DNC votes against allowing single-topic debates

Democratic National Committee members on Saturday voted down a resolution that would have resulted in single-issue debates among candidates — including on the issue of the climate crisis.

The language that was rejected — inserted at the behest of climate change activists during a contentious Resolutions Committee meeting on Thursday — said the DNC, “will continue to encourage candidates to participate in multi-candidate issue-specific forums with the candidates appearing on the same stage, engaging one another in discussion.”

Democratic presidential candidates are barred from appearing together on stage outside of DNC-sanctioned debates.

The committee’s approved language from Thursday “essentially lifted the ban on candidates being unable to appear together on a stage at a forum or a candidate gathering,” Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski, a leader in the effort, told CNN. DNC members defeated the move to lift such a ban Saturday in a 222-137 vote. There were multiple observers from both sides who monitored the vote count.

Prior to the voting, DNC Chairman Tom Perez set up a system for members on both sides to speak about their reasoning.

The text approved in committee also conflicted with the resolution itself because it stated, “the DNC concluded that it should not hold debates devoted to one specific topics, nor can it agree to requests for such debates by individual presidential candidates.”

It goes on to call for the DNC and “its partners and organizations to organize climate-specific forums and invite all candidates to attend and speak at such forums.”

CNN will host one of those forums on September 4, when all ten candidates who qualified for the next debate will participate in individual town halls on the climate crisis.

Some Democratic presidential candidates voiced their concerns with the vote’s outcome. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke called out the DNC over its decision, specifically regarding a debate devoted solely to the climate crisis.

“This decision is as baffling as it is alarming,” he tweeted. “Our planet is burning— the least we can do as a party is debate what to do about it.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also voiced support on Twitter for a climate-focused debate on Thursday night before the DNC’s vote.

“Climate change is an existential crisis that threatens all of us—and we need to take bold action now to stop it before it’s too late,” she wrote. “That’s why we need to have a #ClimateDebate.”

A resolution that called for a Climate Crisis debate outright was also rejected in committee on Thursday. It had the support of more than 60 DNC members.

The intensity over the debate language came to a head in San Francisco, where activists — many of whom from the Sunrise Movement, which has strongly advocated for a Green New Deal — attended the DNC meeting to continue their months-long demand for a climate change debate among the Democratic presidential candidates.

Members from the group held signs in support of a debate and interrupted the normally-quiet committee meeting on Thursday. A couple of protestors went up to the dais to confront the committee co-chairs.

Symone Sanders, a senior adviser on the Joe Biden 2020 campaign who worked for the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign, was hissed and booed for not supporting the calls for the debate. She pointed to climate forums candidates are participating in to show they take the issue very seriously.

That did not quell the frustrations of the activists in the room, many of whom left in frustration after the debate was rejected.

Podlodowski, looking to seize on the language that was approved, organized a group Friday night to collect signatures of DNC members to present to Perez asking him to allow such an event. She hoped to have more than 100 signatures by Saturday morning, including more than 60 people who sponsored the original resolution.

Supporters of the DNC decision to not allow single-issue debates voiced strong concern that special interest groups for issues the Party supports like veterans, race, and poverty would feel slighted if their issues were excluded from sanctioned debates. And officials at the DNC have so far held firm in their decision, expressing concern that changing the rules now so long after the presidential race began would be unfair to the candidates.

On Saturday, as the vote was underway, protesters directed chants of “failure of leadership” at Perez, who himself voted to keep the DNC rules the same. The announced vote, though, was not met with any major response from the crowd.

CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi and Caroline Kelly contributed to this report from Washington.