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Clinton, Sanders Supporters at Odds as DNC Begins

PHILADELPHIA — Members of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Caucus met Monday morning on the first day of the Democratic Party's national convention, as Democrats dealt with disarray.

The caucus meeting, held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center near City Hall and open to the public, was interrupted at one point by four people who identified as supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), holding a banner that read "Asian American Pacific Islanders for Bernie."

“It’s completely unfair, and they rigged the election to put the weaker candidate against Donald Trump,” Joan Mao, a Sanders supporter from Los Angeles, told NBC News.

The Sanders supporters were allowed to remain in the room, and later took down the banner.

The caucus meeting, which drew a few hundred AAPI Democrats and delegates, took place as U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) was met with boos at the Florida Delegation breakfast Monday morning. Wasserman Schultz had announced she would step down as DNC chair at the end of this week's convention following leaked emails from the DNC, released by WikiLeaks, that apparently show party hostility toward Sanders during the Democratic primary.

Meanwhile, Sanders supporters have been hitting the humid streets of Philadelphia, calling Hillary Clinton’s presumptive nomination fraudulent and trying to swing superdelegates, who are unbound, to pledge their nominating votes to the Vermont senator. Sanders, who endorsed Clinton, is expected to speak at the convention Monday evening.

But for many of those gathered at the AAPI Caucus meeting, which will convene again on Wednesday, Clinton is the clear and best choice for the party and the country.

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“We know that America is strong because of its immigrants, and that’s the kind of picture we want to paint in these four days at the Philadelphia convention,” U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), told the crowd.

Jadine Nielsen, Rep. Judy Chu, and Rep. Mike Honda at the AAPI Caucus meeting, DNC 2016
(left to right) Jadine Nielsen, caucus vice chair from Hawaii; U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus; Bel Leong-Hong, AAPI caucus chair for the DNC; and U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), former chair of CAPAC at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25, 2016. Chris Fuchs / NBC News

Chu praised Clinton for her outreach to AAPI voters and said Clinton will move the country forward on issues like immigration reform and access to higher education.

Bel Leong-Hong, AAPI caucus chair for the DNC, told attendees that this is a crucial election for the country.

“We’re going to be making history in electing the first woman president,” she said to applause.

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AAPI Democratic delegates are poised to play an important role in the nominating process this week, accounting for close to 200 Clinton delegates — a majority of them from California — according to Vikrum Aiyer, deputy director of the AAPI media center, DNC specialty media operations, told NBC News.

The number of AAPI Sanders delegates was not immediately available.

Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders arrive at the AAPI Caucus meeting, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, with a banner, July 25, 2016.
Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders arrive at the AAPI Caucus meeting, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, with a banner, July 25, 2016. Chris Fuchs / NBC News

One Clinton delegate, Som Baccam of Iowa, told NBC News that the party’s presumptive nominee has the necessary common sense and experience as former first lady and secretary of state to lead the country.

A Trump presidency, Baccam added, is the biggest threat to America.

“I think he’s very self-centered and don’t think he cares for anyone but himself,” said Baccam, a Laotian American who served as a John Kerry delegate in 2004.

Jean Quan, former mayor of Oakland, California, told NBC News she felt that Clinton would be best equipped to deal with climate change, a key issue for Quan.

But not all AAPIs are on board with Clinton.

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“I want to take back democracy,” said Mao, the Sanders supporter who attended the caucus meeting.

Come November, Mao said she plans to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. “This is a rigged election,” she added.

Others, though, are trying to stay focused on what they say is the bigger picture.

“We have to keep our eyes on the prize — and that’s the White House,” Joseph Cho, the Harvard student who was once interrupted by Trump at a New Hampshire event, told NBC News.

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