Two platform planks sparked division at the Democratic National Convention here Wednesday.
Things got so bad that President Barack Obama was forced to personally intervene, ordering language mentioning God and naming Jerusalem as the rightful capital of Israel be added.
Obama had seen the language prior to the convention, a campaign source said, but did not seek to change it until after Republicans jumped on the omissions of God and Jerusalem late Wednesday. And even then, it had to be forced through a convention hall full of delegates who nearly shouted down the change.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention’s chairman, kicked off Wednesday’s proceedings by trying to clean up a mess Democrats made by omitting from their official party platform mentions of God and of Jerusalem as the preferred capital of Israel.
Villaraigosa called for a voice vote on an amendment offered by former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who chaired the platform drafting committee. Facing boos and “nay”s, he tried again, before announcing that in his judgment, a two-thirds majority had approved the measure. He was booed again as he walked off the stage.
A senior White House said Wednesday that the platform dispute was an unfortunate stumble during this week’s convention.
Republicans mocked each subsequent mention of God from the podium as antithetical to the Democratic Party’s platform. GOP rival Mitt Romney released a statement blasting Democrats for leaving Jerusalem out of the platform.
After Villaraigosa announced the platform change, Republicans wasted little time trying to exploit the flip-flop on Jerusalem. Romney has said he’d as president acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which would be a change in longstanding U.S. policy, which has been that all “final status issues” be left to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Mitt Romney has consistently stated his belief that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. “Although today’s voice vote at the Democratic National Convention was unclear, the Democratic Party has acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Obama has repeatedly refused to say the same himself. Now is the time for President Obama to state in unequivocal terms whether or not he believes Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”
The convention language Obama pushed for is somewhat at odds with his own policy. Obama, like predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, has every six months waived moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem since Congress voted to move it in 1995. He most recently did so June 1.
The White House directed questions on the topic to the reelection campaign.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the platform was changed to “maintain consistency with the personal views expressed by the president and in the Democratic Party platform in 2008. Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”
The division over Israel also flies in the face of a prediction Obama strategist David Axelrod made days earlier on “Fox News Sunday,” when he crowed that Obama’s convention would be free of the sideshows that plagued the Republican National Convention last week in Tampa.
“We don’t have the problems that the other party has,” Axelrod said then. “We’re not divided. We don’t have to worry about, you know, what people are saying on the side or about their affection for the president or — we don’t have those problems.”
Obama’s campaign and the party, as well as the news organizations covering their confab, stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars that had been invested in the planned Thursday night event. When Obama accepted his party’s nomination at the NFL stadium in Denver in 2008, the city’s host committee spent $2.3 million just to rent the stadium.
Blaming the weather — hardly a surprise in the humid South during the first week of September — for ditching the football stadium venue drew immediate criticism from the editorial page editor of the Charlotte Observer.
“What did organizers think the chance of rain would be on a September evening in Charlotte when they decided to put the Obama event at the stadium in the first place? Zero?” Taylor Batten wrote on the paper’s blog.