- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2017

ATLANTA — Newly installed Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez promised this weekend to find consensus in a party fractured over its own ideology, saying Democrats can all agree on the need to obstruct President Trump.

Mr. Perez’s victory over his chief opponent, Rep. Keith Ellison, the choice of Sen. Bernard Sanders and other progressive activists, showed the party’s establishment wing can still flex its muscles.

Moving to heal wounds, Mr. Perez, who served as labor secretary for President Obama, named Mr. Ellison deputy chairman.

But activists at the vote in Atlanta — who jeered Mr. Perez’s victory with chants of “Party for the people, not big money!” — said they were dismayed that party insiders thwarted them again, reopening wounds from last year’s presidential primary race.

Curt Ries, an organizer with Democracy Spring, described Mr. Perez’s gesture in naming Mr. Ellison deputy as “a punch to the gut and then they gave us a flower.”

“That is not good enough. We appreciate the flower, but we didn’t want to get punched in the gut,” Mr. Ries said, adding that Mr. Perez is feeling the heat from the left, which wants the party to adopt a bolder progressive vision.

Mr. Perez, viewed as the choice of Mr. Obama and 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he knows he needs to heal his party.

“Our unity is our greatest strength,” Mr. Perez said. “And frankly, our unity is Donald Trump’s greatest nightmare.”

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, tried to tear open the scabs from the chairman’s fight, declaring the race “totally ‘rigged” against Mr. Sanders’ faction — just as he said Democrats did to Mr. Sanders during the primary.

But on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Sanders dismissed talk of a rigged DNC contest and said Mr. Perez has an opportunity to steer the party in a new direction.

“We need a total transformation,” the senator from Vermont said. “We’ve got to open up the party to working people, to young people, and make it crystal clear that the Democratic Party is going to take on Wall Street.”

During his campaign, Mr. Perez vowed to change the culture of the DNC by focusing more on down-ticket races, strengthening the party’s bench and putting more energy into making “house calls” in communities across the country.

He promised to invest more in state parties and emphasize on small-dollar donations. He also expressed support for a commission to review and make recommendations on the roles of “superdelegates” and caucuses in the nomination process.

The 55-year-old, who led the civil rights division of the Justice Department, also plans to set up a legal team tasked with combating voter ID laws that Democrats say disenfranchise voters.

DNC members said Mr. Perez must rebuild the nuts and bolts of the party’s grass-roots infrastructure, and help hone an economic message that appeals to an array of voters.

“You have to be simple, right?” said Daniel Halpern, a DNC member from Georgia. “It is jobs. When you hear what folks are talking about, it is health care, it is wages, it is rent, and it is all predicated on income — income equality is the biggest issue facing this country right now.”

Several members said the party should not get mired in calls for impeachment of the president because it could backfire by emboldening Mr. Trump, making Democrats look like whiners and taking attention away from rebuilding the party.

“I just don’t think that is going to be practical at all — at least for the next two years,” said Bruce Poole, the outgoing chairman of the Maryland Democrats.

Left-wing groups and activist went all in for Mr. Ellison, who also had the backing of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who parachuted into Atlanta in hopes of helping to push him across the finish line.

Mr. Perez won 235 votes, compared with 200 for Mr. Ellison, which marked a major gain for progressives given that just 39 members of the DNC endorsed Mr. Sanders last year.

In another act of resistance against party progressives, the DNC also shot down calls to revive a ban on corporate donations and bar corporate federal lobbyists from serving as at-large members of the body.

Activists in the crowd chanted, “Money out of politics! Money out of politics!”

Mr. Obama put the corporate donation ban in place as part of his vow to “change how Washington works” after he won the White House in 2008. But former Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz later lifted it.

“This resolution provides us an important opportunity to send a message to the people of this country as to our values,” said Stuart Appelbaum, a DNC member from New York who co-sponsored the resolution. “It is not something new. We operated this way for seven years.”

But Bob Mulholland, a DNC member from California, reminded committee members and activists that Republican now control the White House as well as both chambers of Congress. “I am not a member of Mother Teresa’s sisters organization. I am a member of the Democratic Party,” he said.

“Our federal laws allow Westin Hotel to contribute to us, allow Microsoft, allow Google, and all those corporations in North Carolina that stood up for the Democratic Party platform against the law there that tried to outlaw and discriminate against transgender” individuals, Mr. Mulholland said. “Why should the Democratic Party say now, ‘Hey, great what you did, but we are not going to take your contributions’?”

Adam Green, of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which believed Mr. Ellison’s ties to the grass roots made him the best equipped for the job, downplayed the idea that progressives will be unwilling to work with Mr. Perez, saying they will give him a chance.

“The question is: Will the Democratic Party have its finger on the pulse of what is going on right now?” Mr. Green said. “It is possible to have someone who is perfect on policy [but], on an organizing and political level, doesn’t fully get how to maneuver.”

“Hopefully Tom Perez will prove that he is able to do that. I think there will be a mentality of giving him a chance and encouraging him to do that,” he said.

Other activists, though, doubled-down their calls for Mr. Sanders to break with Democrats and launch a separate political party.

“The Democratic Party has now made it perfectly clear that it will not be the vehicle for the political revolution that Sanders ignited last year,” Draft Bernie for the People’s Party said in a statement. “There is no future for progressives in the Democratic Party.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide