Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Live Event/Special
Debate between DNC Chair Candidates - Hour Two. Aired 11p- Midnight ET
Aired February 22, 2017 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BASH: Welcome back to the Democratic Leadership Debate in Atlanta. I want to start by bringing in Terry Anderson, a long-time activist and DNC member from Vermont. You are supporting Congressman Ellison. What is your question?
ANDERSON: As you all know, in many rural parts of the country we've been bleeding votes to the Republicans, not just in the last presidential election but for several cycles now. Democrats aren't connecting well with rural voters.
My question for you all is why do you think that's happening, and what, as DNC chair, we you do about it?
BASH: Mr. Mayor, why don't you take that?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, thanks. Coming from Indiana, I know exactly what you mean. And yet we know it can be done. You know, not only in a city like mine have I been able to win, but also in rural areas near us. I was very proud to see a district right by us, right in Mike Pence's Indiana, where we were able to support Joe Taylor, got him elected in -- a Democrat state representative, in a district that Trump won by six.
There are a few things that I think are important. First of all, you've got to show up everywhere, even in the counties where we're going to get beat for a long time. You've still got to show up because it matters whether you get beat 80-20 or 60-40. That really adds up when you're talking about a whole district or a whole state.
This is also the importance of the 50-state strategy that was dismantled, largely, in recent years. Everybody up here is saying that we've got to get back to a 50-state strategy. As the only candidate who was endorsed by the architect of that 50-state strategy, Howard Dean, I think I know how to get that done, especially because my state benefitted from it.
You know, we had, when I first ran statewide in 2010, five out of our nine members of Congress were Democrats. Then we got decimated. Now we're down to two. So I know what it means to compete and win in deep red territory. And the most important thing you have to do, of all, is talk to people about their lives, not the politicians and the politics (inaudible), but the . . . .
BASH: Thank you. Mr. Perez, I want to -- I want to show you, before I ask this question, and our audience, this 2016 electoral map. Secretary Clinton failed to carry Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, states that would have delivered the White House to Democrats had she won.
Now, President Trump rallied voters in those states by coming out against TPP and other free trade agreements. While you were Labor Secretary, you supported and defended TPP. So, why would you be the right messenger to bring working-class voters back to the Democratic Party?
PEREZ: Well, you know, I think implicit in that question is "Tom's not a progressive." And you know what, I take it back, (inaudible) what I accomplished at the Labor Department. We fought for increasing the minimum wage. We implemented an overtime rule. We attacked the issue of retirement security. I'm proud of the fact that the head of the AFL-CIO calls me the, you know, best Labor Secretary since Frances Perkins.
So, I moved forward. And I was part of Team Obama, and I'm damn proud of being part of Team Obama. And when you're part of a team, you don't go to the buffet line and say, "I'm going to play here or play there." And when we talked about the issue of trade, I was always talking about the American worker. And you know what, that's why I have the support of people from the labor movement.
And we have to get back in rural America, because in Ohio we weren't making house calls in rural America. That's precisely why we lost. I was in northwestern Wisconsin a couple weeks ago, and what I heard from one voter was, "I feel politically homeless, because you stopped showing up. And it wasn't simply that we were ignored, but we were disrespected."
And so when we have . . .
BASH: Mr. Secretary, I just want to . . .
PEREZ: . . . when we have an every-zip code strategy . . .
BASH: . . . sir, go back to the initial question on trade.
PEREZ: . . . that's what we can accomplish.
BASH: You said -- you said, quote, "Trade agreements like the TPP are critical to our 21st century competitiveness."
PEREZ: Yes. I mean, Dana . . .
BASH: Do you stand by that now?
PEREZ: . . . Dana, TPP is dead. It's been dead since, you know, last August or September.
So the issue is, how are we going to move forward in response to your map? And I think a big part of how we're going to move forward is, we've got to tell our message of economic security. The work that I did lifting wages, the work that we did making sure when people work overtime they get paid overtime. The work that we did in making sure that when you're saving for retirement, your advisor is looking out for your best interest. These are the issues that keep people up at night. (Inaudible.)
BASH: Thank you, Secretary Perez.
Congressman Ellison, I want to get to another issue that's important to Democrats. Guys, I'm asking a question of Congressman Ellison. Thank you so much.
Congressman. Gun control. In 2014, you told Bill Maher that you wished the Democratic Party would come out against the Second Amendment. How do you reach out to Americans who support gun rights when you don't support the Second Amendment?
ELLISON: First of all, let me tell you I remember that show very well, and that is not what I said at all. What I talked about is my grandfather's shotgun, the fact that I am a turkey hunter, and I didn't say that. That was not an accurate statement.
But let me tell you, I go hunting with a friend of mine named Collin Peterson who is a conservative Democrat in rural Minnesota, and we -- and he asked me to come speak to his Seventh Congressional District dinner.
I am there talking with rural voters about the things that matter to them. And you know what really does matter to them? Their jobs. Their chance - a life for their kids, how trade has devastated their family.
The fact is people wake up in the morning hoping that the plant doesn't close all over this country - Indiana, Wisconsin, all over. And when they do close, people sometimes can get jobs again, but maybe at $10 an hour or less and it has really, really hurt this country.
Look, I am a believer in - for people to be able to own guns, but the truth is that guns do need - we do need background checks on guns. We do need to address the fact that people are getting murdered across this country and none of these murders seem to bother -
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Congressman, I just want to read you - since you said that that wasn't what you said, I'll read you exactly what happened.
