WASHINGTON -- Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee, on Tuesday pushed back against claims that the party disinvited its own deputy chair from the first Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas.
Wasserman Schultz defended the party's decision to only hold six presidential debates during the 2016 election cycle. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), vice chair of the DNC, argued last week on MSNBC that the party should hold more debates.
Following that interview, Gabbard claims she was disinvited from Tuesday's debate via a phone call from Wasserman Schultz's chief of staff.
Wasserman Schultz rejected the assertion during an interview with MSNBC hours before the debate. She said Gabbard was asked to keep her focus on the candidates, not the debate process.
"Ultimately, she decided not to come, because she agreed that she would likely be a distraction," Wasserman Schultz said. "She was not uninvited, but, look, you know, this is -- herein lies the problem. We are spending an inordinate amount of time talking about process, when we should be talking about the dramatic contrast between our candidates and the Republicans."
Wasserman Schultz went on to list policy differences between Democratic and Republican candidates, which she said the party should be focused on.
"The fact that our candidates tonight will talk about how we can help Americans reach the middle class, how we can expand access to a good education. ... Contrast that with the Republicans, who want to take us backwards to the failed policies of the past. That's what we should be talking about and that's what she was urged to focus on," Wasserman Schultz said. "I guess she couldn't do that."
Earlier Tuesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest didn't seem particularly concerned about the need for more debates.
"My sense is that, over the course of 2 1/2 hours tonight, there will be ample discussion of public policy," Earnest said during his daily briefing.
"Many people lament the length of presidential campaigns in this country," Earnest added. "But the one upside is that it certainly does ensure that we have … ample opportunity to consider the policies and priorities and agenda of everybody who's running for president."
Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Gabbard said she was disinvited via email. Gabbard says she was disinvited to the debate via a phone call.