The Institute of Politics (IOP) hosted Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), in an event at International House on Wednesday.
Perez, a former civil rights attorney who served as Labor Secretary under President Obama, spoke with IOP Fellow and Washington Post correspondent Karen Tumulty about the current political climate and Democrats’ strategy going forward.
He began by describing the responsibilities of his job, saying that the DNC’s mission is to “elect Democrats up and down the ticket…by making sure we have strong parties…and strong partnerships everywhere.”
Responding to Tumulty’s comment that the Democrats have been “absolutely decimated” in the past eight years, Perez said that he was aware that the Democratic Party “became all too frequently the party of the coasts” and emphasized a need for Democrats to make politics personal rather than transactional. He stressed the importance of consistent field organizing and said, “We have taken the term ‘off year’ out of our lexicon.”
As Perez discussed the Democrats’ recent success in state legislature elections in Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and Florida, Tumulty posed the question of whether or not it is appropriate for the DNC to support candidates that do not pass the “litmus test” on abortion. “Unity doesn’t mean unanimity…what we have to do as a party…is come together around our shared values,” Perez said in response. “When people ask about litmus tests, I say look at the Republican Party.”
Perez was referring to what he called “the appalling silence of so many good people,” or the tendency of Republicans to vote with the President a large percentage of the time.
Perez was critical of President Trump, saying that his “infantile behavior…has put alliances with our closest allies at risk.” He defended the DNC’s and the Clinton campaign’s funding of a dossier detailing Trump’s connections with Russia, saying, “To not [conduct research on one’s opponents] is political malpractice.
“The Russians hacked the DNC…with the purpose of helping Trump out,” Perez said.
As Perez wrapped up his comments on Russia and a microphone was placed on the floor for audience members’ questions, two audience members stood up in front of the stage and faced the audience, holding up signs that read “It’s Dem Corruption NOT Russia Collusion” and “Does Not Care.” They were quickly escorted out by a security guard, and the event continued.
In the question and answer session, several audience members questioned the fairness of the superdelegate system. In response, Perez noted the DNC is forming a “Unity Commission” that will return recommendations for the system by the end of the year.
Looking forward, Perez stated he was “thrilled” with the work of organizations like Indivisible Chicago, a progressive advocacy group. He noted that by supporting smaller organizations, the DNC builds a “political ecosystem” to its advantage.
“We can’t just be against something…we have to demonstrate what we stand for,” Perez said. “And when we put hope on the ballot, that’s when we’re at our best.”