Bill Maher, "then why doesn't your party come out against the Second Amendment. It's the problem." Your response, "I sure wish they would. I sure wish they would."
ELLISON: I wish you'd play the tape because if you did you'd see that it did not go that way. But the real point is this, this country - absolutely, I am for the right to bear arms, but I am not for these massive murders that happen all over this country every day. 27 kids killed in Sandy Hook. In my own district, a guy comes to his job and kills all of his coworkers, the owner of the business' son left homeless - left fatherless.
We have a serious problem in this country around guns and I think it is absolutely not - it's a false choice to say that you're going to abandon the Second Amendment or we're going to have some common sense gun safety laws. I am for common sense gun safety laws -
PETE BUTTIGIEG, MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: So use the right words when we're talking about these issues.
ELLISON: It's also the right to - to not be taken out of context, I hope people will go back and look at the tape.
BUTTIGIEG: Look, in my part of the country, this is one of the reasons people tune us out immediately, but there are ways of talking about this.
I took some heat in my community. I'm from Indiana. And I support the Second Amendment. I spent Thanksgiving morning in a deer blind with my boyfriend's father. How's that for a 2017 sense? But when I came out for universal background checks, I took some heat.
But there are ways of talking about this. And again, it's making it personal. I talked about going to the funerals of people and consoling mothers of kids, teenagers who got shot in my city. I talked about the fact that I swear in police officers with their spouses at their side praying that they're going to come home safe every day and wanting them not to be at an arms disadvantage with people in the street.
And I talked about going outside the wire with a pistol on my hip and a rifle across my shoulder in a vehicle knowing the difference between the kinds of weapons that belong on the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan and the ones that belong on the west side of South Bend.
When we talk about it in common sense terms, we don't lose people so quickly because these are common sense values and common sense ideas and on the issues we win.
BASH: Congressman Ellison, would you like to respond?
ELLISON: Well, look, I think it's absolutely right that we connect with people where they are. And the part of the reality of the country we're living is that we wake up in the morning and hope that another mass murder doesn't happen.
My colleague, Gabby Giffords, I remember the day that she got shot in the face, Congress didn't take any action after that. But I believe that people in rural America and around this country understand that that is a problem and that we don't want to take their guns away. This is a false narrative that the NRA is pushing. We just want to protect people in the communities they live in and preserve the right of hunters and home defense, all these things can exist together.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you. These questions go to the issue of the perception of the party and how each of you would want to rebuild it. Ms. Boynton Brown, let me bring you in on this.
You said last month that your job is "to shut other white people down when they try to say they are prejudiced." This was seized upon by critics of your party saying, 'see, they don't get it, she's shaming white people and this is why they play identity politics and this is why white people went for Trump.' What do you say?
SALLY BOYNTON BROWN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IDAHO DEMOCRATIC PARTY: It's really unfortunate that the Alt-Right decides to take people out of context and have conversations of things that weren't said.
I was having a specific conversation with the Democratic Party about how we really accomplish the goal of inclusiveness and making sure that we listen to each other. And that when we're having conversations with people who are trying to show their experiences that we are present and we are not talking over the top of each other.
For years, we have been an inclusive party and it's time that we show with our actions that inclusivity is really what we're committed to and that was the conversation that was being had.
I want to go back to rural America because that's a really important topic. The reality is that we need to have people listed up into the DNC leadership and strategy-making that understands rural America, so that when we're going and we're having conversations, no matter what those conversations are, that we're having them in the right way because we need to communicate with rural America differently than how you run for president of the United States.
[23:05:13] CUOMO: Ms. Boynton Brown, thank you. Mr. Ronan, another group that you could describe the way Ms. Boynton Brown is - people you need to speak to more and more directly as Democrats, would be millennials. You talk about this a lot. You say it was a grievous mistake to ignore the passions of millennial voters. How was that done? How was it remedied?
SAM RONAN, US AIR FORCE VETERAN: Quite frankly, it goes back to what I said earlier with having the thumb on everybody else who would otherwise participate and to go back on the Ohio and losing by 80 to 20 or 60 to 40. But it all comes together.
We do not include people in the process. And that's the issue. We're focusing on attacking Trump, focusing on what the problems are in rural America, we're talking about guns, we're talking about this and that, but we're not addressing the issue, which is people don't have a voice in government. They simply don't. The process is difficult. The process is hidden. It's enclosed. We need to be more open. We need to be more transparent. It needs to be simpler.
We need to get money out of politics. Quite frankly, the biggest concern I have ran across among people - not just on social media, but I ran across in person - is they feel their voice is being drowned out by the almighty dollar. So, how do you fix this? You get rid of money. You emphasize people actually coming to the table and actually having a chance to move forward and progress forward and to running for office, just like during my own campaign.
And I know I am running out of time. I'd like to push just a little bit longer on it, though. When I ran for state representative, I went to my county chair and I asked them, point blank, can you help me. And they said no. Then I went to the ODP and I asked them can you help me. And they said we will help the top six candidates. That's elitism. And that's not going to bring us back. That's not going to bring millennials back. That's not (INAUDIDBLE)
CUOMO: All right, Mr. Ronan, thank you. Secretary Perez, weigh on in.
TOM PEREZ, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: I think there's a couple of important dimensions (Ronan engaged) with that I wanted to focus on. I think the first dimension is attitudinal and this is about the culture change that needs to happen at the DNC.
We all too frequently give a millennial a seat at the table and we pat them on the head and say you've got your seat, now shut up. And we have to change that approach because I'm a big believer diversity is being invited to the dance, inclusion is being asked to dance. And we need to make sure that we are both engaging in diversity and inclusion.
The second point is investments because budgets are moral documents. If someone says, an issue is important, I want to look at your budget. If the Democratic Party were to say millennial engagement is important, if you looked at our budget, it's not reflected. We do much worse.
CUOMO: All right, Mr. Secretary. Thank you. Jehmu Greene and then Mr. Mayor. Jehmu Greene please.
JEHMU GREENE, FORMER PRESIDENT, "ROCK THE VOTE": Well, as somebody who wrote the playbook on how you get young voters to turn out by increasing young voter turnout at Rock the Vote by 11%, I understand very clearly what needs to happen on this issue and certainly budget reform to reflect that millennials are not the future of the party, they are the now of our party.
And how we better engage with them is that we innovate how we operate as a party, we look at experimentation and disruption in ways that have not been welcomed into the party. And millennials can do that. So, that's why I call for building innovation hubs at every single state party, so that young people can come in and they can learn the concepts of experimentation, they can understand it's OK to fail up, but what also has to happen is we have to conduct business differently.
We have to make our meetings less complex, we need to make our leadership opportunities easily accessible, we need to fully promote them and then we also have to understand that there are some inclusive issues that we have as a party that needs to be tackled and we can do that by making sure that state parties do implicit bias training, making sure that they publish their staff and contracting diversity data. These things are important to millennials and collaborative leadership -
CUOMO: Mr. Mayor, you're a millennial. What do you have to say about this?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, one thing you could do better engage millennials would be to put a 35-year-old in as chair of the DNC. I know how it feels. I'm in my sixth year as mayor of our city. I'd say we're pretty successful. I got re-elected with 80% of the vote.
But I'm still occasionally confused for one of my own interns. So, I know what it feels like to be patted on the head and told you're the future. The best way to show that we are the present is to actually engage us at every level, including the level of leadership.
Every important change in our country and in our history has been driven by young people. It's happening again right now. The women's march, for example, that wasn't driven by the party. It wasn't driven by politicians. It was multigenerational and there were a lot of young people out there. They were energized. They may or may not think of themselves as Democrats.
As the only person that day - who as of that day was a candidate for DNC chair who actually went to the women's march, I can tell you that the energy there was extraordinary and it speaks to what millennials want of us, which is something you want to be part of, something positive.
Yes, we were showing what we're opposed to, we were showing the concern and the moral line in the sand, but there was something else to it too. This is a season for happy warriors and you could feel it there. And you can feel it in these other things, the rising up around the country. And the question for our party is are we going to help lead it or are we going to be racing to catch up.
BASH: Thank you, Mayor Buttigieg. I want to talk to the issue of rebuilding in the future, and specifically - I'm coming to you Mr. Chairman - specifically state parties.
JAIME HARRISON, CHAIRMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Yes.
BASH: You said that President Obama's political arm, Organizing for America, killed state parties.
BASH: What did you mean by that?
HARRISON: It killed state parties.
BASH: But how?
HARRISON: In 2006, Howard Dean started 50-state strategy and I know that Gov. Dean was the architect, but it was state party chairs that pushed Howard Dean in order to start that program.
He started that program and invested in state parties; and as a result, we won in places that we never thought. I remember Rahm Emanuel and the Dean fights talking about the money and all, but we won in places like Kansas, Nancy Bauder.
Well, in 2008, not only did we add to the majorities in the House and the Senate, we also added to that by winning the White House. And at that moment, when Barack Obama had his hand on that Bible taking the oath of office, we had the majority in the House, the Senate, the White House, we had the majority in governorships, in secretaries of state, in attorney guilds. We controlled both local and national.
And what happened at that moment? OFA remained. The debt from President Obama's campaign went to the DNC and the money that Howard Dean had placed into state parties decreased almost to zero.
State parties in this country are broken. There are state parties in this country, right now, in two years, have - either they're defending one of the 25 US senate seats or they have a governorship or they're trying to win back their state house and they barely have $35,000 cash on hand. You can't win if you don't have the capacity and that's why -
BASH: Secretary Perez, you worked for President Obama, obviously - you worked for President Obama, obviously, in the official governing capacity, but what do you say to Chairman Harrison about the idea that he basically depleted the state parties. Do you agree with that? And if so, how are you going to fix it?
PEREZ: Yes. I absolutely agree with it. And I have said that a number of times. And the key is to go to school on it. And what we have to do is not only up our investments, but we've got to get back to the service culture. It's culture change.
There was a question before about cybersecurity. State parties can't afford to have a chief technology officer. The DNC has to do that job. When somebody is being - when you're recruiting candidates, the DNC ought to be helping to train them. When we're hiring organizers, the DNC should be training them.
When Alaska flips and they become Democratic; or Kansas, in a year when Trump wins by 14 points, they pick up 14 seats in their state legislature, we should have a center for best practices, so that we can go to school on what happened there and take those lessons.
