WASHINGTON (AP) — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday defended the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, who's been under attack from Bernie Sanders for undermining his longshot bid to become the party's presidential nominee.
Pelosi, D-Calif., seemed to choose her words carefully when reporters questioned her about Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is also a Florida congresswoman.
"Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz has the respect of her colleagues for her efforts and her leadership to unify the party and to win the election in November," she said. Pressed on whether she agreed with those sentiments, Pelosi said, "That was my statement."
Pelosi said she was unaware of reports that some Democrats felt retaining Wasserman Schultz was making it difficult for the party to coalesce. Several congressional Democrats were reluctant Wednesday to discuss whether Wasserman Schultz was viewed as a hindrance to unity.
"I'm not going to get involved in conversations about personality," Pelosi said. "I told you that Debbie Wasserman Schultz has the respect of her colleagues in the House for her hard work to unify and to win the elections."
Sanders' campaign against front-runner Hillary Clinton has created rifts within the party, with many of his more liberal, younger supporters following his lead and expressing resentment against the party establishment.
He has accused Wasserman Schultz of favoring Clinton by scheduling debates on weekend nights, for having many closed primaries not open to independent voters and for the superdelegate system that helped Clinton pad her lead. Clinton backers have been upset that Sanders hasn't abandoned his campaign so she can focus on likely Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Those ill feelings bubbled over this month at a chaotic Nevada Democratic Party convention in Las Vegas. Sanders' supporters shouted down speakers and later made death threats against the state party chair. Party leaders, including Wasserman Schultz, urged Sanders to vigorously condemn the outbursts.
"There is no excuse for what happened in Nevada, and it is incumbent upon all of us in positions of leadership to speak out," she said.
While Sanders said he condemns violence, he repeated his supporters' accusations that they were treated unfairly in the Nevada delegate selection process, which the party denied.
Sanders has said on CNN that he's supporting a challenger to Wasserman Schultz in the contest for the Democratic nomination for her House seat. He said if he was elected president, he would not reappoint her to lead the party.
Wasserman Schultz has led the DNC since 2011, and her current term expires in early 2017. The party chairman is traditionally selected by the party's presidential nominee and the DNC.
Sanders supporter Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said Wednesday that for the party to unify in the long term, "You're going to need leadership that's welcoming, respectful" of progressives' views.
"If Debbie is not capable of doing that, then somebody should be found to do it," Grijalva said. Asked if Wasserman Schultz could do those things, he said, "I'm not going to answer that one."
Asked if the party would be helped if Wasserman Schultz stepped aside, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, considered his party's likely Senate leader next year, said, "I'm not commenting."
Pelosi said she believes disquiet among Democrats largely stems from unhappiness with the party's delegate selection process.
Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.