2017 | Politics

Perez Makes Case To Become Head of Democratic National Committee

At a fundraiser in Silver Spring, the former labor secretary accuses Republicans of trying to dismantle "the guts" of the Democratic Party's organizing infrastructure

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Tom Perez at a fundraiser Jan. 31 in Silver Spring as part of his campaign for chair of the Democratic National Committee

Andrew Metcalf

Tom Perez served up a plate of red meat in a stump-like speech Tuesday night to local supporters of his candidacy for chairman of the Democratic National Committee at a “closed press” fundraiser in Silver Spring.

Perez, the former labor secretary under President Barack Obama, took aim at President Donald Trump’s controversial policies and predicted minutes before Trump announced his nominee, federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch,  for the Supreme Court that the nominee would “suck.”

“He’s going to announce an appointee,” Perez said. “I predict, you know spoiler alert, that the appointee is going to suck. Spoiler alert. One of the first things that person is going to do is try to eviscerate public-sector collective bargaining because there was a Supreme Court decision that went 4 to 4 and the only reason it went 4 to 4 was because [Justice Antonin] Scalia passed away.”

The case Perez was referring to would have enabled workers to refuse to pay fees for public-sector unions such as those that include teachers and other public employees. Conservative organizations have worked for decades to challenge the fees and the deadlocked Supreme Court decision in March set the stage for another possible court challenge if Trump’s nominee, Colorado federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch, is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Perez on Tuesday encouraged Democratic senators to filibuster Trump’s Supreme Court nomination.

“We’ve got to make sure we stand up,” Perez said. “It’s not a coincidence, my friends, that they’re going after the labor unions and they’re going after Planned Parenthood. That is the guts of our organizing infrastructure across America. And when you put a fork in that, if you can, it makes it a lot harder for progressives to move forward. That’s why this job is so important. That’s why we need 50 states and all the territories to have a strong Democratic Party.”

A reporter covering the fundraising event was informed by Perez’s campaign staff after the speech concluded that the fundraiser was supposed to be closed to the press. Staff members declined to grant an interview with Perez.

Perez, a former Montgomery County Council member who lives in a center-hall colonial in Takoma Park, is running against six other Democrats seen as contenders for the position of DNC chair: Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, New Hampshire party chair Ray Buckley, South Carolina party chair Jaime Harrison, Idaho party executive director Sally Boynton Brown, media strategist Jehmu Greene and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

In a story last week, Politico called the race for DNC chair “bland and bloodless,” noting the candidates are downplaying differences and offering ideas they all agree on.

The new chair will be elected by a vote of the 447 members of the DNC, which is scheduled to take place during the committee’s winter meeting from Feb. 23–26.

Perez is considered an underdog to the favorite in the race, Ellison. The Minnesota congressman has already received support from the party’s progressive wing, including influential senators such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer.

The new DNC leader will have to move the campaign support organization past the controversy over former chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s seeming bias for Hillary Clinton during the presidential race, fight Donald Trump’s controversial policies and—most importantly—help Democrats win local, state and national elections.

Attendees filled up McGinty's Public House in Silver Spring in support of Perez Tuesday evening. Credit: Andrew Metcalf

Perez said Tuesday that if elected he would focus on building a strong party structure in every state.

“We have to look ourselves in the mirror and ask ‘How did this happen?’,” Perez said, referring to Trump’s win. “It happened because we ignored the basics of organizing.”

He also went after Trump and the president’s cabinet appointments.

“Refugees are vetted far more vigilantly than the nominees of Donald Trump for his cabinet, that’s for sure,” Perez said. “The extreme vetting should be for the people in his cabinet because he would learn he has more billionaires than people of color in his cabinet … . He has a secretary of education [Betsy DeVos] who wants to take the public out of public education.”

“He’s claiming he’s draining the swamp, but there are bigger alligators than I’ve ever seen in that swamp, my friends,” Perez said. “Putin is going to be named to the cabinet soon. I have no doubt. He will not be vetted either because nobody appears to get vetted unless you’re a refugee.”

Perez is the son of Dominican immigrants—his father, a doctor, received his citizenship after enlisting in the U.S. Army during World War II, while his mother emigrated to the U.S. with her father, Rafael Brache, in 1930. Brache served as the Dominican Republic’s Ambassador to the United States.

Perez is also a former federal prosecutor who served as Maryland Secretary of Labor under Gov. Martin O’Malley.

He said Tuesday he was raising money at the fundraiser—which attendees had the option of paying between $100 and $1,000 to attend—so he can travel around the U.S. to reach the individuals who are voting in the election.

“This race is kind of like the Iowa caucus,” said Perez, who at one time was floated as a possible vice president nominee for Clinton. “There are 447 voters. We know who they are. We know where they live. We know their phone numbers. [But] It’s different than the Iowa caucus in that they don’t all live in Iowa. So you gotta make house calls.”

UPDATE – 1 p.m. – Perez received the endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday. The support could significantly bolster his campaign against Ellison.