Only seven of the 15 Democratic candidates still running for president qualified for the final primary debate of 2019, the Democratic National Committee announced Friday, but all of those candidates have indicated they won’t attend the debate if they have to cross a local union’s picket line to do so.
In tweets Friday ahead of the DNC’s announcement, all of the candidates who qualified for the debate, which is set to be co-hosted by PBS NewsHour and POLITICO, expressed their support for UNITE HERE Local 11, a union representing hospitality workers in southern California, including Sodexo-employed food service workers who are contracted to work at Loyola Marymount University, the planned site of the Dec. 19 debate. The union has been involved in contract negotiations with the company on behalf of these workers since March, and Sodexo “abruptly cancelled scheduled contract negotiations last week,” according to a press release from Local 11.
“We had hoped that workers would have a contract with wages and affordable health insurance before the debate next week. Instead, workers will be picketing when the candidates come to campus,” Susan Minato, co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11, said in the release.
The following candidates have qualified to attend the next debate, but said they “won’t cross the union’s picket line” to do so:
Former Vice President Joe Biden
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
Businessman Tom Steyer
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
In a statement Friday, DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa said, “The DNC and LMU learned of this issue earlier today, and it is our understanding this matter arose within the last day. While LMU is not a party to the negotiations between Sodexo and Unite Here Local 11, (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.”
Two candidates who didn’t qualify for the debate, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, also tweeted about the dispute, both saying that the Democratic candidates shouldn’t cross a picket line to participate in the debate.
Both Booker and Castro met the grassroots fundraising threshold, according to their campaigns, but failed to get any qualifying polls, according to an ABC News analysis.
The only candidate who was on the cusp of qualifying was Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. She had met the individual donor threshold, according to her campaign, and, according to an ABC News analysis, only needed one more DNC-approved poll with at least 4% support to meet the polling threshold.
But just days before Thursday’s qualifying deadline, Gabbard announced on Twitter that she wouldn’t be attending the debate even if she did qualify, saying she’d instead be spending “that precious time directly meeting with and hearing from the people of New Hampshire and South Carolina.”
Gabbard has been critical of the debate qualifying guidelines before, taking issue with which polls are accepted by the DNC. She also didn’t qualify for the September debate.
The DNC, however, has defended its qualifying rules.
“This has been the most inclusive debate process with more women and candidates of color participating in more debates than billionaires… While we are legally required to have objective criteria for each debate, our qualifying criteria has stayed extremely low throughout this entire process,” Hinojosa previously told ABC News. “Nobody who has failed to reach 4% at this point in the race has gone on to be the nominee, and our debate criteria reflects that.”
Booker chose not to pick a fight with the DNC over the qualifying rules.
“I learned when I played football that you can be frustrated with a ref’s call, but don’t spend your time arguing with the ref. Get back in the huddle, so you can drive the ball down the field,” Booker said in Iowa Sunday. “I’m in the next play now.”
This will be the first debate he hasn’t qualified for.
Campaign manager Addisu Demissie told reporters in a press call Thursday that instead of being in Los Angeles the day of the debate, Booker will travel to Nevada on Dec. 18 and then embark on a bus tour in Iowa on Dec. 19.
Like Booker, Castro didn’t push for changing the qualifying rules “in the middle of the game,” but he did take issue with the lack of diversity on stage.
With California Sen. Kamala Harris suspending her campaign last week, Yang is now the lone candidate of color still in the race who qualified.
“My concern is not the presence of any one candidate on a debate stage, only. We need to change the whole game,” Castro said Dec. 5, after Harris’ departure, but before Yang had qualified for the debate.
“I don’t want anybody to vote for me just because of the color of my skin or to vote against me. And I don’t want anybody to vote for or against the candidate just because of the color of their skin. I do believe though that whether voters see a diverse field of candidates being able to present their case, that makes a difference,” he said.
You can read the rest of Quinn Scanlan’s article at ABCnews.com