That's what we have to do when we're building that infrastructure, when we're getting back to basics, when we're going to rural America and saying, we are here, and you know what, we stand for economic opportunity. We're the Democratic Party. That's how we turn it around. And it's got to be long-term investments. We're too short term all too frequently.
BASH: Congressman Ellison, I want to turn to something else, something that was talked about before the break about what's going on in and around the country and I want to look at another map. Six states - only six states have Democratic governors in state legislatures. In the last eight years, more than 900 seats in state legislatures went from Democrat to Republican. And it's mostly the legislatures that draw the congressional district.
ELLISON: That's right.
BASH: And that's a big reason why Republicans have maintained control of the House of Representatives where you serve, sir. So, what would you do, so the Democrats are in a better position to redraw the map in and after 2020?
ELLISON: Well, let me tell you, redistricting has got to be one of the top priorities of the DNC from the very beginning. The DNC chairman needs to engage state parties and win state legislatures all over this country, so that we can position ourselves to be ready for redistricting in 2020.
But that means winning in 2018 and that means winning in 2017 in New Jersey and in Virginia.
And I can tell you, it is a simple matter of turning on in the off year, of campaigning everywhere. That's why in the 100-day plan that I am releasing tonight, I have a 100-day plan, I called for one, an immediate listening session right after the election on February 25th, where we'll ask DNC members to talk to Democrats all over the country and listen to them, to engage them, and then a summer canvas where we will knock doors all over this country, powered by volunteers, many of the people at marches and at the rallies, and we will win state legislatures, and focus on the down-ballot races and the governors, and the secretaries of state, and state treasurers as well. We have got to win up and down the ballots, from the dog catcher all the way up, and that is how we're going to be ready for (inaudible).
BASH: Congressman, thank you. Mr. Peckarsky? What would you do?
PECKARSKY: The reality here is that all of us are probably going to do the same thing if elected chair, in terms of reforming the party, and getting -- getting the party working again at a local level, where we can regain seats all over this country.
While I was in Wyoming last weekend listening to the Wyoming Democrats talking about what they're planning to do. They've got a very tough row to hoe there. It's a lot different than California or New York.
But the real problem here is that we've got a lot of problems with our election process. I happen to be a -- an expert in the election process and the election system, and the real question which ought to get answered here ... It's on my website. I think the voting members of the DNC know what's going to happen if I'm elected chair. The real question, which the voting members of the DNC ought to have answered between now and the vote on Saturday morning is, what do all of my learned and respected colleagues here intend to do to protect the voting process if they're elected chair? And that's about what I've got to say, that any one of us gets in, it's going to be the same thing in terms of re-energizing this party on local basis.
BASH: Mr. Peckarsky, thank you. Everybody, hold on. We have to take a quick break, and we'll be right back with more from the Democratic leadership debate.
CUOMO: All right, welcome back to the CNN debate, the race to be the chair of the Democratic party. We've got all eight candidates here.
Next question, only one of you eight have the distinction of having received a compliment from our president, and that is you, Congressman Ellison. President Trump paid you the highest compliment, in fact, this morning. He said, "One thing I'll say about Representative Keith Ellison, in the fight to lead the DNC. He's the one who predicted early that I would win."
CUOMO: Do you welcome the president's praise?
ELLISON: You know, I -- I don't really welcome any praise from -- from President Trump. It really pains me to say those two words.
ELLISON: The -- the fact that I can ... But I can tell you this. I could tell by July 2015, that he had a lot of momentum, and that he was gathering large crowds, and that when he got up there and talked about trade -- trade, and TPP, NAFTA, when he got up there and talked about jobs, when he got up there and talked about infrastructure, even though he was bad on all those issues, he was gathering crowds and he was telling people what they wanted to hear.
I believe that those are our issues. Free - fair trade is our issue. That's why the AFLCIO endorsed me. That's why the steel workers endorsed me. Leo Gerard, one of the people I really admired, said that in Baltimore, right after the disturbance with Freddie Gray, he said, "Let me tell you, that -- we used to have 30,000 steel workers in Baltimore. Now we've got three."
We have been hit hard by policies over the last four decades. Wages have stagnated, and the Democratic party has got to be the party that is fighting for working people every single day. And we have always got to be on the side of the worker.
ELLISON: We have never -- we can never be found standing on the other side when working people are trying to make a living.
CUOMO: Thank you, Congressman. Mr. Mayor, let me bring you on in this. You have economic issues. No
question about that. You also have cultural ones. Earlier just this evening, President Trump's administration withdrew the Obama era guidance that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice in public schools. They say they're leaving it to the states. What is your response?
BUTTIGIEG: What kind of a person does that? What kind of a bully looks for the most vulnerable person you can find to attack?
Look, when you're a transgender teenager, high school is a complicated and -- in fact, when you're any teenager, high school is a complicated and intimidating place. And to make it harder on one of the most vulnerable parts of America's population -- Do you know suicide rates for teenagers as whole and especially LGBT youth went down after the marriage equality decision? This stuff really matters.
BUTTIGIEG: And if your own -- if your own leaders can't tell the difference between you and a predator, if that's what we're telling teenagers that they are, then we shouldn't be surprised that we're pushing them into having mental health issues. But this is part of broader pattern of picking on vulnerable people.
We had an immigration, know your rights event just a few days ago at a primary school on the west side of South Bend, where we had lawyers lined up to help inform people about their rights, and how they could keep their families together. And I went to talk to those -- those parents, and then I went into the school library to meet some kids from -- from the high school. They were volunteering to hang out with the children who were there. And part of me was really inspired that they were doing that, but then part of me thought, "Is this what it's like in Donald Trump's America, that one of the things that your National Honor Society chapter in high school can volunteer on?"
You know, I volunteered on stuff like trash pickup. That a category of thing you can volunteer on now as a high school student is to comfort and play with children while their terrified parents are in another room trying desperately to figure out how to keep their families together.
CUOMO: All right, thanks.
BUTTIGIEG: That's the kind of country we're living in? No, we've got a better way.
CUOMO: Thank you.
BUTTIGIEG: And that's why Democrats are the true party of families.
CUOMO: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
CUOMO: Ms. Boynton Brown. The argument of the administration is essentially a Tenth Amendment issue; that this is about returning power to the states. They decide their rules for education, and that's why they did this. It's not the federal government's place. Your response?
BOYNTON BROWN: America's job is protect all of its people. This is a protection issue. So there are obviously very legitimate reasons to return power to states. This isn't one of them. We have a responsibility. The federal government has a federal responsibility to make sure that all of our citizens' constitutional rights are protected, and that they feel safe, and that they have their needs met. And that is the bottom line, end of story. That is the American story. That's what we need to make sure that we're upholding, and that's what Democrats fight for every day.
CUOMO: Secretary -- Secretary Perez, I have a question for you. I have a question. I'll give you 30 seconds on this. Go ahead.
PEREZ: You know -- you know, the -- we're going to train the new education secretary on what the IDEA is -- the Individuals with Disability Education Act. We should also train them on other -- Title IV of the Civil Rights Act, because we used that in suburban Minneapolis, in Michele Bachmann's Minneapolis, to address in Anoka- Hennepin some horrific acts of bullying of kids who are LGBT, and we reached the first settlement of its kind. And the number of educators that called me and said thank you, and they started wearing buttons so they can identify themselves as, "Folks, if you wanted to come to me, this is a safe room."
These are issues -- every child is entitled to a safe learning environment. And the Democratic party has to continue to stand up for these fundamental rights.
CUOMO: All right. I have a -- a question for you, Mr. Secretary. You heard Mayor Buttigieg earlier say that he was the only one of you who was at the Women's Marches, who had declared at that time. Mr. Peckarsky, you were there as well, but you weren't declared in time.
PECKARSKY: I was there, but I declared -- I declared two days later.
CUOMO: All right, all right, good, good. Just to be clear, but I saw your hand go up. I just wanted you to know I was ready. All right, so ...
CUOMO: Mr. Secretary, that doesn't sound good. Where were you on that day? You were at a donor's summit in Florida, and it seems to present a contrast that this party has to deal with. They were on the ground marching. You were at donor's summit. It's a bad picture. How do you defend it?
PEREZ: Well, you know what? It was, frankly ... And the first thing I said, we were all at the donor's summit, the other candidates. And you know what? The first (CROSSTALK)
GREENE: This is not good for the Democrats.
PEREZ: No, let's -- let's -- I'm happy to talk about this. Because the first thing I said was, you know, this is tone-deaf conference, because I would rather -- my first words down there, I'd rather be in Washington. But you know what? It was the -- it was yet another debate, and it was ill-timed. And I had people in town, and I got back there, and we marched in Houston, and we marched elsewhere.
I don't think you measure the commitment of an individual to inclusion and opportunity by one day. I think you measure it by the entire body of our work.
PEREZ: And with all due respect, every single person on this dais has that commitment. There's no one person who has a monopoly on the high ground on these issues.
BOYNTON BROWN: I want to add to that. I want to add to that, because the reality is, is that the democracy alliance organizations that are in our states are part of what is hurting state parties right now. And it's a very important conversation.
OFA did not singlehandedly kill state parties. McCain-Feingold was the start of the infrastructure crumbling of state parties. It was great for campaign finance reform. It was really bad for state parties. Citizens United really put the -- the nail in the coffin for state parties.
BOYNTON BROWN: So as a community of progressive organizations, we have to come together. And that was the opportunity that we had to have that conversation.
BOYNTON BROWN: Congressman Ellison, you said, "I want to have this conversation."
ELLISON: I did, because ...
BOYNTON BROWN: And -- and -- and, I just want to say, as you're saying that, just think about I'm -- I'm guessing what it's like for somebody out there who's a grassroots organizer, particularly for this march.
BOYNTON BROWN: To hear that most of you were at a donor's summit; people who want to be chair of the DNC.
ELLISON: Let -- let -- let me -- let me say this: People who are grassroots activists know that we've got to demonstrate, and we've got to march. But we also have to do some of the background work to make sure we rebuild the party.
ELLISON: And so when I -- when I say that, I really believe that people who were at the Women's March know that, look, you know, somebody needs to be trying to rebuild the Democratic party. Somebody needs to be talking about how we restructure this party so we can win elections, because they know that as important as demonstrations are -- and they are -- and I was -- and actually, at that -- later on that day I was at a march in Miami/Dade standing with people protecting sanctuary cities.
And so we would -- I mean, look, we all go to marches all the time. This idea that, you know, one person went to one march one day and that's some big deal, it's not. The truth is we've got to -- some people have got to rebuild the party, some people need to march, all of us need to create a new America where everybody is included.
