Hillary Clinton on Thursday declined to call on the Democratic National Committee to add more presidential primary debates, though she said she would participate in them. The Democratic front-runner also lambasted Wednesday night’s GOP debate as emblematic of political “silly season.”
In the first live TV interview of her 2016 campaign, Clinton told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer the Republican debate featured “the kinds of things you say when you're on a debate stage and you really don't have much else to say."
"I don't really pay a lot of attention to this kind of rhetoric,” she added, saying the candidates had nothing to say about the middle class or college affordability.
On her own party’s debates, which began less than a month from now, Clinton was more circumspect.
“I have said from the very beginning I look forward to debating,” Clinton said. “I will certainly show up anywhere the Democratic National Committee tells us to show up. Because I want us to have a good exchange of ideas and to make sure that Democratic voters first, and then general voters to follow, see exactly what we stand for and what our positions are.”
But when Blizter asked if the Democratic front-runner would call on DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who controls the process, to schedule more debates, Clinton demurred. “That's up to them. They can -- they made their decision, but I have made it clear that if they want to do more, I'm happy to do them,” Clinton said.
Clinton’s primary challengers, but mainly underdog Martin O’Malley, whose support has barely registered above 1% in recent polls, have been agitating for the DNC to sanction more than the six currently scheduled debates. O’Malley has also objected to a so-called “exclusivity clause” that punishes candidates who participate in unsanctioned debates.
On Wednesday, many of O’Malley’s top staffers, including his campaign manager, joined a small protest outside DNC headquarters in Washington to sing songs and deliver petitions demanding more debates.
“I’m pretty sure that if the Clinton campaign made their voice heard and said they want more debates, it would happen,” O’Malley campaign manager David Hamrick said after giving a speech to the demonstrators.
Hamrick added that he thinks it’s “pretty clear” the reason Wasserman Schultz set up the debate schedule as she did “is because she thinks it’s in the best interest of the Clinton campaign.”
Bernie Sanders, who has pulled ahead of Clinton in recent polls in New Hampshire, has also called for more debates, but he has declined to push hard for the issue. Sanders’ campaign is willing to participate in debates that include all the candidates, but would be far less interested in a debate without Clinton.
Wasserman Schultz has shown no signs of budging, saying the six-debate schedule is final.