The floor of the Democratic National Convention erupted Wednesday over a sudden move to restore to the platform a reference to “God” and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — after heavy criticism from Republicans for initially omitting them.
Democrats, though, were hardly in agreement over the reversal.
A large and loud group of delegates shouted “no” as convention chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, called for the vote late Wednesday afternoon. Villaraigosa had to call for the vote three times before ruling that the “ayes” had it. Many in the crowd booed after he determined the language would be restored.
The battle marked the biggest platform fight so far in either party’s convention, and signaled Democrats were worried the prior language could have been politically damaging in a tight election year.
A senior campaign official told Fox News that President Obama personally intervened to change the language in both cases. On the “God” reference, the official said the president’s response was “why did it change in the first place?”
Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., told Fox News that he pushed to restore the Jerusalem language.
“I wanted a change (back). I talked to several people close to the president,” Levin said, without saying whether he spoke to the president. “The ’08 platform stated (the policy) correctly … that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel.”
In the section referencing “God,” the change effectively restored language that had been in the 2008 platform. It now says: “We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.”
The initial 2012 platform language said this: ”We gather to reclaim the basic bargain that built the largest middle class and the most prosperous nation on Earth — the simple principle that in America, hard work should pay off, responsibility should be rewarded, and each one of us should be able to go as far as our talent and drive take us.”
The change came after both Mitt Romney and GOP running mate Paul Ryan criticized the omission. In an interview with Fox News, Romney said the omission signaled the “party is veering further and further away into an extreme wing that Americans don’t recognize.”
“(That) this party purposely removed God from their platform suggests a party that is increasingly out of touch with the mainstream of the American people,” Romney said. “I see it as being as out of touch and detached.”
Democrats also restored a section on Israel that had previously been left out. The language on Jerusalem now states “it is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”
The switch on Jerusalem puts it in line with what advisers said was the president’s personal view, if not the policy of his administration. The administration has long said determining Jerusalem’s status was an issue that should be decided by Israelis and Palestinians in peace talks, but has been careful not to state that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.
The White House wouldn’t say whether the change in the Democratic platform language reflected a change in administration policy.
Republicans argued that not taking a position on Jerusalem’s status in the party platform showed the president was weak in his support of Israel.
“They now say they are not certain what the capital of Israel may be. I think that’s another example of Israel being thrown under the bus by the president,” Romney told Fox News, before the platform revision.
Democrats, when the revision came to a vote, were clearly divided Wednesday over whether to bow to pressure and make the changes.
Some delegates claimed after the vote that the platform change didn’t actually win the two-thirds majority necessary to pass – though it was only gauged by a voice vote.
“The majority of the delegation here at the Democratic National Convention supported the previous language and instead after three attempts to vote and it failed twice, and for whatever reason it still failed but was still pushed through,” said Rashida Tlaib, of the Michigan delegation.
Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, head of the platform committee, downplayed the turnaround. “I wouldn’t call it an error,” he told Fox News. “It was a clarification.”
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement that the changes were made “to maintain consistency with the personal views expressed by the President and in the Democratic Party platform in 2008.”
“Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths,” she said.
She noted administrations of both parties have said the status of Jerusalem should be negotiated by the Israelis and Palestinians.
The floor fight erupted as the speaking program was getting under way on the convention’s second day. Former President Bill Clinton was set to speak Wednesday night, for the formal nomination of Obama.
Romney, meanwhile, kept up the pressure on Democrats from out of state. In the interview with Fox News, he claimed Democrats at the convention were ignoring the question he posed at the Republican convention last week in Tampa – are Americans better off today than they were four years ago? Romney claimed they weren’t. On weekend interviews, Obama surrogates hesitated on the question before eventually claiming the country was better off, though the question has not factored prominently inside the convention arena.
“No one in the convention so far has had the temerity to say that people are better off in America because they realize that’s not the case,” Romney said. “The convention so far is a celebration of failure.”
Fox News’ Carl Cameron, Ed Henry and Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.