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Revised Platform Elicits Boos At DNC In Charlotte


A rare moment of dissention at the Democratic National Convention. After a routine adoption of the party platform on Tuesday, critics pointed out that the document omitted any mention of the word God and did not identify Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Then yesterday the chair of the platform committee, former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, proposed amendments.


TED STRICKLAND: As an ordained United Methodist minister, I am here to attest and affirm that our faith and belief in God is central to the American story and informs the values we've expressed in our party's platform. In addition, President Obama recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and our party's platform should as well.

CONAN: By rule, such amendments require approval by two-thirds of the delegates. DNC Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa then called for a voice vote.


MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: All those delegates in favor, say aye.


VILLARAIGOSA: All those delegates opposed, say no.


VILLARAIGOSA: In the opinion of - let me do that again. All of those delegates in favor, say aye.


VILLARAIGOSA: All those delegates opposed, say no.


VILLARAIGOSA: I - I guess...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You've got to let them do what they're going to do.

VILLARAIGOSA: I'll do that one more time. All those delegates in favor, say aye.


VILLARAIGOSA: All those delegates opposed, say no.


VILLARAIGOSA: In the opinion of the chair, two-thirds have voted in the affirmative. The motion is adopted, and the platform has been amended as shown on the screen. Thank you very much. Thank you.

CONAN: Democrats, why does this matter? 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Join the conversation at our website too. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. Liz Halloran, Washington correspondent for npr.org, was on the floor as those votes happened yesterday and joins us now from the NPR workspace in Charlotte. And nice to have you with us.

LIZ HALLORAN, BYLINE: Nice to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And the ayes had it, two-thirds, really? Didn't sound that way.

HALLORAN: I heard what you heard, let's just say that. It did not appear to be two-thirds, but as Chairman Villaraigosa said this morning, he exercised his chairman's prerogative.

CONAN: OK. What was the mood like during the vote?

HALLORAN: It was - it actually took a lot of us by surprise. I had just gotten to the hall, and Governor Strickland - former Governor Strickland took to the podium and made the amendment. And there was some kerfuffle, some noise when the vote was gaveled down, when the chairman ruled in favor of the changes. There were boos. There were thumbs down. It was an interesting moment in what you've noted has been a pretty well-scripted, on-message convention; we really haven't had any of that on the floor before that moment.

CONAN: And did you talk to delegates? How did they react?

HALLORAN: The delegates - I have to tell you one thing they - this morning the president's spokespeople had a press availability, and they were trying to talk about the reaction of the delegates, the negative reaction, as a reaction to Republicans wanting to gin up the issue. Now, that certainly isn't the sense that we had on the floor.

CONAN: Didn't sound that way, no.

HALLORAN: No. And the president's people said the platforms are not copied and pasted from previous conventions, and that when the president heard of the omission, he wanted to put it back in, and that the delegates were booing because they didn't get more of a heads-up that this vote was going to be taken. But clearly that's not what they were upset about.

CONAN: And there is an issue, some Republicans are charging, the president had seen the platform and didn't see a problem with it until Republicans started attacking it.

HALLORAN: That is not all that unusual. The platform was completed the night before. And yesterday his - I'm sorry, his spokesperson yesterday, Jay Carney, was asked about it in a - in a gaggle, and he said - this is exactly what he said, because I think this is a sensitive issue. I want to get all of this...


HALLORAN: ...you know, (unintelligible) careful. But he said, the president of the United States, his position on Jerusalem held by this administration, this president, is exactly the same position that presidents and administrations have held since 1967. And he said he didn't hear leaders of the Republican Party and he didn't hear Mitt Romney criticizing the George W. Bush administration for the same position.

And the president - David Axelrod, this morning, said when the president found out that the words God and the Jerusalem issue were not included in the platform, insisted that they were. So the administration's position is they didn't know. They asked for it to get back in.

CONAN: And it is, at least, according to, I think everybody, the president did call and say we want these back in.

HALLORAN: That's what his people are saying. Yes.

CONAN: Here, by the way, are the quotes from Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. This was obviously before the changes. It's unfortunately, Mitt Romney said, the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama's shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel's capital.

Paul Ryan said on Fox News, it's not in keeping with our founding documents, our founding vision. But I guess you'd have to ask the Obama administration why they purged all this language from the platform. That's what the omission of the word God. And does this have any legs? Is this something that - there was also a pretty spellbinding speech last night by former President Bill Clinton. Are people talking - what are people talking about?

