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CNN Live Event/Special

Debate between DNC Chair Candidates - Hour One. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 22, 2017 - 22:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right. Live from the CNN Center in Atlanta, this is CNN's debate night, the Democratic Leadership Debate. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Chris Cuomo.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: And I'm Dana Bash. This is the final debate before Democrats choose who will lead their party in the era of Donald Trump. The vote will be this Saturday, right here in Atlanta. These eight contenders are vying to be the chair of the Democratic National Committee. They are here to discuss how they'll take on President Trump's agenda and how they hope to defeat his party in midterm and presidential elections.

With Republicans in control of the White House, Congress, and the majority of state houses across the country, this may be the most consequential DNC Chair election in more than a decade. Please welcome President Obama's former labor secretary, Tom Perez.


U.S. Congressman from Minnesota, Keith Ellison. Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg.


The Chair of South Carolina Democratic Party, Jaime Harrison.


The Executive Director of the Idaho Democratic Party, Sally Boynton Brown.


Former Rock the Vote President, Jehmu Greene.


U.S. Air Force veteran, Sam Ronan. And voting rights attorney, Peter Peckarsky.


CUOMO: All right, candidates, a reminder of the ground rules. You're going to have one minute to answer questions that are posed to you, 30 seconds for any responses or rebuttals. You're going to see the timing lights on top of the cameras, they'll guide you. Dana and I will do that as well. We're going to moderate the debate. We'll be asking questions along with members of our audience who are going to get to vote for the Chair of the DNC this weekend. So, with no further ado.

BASH: That's right, candidates. Let's get started. We're now in the second month of President Trump's presidency. This weekend, one of you will become the DNC Chair and a leading voice of the opposition. Secretary Perez, I want to start with you. You said that Democrats should hit President Trump between the eyes with two by four and treat him like Mitch McConnell treated Barack Obama. But you've also said you'd be for Donald Trump if he ensures that everyone can have access to the American dream. So, as DNC Chair, rather, would you work with President Trump, or would you work to stop him?

TOM PEREZ, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR: Well I think Donald Trump from day one has showed that he has a far right agenda. He does not want to do what is necessary to move America forward. He wants to move America backward. We saw it two hours into his administration where he made it harder for first time home buyers to buy a home by rescinding an Obama era rule that would have made it easier for them to do that. Three hours later, he files a motion in Texas to stay a proceeding on the case involving the voter ID law that I was involved in.

So we have seen from the get-go that this person wants to turn the clock back and the Democratic Party needs to take the fight to Donald Trump. When we lead with our values, when we lead with our conviction, that's how we succeed. And I've lost my voice going all over the country. And what I'm saying to people is, my voice may be crackly now, but when we take over by implementing this 50 state strategy and making sure that Democrats have a voice, that is how we return the power to the people.

BASH: Thank you. Congressman Ellison --

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: You know, Donald Trump has already brought the fight our way. I'll add on that he has implemented and moved forward on the ban for people based on their religion. He has said he's going to build this wall. He has already made it clear where he is coming from. But I think that the DNC has a special role to play.

Yes, the protests are awesome, and I support them and I participated But we can actually help Democrats win all over the country so that we can get rid of Donald Trump so that we can block the actions that are hurting Americas all the time.

When Democrats lose elections, you know, bad things happen to good people. And we cannot stand back and tolerate it. And the tool that we have at our disposal is to win elections. And that means go to 3,143 counties all over this country. That means we turn on during the off-year. That means we focus on turnout, and that is how we succeed.

BASH: Thank you. Mayor Buttigieg --

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: Yes, there's no question that we've got to bring the fight to Donald Trump. Every falsehood has to be met with fact. Every outrage has to be met with a response. But it's also not all about Donald Trump. We got to get back to talking to people and about people in terms of their everyday lives. Not the politics and the politicians, whether it's ours or theirs. We got to make sure we're talking about our values. And every time he does something that offends our values, that insults our values, or that hurts real people, and he's doing it every day, that we've got to stand up to fight for people in terms of what it means for us in our actual lives.

Donald Trump has gotten to be like a computer virus in the American political system. He ties up our minds and our processing power with these equations that don't even have any solutions until the system overheats and breaks down. Yes, we got to take the fight to him, but we can't let him dominate our imagination, because it's our values and our candidates that matter most.

BASH: Thank you. Congressman Ellison, three of your colleagues in the House, Maxine Waters, Jamie Raskin, and Joaquin Castro, have people publicly raised the specter of impeaching President Trump. Do you stand with them or with House Leader Nancy Pelosi who believes impeachment talk is premature?

ELLISON: I think that Donald Trump has already done a number of things which legitimately raise the question of impeachment. I mean on day one --


On day one, he was in violation of the emollients clause. This is a part of the Constitution that says as President, you can't get payments from a foreign power. The day people checked into his hotel and started paying him, who were foreign dignitaries, he was in violation of that law. There's already a lawsuit filed against him. And right now, it's about only Donald Trump. It is about the integrity of the presidency.

So yes, I think that we need to begin investigations to not to go after Donald Trump, but to protect our Constitution and presidency of the United States, to make sure that nobody can monetize the presidency and make profit off it for their own gain.

BASH: Ms. Greene?

JEHMU GREENE, FORMER PRESIDENT OF ROCK THE VOTE: Absolutely. When he commits an impeachable offense, the Democratic Party has to be that last line of defense for our Constitution and for this country. We don't have the luxury to take a back seat as this man is arrogantly marching us towards fascism.

So I am on the side of holding him accountable. But I am also on the side of knowing, in this unprecedented political reality we are living in, the Democratic Party has to innovate how we organize, how we communicate, and how we connect with voters so that the millions of Americans who are in the streets today resisting this president understand that we are welcoming home for them. We will resist him in the House and in the Senate and we will resist him in the streets and the party will play that important role of protecting our Constitution.

BASH: Thank you. Mayor Buttigieg -- you are an officer in the Navy Reserve and served in Afghanistan. In a previous forum, you called President Trump a draft dodging chicken hawk, and warned against sending Americans back into conflict. Is that the way Democrats running for office should talk about the commander-in-chief?

BUTTIGIEG: Look, we've got to face what we're faced with. This is somebody -- this gets me emotional. Because you've got somebody who, as a millionaire's son, used his privilege in order to avoid serving. And look, military service insn't for everybody. But for somebody who did that to then see fit to turn around and attack the people who did serve, and even attack them over their service, that is unconscionable.

You know, the fact, I was never rich. But I felt privileged with a Harvard degree. That was one of the reasons I felt I needed to go into the military. He used his privilege to stay out. But again, I got to say, I even find myself feeling the need to do things like call him something really tough because he's bringing out the worst in us, all of us. His supporters and his opponents. We need leaders who will bring out the best in us. That's what leadership is all about, and that's what the Democratic Party needs to do.


BASH: Mr. Ronan, you served in the Air Force. What's your response to that?

SAM RONAN, AIR FORCE VETERAN: Absolutely. I mean, Donald Trump, he is a draft dodger. He's trying to send us into more frivolous wars. He's trying to increase our foothold and our footprint in the Middle East, and that's absolutely not going to win anything. It's only going to send our boys and girls to their deaths.

But it's not enough to just simply condemn Donald Trump. I mean, look at his administration. Look at all the Democrats who have supported him. Look at everything that has happened to empower this man to get to where he is. And as Pete just said, my service, I mean, that means something to me. When I raised my right hand, that was one of the proudest moments of my life. And I think me and -- Mr. (inaudible) as well, we all served. We know what that's like. And to have someone just flagrantly attack our service, the yellow ribbon and the gold star families as well, it's reprehensible. We must hold him to task. And that's exactly what I would do as DNC Chair.

CUOMO: All right, thank you, Mr. Ronan. Chairman Harrison, let's bring you in on this. Like Mr. Ronan said, it's easy to be negative about the President if you're a Democrat right now. But is that enough? During the 2016 election, there was criticism that the Democrats didn't have a positive enough message. Is going negative going to get you where you need to be?

JAMIE HARRISON, CHAIRMAN OF THE SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well there's two things. I served in the House of Representatives as the executive director of House Democrats, when Democrats took back the House in 2006. And Nancy Pelosi who then became the speaker said that you have to do two things in order to get back to majority. You've got to take them down, you have to paint the picture so the American people can see it, and then you have to demonstrate what it is that we are for. And that's really, really important.

We're in unprecedented times right now. For the first time in history, we've had a Vice President that had to cast a tie vote in order to get a nominee into a secretary position. Unprecedented to have a President to go after the judiciary, and also go after the media with such vitriol. Unprecedented in terms of having some who's anti-Semitic in the White House. Unprecedented having somebody like Jeff Sessions at the judiciary department.

And so yes, we have to paint that picture. But at the same time, we have to do something that I say, which is show and not tell. We have to show the American people what we are all about. And that is not just through words, flowery words, but it's through our actions. And that's what we're doing every day in South Carolina. We're going into communities, actually addressing the issues they're dealing with. And that's really important for us to do as a party.

CUOMO: Chairman Harrison, thank you. Mr. Peckarsky -- you know how to make a case. What is the case for the Democrats right now?

PETER PECKARSKY, VOTING RIGHTS ATTORNEY: The case for the Democrats right now is to reenergize the entire Democratic Party, from the ground level up, and to make the case that Donald Trump is unsuited for the office. That he has done a number of things which are illegal, and which we are not about to stand for. He's violated a number of rights and shows every inclination, it seems, to keep on violating them.

The party -- it's not just an issue of taking on Donald Trump. The party has got to do -- there are a lot of reforms in which the party has to engage, to enable it to take on Donald Trump and entire Republican Party, and the entire Republican cast of characters in the House and the Senate.

So it's not just a matter of taking on Donald Trump. It's a matter of re-energizing the Democratic Party from the ground up. In all 185,000 precincts in this country.

CUOMO: Thank you, Mr. Peckarsky. Appreciate it.

Congressman Ellison -- on Tuesday, you criticized President Trump on Twitter for not speaking out sooner about anti-Semitism. You have critics in your party that say that is the right message but you may not be the right messenger because you're dogged by your own questions about potential anti-Semitism. What do you say to your critics?

ELLISON: Well, these are false allegations. And that's why I have 300 rabbis and Jewish community leaders who have signed a letter supporting me. Five of my colleagues -- they said, look, I don't have anything to say about this race, but we know Keith and he is a good man and always has been. That's why a week ago I was in New York City with HIAS (ph), which is an organization, a Jewish organization, which stands up for refugees. They're saying, we were once refugees, and they stood out in New York and demanded that we have respect for refugees now.

And when I spoke at that, I invoked the memory of the St. Louis, where Jews fleeing Third Reich were turned away in Cuba with the knowledge of our government and sent back. Many of them ended up perishing in the Holocaust.

I have a long, strong history of interfaith dialogue, interfaith communication, and that's why in my own community, I have strong support from the Jewish community. So these are smears and we're fighting back every day, but we're fighting back with people who know us. I just want to say, it is critical that we speak up against this anti-Semitism because right now, you have Jewish cemeteries being defaced and desecrated. Right now, you have Jewish institutions getting bomb threats. We have to stand with the Jewish community right here, right now, four square, and that's what the Democratic Party is all about.

CUOMO: And if you are the Chair of the party, President Trump has made the relationship with Israel central to his understanding of that region of the world. That criticism from your critics will come in that, Keith Ellison, who's the head of the DNC, if you get this job, he was someone who said that Israel could not be the only lens, that all foreign policy was seen through the lens of 7 million people. Said it in 2010. What do you say to your critics that say that that's not who should be the head of the DNC?

ELLISON: Well, here's what I say, I voted for $27 billion in bilateral aid to Israel over the course of about six or seven votes. I have been to the region many times and sat down with members of the Knesset and worked with them.

I've been a stalwart champion of the two-state solution, which means that we've got to have Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security. And I have made that a very key cornerstone of my advocacy.

And so, look, I believe that the U.S.-Israel relationship is special and important. I've stood for that principle my whole service and my whole career. And you can trust when I'm the DNC chair that that relationship will continue. We will maintain the bipartisan consensus of U.S. support for Israel if I'm the DNC chair.

CUOMO: Congressman Ellison, thank you for addressing the criticisms.

I want to bring in John Verdejo. He is a DNC member from North Carolina. He is supporting Congressman Ellison.

You have a question. And we're going to direct it to Ms. Boynton Brown. Please, go ahead. JOHN VERDEJO, DNC VOTING MEMBER: Good evening. My question to you

is, how do you plan to build a bridge between those Democrats who voted for Trump versus those who stayed loyal to the party and are now affected by Trump and his executive orders?

More bluntly, how do you get a Latino voting Democrat whose family is now facing deportation in the same room with a Democrat who voted for Trump?

SALLY BOYNTON BROWN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IDAHO DEMOCRATIC PARTY: I think it's really important that the Democratic Party focuses on an overarching message that's going to speak to all Americans. We've been for far too long communicating to specific communities specific messages.

And what we're missing is a values-based message that says who we are as Democrats and what great work we're doing in the country.

We've got to develop that message and deliver it to everybody. And then we have to start coming together and listening to each other. We've got to teach each other the empathy skills to be able to sit in conversations and really ask each other why we're doing what we're doing, and then figure out what we agree on so that we can move forward and make America the country we all want it to be.

BASH: Thank you so much. Thank you.



BUTTIGIEG: It's not hypothetical. You know, a lot of times we hear analysts saying, how do get those people in the same room? That's something that happens every day in my community. In a place like South Bend, a diverse community, those folks were already in the same room.

And what we have got to do as a party is recognize that that the same struggle for belonging is true whether you're an immigrant mom trying to make sure you won't be divided from your family, or a blue collar auto worker trying to figure out where your job is going to be, or a transgender kid in a high school who just needs to go to the bathroom like everybody else.

We're all in this together. That has got to be our message.

BASH: Ms. Greene, I want to move on to what's happening across the country right now, which is Republican lawmakers are facing protests at their town halls in their home districts. Back in 2010 Republicans were able to use similar energy from the tea party to take control of Congress.

So how can Democrats harness this energy and to shift the power in Washington?

GREENE: This energy is happening because the voters and the people marching on the street understand that we're facing the single biggest threat to our freedoms since we won them in the American Revolutionary War.

And the Democratic Party has a real unique opportunity, a transformative opportunity to open up our doors to people who in many ways have decided to start organizations, to take daily actions without working with the party.

Yesterday was Barbara Jordan's birthday. And Barbara Jordan, in 1976, stood up at the Democratic National Convention and said that when people in this country in our history have looked for an institution to uphold our values, it has always been the Democratic Party.

And I'm afraid right now that is not happening. And it's not happening because we need to do a better job of really looking at how we walk the talk of our values. And it would be very easy in this race to tell the voters exactly what they want to hear.

I've chosen the road less traveled, speaking uncomfortable truths about how we can do business as Democrats in better ways to open up our doors. And that includes caucuses, which are unintentionally disenfranchising to parents with children and shift workers and the elderly and disabled.

And if we re-imagine how we do business as Democrats, the millions of Americans marching in the street will see that we're a welcoming home to them and the resistance.


BASH: Thank you.

Mr. Ronan, I want to pick up with you on a question, another dynamic that's going on inside the Democratic Party right now. Last week a new progressive PAC called We Will Replace you vowed to pressure Democrats to oppose President Trump across the board or face primary challenges.

You come from Ohio, is absolute obstruction the right strategy for a Democrat running in a purple state like yours?

RONAN: No, it's not. And that question actually ties in to Sally's question and what Jehmu just talked about. You can't just simply tear everything down, because in a duopoly, if one side falls, and you just completely obstruct it, that power void will only be filled by what's left over.

And to your point with the caucuses, it isn't enough. It isn't enough to just offer minorities and those who maybe not have as strong a voice give them their own little seat at the table to deliberate among themselves what they want to have heard, and then bring it to the executives to maybe decide whether or not they want it.

If you want true equality and true equity in our party and in the future of leadership and the diplomatic process -- or the democratic process, I apologize, you must actually give them a seat at the table. The problem with disenfranchisement in our country is not that we

aren't empowered, it's not that we aren't energized or willing to get out there and fight. Clearly all these town halls, clearly all of these different movements, DAPL, Sabal (ph), the Women's March, Black Lives Matter, and everything else in between, they want to fight. They want to get up.

So what we must do as a party is actually embrace leadership and remove our thumb and our heel from them. And they will flourish without any additional push.



BASH: Secretary Perez, I want to stay on this theme and ask you about something specific. About the fact that Democrats, as you well know, are facing an uphill battle to win the Senate back in next year's midterm elections.

Ten Senate Democrats are running for re-election in red states, states that Donald Trump won. One of them is Claire McCaskill. She voted to confirm a handful of President Trump's nominees and she says she's worried that she might have a primary challenge because critics, in her words, don't think she's pure.

Is notion of a purity test healthy for the Democratic Party?

PEREZ: Well, I was in St. Louis last night. And I'll tell you, Claire McCaskill has an immense amount of support there. And the way we're going to take back the Senate, the way we're going to take back the House, the way we're going to take back state houses is to get back to basics.

That's what we need to do as a party. We have to make house calls. We have to have a 12-month-a-year organizing presence.

I was in rural Wisconsin on my rural tour and I met a guy in northwest Wisconsin who said, I feel politically homeless because the Democratic Party had abandoned rural Wisconsin.

And when we are organizing, when we are talking to people, you can't show up at a church every fourth October and call it an organizing strategy. That's how with we take back the Senate, that's how we take back the House, that's how we take back state houses.

And that is why when we lead with our message, our message of economic opportunity, that's how we win.

BASH: But, Mr. Secretary, just to follow up, the question was about a primary challenge. If you're the DNC chair and there are challenges from the left to incumbent Democrats, will you support that, will you cheer them on, or do you think that's mistake?

PEREZ: Well, I think the role of the DNC chair is to let the progress run its course. And then we move forward, you know, when the general election moves ahead.

And I'm confident that this year when you look across this country right now, in Virginia at state House of Delegates level, they have more candidates than ever before. This energy is electric.

January 20th was undeniably an important day, but January 21st and beyond was even more important because people are rising up and saying, Donald Trump, you do not stand for our values. And they're running for office.

BASH: Thank you.


BASH: Congressman Ellison, what about this idea of a purity test? We've seen it in recent elections on the Republican side, not so much on the Democratic side.

ELLISON: Well, I'll say that I agree with Tom that the role of the DNC is to be neutral and fair to all primary contestants. I will call...


ELLISON: I will make a personal call and say, let's not kill each other off guys, you know? But I will not publicly shame any Democrat in a primary. It's going to be neutral and fair if I'm the chair.

But let me just say this, Donald Trump, as deceptive as he was, did say he was for jobs, trade, infrastructure, and protecting Social Security. That's our message. That's what we do. That's why he beat all those other Republicans, because he stole a Democratic message.

We do have to lead with our values. I encourage Democrats in all offices to say, stand for Social Security, stand for fair trade, stand for good jobs, stand for infrastructure investment and don't back off of it.

We should not in this moment think that moving away from what people are crying for is the right thing to do. We need to go to what people need. People have seen...

BASH: Thank you, Congressman.


HARRISON: Dana, let me get to the crux of this. So two sobering statistics, 25 --- as you said, we have 25 U.S. Senate seats up. Republicans need seven seats in the United States Senate in order to get to 60, meaning that they can pass any legislation through the U.S. Senate.

In addition, they only need one more state in order to call a constitutional convention. So if Democrats want to be in a permanent minority, let's spend all of our time and energy fighting each other.


HARRISON: But if we want to actually fight back against Donald Trump, let's spend our energy going after Ted Cruz, let's spend our energy going after the Republicans that are up.

We don't have the time, the energy, and all of the people that we are fighting for each and every day don't have time for these purity tests. We have to fight back against the Republicans, we can't fight each other.

CUOMO: Mr. Chairman, thank you for your answer, appreciate it.

Mr. Peckarsky...

PECKARSKY: Can I take a crack at this?

CUOMO: Well, I have a question for you specifically. I think you're going to want to answer. President Trump asserts that more than 3 million people voted illegally in 2016. He has offered no valid proof of this assertion, and yet the perception has caught fire.

You've expressed concern about this perception and that it will lead to a chilling effect and potentially more voter suppression, maybe more voter ID laws. If that is true, what would be wrong with that?

PECKARSKY: What would be wrong with more voter ID laws?


PECKARSKY: Is that the question?

CUOMO: It is your choice to answer a question with a question. Yes.

PECKARSKY: What would be wrong with more voter ID laws is that the ones that exist are in general a violation of the U.S. Constitution.


PECKARSKY: The Republican Party, by and large, has chosen to disenfranchise people in this country because of the color of their skin. That simply is not allowed by our Constitution. The courts have found that. So that's what would be wrong with more voter ID laws.

As far as Mr. Trump, if he has proof of a crime, he ought to offer it. He ought to get sworn in and say, OK, here are the names of the 3 million people that I know about personally who voted.


PECKARSKY: But he hasn't offered to do that, probably because those people don't exist.

In terms of harnessing the energy here, I agree with Tom and Keith and Jaime, and I think there may have been a couple of others who expressed themselves, the way to harness that energy is locally. On a 185,000-precinct basis, to locally go to the local people in the

precincts and decide what issues are important to them locally and organize around those issues. And those issues may -- they are Democratic issues.

They are equal pay. They are fair trade, infrastructure, protecting Social Security and Medicare. But that has got to be done locally, and if it's done locally that will harness the energy that we've seen, for example...

CUOMO: You're over time, Mr. Peckarsky.


CUOMO: I appreciate it. I appreciate it.


CUOMO: Yes. But the context for this, again, was I understand why the room applauds, a room of Democrats when you say voter ID laws are against the Constitution, but make the case to people who don't understand why offering an identification would be so onerous for people when they go to vote.

PEREZ: Well, I've spent a substantial portion of my life doing these cases at Department of Justice. Let give you some facts and figures.

We sued Texas and we won. And we won because over a 10-year period, 46 million votes were cast, zero, count them, zero reported incidents of illegal non-citizen voting, two incidents of in-person voter fraud, 46 million votes cast.

If we weren't on television I would call this a word that begins with a B. I will anyway. It's bunk.


PEREZ: And you know what, it's bunk in every other case. And if you're in Texas, you have got to drive 120 miles to get an IUD. If you're poor, that is a poll tax. That's what that's about.


PEREZ: And the important thing to know about this rule, and even though my voice is a little crackly, I'm always going to be a voice for people who are disenfranchised in voter ID laws because this is part of the Republican playbook and they're doing it because it works. And that's why we need to make sure we are fighting this tooth and nail.

CUOMO: All right. Jehmu Greene, let me get you in on this.

GREENE: So this is one of the uncomfortable truths that we have to face as party, because your question about Americans who think it's OK to show an ID to vote because they show ID for many daily transactions. The majority of the Democrats think that voter ID is OK. This is why

the Democratic Party has to shift the battlefield from voter suppression to voter expansion. We have to embrace universal voter registration

The bottom line is voter registration in and of itself is a barrier. We have to take the lead with online voting. We have to beat them at their own game. If we only focus on voter suppression and the work that's happening in the courts is critical --


GREENE: -- but what we can do as a party is to shift the battlefield to make sure that we are increasing turnout.

CUOMO: Ms. Greene, thank you.

Congressman, I got a choice for you. You want 30 seconds to respond or you want a minute for a new question.

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: I've got to deal with this issue on --

CUOMO: Done. Go ahead.

ELLISON: You know, in Minnesota, in 2012, Republicans put on the ballot a photo ID law and in the very beginning, people said, you know, too many people think it's good, we can't beat it. But you know what? I devoted my entire campaign to defeating it. And we got the vote out, we knocked every single door we can get, and we literally educated people on why photo ID was expensive, was excluding people, was unfair to veterans, people of color, low income people, seniors, and at that ballot box, which is what the DNC specializes in, we defeated photo ID in 2012.

It can be beat at the ballot box. It must be beat there, and DNC chair is -- we do -- we will employ lawyers, but what we really do is win elections.

CUOMO: All right.

ELLISON: We won that and I'm proud that we did.


CUOMO: Let me give you 30 seconds for a question on sanctuary states.


CUOMO: California, you know what they're doing there. They're trying to pass a law that keeps state and local law enforcement from helping federal authorities enforce immigration laws.

Do you think that is the right thing to do?

ELLISON: I think it is right and proper for states and local communities to devote their precious resources to protecting their people. And I don't like the federal government saying we're going to punish you and deprive resources of you because you will not allow the federal government to basically nationalize your local police department and your state police department.

This is wrong and it's unfair. And let me tell you -- many police officers around the country will tell you that a lot of folks who are victims of domestic violence will be reluctant to call because they fear that they will be deported. And this is a very bad policy. I stand by California and all the other cities.

CUOMO: All right. Congressman, thank you.


CUOMO: Ms. Boynton Brown, you understand the situation out West. What do you -- what's your follow on the counterargument, which is you're law enforcement officer, you are there to enforce the law, if somebody enters the country illegally, they have broken the law, you're supposed to help the immigration services?

SALLY BOYNTON BROWN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IDAHO DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Listen, state control is really, really important. We have to have local control. And I think these states have the right to pass their own laws and have the citizens in their state follow those laws.

Yes, there's a place for the federal government. However, the Republican Party has been saying forever that federal government has too much power, right? This is one area that I agree with the Republicans. The federal government has too much power.

We need to make sure that all of our states have the ability to come back and follow their local laws and pass those local laws. And there's way too many instances of that just not happening. Education is another great example where we need to empower the states.

And I'll tell you that this is really important for the DNC race, because we're having that exact same conversation around the state parties. You know, as DNC chair, yes, it's a federal position. But they have been entirely too focused on the president's position.


BOYNTON BROWN: We need to make sure that we come back.

CUOMO: Chairman, the Democratic position should be that states should not work with ICE. Is that what you stand for? Chairman?


CUOMO: I'm sorry, Mr. Secretary.


(LAUGHTER) CUOMO: That's right. That was good. That was a test. You all passed. That was good. Anybody who didn't answer to chair, you got to think about while you're up there.

So, Mr. Secretary, the idea that Democrats say every state should take care of itself, don't work with ICE if it doesn't work for you. Would you want that to be the Democratic message?

TOM PEREZ, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: Well, I sued a guy named Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County.


