Mayhem exploded against U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz on Monday morning when she made her first public appearance after being forced out as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
“Shame!” yelled protesters enraged at the Weston congresswoman over leaked Democratic Party emails that suggested her staff favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders during the presidential primary. They held signs that read, simply, “EMAILS.”
Wasserman Schultz might have expected a warm embrace at the breakfast of the Florida delegation to the Democratic National Convention. Instead, she found herself hardly able to speak over the boos.
It was exactly the embarrassing display of disunity Democratic leaders hoped to avoid by removing her from the convention speaking program Saturday. On Sunday, she said she would resign from her chair post by the end of the convention, on Thursday.
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That didn’t satisfy some Sanders supporters, who want her gone now.
By early afternoon, two hours before she was scheduled to inuagurate the convention, Wasserman Schultz relented and said she wouldn’t appear on stage after all.
“I have decided that in the interest of making sure that we can start the Democratic convention on a high note that I am not going to gavel in the convention,” Wasserman Schultz told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
She had insisted Sunday she’d go through with the symbolic, bang-the-gavel moment for the event she spent more than a year organizing. But Monday’s pandemonium offered a preview of more jeering to come.
Political pressure mounted throughout the day for Wasserman Schultz to stay away from the stage completely. Former DNC Chairman Ed Rendell told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that “it’s going to be messy when she gets up there.
“Debbie is very single-minded, very dedicated. She worked very hard, but she’s stubborn and she wants to see this thing through,” he said. “I just think it’s wrong for her, and it’s wrong for us.”
At first at the breakfast, delegates greeted Wasserman Schultz with a standing ovation. Then the booing began.
Surrounded by police officers, reporters and the pulsating crowd, Wasserman Schultz plowed through, raising her voice behind the microphone to try to be heard over the din. She started off with a few words about an overnight shooting at a Fort Myers nightclub.
“People lost their lives —” she said.
Even then, the protesters continued chanting. Many wore Sanders campaign garb.
“She rigged the election,” said 39-year-old Sanjay Patel of Satellite Beach in Brevard County. “She’s still here; it bothers me so much.”
When Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant stepped in, asking the angry mob to let Wasserman Schultz speak, someone yelled back, “We didn’t have our voices heard!” Wasserman Schultz carried on, defending her five-year party tenure.
“So I can see there’s a little bit of interest in my being here,” she said wryly. “I’m so proud to have been able to serve as the chair of the Democratic National Committee, and yesterday I had the great honor of speaking to both President Obama and Hillary Clinton.”
Her Broward County supporters had piled into the ballroom at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, wearing white “Re-elect Debbie Wasserman Schultz” T-shirts. But while they and other Wasserman Schultz fans attempted to drown out the hecklers with applause and cries of “Deb-bie!” they were largely unsuccessful.
“They’re not real Democrats,” state Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood said of the protesters. “They were rude, disruptive and obnoxious. They should have stopped screaming and let her speak.
“I think the Bernie people can’t get over that they lost. They’re sore losers, so they’re picking on Debbie,” said Sobel, a Clinton supporter. “Go back to Play-Doh.”
The bedlam lasted about eight minutes, from the moment Wasserman Schultz walked into the room and was introduced by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Tant tried to gavel the crowd into order at least 15 times.
“We have to make sure that we move forward together in a unified way,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We know that the voices in this room that are standing up and being disruptive — we know that that’s not the Florida we know.”
She concluded her short remarks on a defiant note.
“You will see me every day until Nov. 8th on the campaign trail,” she pledged.
Police escorted her off stage as people swarmed around her.
“Na na na na, hey hey hey, good-bye,” protesters sang.