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tom perez

Trump warned 'don't get too happy' after poking fun at Democrats' new chair

The Democratic party is struggling to figure out how to progress in the wake of Trump’s spectacular win last November.

LAST NIGHT, THE United States’ Democratic National Committee elected Thomas Perez as their new party chair.

Tom Perez Branden Camp / AP Branden Camp / AP / AP

The role will see him try to rebuild the party after its crushing election defeat last November, and a controversy involving favouring Hillary Clinton as the party candidate over Senator Bernie Sanders.

The US President Donald Trump, who was watching closely, tweeted out a congratulations for Perez – but with a sting in the tail:

“Congratulations to Thomas Perez, who has just been named Chairman of the DNC [Democratic National Convention]. I could not be happier for him, or for the Republican Party!”

That last part seemed to hint that Perez was the Republicans’ preferred option, suggesting that they expected the new leader of the Democrats to go a little easy on them – or that he’d be easier to beat than the other candidate, Keith Ellison (who was endorsed by liberal Bernie Sanders).

But the new party chair cleared things up quickly:

“Call me Tom,” he tweeted out to Donald Trump. “And don’t get too happy. Keith Ellison and I, and Democrats united across the country will be your worst nightmare.”

The new chair

After what was called a competitive round of voting, Members of the DNC picked Perez, a former labour secretary backed by former President Barack Obama, over Ellison, who was backed by Bernie Sanders.

When Tom Perez stepped to the stage as the newly elected Democratic national chairman, his first official act was to invite his vanquished rival to join him as deputy chairman.

Minnesota Rep Keith Ellison accepted on the spot and two men stood together, smiling like a national ticket at a presidential nominating convention.

Keith Ellison Keith Ellison listens as newly-elected Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez gives his victory speech. AP / Branden Camp AP / Branden Camp / Branden Camp

As some cheered for the new chair, a few young Ellison supporters booed in the gallery, with some of them in tears.

Reaction wasn’t enthusiastic among the liberal groups that had embraced Sanders’ presidential campaign and have intensified their efforts since the election of Donald Trump.

“We don’t have the luxury of walking out of this room divided,” Ellison said over the jeers. Afterward, he told reporters he trusts Perez and that the burgeoning resistance movement aimed at President Donald Trump should do the same.

A united party

Democrats Perez AP / Andrew Harnik AP / Andrew Harnik / Andrew Harnik

The reaction yesterday – and the unusual campaign that preceded it – underscores the challenges Perez and Democrats face as they look to recover from a disastrous electoral slide that was obscured by Obama’s two national victories but laid bare by Hillary Clinton’s stinging loss to Trump.

Now, besides Trump occupying the Oval Office, Republicans control Congress and about two-thirds of statehouses, and they’re one Senate confirmation vote away from a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

“We suffer from a crisis of confidence… a crisis of relevance,” Perez told DNC members ahead of his election.

Perez and Ellison have agreed to capitalise on the widespread opposition to Trump while rebuilding moribund state and local party organisations.

“We are all in this together,” Perez said. Repeating a line he’s used for weeks while campaigning for the post, he praised public demonstrations against Trump as a statement from “millions of Americans” that “Donald Trump does not represent our values.”

The same-old, same-old

Congress Rdp PA Images / Andrew Harnik PA Images / Andrew Harnik / Andrew Harnik

But it was Ellison who tapped so much of that anti-Trump energy. Sanders released a statement congratulating Perez yet warned “it is imperative that Tom understands that the same-old, same-old is not working.”

Jim Dean, chair of Democracy for America, called Perez’s election “incredibly disappointing” and said the “resistance will persist… with or without the leadership of the Democratic National Committee.” Dan Kantor, leader of the Working Families Party, said Democrats “missed an opportunity.”

Jeff Weaver, who managed Sanders’ presidential campaign and now runs the offshoot Our Revolution group, said Perez and Ellison must prove themselves as a leadership duo.

“Do they really invest in 50 state parties? Are they really going to engage with people in the streets?” Weaver asked. “Are they really going to bring those people into the party, so that you have a much broader cross-section of democratically aligned voters represented?”

‘Hillary 2.0′

Even a top labour leader, Lee Saunders, who worked with Perez when he ran the Labor Department, issued a statement that congratulated Ellison before mentioning Perez and praising him as a “tenacious champion for working families.” Saunders leads the union of federal, state and local public employees.

The son of Dominican immigrants, Perez actually comes to the job with a demonstrably liberal record as a civil rights attorney and backer of organised labour.

In the chairman’s race he carried the establishment label as a Maryland resident who’s spent years in the Washington orbit, working in the Justice Department and ultimately as an Obama Cabinet secretary.

Besides his support from Obama, he had the public endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden, and one of Obama’s closest aides, Valerie Jarrett, made calls to DNC members on Perez’s behalf as late as Friday night. Some Clinton insiders aligned with him, as well.

Several Republican organisations seized on that fact yesterday, with one calling Perez “Hillary 2.0.”

Perez has embraced the idea of a more aggressive, populist identity for the party, even if he hasn’t convinced activists he can deliver on it.

He said throughout the three-day DNC meeting ahead of the vote that he would work to align party resources with the energy of groups from Black Lives Matter and Swing Left to Indivisible, Resist Trump Tuesdays, Knock Every Door, Rise Stronger and Sister District.

He promised “a culture change” at the top echelons of the party, adding, “We have a lot of work to do.”

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

Read: Donald Trump to skip White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Associated Foreign Press
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