HALLORAN: Well, people are talking about this to a degree, trying to figure out whether it's important, whether it's not important. It's clearly given Republicans an opening. As a matter of fact, Allen West, a Republican congressman in Florida who's up for re-election, already has an ad out on this saying, three times they said no to God.

It was an unnecessary, certainly, an unnecessary flap that's occurred. But you can imagine the opportunity that it's given. And it's interesting because people say that this issue is one that's been around, been the same, and it's just the platform is - was being carefully read by Republicans after it was done Tuesday night. And they noticed these omissions and it's an issue that they might get some legs out of - in races like, for example, Allen West in Florida.

CONAN: So let's see if we can get some Democrats on the line to see why this matters, if it matters to them. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Nellie. And Nellie is with us from Houston.

NELLIE: Hi. How are you?

CONAN: Good. Thanks.

NELLIE: Well, I was just a little bit put off when I heard this because I'm not a member of any organized religion, but I feel like it slightly alienates people because it's not just Christians that are in the Democratic Party. And also adding that Jerusalem bit is a little bit more political of an issue than an issue that should just be, you know, put out on the floor for a vote of people yelling for it.

So, I mean, it put me off a little bit to like try and stay, you know, have a minister go up there and say, yeah, this is all about, you know, this party is all about God and the Christian God. And, I mean, I'm still going to vote for President Obama, but I'm just a little bit put off by that because there are a lot of people that believe in a lot of different things that are also Democrats.

CONAN: Yeah. But I've been watching, and I don't think at either convention I've seen a single speaker leave the stage without saying, and God bless the United States of America.

NELLIE: Sure. But, you know, I don't know. Personally that puts me off a little bit also, because if somebody went up there and said, Buddha bless the United States of America, people might get a little bit angry. But I think that they just consider that because this is America that they - I don't think they realize that not everyone here is a Christian and not everyone here wants it. I mean, there - what about the separation of church and state? Why do they have to go around talking about how we're all of this belief, when everybody has every different belief?

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

NELLIE: Sorry. Bye.

CONAN: All right. That's OK. This is a comment from one of the delegates, Teresa MacBain, who's a spokeswoman for American Atheists. We're disappointed, she told POLITICO. What appeared to be a bold move by the Democrats to be inclusive has been pulled away. It sends a mixed message. Many, many people who are nonbelievers fall in the lines of the Democrats.

And I wanted to ask you, Liz Halloran, it's - as Democrats are thinking about this a day later, do they think it was worse to have had these problems in the platform in the first place or does it look worse to change it?

HALLORAN: I think that's a toss-up, but I thought the caller brought up an interesting point when she was talking about - these are platform issues. And if you take a look at the column that NPR's Ron Elving wrote this morning, he put it very well. He said, party platforms are like contracts. No one bothers to read them until something bad happens.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

HALLORAN: And it's true that the - what's happened with the platforms is they are increasingly ignored but also increasingly written by people at the far reaches of the party. In Florida, in Tampa, for example, where the Republicans had their convention last week, some of the language in their platform is some of the most conservative language that they've ever had in, on gay rights, on reproductive choice. They call for a return to the gold standard.

And so maybe someone was overthinking or thinking in a different - in different way about language when they put this platform together on Tuesday to excise that language. But it - everything now is being parsed, and it does represent something to Republicans, an opportunity; certainly this isn't an optimal conversation to be having on the morning of the president's big acceptance speech. But I think a lot of people don't read these platforms that carefully.

CONAN: This is from the Los Angeles Times. I think it failed, said Don Kershner, a delegate from Boise, who said it sounded to him, sitting in the opposite end of the arena from the speaker platform, that at least 50 percent of the delegates opposed the changes. Kershner was one of the only delegates from Idaho in the arena when the changes were made. Itself a problem, he said. But he said he thought the party should have left well enough alone. They shouldn't have messed with it, said Kershner, wearing a white cowboy hat supporting the Boise State Broncos. It's clearly a dividing subject. We don't want to drive a wedge into the party.

Terri Holland was one of the people who voted against the amendments introduced Wednesday night. The New Mexico delegate from Albuquerque said she thought Democrats have made the changes to kowtow to the religious right, something the party should never do.

So, Liz Halloran, it's the issues - the God and Jerusalem - those, in and of themselves, are interesting. There's also the moment of, well, you know, making the changes without the clear support of a two-thirds majority.

