Amid a nasty internal spat about the number of debates in the presidential primary, the Democratic National Committee on Wednesday endorsed adding a forum for the Democratic candidates.
Hosted by the liberal grassroots organization MoveOn.org, the venue will be an online forum—not a debate—featuring questions from viewers and focusing on progressive issues. So far, only Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has agreed to attend.
The additional venue for the presidential candidates follows months of controversy surrounding the DNC over the debate schedule.
In a disputed move, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz this year limited the schedule to six debates and barred the candidates from participating in any additional debates other than the sanctioned ones. Many Democrats have openly rebelled against her decision, saying it benefits frontrunner Hillary Clinton and limits free airtime for candidates.
In endorsing the MoveOn forum, Wasserman Schultz is supporting a compromise that stops short of adding a debate to the presidential primary.
“Candidate forums like this one hosted by MoveOn.org are important opportunities,” said Wasserman Schultz, “along with town halls, living room conversations, county fair visits, and DNC debates all across the country, where our Democratic candidates get to engage with voters and highlight their vision for moving America forward.”
DNC vice chairs RT Rybak and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard have publicly criticized Wasserman Schultz’s decision to limit the debates, saying they were not consulted and that the presidential candidates should be allowed to attend more than six debates.
After internal squabbles at the DNC broke into the public view last week, the officers held a meeting on Friday to discuss the new venue. Vice chair Donna Brazile told TIME last week that the Democrats were considering ways to add more debates.
RT Rybak, who last week said he questions Wasserman Schultz’s ability to lead the party and has lambasted the debate schedule, told TIME late Tuesday that the new venue represents “good progress.”
But it’s unlikely that the MoveOn forum, which is not a debate, will satisfy Democrats angry that their candidates are not getting equal airtime to the Republican candidates, who have 11 debates.
“It’s a positive step, as the DNC has to get creative about closing the gap with the RNC,” said Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network. “But at this point there is no substitute for adding more weekday primetime TV debates with modern media partners.”
It will be viewable online, and all the candidates, including Clinton, Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig have been invited.
Republicans have gained significantly more viewers so far for their debates, critics have pointed out, with 24 million and 23 million in the first two events, respectively. By contrast, about 16 million people watched the first Democratic debate.
“This forum will help Democratic candidates engage with millions of progressive Americans who constitute an influential part of the party’s base and who will play a significant role in the coming primaries and caucuses,” said Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action.
MoveOn held a similar forum in July 2007 during the last competitive Democratic primary, and all eight candidates accepted invitations to participate.
The second Democratic debate will be held on November 14 in Des Moines, Iowa.
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