BASH: Mr. Harrison.
HARRISON: Listen, I know the mayor likes to say that he's the only person. So listen, I'm the only person that is a party chair that is building a party right now in a state, right?
So let me tell you what I had to do that week, because I'm also a volunteer chair, I don't get paid to do this, but that is my life. That is what I do.
HARRISON: So we had a forum on that Sunday. I took a red eye from that forum to get back to South Carolina for Affordable Care Act rally that Sunday. That next Monday we had a Martin Luther King rally, our biggest rally in South Carolina. And we did that.
Next Friday, the day of the inauguration, I was going around the state of South Carolina in South Carolina collecting blankets for the homeless because we have a program called South Carolina Democrats Care where we're actually in the communities addressing issues.
And then on that Friday I -- that Saturday I left on an early flight, left my 2-year-old son who is crying that daddy is leaving in order to go to this rally because many of the folks -- you know, part of this job is party-building. It is not just attending rallies, right? It is party-building.
That means fundraising...
BASH: Hang on, hang on, guys.
Mr. Mayor, since you made the point that you were only declared candidate, why do you think that they were...
BASH: Mr. Mayor, since you had earlier pointed out that you were the only declared candidate at the time to attend the Women's March, what do you say to them to say -- when they say that, you know what, do they have a point that...
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, sure, look, first of all...
BASH: ... there's a time to build the party and raise money and there's a time to march?
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, everybody up here is busy. I get it. I'm busy running a city. I've got 100,000 residents. I've got a $300 million budget, over 1,000 employees. And it's not like Pawnee, we don't have a city manager, OK?
GREENE: I'm sorry -- I'm sorry you all...
GREENE: We have spent so many minutes...
BASH: Wait a second. Wait your turn please and we'll come to you next, I promise.
BASH: Go ahead, Mr. Mayor.
BUTTIGIEG: You know, of course we've got to raise money too. And I know how to raise money. I've done it for my campaign. In a matter of weeks I raised about a half million bucks for my campaign for DNC chair. I get that. It matters.
I didn't bring that up to get into a wrestling match about who is a better Democrat. We're all good Democrats. The point is it's about instincts. And when you're not a Washington insider, you have different instincts about where the energy in our party is coming from.
I'm with the local, I'm with the grassroots. And I think we need a little bit more of that in the DNC before it becomes irrelevant.
BASH: Thank you.
GREENE: (INAUDIBLE). I don't know how many minutes we've spent on this question when we should be talking to the millions of people watching this, not just in this country but the millions of Americans around the world about what we would do as DNC chair.
And the women who organized that march around criminal justice reform, immigration reform, intersectionality, they do not care about a photo op. What they care about is what are we going to do? Very specific prescriptions.
So that's why I say we need to have a gender parity moonshot. We cannot live in the expectations of the past.
BASH: Thank you.
GREENE: We also set a voter turnout moonshot. Can we shift this conversation to what we would do as chair?
BASH: Let's do that right now, Ms. Greene. And let's talk to a DNC member who has a question.
GREENE: And the specific things the audience is looking for us to answer because...
BASH: Thank you, you're out of time.
GREENE: ... this tension is not good for the party.
BASH: Let's turn now...
BASH: ... to Megan Green, a DNC member from Missouri, undecided but leaning towards supporting Congressman Ellison.
MEGAN GREEN, DNC VOTING MEMBER: Thank you.
Historically the Democratic Party has been the party of working people. However with the influx of corporate money into the party, many have lost confidence that the Democratic Party really can respect everyday people.
As chair, how do you help to ensure that the Democratic Party once again is that party of working people?
BASH: Secretary Perez.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I get that one please?
BASH: Secretary Perez, go ahead.
PEREZ: That's a great question. And I think we have to do a number of things like in my own campaign for DNC chair I decided not to take any money from lobbyists or corporations.
Now having said that, we have to have this conversation as the DNC on whether to do something similar. And as we do that, we want to articulate the value proposition in your question which is, we want to make sure we're not in fact or in perception in the pocket of someone.
But at the same time, we need to understand the doctrine of intended and unintended consequences, because I have a friend who couldn't work in the Obama administration for two years because he was a lobbyist with one client, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
I have other friends in the union movement who are lobbyists. So are we going to say we're going to take no money from unions?
I have other friends who used to be lobbyists and they de-registered, and now they're public policy specialists. And they're doing lobbying -- it quacks like a duck, it acts like a duck.
So these are very important questions because we have a size 12 need and we need to work to build on the small dollar world while asking...
BASH: Thank you, Secretary Perez.
PEREZ: ... and answering these questions that you ask.
BASH: Mr. Ronan.
RONAN: Thank you.
So, I mean, the question is quite simple. Perception is everything. And the other part of the perception is this divisiveness. We started off this debate talking about how we're going to fight Trump.
Well, yes, we're going to fight Trump but we're also going to go down the line with Pence and keep Steve Bannon from doing all his stuff too.
But other thing is, especially with rural America, we have pushed so many people out of the party deliberately over the course of many, many years over divisive issues like gun control, just to name a few -- or one, I should say.
The issue is we need to bring everyone back together. That's why in Baltimore I talked about the New New Deal, because when we were the party of FDR and we had something to fight for, to build together upon, we were the greatest nation on earth.
