party Rules and Committee, CNN Commentator): Well, my mama always taught me to play by the rules and to respect those rules.
(Soundbite of applause)
Ms. BRAZILE: And my mother also taught me, and I am sure your mother taught you because you are clearly a fine man and a public servant that I have admired for years, that when you decide to change the rules, especially middle of the game, end of the game, that is referred to as cheating.
(Soundbite of applause)
CORNISH: All right. So, maybe that 50 percent reduction works for Florida where Hillary Clinton ended up getting 19 delegates in that game. But the committee did something else; it reapportioned the delegates from Michigan. And the committee gave a lot of delegates to Obama in Michigan even though he was not on the ballot there.
GREENE: Right. And you nail it. That's where the real controversy was, it's at the end of the day. That the committee agreed that Barack Obama was not on the ballot because he withdrew in deference to this committee's ruling, saying that this primary was not going to count so he, like many of the other candidates, took his name off the ballot.
And so yesterday the committee decided to reward him basically for following the rules and honoring this compromise that they worked out with supporters from both campaigns in Michigan and giving Obama a good number of delegates based on this voting for uncommitted. So, it wasn't people voting for Barack Obama, it was voting for uncommitted, and they awarded delegates to him based on that.
CORNISH: And that wasn't acceptable to the national Clinton campaign, was it?
GREENE: You can say that again, and things got pretty testy. The national Clinton campaign didn't want Obama to have any delegates at all. They just wanted there to be Clinton delegates and these uncommitted delegates going to the convention. So, when the committee rejected that plan, one of its members, Harold Ickey(ph), who's both on the committee and he's one of the top people on the Clinton campaign, just really cut loose.
Mr. HAROLD ICKEY (Member, Democratic Party Rules and Bylaws Committee): There's been a lot of rhetoric during this thing about democracy and on and on and on. I am stunned that we have the gall and the chutzpah to substitute our judgment for 600,000 voters.
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. ICKEY: And finally one final word: we are - Mrs. Clinton has instructed me to reserve her rights to take this to the credentials committee.
CORNISH: So, what do you think, David, will Senator Clinton appeal this before the credentials committee this summer? Are we going to be seeing this go right to the convention?
GREENE: It's going to be up to the Clinton campaign. I mean, this really felt divisive yesterday, and whether the Clinton campaign wants to take the risk of dividing the party and keeping this going or bring a resolution is up in the air. And you know there's so much passion out there - you heard it outside, Audie. And one of the first speeches of the day for the Clinton campaign yesterday came from a Florida state senator, Athenia Joyner, and this is what she had to say:
Ms. ATHENIA JOYNER (State Senator, Florida): You have a unique opportunity right here and right now to write the people of Florida back into this historic election story. You have the power to say yes, their votes count; yes, their delegates should be seated; yes, their Democratic Party believe that their voices should be heard.
CORNISH: Well, David, the official primary season is wrapping up today with the contest in Puerto Rico and then Tuesday with South Dakota and Montana. Give us a sense of what is the magic number of delegates that either would need to clinch the nomination?
GREENE: Well, because of these added delegates now, the needed number has gone from 2,026 to 2,118. So it's little change.
CORNISH: It's math time now.
GREENE: It's math time. And so Barack Obama is now sitting there 65 delegates away so Hillary Clinton is in a very tough spot.
CORNISH: Well, David Greene, thank you so much for coming in to talk to us.
GREENE: Pleasure, Audie.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.