Hey Democrats: Don’t let the DNC Race Distract From the Real Fight

With the Trump agenda rolling on, do we really want to waste time arguing about Tom Perez?

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

I didn’t particularly have a horse in the race for DNC chair and in fact would have been happy to see Rep. Keith Ellison win. He is a Democrat, and I think the person who chairs the Democratic Party ought to be that, for starters. I like that he was willing to give up his day job to take the gig. And most of all, I thought if it’ll make some disgruntled people a little more gruntled, why not.

But Tom Perez won Saturday afternoon. It was close. After the first ballot, it was Perez 213.5, Ellison 200 (224 needed to win). After that vote, I was made to understand that Ellison people thought they had the votes to win on the second ballot. But they didn’t. Perez added to his total, Ellison stayed at exactly 200, and fortunately, Donna Brazile didn’t pull a Beatty-Dunaway and announce the wrong winner.

Ellison himself, who Perez promptly named as Deputy DNC Chair, took his defeat with grace. But as was to be expected, some of his supporters are turning this into a massive morality play. I was on my friend Mark Thompson’s Sirius/XM radio show Monday morning, and people were calling in and complaining about being sold out (Mark wasn’t having it, by the way). Then I read Dave Weigel’s thorough and fair-minded write-up in The Washington Post of why Ellison lost, and started reading through some of the 2,000-plus comments, most of which said the same thing.

So all that happened over the weekend. Here are a few other things that happened:

The Wall Street Journal reported (it’s paywalled, so no link) that Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, terrified that they’re hemorrhaging support for repeal of Obamacare, are now thinking about rushing through repeal votes, hoping that they can pressure wobbly Republicans to hold the line before there’s time for another round of meetings with constituents furious that their health care is being taken away. So, with polls showing clearly that it’s now the will of the people that they keep Obamacare and make a good-faith effort to fix the high deductible-premium problems, they’re about to yank it away.

• Politico, meanwhile, reported on the bare bones of what the “replace” part would look like. It’s unworkable and unserious, but if somehow it were to get passed, millions would have to drop their coverage because their subsidies for it would be slashed. In other words, those people who’ve been standing up at town-hall meetings telling their senator or representative that they’ll die? They’ll die.

• In other news, the president said this morning he’s going to increase Pentagon spending by $54 billion and get the savings through domestic programs. As I understand things, there are questions as to whether he can even do this under existing sequestration caps (it’s all pretty technical and I’m still trying to understand it). But even if he can, $54 billion is a massive assault on the domestic discretionary budget, all kinds of programs that all kinds of people depend on.

• Meanwhile, the clampdown on the press continues. Historically, White Houses conduct loads of background briefings, done by conference call to journalists. Sometimes they’re done just to lists of reporters, sometimes they’re more selective than that, but they’ve never to my knowledge, in Democratic or Republican White Houses, excluded people who were accustomed to being part of them with no explanation. Until now. Tara McKelvey, the White House reporter for the BBC, tweeted Monday morning: “WH officials have restricted many of their background conference calls to a certain number of reporters—with no explanation.”

• Immigration raids are causing panic in some communities. Some people are afraid to go to church or school. The new travel ban, this time presumably vetted by a lawyer or two and thus maybe more challenge-proof, is on its way.

• Steve Bannon vowed “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” Exactly what he means by that remains opaque. He did elaborate by saying that said deconstruction is the reason people like new EPA head Scott Pruitt were put in their jobs—to destroy the agencies over which they preside. Ponder the consequences of that for millions of poor people who live near toxic waste sites or breathe dirty air or what have you.

These items barely scratch the surface. What Trump’s people are doing at the National Security Agency, say, or at Homeland Security, or the IRS, is anyone’s guess.

And with all this going on, people want to keep fighting about Tom Perez?

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If Perez were, oh, a former investment banker who supported expanding the death penalty or something, OK. I’d have been against him myself. But go look at what he’s done. As labor secretary he pushed through fantastic new overtime pay rules (now in limbo at best). And if his record as labor secretary is sullied for you by the fact that he backed the TPP—and it shouldn’t be; he worked for a president who was for it, he had no choice—go read about what Perez did as assistant attorney general for civil rights. Remember when the federal government sued Joe Arpaio, the right-wing sheriff out in Phoenix? Perez did that.

There’s a lot of work to do. Democrats have to fight the Obamacare repeal tooth and nail. They have to fight on the budget. They have to try to pressure more Republicans to come out in favor of an independent counsel on Russia. They have to try to win special elections. And they have to try to win them in purple and red areas. The first big test comes up later this spring in Georgia, where, The Daily Beast’s Patricia Murphy reports, a native-son Democrat who’s well-financed has a real shot.

There’s a certain percentage of people who just want to be on the outside criticizing. If that’s who you are, Godspeed, I guess. Any political party needs some of that. And I get that the Obama forces put Perez in late to block Ellison, and that that’s annoying.

But if you can look at what going’s on in this country right now and decide you need to spend time and energy naming Tom Perez and Barack Obama as the problems, you may spare a moment’s thought for the people who worry that they or their loved ones might be deported or thrown in jail, who need the political party that opposes that to be as powerful as possible and don’t even have the slightest idea that Tom Perez and Keith Ellison exist.