As it turns out, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard with her threat to skip the December debate, an event for which she didn’t qualify, was ahead of the curve in stating she wouldn’t participate. With the event looming, set for Thursday, December 19, all seven candidates have vowed not to participate in the debate due to a labor dispute between a union of food service workers, Unite Here Local 11, and the private company which operates the food service on the campus of Loyola Marymount University.
Both sides, the union, and Sodexo, the private company hired by the university to operate their food service, claim a desire to strike a deal this week before the debate. However, nothing is certain at this point, and the candidates have vowed not to cross the picket line which means the debate will need a new venue, or it could be scrapped entirely:
All seven of the Democratic candidates who qualified for next week’s presidential debate are vowing to boycott the event to stand in solidarity with a union that plans to protest outside the debate’s venue.
The union of food service workers, Unite Here Local 11, is fighting for better wages and benefits, and informed candidates on Friday that “there could be picketing” on December 19 at Loyola Marymount University (LMU).
“While we remain hopeful that the labor dispute can be resolved before next Thursday, we want to be clear that if the situation remains unresolved, there could be picketing on the evening of the debate,” the union wrote in a letter on Friday.
Senator Elizabeth Warren was the first to pledge not to attend the debate if it required crossing a picket line.
“@UniteHere11 is fighting for better wages and benefits—and I stand with them … even if it means missing the debate,” she tweeted.
Warren called on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to “find a solution that lives up to our party’s commitment to fight for working people.” That may mean another change in venue. The DNC already relocated the venue for this debate after a labor dispute at the original location, the University of California, Los Angeles.
Obviously the DNC wants to avoid canceling the debate, money has already been spent by broadcast partners such as PBS and Politico, which means there could be financial interests at stake. The candidates, who have already debated five times since June, may be on the fence and willing to scrap this event which comes six days before the Christmas holiday since they’re probably getting burned out at this point.
Either way, if a breakthrough isn’t reached in days, there could be a venue change, which could also mean a date change or an announcement that the event is being canceled, one or the other. There’s also another possibility that it gets bumped into early January, but that would also be tight since the first debate in 2020 is scheduled for Jan. 14 on CNN.
The university itself, which is not a party in the labor talks, is basically stuck in the middle between the union, the workers, and the DNC:
A spokesperson for the DNC, Xochitl Hinojosa, said the DNC and LMU learned about the labor dispute on Friday.
“While LMU is not a party to the negotiations between Sodexo and Unite Here Local 11, (DNC chairman) Tom Perez would absolutely not cross a picket line and would never expect our candidates to either. We are working with all stakeholders to find an acceptable resolution that meets their needs and is consistent with our values and will enable us to proceed as scheduled with next week’s debate,” Hinojosa said in a statement.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, another issue has continued cropping up completely unrelated to the labor dispute. Nine candidates, including the seven set to appear on stage, have signed on to a letter criticizing the December debate as lacking diversity and criticizing the debate criteria which resulted in the current candidate list:
Nine Democratic presidential candidates have called on the Democratic National Committee to relax its debate standards next year, allowing some lower-polling rivals onto the stage.
“While we know this was an unintended consequence of the DNC’s actions, many of the candidates excluded due to these thresholds are the ones who have helped make this year’s primary field historically diverse,” the candidates wrote. “Frankly, that unintended result does not live up to the values of our Democratic Party and it does not serve the best interest of Democratic voters.”
The letter was signed by all seven Democrats who qualified for next week’s debate in Los Angeles: former vice president Joe Biden; Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), investor Tom Steyer; and businessman Andrew Yang.
The DNC was sharp in response pointing out that every campaign has been well aware of the debate rules and raised no objection over the past five debates:
The letter was obtained Saturday afternoon by The Washington Post after BuzzFeed News reported on its contents. In a statement, DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa defended the “fair and transparent process” announced by the party in early 2019, noting that campaigns had been advised from the outset that the standards would increase after the first debates.
“Not one campaign objected,” Hinojosa said. “The DNC will not change the threshold for any one candidate and will not revert back to two consecutive nights with more than a dozen candidates. Our qualification criteria is extremely low and reflects where we are in the race.”
If the DNC relented and softened the debate rules, it’s possible that it could result in lawsuits or an expansion of this entire line of criticism. If the rules change to let one more candidate in, why not two candidates, or three candidates? Other candidates could go the legal route if the rules aren’t evenly applied across the board.
We expect some news early this week as the DNC grapples with these issues and figures out how to keep the Dec. 19 debate on track.
Stay tuned for the latest information. Our debate schedule page will be kept up-to-date as the situation unfolds.