JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to our series of conversations focusing on the road ahead for the Democratic Party.
Today, Senate and House Democratic leaders left Washington for a stop in Berryville in Northwest Virginia, estimated population around 4,300. It was to roll out a new, more populist message focusing on economic issues. They said it’s what the party needs to win back voters.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: When you lose elections, as we did in 2014 and 2016, you don’t flinch. You don’t blink. You look in the mirror and ask, what did we do wrong? The number one thing we did wrong is not present a strong, bold economic agenda to working Americans, so that their hope for the future might return again.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., House Minority Leader: That is why, today, Democrats are unveiling an aggressive and ambitious economic agenda, and a bold new promise to America’s working families. From the heartland — these members are from the heartland, but to the suburbs, to the cities, Democrats are offering a better deal, better jobs, better wages, a better future.
REP. BEN RAY LUJAN, D-N.M.: Voters, constituents want us to focus on them. They want us to understand where they are. And they want us to understand that their wages are not keeping up with their cost of living. And so the more people that are able to have that conversation with the American people, we will be in a stronger place in 2018.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Joining me now to discuss the new agenda, and the way forward for the party, is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez.
Welcome to the NewsHour.
So, how did the Democratic Party get to the point where you have to be reintroducing yourselves to the American people, telling them what you stand for?
THOMAS PEREZ, Chairman, Democratic National Committee: Well, we have heard across America from people that they don’t know what we stand for.
And I have been traveling to countries listening. And so what Leader Pelosi, Senator Schumer and others today have been doing is telling people not only what we’re fighting for, but who we’re fighting for.
We’re fighting for a better future for everyone. We’re fighting to address the most important issue of our time, which is income inequality. We’re fighting and showing people that we believe that everyone has an opportunity, or should have an opportunity, to punch their ticket to the middle class, that health care is a right for all, not a privilege for a few.
And, again, we’re not only talking about what we’re fighting for, but who we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for the many, not the few. We’re fighting for an economy that works for everyone.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is this different, Tom Perez, from the Democrats’ message before now?
THOMAS PEREZ: Well, I think — I worked for Ted Kennedy.
And Ted Kennedy always fought for he called the common man and the common woman. And I think the Democratic Party, we have always been fighting for ordinary Americans, whether it was fighting for the Social Security Act in the 1930s, fighting for Medicare and Medicaid. And we will be celebrating the anniversary of Medicaid and Medicare in a few days.
Fighting for the Affordable Care Act. Fighting for good jobs. And what we need to do is underscore what we have been doing and tell people how we’re going to continue that fight, because Donald Trump attempted to hijack that message. And we need to tell people exactly who’s fighting for them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, is part of the reason you need to do this that the party has been spending — and Democrats — have been spending so much time talking about Donald Trump, criticizing Donald Trump?
Just today, I got another press release from the Democratic National Committee about Jared Kushner’s meeting with Senate investigators on Russia.
Have you have been — by you, I mean Democrats — been spending too much time criticizing Donald Trump, in other words, talking about what you’re against, rather than what you’re for?
THOMAS PEREZ: Well, when we have a vote on the Affordable Care Act repeal tomorrow, it’s important for us to talk about the fact that that’s not a health care bill, it’s a massive tax cut for wealthy people.
But your point is absolutely well taken, which is we can’t simply be against Donald Trump. We have to be for the values that Senator Schumer, Leader Pelosi and all of us have been talking about.
And that’s what I do day in and day out. Democrats believe that no one who works a full-time job should have to live in poverty. Democrats believe that, again, health care is a right for all and not a privilege for a few, that the secretary of education ought to believe in public education.
And when I was labor secretary, I was fighting for higher wages, overtime pay for people. I was fighting for retirement security for folks. We were fighting to make sure that people had the skills to compete.
And the Republicans were always fighting against that. They didn’t want to raise the overtime threshold. They fought our efforts at making sure that anyone who had a 401(k) or an IRA could get the advice they need.
And what we have to do a better job of as Democrats is tell folks exactly what we have been fighting for and what they have been fighting against.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How does this fit into the debate that I have been hearing out there?
On the one hand, you hear I guess you would call them centrist Democrats saying, well, the party didn’t pay enough attention to the Middle America, working-class Americans, it spent too much time on what they call identity politics.
And then, on the other hand, you have got the more progressive wing of the party saying, no, no, the party forgot about its base, it about minorities, about black voters, about Hispanic voters.
And you’re hearing two different critiques. How does what you’re saying the party is arguing now, how does it fit into that argument?
THOMAS PEREZ: Well, I think it’s a false choice to suggest that you either do one or the other.
And as Dr. King said, the best civil right is a good job. What good is a seat at the counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger? And economic opportunity for everyone is what we have been talking about. And what we have to do a better job of as Democrats is talk about that in every zip code.
A big part of what we’re doing with the Democratic Party is we’re building a 12-month-a-year organizing presence in every zip code. We have to talk to folks in rural America, urban America, suburban America, because the opioid epidemic is touching all of those communities.
And we need to tell them that we are the party that’s trying to make sure that we retain access to health care. We’re the party that’s making sure that you have the skills to compete, not only for today’s jobs, but for the dynamic economy and the jobs that will be coming tomorrow.
That’s what Democrats have been fighting for, and I think that message resonates in every zip code across the country. Everyone wants good public education. Doesn’t matter where you live. And that’s what we’re fighting for.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Former President Obama himself said that he was partly to blame for the fact that the party didn’t so as much as it should have done, could have been doing at the state level, at the local level.
Is the party now going to be working actively to recruit and be more present in local communities, in cities?
THOMAS PEREZ: Absolutely. Absolutely.
We have changed our mission statement. Our mission is no longer simply to elect the president of the United States. Our mission is to elect Democrats up and down the ticket, from the school board to the Senate.
And our mission is to be there in every zip code. That’s why we helped two candidates who were running in Oklahoma a couple weeks ago who won special elections in districts that Donald Trump had won.
We have a 57-state-and-territory strategy. And we have to organize everywhere. And we to have to be a 12-month-a-year party. You can’t just show up every fourth October and call that organizing.
We have to organize everywhere. And that’s everywhere every year.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to come back to the question we were discussing a minute ago. And that is, how much of what people are hearing from Democrats now is anti-Donald Trump?
How do you both do this, the positive things you’re talking about, and remain this relentless anti-Trump machine that many people think the Democrats are?
THOMAS PEREZ: Well, we can’t match Trump tweet for tweet, because distracting Donald frequently out there.
I’m sure, at the G20, everyone was talking about John Podesta’s tweets. And so when you — and then you have this misnamed voter integrity commission, which is a voter suppression commission.
And we can’t allow all of the relentless conflict and chaos that emanates from this administration to take our eye off the ball. That’s what today was about with Leader Pelosi and Senator Schumer. It was about telling the American people we are the party that’s fighting for a better future for folks, for everyone.
We’re the party that’s going to make sure that you get that good job that pays a decent wage that allows you to have dignity. And we have to do that. And that’s exactly what I do everywhere I go, Judy, because it is so important to tell people what we stand for and who we stand with.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic Party, thank you very much.
THOMAS PEREZ: Pleasure to be with you.