PEREZ: And here's what he was doing, and this isn't my words. These are the words of his own police officers. He built a wall of distrust between the police and the community. The most important currency that a police officer has is her trust from the community. When you allow this to happen, you undermine trust. And then a person who's a victim of sexual assault doesn't report it. The person who's a victim of human trafficking doesn't report it.

That is why this is bad public policy. And they're trying to do that.

CUOMO: Chairman -- thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Chairman Harrison?


CUOMO: I was going to you. What do you have to say about this?

JAIME HARRISON, CHAIRMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: I totally agree with the secretary on that. It's about trust and protecting the vulnerable in these communities. They need to be able to feel like they can call their police and not be in danger of being separated from their children.

You know, the Republicans talk about being the party of family values but right now, they are ripping children away from their parents.


Right now, there are young kids in this country, right after Donald Trump was elected president, that could not sleep at night, that would wet the bed that -- in this country because of the fear that all of his rhetoric placed in them.

We have to do better in this country. We are the land of the free and, you know, you look at basement of the Statue of Liberty. "Bring me your huddled masses yearning to breathe free", that's what we are. We are a nation of immigrants. We're not these fear-mongers. And we have to stop it.

CUOMO: Thank you. Chairman Harrison, thank you.


CUOMO: Hold on a second.

GREENE: We have to do better as Democrats with effective messaging. And I'm sorry, your question was wrong because when you enter this country illegally, it's a civil offense. It is not criminal offense. And no human being can be illegal.

And so, we as candidates for this position need to understand, we can't just be reactive from messaging. We have to be proactive. And that is something we have failed to do and we need to do it better.

So, whether it's connecting with voters, heart first, whether it's using new tools from communications standpoint, and whether it is clarifying and holding the media accountable when they get the story wrong about Democrats and about the American people, we need to be the ones to speak up.

CUOMO: Jehmu Greene -- Jehmu Greene gets the last word right now.

Let's go to break. We have a lot more to talk about.

Thank you for joining us for the Democratic Leadership Debate. Stick with us. We'll be right back.


CUOMO: All right. Welcome back to CNN debate.

Who will be the DNC chair? All the candidates are here.

Next question: Secretary Perez, recently you said that the primary was rigged against Bernie Sanders. Later the same day you said you misspoke when you made those comments. Which is it?

PEREZ: Well, you know, here are the facts. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary. Hillary Clinton also won the popular vote. At the same time because of the absence of transparency in the Democratic primary, there was a crisis of trust that ensued.

And what we need in the chair of the Democratic Party is to make sure that in fact and in perception, every single day, you are fair and neutral. That's why when you asked question before about primaries, you have to let that primary process go.

If I were the chair -- if I have the privilege of winning, for instance, one of the things I would recommend would be that we set the primary debate schedule long in advance of when we know who the candidates are. We have to do everything to make sure we're fair and transparent.

And it's not only in how we set the primary process, the DNC is black hole. And we have a crisis of confidence because it is. And that's why the leader of the DNC needs to make sure --

CUOMO: All right.

PEREZ: -- needs to make sure that we are investing --


CUOMO: Hold on a second. Secretary, 10 seconds, was it rigged or not?

PEREZ: Again, the process, because of the absence of transparency, it created that crisis of relevance and it created the distrust that people didn't trust the outcome.

CUOMO: All right. Mr. Ronan, was it rigged or not?

SAM RONAN, U.S. AIR FORCE VETERAN: Thank you. I was going to interrupt anyway.

The point is -- not only was the primary rigged but also rigged across the country because the DNC has never allowed outsiders or brand new people to rise through the ranks. And it's always been insider game and it has been that way for a very, very long time.

That is where the lack of trust has come into play because not only was Bernie Sanders snubbed, not only did it look like Hillary Clinton had bought or muscled her way into it, then those supporters were denied the chance to speak at convention, and that was final straw.

If people don't have a voice, an equitable voice like alluded to earlier, then people are not going to trust the system and they are going to go out of their way to break it.

CUOMO: Secretary Perez, is Mr. Ronan wrong?

PEREZ: Well, again, you know, we meet every single day as leader of the Labor Department, leader of the Civil Rights Division and I hope to be leader of the Democratic Party, we have to do everything in transparent fashion and when you do that, you earn trust. Trust isn't something you're given. It's something you earn.

RONAN: I would like to say that, I think that's a long way of saying no.


CUOMO: Why? Mr. Mayor, why?

PETE BUTTIGIEG, MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: This is why I got motivated to get into this. We can't allow this to devolve into factional struggle. Of course, there were problems with 2016. Nobody could say that there weren't.

But I didn't love living through the 2016 primary the first time. I don't know we as a party, why we as a party would want to live through it a second time. We've got to look forward, not back.

(APPLAUSE) The wolf isn't just at the gates. The wolf is through the gates and eating our sheep right now.


BUTTIGIEG: And this idea that this is going to be a factional struggle between the Bernie wing and the establishment wing is missing the point. We've got to take to the real opposition, which is the Republicans who are in power from the top of the ticket, all the way down to school board --

CUOMO: Mr. Mayor?


BOYNTON BROWN: The reality --

CUOMO: Ms. Boynton Brown?

BOYNTON BROWN: The reality is that the world has moved to a place where the Democratic Party is no longer keeping up with it. There are more independents than there are registered party people and those independents want a place to play in the primary system.

