Newly-elected DNC Chairman Tom Perez downplayed the notion that Democrats are becoming the "Party of No" by saying he'd be willing to work with Trump on socialized medicine, while vowing to block nearly every other White House initiative from infrastructure spending to Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
Washington Post reporter Dan Balz asked Perez during a question and answer session whether Democrats were in danger of becoming the Party of No—a moniker frequently attached to Congressional Republicans during the Obama era—and whether he would be willing to work with Trump on any policy areas. Perez pointed to Obamacare, which he called a "Godsend and life saver."
Recent Stories in Politics
"We need a public option. I would be glad to work with the president on the public option," Perez said before mocking past Republican arguments that new health care entitlements "will lead to socialized medicine."
Balz asked how the Democratic Party would handle Trump's infrastructure proposals, given the party's past support for major spending on the nation's roads and bridges. Trump has proposed a $1 trillion program to be financed in private-public partnerships, dwarfing Hillary Clinton's $275 billion plan. Trump has earned applause from the leaders of major construction labor unions and requested a "wish list" of projects to include in the plan. Union leaders met privately with Trump in February and furnished details of projects worth $80 billion.
Perez, sitting beneath a Washington Post Live banner blaring "Presenting Sponsor Bank of America," said that he does not support Trump's plan "if we're going to do infrastructure in a way that helps Wall Street." He called on Trump to enforce project labor agreements, which force all contractors to pay wages on par with union shops.
He also said he supported Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's bid to launch the first filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee. He dismissed the notion that Schumer could be responsible for killing the judicial filibuster after he invoked the nuclear option in 2013 to push through several controversial Obama nominees on a majority vote—a move that Schumer now says he regrets.
"I don’t think Gorsuch will get the requisite votes to [overcome] a filibuster," he said. "They [Senate Democrats] could have gotten rid of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations, but they didn't."
Democrats must defend 18 Senate seats in the 2018 midterm elections, including ten in states that Trump won. Balz asked what Perez will do to accomplish the "daunting task of bringing the Democratic Party back."
Perez said that the key to Democratic success is building "strong partnerships with the labor movements, Planned Parenthood, and religious communities" and lamented that Democrats had failed to reach out to rural areas in 2016.
"You can’t show up at a church every fourth October and call it an organizing strategy," he said.
Balz asked him whether "cultural liberalism" played a role in alienating the Democratic Party among voters outside of major cities. Perez gave no indication that the party planned on tempering that agenda to appeal to more religious and rural voters. He said Democrats plan to demonstrate to these voters that they share common values by highlighting that the Obama administration "brought broadband access into rural America" and repeating that he would work with "our friends in the labor movement, in Planned Parenthood, and faith leaders."
"Our message of economic opportunity could still resonate," he said. "We haven't been relentless enough in communicating the message."
The Clinton campaign's lack of outreach was not the only reason for her defeat, according to Perez. He also laid part of the blame at the feet of FBI Director James Comey. He likened Comey's October announcement that the FBI was reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton's secret email server to Pearl Harbor.
"I think he will live in infamy for those actions," he said.
Perez credited the FBI's investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russian election meddling as part of the reason he supports blocking Gorsuch's appointment. He called for an independent commission to take over the investigation, leading Balz to ask whether Comey was "compromised." Perez dodged the question but when pressed admitted that he was "not prepared to say—in this particular case—he is."