DNC Chair Won't Say if There's Room for Pro-Life Democrats in the Party

February 12, 2018

Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez refused to answer Sunday when asked if the Democratic Party had room for candidates who oppose abortion rights.

Perez said last year that support for abortion rights in Democratic candidates was "not negotiable," part of a fierce debate within the party over whether pro-life Democrats could be part of its future. That followed remarks he'd previously made about how Democrats shouldn't "demand fealty on every issue," drawing backlash from abortion rights groups.

MSNBC host Kasie Hunt asked Perez about Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski (Ill.), a pro-life incumbent Democrat facing a primary challenge from progressive businesswoman Marie Newman in Chicago's Southwest Side. Newman has won endorsements from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) and fellow Illinois Democratic Reps. Luis Guiterrez and Jan Schakowsky.

"Is there room for anti-abortion Democrats?" Hunt asked.

"There's a very spirited debate in that particular race, and so one thing I've learned from watching presidential politics is that when the DNC gets involved in Democratic primaries—" Perez started.

"But he's an incumbent," Hunt noted.

"Well, again, one thing I've learned from primaries in the past, is that when the DNC gets involved in those races, then we sometimes get accused of trying to put the thumb on the scale," Perez said. "That's one of those races where we will see what happens ... We're building the infrastructure to ensure that whoever wins that race will end up being able to win in November."

The interview ended there.

After Perez's strong remarks against pro-life candidates in 2017, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D., N.M.) said there would be no litmus test for candidates on their abortion stance, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said there was room for pro-life Democrats, while the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said last year that anti-abortion Democrats were as unwelcome as racists.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and the DNC also drew flack for their endorsement last year of Heath Mello, a personally pro-life Democratic mayoral candidate in Omaha, Nebraska.

In his interview with Hunt, Perez also said he is a "big fan of Joe Manchin," the West Virginia Democrat facing a re-election fight in a state President Donald Trump carried in a landslide in 2016.

"Is there still room in the Democratic Party for people like Joe Manchin, who wanted Chuck Schumer to reopen the government?" Hunt asked.

"I'm a big fan of Joe Manchin, and we've worked hard to support Joe Manchin's re-election campaign, because our job is to help Democrats win, and Joe Manchin has done more to expand access to health care in West Virginia than any elected official in West Virginia," Perez said.