We had the strongest middle class. We were growing for decades. And then we got into bed with big business...
BASH: Thank you.
RONAN: ... and look at where we are today.
BASH: Thank you.
BASH: No, one second, one second. One second, Mr. Peckarsky has the floor.
PECKARSKY: On the issue of what we ought to be doing here, again my view of it is that we've got to energize the party locally and find out what is happening on a local basis.
In terms of -- if you want to talk about fundraising, I think there are other ways to raise funds other than getting from sources that might have some political control over what the party is doing. There are ways to raise in small amounts.
But the critical issue here is what everybody is going to do to protect the electoral process. And that is the question which the DNC members ought to get answered by everybody here between now and the vote on Saturday morning.
BOYTON BROWN: But that wasn't the question that was asked by our guest. And I just would like to address it because I was first candidate on stage to actually support Christine Pelosi's resolution that's going to be before the entire DNC, so all of the DNC members get to have this conversation.
And I think it's a valuable conversation that we're having exactly because of the Citizens United issue that's facing our country right now. We have to get the money out of politics so that we have elected officials who actually reflect our people.
BASH: Thank you.
BOYTON BROWN: And the party has got to take a stand on that.
BASH: Thank you.
I want to talk about something that has brought some intrigue to this race. And that is a dinner between you, Congressman Ellison -- uh-oh, and you, Secretary Perez, you went out to dinner recently. What happened there?
ELLISON: You see him? That's my buddy right here.
BASH: Did you cut a deal?
ELLISON: Let me just say that...
BASH: Did you cut a deal?
ELLISON: No. We cut no deal. But what we did say is that unity for this party is so essential. Is that if...
ELLISON: If I win, I can count on Tom. And if Tom wins, Tom can count on me. And that goes for everybody up here.
But we -- but -- and so we had that conversation. And let me just tell you, I think DNC members want us to be friends. They want us to talk to each other. They want us to work it out.
ELLISON: And I just want to say, and that's why I'm really proud to have the support of Chairman Ray Buckley, who is the chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party who has done a great job because we should work together.
ELLISON: We need to be team, everybody.
And I'll kick it to Tom.
CUOMO: Secretary, who paid?
PEREZ: I did.
ELLISON: He paid.
PEREZ: But you know what...
ELLISON: He made me pay, though, Chris, we fought over the check.
PEREZ: Chris, I -- the reality is I have traveled to Keith's district multiple times as labor secretary, because we were working on the same things. We were working on lifting wages, we were working on paid leave, we were working on upscaling people.
And you know what, here's the reality and here is I think the most important principle that we need to understand is a unified Democratic Party is not only our best hope, it's Donald Trump's worst nightmare.
PEREZ: And that's why we're together.
CUOMO: Hold on a second, (INAUDIBLE), hold on a second.
And maybe this will address what your point has been. Mr. Buttigieg, why we bring this up is because, yes, you're rebuilding your party, you're trying to figure out how to do it. The metaphor of the dinner was that well, who had a seat at that table?
That's why it drew intrigue. And I'm sure all of you would have liked to have been at dinner together talking about what it was.
Is it important that the Democratic Party, in rebuilding with whoever the new chair is, recognizes that there is a sense there that it hasn't been equal playing field for everybody in the party?
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, I'm glad you said that because we have got to resume the mantle of being the party of fairness. We always were. And then that theme stolen from us by Donald Trump.
See, when he was out there saying that the system was rigged, instead of us saying, it is but you're part of the problem and we have got a better way, we started to sound like the party saying, the system is perfectly fine.
And that wasn't convincing because it isn't true. Our political systems, our economic systems, they are not perfectly fine.
Now what is perfectly fine is for good Democrats to get together over a meal. That's a good thing. But I do have a suggestion, which is that the next time the secretary and congressman want to get a cheeseburger, come do it in South Bend, because I'm from an industrial community with -- I'll buy too.
ELLISON: OK, all right.
BUTTIGIEG: That seems to be the hook from Congressman Ellison.
BUTTIGIEG: It's important, because when you're from a community like that, that was brought to its knees by factory closures in the '60s and '70s but found a way back, and suddenly you find your own home town being studied with exotic fascination by political commentators on the coasts, I think people would have a little bit to learn.
Trump voters are not a mystery to me. There a lot of people in my city, my county, which went 50-50 last time, who voted for Barack Obama and then they voted for Obama again, and then they voted for Trump. And by the way, they also voted for Pence and they voted for me.
We have got to understand what is on their minds and take them seriously.
CUOMO: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
We have more to talk about. We're going to be right back from Atlanta with the Democratic leadership debate. Stay with us.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
DANA BASH, DEBATE MODERATOR: Welcome back. We are live in Atlanta with the debate with the Democratic candidates to be DNC chair.
I want to ask each of you the same question. You will have 30 seconds to answer.
And the question is this: Why should you be DNC chair?
Peter Peckarsky, I'll start with you.
PETER PECKARSKY, ATTORNEY: I should be DNC chair because I will reform the party. I understand the technology involved and have a technical background. I understand the election system and the fact that many people have doubts about the accuracy of our election system.
I will reform that system -- that is the election system -- so people are assured that we are having honest elections. And the key to that is reenergizing the party as I intend to do on a local basis.
BASH: Thank you.
SAM RONAN, U.S. AIR FORCE VETERAN: So, why should I be the DNC chair?
