Obama-era veteran picked to lead Democratic Party

Interim chairman Donna Brazile handing the gavel to newly elected Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez during the DNC Winter Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday.
Interim chairman Donna Brazile handing the gavel to newly elected Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez during the DNC Winter Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

WASHINGTON • Opposition Democrats have chosen Mr Tom Perez as their new leader, tapping an establishment figure to lead the fight against President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress.

Mr Perez, a labour secretary under former president Barack Obama and the party's first Hispanic-American leader, last Saturday immediately named the contest's runner-up, leftist lawmaker Keith Ellison, as the party's deputy chairman.

"Someday, they're going to study this era in American history... and ask the question, of all of us, where were you in 2017 when we had the worst president in the history of the United States?" said Mr Perez, 55.

"And we will all be able to say, the united Democratic Party led the resistance, ensured this president was a one-term president and elected Democrats across this country."

Mr Ellison, a 53-year-old African American who is the first Muslim elected to the US Congress, warned that "we don't have the luxury to walk out of this room divided". The fight over who would chair the Democratic National Committee (DNC) appeared at times to be a proxy battle between the supporters of defeated 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her leftist primary rival Bernie Sanders.

ONE UNITED PARTY

Someday, they're going to study this era in American history... and ask the question, of all of us, where were you in 2017 when we had the worst president in the history of the United States? And we will all be able to say, the united Democratic Party led the resistance, ensured this president was a one-term president and elected Democrats across this country.

MR TOM PEREZ, the Democrats' first Hispanic-American leader, on being chosen to lead the fight against President Trump.

Mr Perez, who won 235 votes against 200 for Mr Ellison - a strong Sanders supporter - was seen as the establishment pick.

Unlike in other democracies, the leaders of the two main US parties wield little influence on policy, with leading party lawmakers holding far more clout.

But this backstage role is taking on greater significance following Mrs Clinton's surprise defeat last year, and as Democrats prepare for next year's midterm elections and the 2020 presidential vote.

Mr Perez succeeds interim chairman Donna Brazile, who took over after Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz was ousted in mid-2016 when leaked emails showed that some DNC members, who are pledged to be neutral in presidential primaries, favoured Mrs Clinton over Mr Sanders.

The progressive group Democracy for America was upset with the "incredibly disappointing" vote result.

Choosing Mr Perez "is another missed opportunity for a Democratic Party desperately trying to regain relevance, and proves... how out of touch party insiders are with the grassroots movement currently in the streets", said the group's chairman Jim Dean, an Ellison supporter.

But Mr Obama, who has largely been silent since leaving office last month, called for mending rifts.

"What unites our party is a belief in opportunity - the idea that however you started out, whatever you look like, or whomever you love, America is the place where you can make it if you try," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'Obama-era veteran picked to lead Democratic Party'. Print Edition | Subscribe