What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

DNC chair Tom Perez on delegate math, momentum and pandemic preparedness

Despite another night of disappointing primary results, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said Wednesday he will continue to challenge former Vice President Joe Biden for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. The two are scheduled to debate Sunday. Lisa Desjardins reports, and Judy Woodruff talks to Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, about where the party goes from here.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    After Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary contests, former Vice President Joe Biden has a clear lead.

    He won four states, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, and Michigan. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won North Dakota. And there is no projected winner yet in Washington state.

    Our Lisa Desjardins has more.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Today, Bernie Sanders spoke in a smaller, more sober setting than usual. The senator from Vermont said that defeating President Trump was still his number-one goal, and he will keep challenging Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination, despite yesterday's primary night letdown.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:

    On Sunday night, in the first one-on-one debate of this campaign, the American people will have the opportunity to see which candidate is best positioned to accomplish that goal.

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.:

    There's no sugarcoating it. Tonight's a tough night.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Sanders supporter and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Instagram to console supporters and congratulate Biden.

    In a majority of yesterday's contests, moderate, suburban and black voters propelled the former vice president to victory over Sanders, leading to this moment last night in Philadelphia, with Biden making this appeal directly to Sanders backers:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    I want to thank Bernie Sanders and his supporters for their tireless energy and their passion. We share a common goal. And, together, we will defeat Donald Trump.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    One major Biden supporter, longtime South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, told NPR that it might be time soon to wind down the primary fight.

  • Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.:

    I think we will be at a point where Joe Biden will be the prohibitive nominee of the party, and I think the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, should then step in, make an assessment, and determine whether or not they ought to have any more debates.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Both scrapped planned events last night because of coronavirus concerns. And the planned TV debate on Sunday will go on, but without a live audience.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To give us more insight on how the Democratic Party is handling this changing primary race, I'm joined by Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez.

    Tom Perez, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • Tom Perez:

    Always a pleasure to be with you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    First question, does Bernie Sanders still have a chance to win the Democratic nomination?

  • Tom Perez:


    We're — a little under 50 percent of the delegates have been allocated. The magic number is 1,991. And so primaries are often about — they're always about math, and they're often about momentum.

    And, certainly, the vice president has achieved some momentum here in South Carolina, Super Tuesday, and then this week.

    I have coached enough team sports and been around politics enough to know that momentum shifts do occur. And our job is to make sure that we continue to have a fair process and continue to work so that, whoever our nominee is, we can hit the ground running and we will be united as a party.

    And I'm confident we will.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So how do you respond to Congressman James Clyburn's saying that it's time for the DNC, it's time for this primary process to be shut down?

  • Tom Perez:

    Well, I think it's always up to the candidates to figure out when it is time to say when.

    And I respect the judgment of Senator Sanders moving forward. We have four more very important races next Tuesday. Those will provide us with some more information and insight, because they're big states, Ohio, Illinois, Arizona. And the biggest prize of all next Tuesday is Florida.

    So we will be over the 50 percent mark by the end of the day Tuesday. Two weeks from Tuesday — or two weeks from yesterday, we then go down to Georgia. And so that's basically what we have for the next few weeks.

    And I think then, again, this is about math. This is about understanding where you are in a process. And I don't think it's my place, as the DNC chair, to tell somebody when it's time to end your campaign.

    That's always up to the candidates. I didn't call Pete Buttigieg or I didn't call Amy Klobuchar or any of the candidates who got out. I never called anyone and said, I think it's really time for you to get out. That was a judgment that they made on their own, based on their own analysis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it does sound as if other leaders in the party are saying that, either out loud or privately.

  • Tom Perez:

    Well, again, I can't stop others from doing what they're doing.

    What I can do is make sure that everybody gets a fair shake. And one thing I know — because I have had the good fortune of working with both the vice president and with Senator Sanders, one thing I know is that, whoever our nominee is, they are both going to work their tails off to defeat Donald Trump.

    And we have seen an absolute explosion in turnout. And I credit not only the two of them who are still in the race. I credit all the candidates, the excitement that has been generated throughout this Democratic primary.

    You look at yesterday, more record turnout. You look at Super Tuesday, record turnout in New Hampshire.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Tom Perez:

    Blew through the numbers in 2008, South Carolina, the same thing.

    So, the energy is there, the momentum is there. And we will come together as a party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm sure that you heard Senator Sanders' statement today, the questions that he said he wants to hear Vice President Biden respond to having to do with Medicare for all, having to do with college debt, with climate change, suggesting pretty clearly that he wants, he expects Joe Biden to accommodate some of Bernie Sanders' positions.

    How far do you think Joe Biden should go in accommodating some of the more progressive ideas of Bernie Sanders?

  • Tom Perez:

    Well, I think — again, one of the things that gives me great optimism as we move forward, Judy, is that what unites us as a party far exceeds what our differences are.

    Everybody running for president understands the imperative of combating climate change and making sure that we make decisions based on the science. Everybody understands that.

    Everybody running for president understands that we should make sure everyone has access to quality, affordable health care. And thanks to LBJ and Barack Obama, we're about 85, 90 percent the way up the mountain of universals health care.

    They undeniably have differences of opinion on how to get that 15, 10 percent to the mountaintop, but the imperative of getting there, they have complete agreement on. And the imperative of making sure that people with preexisting conditions being able to maintain their coverage, they completely agree on.

    Taking on the pharmaceutical industry, they completely agree on. So, what unites us, I think, far exceeds what our differences are. And the voters will see that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two quick questions about coronavirus.

    Given the severity of what we know is now going on, it's a pandemic, should our two political parties find ways to work together that they haven't found before now on this issue?

  • Tom Perez:

    Well, I think there are a number of areas where I would hope that we could have worked together.

    One letter we sent a long time ago was, if either party obtains information that was a product of foreign interference, we should never use that information. We sent a letter a while ago calling on the Republicans to come together on that. Unfortunately, they said no.

    I would love to figure out ways to work together. We should be following our public health guidance, our public health professionals. I have great respect for the doctors and other professionals at the National Institutes of Health.

    I had the privilege of working with many of them in the Obama administration. And I think we should be able to come together. This is — coronavirus is not about right vs. left. It's about public health. And it's about making sure that we, as a nation, can come together.

    It's very disappointing to see the absence of sufficient preparedness. I saw how preparedness worked with Ebola. You may recall and your viewers will recall, when President Obama took office, H1N1 was very real, and that preparedness helped.

    Those shouldn't be partisan issues. We should be able to come together around principles of preparedness.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very quickly, plans still on for the Democratic National Convention in July?

  • Tom Perez:

    Yes, they are. And we're going to continue to work with federal, state and local officials to make sure that we put no one in harm's way, so that we can have a good convention.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tom Perez, thank you very much.

  • Tom Perez:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment