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Cheered Or Jeered, Democrats On Moving Past The Party Rift

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, as Scott talked about earlier, obviously there's still some tension here, hundreds of Sanders delegates walking out of the arena. It's also been a tough day for people calling for party unity up on stage. And I spoke to two people who delivered speeches last night and got very different reactions from delegates on the floor - one who got jeers and another who got cheers. First we'll hear from Maine State Representative Diane Russell. She won over the crowd.

Russell's been a Sanders loyalist, leading to push - the push to abolish superdelegates. And she's moving to support Clinton But earlier today Russell told me she understands the anger and disappointment from her fellow Sanders supporters.

DIANE RUSSELL: I think people are just not trusting what they're hearing from the stage. They want to know that the progressive movement is going to be taken seriously and not just given lip service. And I think people have heard lip service for so long from the progressive side that they just don't believe it.

CORNISH: So the question is, does this lack of unity that we're seeing so far leave an opening for Donald Trump, for the Republican Party?

RUSSELL: I would hope that Americans across the board would see that that kind of divisiveness is not the direction our country should go. I do think, however, there is a populist rage that is happening right now, and what that tells me is that we as elected leaders have not actually been listening to the very real concerns about people. That's what reflected on the floor.

CORNISH: Does it not really work then to say to a Sanders loyalists that, hey, if you don't vote for Hillary, we're going to end up with Donald Trump, to essentially scare them into voting for her?

RUSSELL: I think we have spent so many years being told to vote against someone that the one thing that Bernie Sanders brought to the table that was so amazing and why people are so disillusioned and disappointed is that they finally had the chance to vote for someone. And that is something that's really special, and it's hard to let go of.

CORNISH: Now, the other person we spoke to earlier was the DNC platform chair and Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings. He was shouted down yesterday. Sanders supporters were upset with him over the Trans-Pacific Partnership and chanted no TPP while he was talking.

Earlier today Cummings told me that he's received apologies from Sanders supporters, but he's not lingering on that tough moment.

ELIJAH CUMMINGS: I don't take anything personally.

CORNISH: Were you surprised?

CUMMINGS: No, no. I was young one time. I was new in politics one time. As a student at Howard University - president of student government - I took over buildings. So I'm, you know - I'm used to protests. I'm the one who was following the violence in Baltimore on the streets of Baltimore. So I live in the inner-city, so I'm used to, you know, people being upset. I got that.

CORNISH: But does it look good having all these, like, you know, also African-American lawmakers (unintelligible) - Marcia Fudge and you, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake - having these boos rained down on them. You have Republicans describing this as chaos, Donald Trump mocking it from a distance. Does this look good for the party?

CUMMINGS: You know, it didn't look good, but I'll tell you. I told Steny Hoyer this morning. I said, Steny...

CORNISH: This is the congressman from Maryland.

CUMMINGS: Yeah. I said Steny, we were at the front end, so we took the fire. By the time it got to Michelle Obama, the crowd has settled down. And I don't mind taking the hit.

CORNISH: Is it on Bernie Sanders to convince these people to come onboard, or is it actually on Hillary Clinton, on the Democratic National Party? And what work do they need to do to make that happen?

CUMMINGS: I think it's a great question. I think it's on all our parts. In my speech last night, towards the end, I said these simple words. My father, who was a former sharecropper with a fourth-grade education, would say if he was still living that this is bigger than Hillary Clinton, that this is bigger than Donald Trump. This is bigger than Bernie Sanders. This is about future generations yet unborn.

CORNISH: Bill Clinton is set to speak tonight. Once upon a time, to be a Clinton Democrat meant a certain kind of centrism. Today, looking at the direction where the party is going, is this a rejection of that period? Progressive feel let down by the Clinton-era or feel also let down in some ways by the Obama era.

CUMMINGS: You know, none of us are perfect. I think that if Bill Clinton were to do it again, he would look at his policies with regard to criminal justice differently and do it differently. And I think Hillary will do it differently. But I think now they have an opportunity, and Hillary has an opportunity to learn from what happened before and now make some corrections because I think you're right.

And I do believe that both parties, by the way, are going to make a shift. Now, I'm not sure how the - what the Republican shift is going to look like, but I guarantee you that the Democratic shift will be significant, and it will be significantly to a more progressive agenda. You know, I may be wrong, but after all the dust settles, I think we would be foolish if we don't move more to the left.

CORNISH: That's DNC platform chair and Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings. We spoke earlier today here at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.