And so, you have a system that's been in place as Sam said that's no longer serving people in our country.

I talk a lot about new power. If you haven't heard me, you can go to, and this is what the people in our country are demanding our systems go towards -- something that's collaborative, something that's truly inclusive and something that's transparent. And it's an issue that has to be dealt with. We cannot just throw it under the rug and say we've got to move forward into the future --

CUOMO: Ms. Boynton Brown, thank you.

Hold on a second. Congressman Ellison, picking up on Ms. Boynton Brown's point, it must not be swept under the rug. It must be dealt with.

How? Do you issue an apology to Bernie Sanders? Do you own what happened? How do you move forward if you don't own the past?

ELLISON: Well, Donna Brazile went to the Bernie supporters and she did issue an apology. That happened.

Now, we have a unity commission, which is going to be appointed by somebody in this room. And I think we absolutely have to make sure that in the future, every person that wants to vote for Democrat must feel that it was fair, open, and accessible and transparent. That is the mission but I'm telling you, the real problem is ahead of us.

People are organizing in the street right now. I believe I'm the unity candidate in this race because I supported both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, and I believe I can pull people together so that we can come together as a party and we can win elections so that we don't have go through this thing anymore.

Donald Trump is wreaking havoc on the American people and the Democratic Party has to be the agent of the American people, not an agent unto itself. And so, I believe we have to move forward and not engage in the ruinous "Who shot John?" We've got come together, people, and fight the real enemy. That's the real deal.


CUOMO: Chairman, quickly?

HARRISON: I agree with Keith, but one of the first lessons you learn in politics is perception becomes reality, right? And for a number of folks, they do believe -- they use the terminology "rigged".

Now, one of the things I -- I'm a lawyer. What is the definition of "rigged"? Are we saying that voting machines were rigged for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders?

Sam, is that what you're saying?

RONAN: Absolutely not. What I'm saying is the system in of itself is exclusive to just the people in charge. That's the problem.


HARRISON: No. But when we say -- when we say an election is rigged, in the minds of folks, people are stealing somebody's vote and giving it to somebody else. Language is very important in this.

Part of the problem that we had as early primary state is that a lot of people didn't understand what this primary system was like. They didn't understand what the role of, quote/unquote, "superdelegates" or unpledged delegates. They don't understand the role that they played in this primary system.

So, one of the first job that we have to do as party is make sure we're transparent enough that we educate people about the process so that they know the difference between a caucus --


CUOMO: Mr. Ronan, respond.

RONAN: Thank you.


RONAN: First of all, thank you, Jaime, for the passion because you bring up a very valid point. It's superdelegate system. It's the closed primaries. It's people not knowing how the system works.

Go to and try and find out who the chairmen are. Find out who your country chairs are. The system in and of itself is not transparent. I've been saying that since day one. We need to get rid of superdelegates. We need to get rid of money. We need to get rid of the upper crust influence.

We also need to stop playing the same tired games. Just in Florida, there was that perception as you say that the Florida chairman somehow managed to play a game. Whether it's true or not is irrelevant, it's that perception.

So, yes, we must needs come together and fix that.

CUOMO: All right. Hold a second. Hold on.

Jehmu Greene, I want to bring you in on this issue of superdelegates. Do you think their time ahs passed? Is there a better way? And if so, what?

GREENE: First, every Democrat and most Americans because we did win the popular vote know which election was rigged. Period.


GREENE: To the superdelegate issue, we do have a transformative moment --

CUOMO: Hold on, Jehmu. What does that mean? What does that mean that the election was rigged? Are you saying that the president did not win the election?

GREENE: If there was one vote that was influenced by Russian meddling that cheerleaded on by this man in the White House, then that election was influenced by foreign government and cheerleaded on by the man who is in the White House right now.

But to the point of superdelegates and to this issue, the next chair of the DNC has to acknowledge the wounds that the Bernie Sanders supporters have coming out of 2016, and you have to also acknowledge that there are real wounds for Hillary Clinton supporters who feel there was no attention to the sexism and misogyny that she faced.



GREENE: But the real answer, the real answer, Chris, is specific prescriptions to get there, and tackling superdelegates is one of those answers. I'm the only candidate who has said, I will go to the unity commission and ask them to retire this tainted concept. And it was tainted before 2016.

And our problems that we're talking about cannot be solely focused in on 2016.

CUOMO: Ms. Greene, thanks.

GREENE: So, it's superdelegates, it's caucuses, it's transforming how we meet and it's transforming our accountability.

CUOMO: You're over time. Ms. Greene, thank you.


I want to turn to different question in the same vein about the future versus the past and I'll give this to you, Ms. Boynton Brown.

As you all mentioned in several different occasions, Hillary Clinton did get about 3 million more votes than Donald Trump. With that base of support, would it be a good idea or a good thing for the Democratic Party if, say, Hillary Clinton would want to run again?

BOYNTON BROWN: I think the important thing that we remember as the Democratic Party is that we're here for small-D democracy. If Hillary Clinton wants to put her name on the ballot again, that's her decision. That's not our decision.

Our job is to make sure that we run a fair democratic process where anybody can put their name on the ballot, and we support anybody who's on the ballot with the same services, the same resources, and we don't give anybody preferential treatment because they've done it before or they've been here for a long time.

BASH: I take your point, but obviously . . .


. . . you can't tell people whether to run. But as a party, and if you were the chair of the Democratic Party, do you honestly think it would be good or bad to go back to the candidate . . .

