WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tom Perez, former Barack Obama labor secretary and establishment Democrat, was elected as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in Atlanta on Saturday as the party slid into chaos over the course of nearly six hours.
While Perez made history Saturday becoming the first Latino leader of the Democratic Party, those present experienced, first-hand, the deepening of divisions that have mired their party since Election Day.
Perez’s win was indicative of the Democratic Party’s refusal to heed the voices of its constituents’ calls for change. “It’s going to be a major problem” if Perez wins, Jane Flemming Keeb, chair of the Nebraska Democrats, said in an interview with The Young Turks.
Former Bernie Sanders for President campaign manager called Perez a “candidate of the insider”:
Jeff Weaver says if @TomPerez ("candidate of the insider") wins DNC race, it'll "send a horrible message to millions & millions of people."
— Ruby Cramer (@rubycramer) February 24, 2017
Perez called for a motion to suspend the DNC rules as he called to appoint Keith Ellison deputy chair of the DNC. The motion, met with overwhelming approval, was granted.
“The silence is deafening. The motion passes,” Perez said in the absence of any “nay” votes after those assembled voiced their “ayes.”
Perez received 235 votes, while Ellison received 200.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who endorsed Ellison, congratulated Perez on his victory but implored him to steer away from his establishment roots:
At a time when Republicans control the White House, the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and two-thirds of all statehouses, it is imperative that Tom understands that the same-old, same-old is not working and that we must open the doors of the party to working people and young people in a way that has never been done before. Now, more than ever, the Democratic Party must make it clear that it is prepared to stand up to the 1 percent and lead this country forward in the fight for social, racial, economic and environmental justice.
However, one of the key issues on Sanders’ platform, removing the use of lobbyist funds and its influence in politics, fell on deaf ears. A measure that would have reinstituted a ban on corporate lobbyists lining the pockets of the DNC to buy influence, was voted down. The measure was initially put in place by former President Barack Obama:
Dems punt on reinstituting corporate lobbyist donations
— Jonathan Easley (@JonEasley) February 25, 2017
The fight over the measure signaled the fight between the Sanders wing of the party and the more establishment-capitalist wing.
The measure to ban corporate lobbyists was introduced by Christine Pelosi, daughter of House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):
— (((sfpelosi))) (@sfpelosi) February 25, 2017
Following the vote, outgoing and interim DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile declared, “We are Democrats!”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter, Rev. Bernice King, spoke directly after the Democrats voted to keep corporate lobbyist money in the party.
She implored the Democratic Party to unify, saying that it’s “no secret there’s division even within this camp” and asked party members to “lay aside those things that divide you to find common ground.” After telling the story of a little boy whose father asked him why he was laughing as they both sat in a boat with a hole on its side in the middle of the water, King said, “There’s a hole in the boat called these United States of America.”
Her message seemed to suggest that if one wing of the Democratic Party goes down, so will the other.
Brazile delivered her final speech as party leader.
“The Trump administration must be investigated, and please continue this work” probing the “Russian hack of the election,” she said.
The drama continued as Ellison’s team allegedly presented false information to garner votes: Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the race and did not endorse a candidate. However, Ellison’s campaign made false claims that they had Buttigieg’s endorsement:
Buttigieg confronted Ellison personally backstage to complain about text sent to DNC members saying he supported Ellison. https://t.co/49VhzEo7dM
— Greg Krieg (@GregJKrieg) February 25, 2017
Congratulations to newly elected DNC Chair @TomPerez – looking forward to joining you and all who share our values to grow our party!
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) February 25, 2017
Saturday’s vote was largely seen as a litmus test for the party’s style of leadership going forward; the vote for Perez represents the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton wing, which is seen as more establishment. However, Ellison’s appointment as deputy chair maintains the base of the progressive wing of the party, which includes Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
Labor did not back Perez. Several of the unions that endorsed Ellison over Perez were the American Federation of Teachers; the National Education Association; the Service Employees International Union; the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; and UNITE HERE, a union representing thousands of culinary and hospitality workers.
The Republican National Committee issued a statement on Perez’s victory. “The Democrat Party has lost touch with the American people. Voters spoke loud and clear last November that they wanted a change in Washington and to reverse the failed policies of the last eight years.” It continued:
By selecting a D.C. insider, Democrats only create deeper divisions within their own party by pushing a far left agenda that rejects a majority of their base outside Washington. The DNC would be well-served to learn from two straight election cycle losses, encourage the leaders in their party to listen to what the voters want, and get to work with Republicans to fix the mess they created.
In his victory speech, Perez touted the notion of unity. “We are all in this together,” he said, as he called on his fellow Democrats to fight “the worst president in the history of the United States.”
“We need a chair who cannot only take the fight to Donald Trump, but make sure that we talk about our positive message of inclusion and opportunity and talk to that big tent of the Democratic Party,” he said.
Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter and Periscope @AdelleNaz.