You know, when I look at why I'm even here today, I was active duty four years ago, I had a perfectly good career, I had a perfectly good life. But what I saw was a lack of commitment, a lack of spine, a lack of courage from our local leaders. That was culminated by the 2013 government shutdown.
So, for me, it's not about the job. It's not about being the next manager, administrator having the hero's answer to every question. It's about truly re-engaging that which has been lost -- the American people, their choice, and bringing us all back together as one big happy family.
BASH: Thank you so much.
Ms. Boynton Brown?
SALLY BOYNTON BROWN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IDAHO DEMOCRATIC PARTY: I think it's so important that the women, the young women especially in our country understand that they can do anything. That they don't have to wait for permission and that they don't have to check boxes. If you want to step up and lead because you have vision, that you can do it. I'm excited to be the next DNC chair because I want to make the DNC a
service-based organization for the 21st century, that's innovative and resilient, and responds to the new power culture that's happening in our country, and gives the power back to the people of our country.
BASH: Thank you.
JEHMU GREENE, FORMER PRESIDENT, "ROCK THE VOTE": This is a transformative moment for our country and certainly for our party.
And in this moment, we need someone that the DNC who is going to be able to increase turnout. I have done that as president of "Rock the Vote".
We need someone who is going to be able to go into communities that we disconnected from and communicate more effectively to them. I have done that at FOX News for almost -- the last seven years.
We need someone who is going to be able to innovate, innovate how we operate as a party, and I have done that using voter registration, technology, moving it online.
And if we really are going to tap into this moment, we also have to understand that politics as usual is not going to cut it. We need a fierce leader who is not afraid of speaking uncomfortable truths even when it's not the way to get the most amount of votes in this election.
And I think I'm the only candidate up here who has turned to the DNC and said: if we stand shoulder to shoulder --
BASH: Thank you.
GREENE: -- and handle the truths, we will be stronger as a party for it.
BASH: Thank you.
JAIME HARRISON, CHAIRMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: So, the DNC chair role and responsibility is a job. The job has responsibilities. And that chief job is party-building. Party- building.
The next chair needs to be a builder -- someone who has the experience of building a party. I have done that in South Carolina. That's what we're still doing.
Someone who's an organizer, not just organizing rallies, but organizing the diversity within our party. That is our greatest strength. It also comes with great challenges. Someone who is a visionary, someone who's thinking not just the next
election cycle, but down the road, two, three, four, or 10 years from now. Who do we want in our party and why do we want them there?
And last but not the least, the person has to be a fighter -- not just fighting against Donald Trump because we will all do that but someone who has fought their entire life. I started behind the starting line with a young mom who worked so much -- and my mom, thank you so much for being here tonight.
But I know what poverty looks like. And I will be probably the only chair that's ever been on food stamps, the only chair that has not only lost their home once, but twice, the only chair that know what the hardships that working people in this country have to go through. And that's what we need in our next chair -- someone who knows the experiences of the working people.
BASH: Thank you.
PETE BUTTIGIEG, MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: Do what you've always done, you're going to get what you've always gotten. This is a test of whether the DNC that we are ready for change.
I'm running for chair because I'm living what everybody is talking about. If we say we want to understand state and local, put in a mayor who works at the local every day in government and party vote.
If we are saying new generation, have a new generation of leader. If we're saying that we recognize that the solutions are not going to come from inside Washington, pick somebody who doesn't get up in the morning and go to an office in Washington every day.
This is our future. Our future is on the line. I know how to do this. I helped turn around a city. Now is the time to turn around our party, and I'm the right person to do that job.
BASH: Thank you.
REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: You know, Dana, I'm the right person to be the next chair of the DNC because I have a burning conviction that the Democratic Party has to stand for the working people of this country. The workers, the farmers, the small business people need a party fight for them, all colors, all cultures, all faiths, all backgrounds. We need a party that fights for us.
And you know what? The DNC chair has to win elections. That's the job actually. And on this stage, I think I've won more elections than anyone. I've actually stood for election 13 times and won all those times.
And I've also made sure that my governor is a Democrat, my secretary of state, both senators are -- all -- every -- up and down the line, we have Democrats statewide in Minnesota because that spiked the vote. And look, I've raised the money. I've raised over a million dollars to my state party and got over 33,000 --
BASH: Thank you.
ELLISON: -- separate contributions and that's why I should be the DNC chair.
BASH: Thank you.
TOM PEREZ, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: We need a leader who can take the fight to Donald Trump. We need a leader who can communicate our optimistic vision of hope and inclusion. When hope is on the ballot, we win. When fear is allowed to be on the ballot, we lose.
We need someone who understands local government, where I worked, who understands the intersection of all of these parts. We need someone who is a turnaround specialist because this organization has a crisis of confidence and a crisis of relevance. And it requires someone with experience as a turnaround agent at scale.
That's what I have done in my jobs before. That's the passion I bring to the jobs. I fought the good fights and we won a lot of them and we need to take this fight and move forward.
And that's why I believe that I am the best qualified candidate.
CUOMO: Gentlemen, ladies, thank you for joining us, these candidates tonight. Thanks to all the people behind us and all the people at home who are watching our debate.
BASH: And be sure to watch CNN this weekend to learn out who will be the next chair of the DNC. That's going to happen on Saturday.
"CNN TONIGHT" starts right after this quick break.