Washington Democratic Party officials agreed Saturday to seat Michigan and Florida delegates with half-votes, ruling on a long-running dispute that has threatened the party's chances in November and maintaining Barack Obama's front-runner status as he moves closer to the nomination.
The decision was a blow to Hillary Rodham Clinton as she was on the verge of watching Obama make history as the first black Democratic presidential nominee. It prompted an irate reaction from boisterous Clinton supporters in the audience and her chief delegate counter, Harold Ickes.
Ickes angrily informed the party's Rules Committee that Clinton had instructed him to reserve her right to appeal the matter to the Democrats' credentials committee, which could potentially drag the matter to the party's convention in August.
"There's been a lot of talk about party unity - let's all come together, and put our arms around each other," said Ickes, who is also a member of the Rules Committee that approved the deal. "I submit to you ladies and gentlemen, hijacking four delegates ... is not a good way to start down the path of party unity."
The resolution increased the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination to 2,118, leaving Obama 66 delegates short but still within striking distance after the three final primaries are held in the next three days.
The deal was reached after committee members met privately for more than three hours, trying to hammer out a deal, and announced in a raucous hearing that reflected deep divisions within the party.
"How can you call yourselves Democrats if you don't count the vote?" one man in the audience shouted before being escorted out by security. "This is not the Democratic Party!"
The sticking point was Michigan, where Obama's name was not on the ballot.
Clinton's camp insisted Obama shouldn't get any pledged delegates in Michigan since he chose not to put his name on the ballot, and she should get 73 pledged delegates with 55 uncommitted. Obama's team insisted the only fair solution was to split the pledged delegates in half between the two campaigns, with 64 each.
The committee agreed on a compromise offered by the Michigan Democratic Party that would split the difference, allowing Clinton to take 69 delegates and Obama 59. Each delegate would get half a vote at the convention in Denver this summer, according to the deal.
The deal passed 19-8. Thirteen members of the committee supported Clinton, so she wasn't even able to keep her supporters together.
The committee also unanimously agreed to seat the Florida delegation based on the outcome of the January primary, with 105 pledged delegates for Clinton and 67 for Obama, but with each delegate getting half a vote as a penalty.
Proponents of full seating continuously interrupted the committee members as they explained their support of the compromise, then supporters of the deal shouted back.
"Shut up!" one woman shouted at another.
"You shut up!" the second woman shouted back.
Jim Roosevelt, co-chair of the committee, tried repeatedly to gavel it to order. "You are dishonoring your candidate when you disrupt the speakers," he scolded.
Obama picked up a total of 32 delegates in Michigan, including superdelegates who have already committed, and 36 in Florida. Clinton picked up 38 in Michigan, including superdelegates, and 56.5 in Florida.
Obama's total increased to 2,052, and Clinton had 1,877.5.
A proposal favored by Clinton that would have fully seated the Florida delegation fully in accordance with the January primary went down with 12 votes in support and 15 against.
Tina Flournoy, who led Clinton's efforts to seat both states' delegations with full voting power, said she was disappointed by the outcome but knew the Clinton position had "no chance" of passing the committee.
"I understand the rules. ... I can tell you one thing that has driven these rules was being a party of inclusion," Flournoy said. "I wish my colleagues will vote differently."
Alice Huffman, a Clinton supporter on the committee, explained that the compromise giving delegates half votes was the next best thing to full seating.
"We will leave here more united than we came," she said.
Some audience members heckled her in response. "Lipstick on a pig!" one shouted.
"We just blew the election!" a woman in the audience shouted. The crowd was divided between cheering Obama supporters and booing Clinton supporters.
"This isn't unity! Count all the votes!" another audience member yelled.