BROWN: I think -- I think you're not understanding . . .

BASH: . . . who's.

BROWN: . . . my point. My point is that as a loser (ph) . . .

BASH: I get it.

BROWN: . . . as a leader of our party, it's not my job to say my opinion on that. It is the American people's job. and in the primaries that's what it (inaudible).


BASH: And I want to ask -- I want to ask you about the question about not just Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, do you -- are you on the same page?



BASH: I'll go to you, Chairman Harrison. You can answer it as well.

HARRISON: It's been so long, I'll be happy to answer.

BASH: Go for it.

PECKARSKY: Anybody who wants to run should run. And it's the goal of the chair, as I put on my website, Peter 4 -- number four, The first time it went up, that it is the role of the party chair, per the charter, to be impartial and even-handed with respect to all the candidates and all the campaigns. That's the role of the party chair. That's what these people are saying.

And I made it quite clear at some of the Future Forums which were held earlier in a number of cities, that if I am chair, I'm going to be impartial. All the people who work for the DNC are going to be impartial, or they're not going to be working for the DNC.


And I will arrange that, as CEO. And all the officers, per the charter, are supposed to be impartial. The officers don't work for me. The officers work for the Democratic National Committee. And again, if it looks like any of the officers are not impartial or even- handed, I told the demo -- the members of the Democratic National Committee and the others at those meetings that I will take those officers to the Democratic National Community for such actions the committee wants to take, . . .

BASH: Thank you.

PECKARSKY: . . . which includes voting them off the committee.

GREENE: Thank you. Mr. Pekarsky, . . .


. . . are we . . .

BASH: One at a time.

HARRISON: In short, whomever wants to run should run. And their qualifications for running for the Democratic nomination. And I believe, and I'm explicit in this, I believe it's up to the Democrats, the Democrats in this nation, to make a determination of who their nominee is. And that's up to the American people who say that they're Democrats in order to make that determination.


GREENE: But are we . . .


BASH: I want to -- I want to get an audience question in here, and then we'll come back to this.

GREENE: . . . look for a question about Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, when there are 13,000 women who have signed up and said they want to run for office since the November elections. That's who we should be talking about




We need to be serving them. We need to be training them. We need to be mentoring them, and this conversation, this narrative -- I know this is exactly what you all want to do because it's entertaining, but this is not what we're about right now. We need to go out to all of that energy that's out there and (inaudible) . . .

BASH: OK. Thank you.

GREENE: . . . say "I'm in." And that's who we would (ph) be talking about as Democrats.

(UNKNOWN): I just wanted to say . . .

BASH: Thank you. I want to get to another very important issue that happened in the 2016 election, and that is that the party got hacked by the Russian government. And on that, I want to bring in Nathan Smith, a DNC member from Kentucky, leaning towards supporting you, Secretary Perez, but still undecided.

SMITH: Yes. I'd like to ask a question, as the DNC Committee chair, what are you going to do to protect the Democrats from hacking of foreign countries in the future.

PEREZ: You ask a really simple question.

BASH: Mr. Mayor, why don't you answer that question first?


BUTTIGIEG: As the only -- as I'm pretty sure the only person on here . . .

BASH: Just a second, Mr. Ronan. Go ahead, Mr. Mayor.

BUTTIGIEG: I'm pretty sure, as an information warfare officer, I'm the only person up here who's had formal cybersecurity training. And I believe that there are two . . .


Were you in information?

(UNKNOWN): Yes, we all give you that.

BUTTIGIEG: I qualified in information warfare including cyber, and what I learned is that there are two pillars to this. There's the systems side, which has gotten a lot of the attention. There's also the human side. We've got to make sure that we're training ourselves, because the weakest link is usually a person who can be fooled or tricked, or has an issue with their permissions or their password.

We've got to make sure we have a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, and not just think of it as IT, but also you just can't let that last question go unanswered, because it is the kind of question we ask when we treat the presidency like it's the only office that matters.

Our opponents on the Republican side have patiently and cleverly built majorities at the state house level, Congress. It's not just about the White House. And when we fail to recognize that, we get into a whole lot of trouble, even when we have the White House, having our policies obstructed and trapped. And as you wind up in a situation like we are right now, where we don't have it, that's where we're really left out.

BASH: And Mr. Mayor, we're going to get to that later in the debate.

BUTTIGIEG: My response to Betsy DeVos's nomination was, don't get mad. Get on your school board.

BASH: We're going to get to that later in the debate. But I want to stay on hacking. Go ahead, Mr. Ronan.

RONAN: All right. Sorry about interrupting your question. I jumped the gun.

What I was talking about earlier was that if we want to get rid of hacking or the risk of hacking, right, you take away the technology. Eventually in the future, that may be very well be, 10, 20, 30 years down the road.

But for now, we have a solution. It's called universal voter engagement, like you were saying. There's also paper ballots, and it's also empowering the postal service to be the front and center of that. And it means we can hold those paper ballots for four like what we do in the military with maintenance. We keep records for decades. I've seen stuff from before I was even born.

So we can do that with our voting as well. We can keep these records so if there is any indication whatsoever of foul play, be it in the primaries or the presidential elections, . . .

BASH: Thank you.

RONAN: . . . we have the facts.

BASH: Thank you, Mr. Ronan. Everybody, hold on. We have a lot more to discuss with the candidates who are here. They are running, of course, for the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Stay with us, right after this break.