‘Just not true’: Debate dispute flares between Dem party leaders

A war of words heated up Tuesday between two Democratic Party leaders, as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard accused DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of not telling the truth about disinviting her from the kick-off 2016 presidential debate.

Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who serves as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, earlier had told The New York Times that Wasserman Schultz’ chief of staff rescinded her invitation to Tuesday’s Las Vegas debate after Gabbard publicly called for more Democratic debates.

The DNC boss, in an interview Tuesday, pushed back on Gabbard’s account.

“That is simply not the case.  What we said, as my staff communicated to her staff, is that she needed to focus on the issues and make a commitment to do that, and in fact, she said yesterday in a news interview that if she came, she would be a distraction,” she told MSNBC. “And so she chose not to come.”

On the same network, though, Gabbard ripped that claim.

“I can't say much more than to say that that's just not true,” Gabbard said.

She said that after she did an interview calling for more debates, “the very next day [I] got a message saying that if I'm going to continue talking about that, that I shouldn't go to the debate.”

Of Wasserman Schultz, she said, “It's not surprising to me that she is saying things that aren't true.”

"I have been very public and vocal about my belief in democracy and my strong feeling that not only should there be debates and opportunities for the American people to hear from our presidential candidates but also that this exclusivity clause should be removed," Gabbard told Fox News.

The DNC leadership has faced mounting pressure to expand the six-debate schedule for the 2016 presidential primary race – with some arguing it favors front-runner Hillary Clinton -- but the criticism from and dispute with Gabbard marks an escalation.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., even weighed in Tuesday, appearing to back up the DNC chairwoman.

“I did not think she, congresswoman from Hawaii, was running for president,” Reid said of Gabbard. “So what she is concerned about?”

On Monday, a DNC spokeswoman said Gabbard was not “uninvited,” but was asked to keep the focus on the candidates.

“The focus of the debate in Nevada as well as the other debates and forums in the coming weeks should be on the candidates who will take the stage, and their vision to move America forward,” said Holly Shulman, a spokeswoman for the DNC. “All that was asked of Ms. Gabbard’s staff was to prioritize our candidates and this important opportunity they have to introduce themselves to the American people.”