HALLORAN: Well, the changes were approved the night before, by the platform committee. It - certainly, the optics are not good. I think Chairman Villaraigosa knew that the optics weren't good. But politically, I think that the administration was put in a position, where they did what they had to do. I mean, it's been an issue. Republicans have been long been trying to portray the president as lacking loyalty to Israel. And it was easier to do it that way politically than to allow this to go on.

CONAN: We're talking with NPR's Liz Halloran. She's Washington correspondent for npr.org. She's in Charlotte at the Democratic National Convention. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And Colin's(ph) on the line calling from San Francisco.

COLIN: Good morning - good afternoon. I had actually re-registered as a Democrat largely because I wasn't happy with the rightward tilt of the Republican Party. But I also felt that the statements Mr. Romney have been making about Obama throwing Israel under the bus, were completely baseless and, in fact, pandering. My concern with the changes to the language in the platform is that this creates an impression for the rest of the world that we are not going to act as a - an even-handed arbiter in the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

CONAN: The position of the Palestinians, of course, is East Jerusalem should be their capital and it should not be the capital of Israel. It has been the position of many American presidents, including President Obama, that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. The United States Embassy, though, remains in Tel Aviv.

COLIN: Correct.

CONAN: And, Liz Halloran, it is almost as if it's one of these symbolic positions by the United States. Yes, we recognize that your capital is in one place. But we're keeping our embassy somewhere else.

HALLORAN: Yes. Aaron David Miller of the Wilson Center, who's been involved in Middle East negotiations in both Democratic and Republican administrations, he wrote this morning that this whole kerfuffle reflects just how silly and sensitive matters like this can become in an election year, matters about Israel and Palestine. And he says that no administration has changed the bottom line U.S. position on the embassy or, for that matter, the status of Jerusalem since 1967. It's tied to - he says its fate is to be determined in negotiations and if we know that currently there are no prospects for Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.

So this, you know, is an issue. It's a matter for discussion. But as he describes it, it's a thought experiment because there are no negotiations going on. As you said, the embassy is not in Jerusalem and the policy of the administration - U.S. administration has not changed since 1967 on this issue.

CONAN: Colin, you're still going to vote Democratic this election?

COLIN: Yes, I am. But simply, I agree with you that whether it's Obama or Romney, I don't think the embassy is going to move to Jerusalem anyway.

CONAN: All right. Well, thanks very much for...

COLIN: It's all been so silly.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Go ahead.

HALLORAN: Well, he actually makes that same point that there are no prospects for negotiations right now and that that move is tied to negotiations and has been for decades.

CONAN: Here's an email from Eric in St. Louis: I think this is contentious not only because the voice vote is ambiguous, but also because the amendment seems designed to somehow compete with Republican standpoints. Frankly, neither of the amendments seems relevant to the election this year and is distracting from more substantive issues that have broader support of the party. And, again, this is an unwelcome distraction, a rare kerfuffle, a rare unscripted moment, a little like the Ron Paul moment that was happening at the Republican convention in Tampa...

HALLORAN: Exactly.

CONAN: ...the same kind of alienating people who are - would very much like to support the party.

HALLORAN: Exactly. In - certainly, the president's surrogates and supporters were in damage control this morning. As I mentioned before, David Axelrod, one of his top advisors, said that the president was quote, "counting on others to monitor platform language." Chuck Schumer, the senator from New York, said he didn't even know that language was in or out of the platform. And again, he had - the president had his spokespeople out this morning trying to talk about Republicans ginning up the upset on the arena floor.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. But as we approach the president's speech this evening, are people still talking this?

HALLORAN: A bit, a bit. I mean, there's anticipation about what the speech - how the speech will compare obviously to the 2008 speech that the new president - that the new nominee gave in Denver. I'm looking right now at - C-SPAN is rerunning that speech, and people are talking about that. People are also talking about the weather. It's been alternately pouring rain out here and a little bit sunny.

So it maybe - perhaps it was the best idea to move it inside. I don't - and Clinton's speech obviously was a very important speech last night. And this is a - it's a distraction, unclear how long this will remain a distraction. Obviously, as I said, there are Republicans using it as ad fodder already.

CONAN: Liz Halloran, thanks very much for your time.

HALLORAN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Liz Halloran, Washington correspondent for npr.org. She joined us from the NPR workspace there in Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.