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Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez Elected To Lead Democrats


The Democrats have a new leader. Members of the Democratic National Committee have elected former Labor Secretary Tom Perez to head the party. Perez has a lot of work ahead of him. Democrats are in the minority at all levels of government. And, as the race for the DNC chair showed, there's still a lot of tension between the activist and establishment wings of the party. NPR's Scott Detrow reports from Atlanta.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: After he was elected, Tom Perez took the big-picture view of where he sees politics right now.


TOM PEREZ: Someday, they're going to study this era in American history. And they're going to study it alongside the Know-Nothing movements. And they're going to ask the question of all of us - where were you in 2017, when we had the worst president in the history of the United States?

DETROW: Opposing President Trump is something most Democrats can agree on right now. After that, it can get complicated. And last year's bruising primary battle can still linger. Take just one thing, big money in politics. It's something Keith Ellison talked about in his speech before the vote.


KEITH ELLISON: We believe that we would rather have a million donations of $10 than 10 donations of just $100,000. We've got to go to the grassroots, y'all.

DETROW: DNC members had just voted down a resolution that would've banned corporate political-action committees from giving money to the party. That's something a lot of grassroots activists cared deeply about.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Party for the people, not big money.

DETROW: And it's something many Ellison supporters began yelling about after Perez's victory was announced on the stage. Dana Bowers (ph) was one of them.

DANA BOWERS: It's obvious that the DNC is still caring more about their ties with corporate money than they are about the voice of the people.

DETROW: That's not to say Perez is a conservative Democrat or even moderate. In fact, as Labor secretary, he was one of the most progressive members of President Obama's cabinet. But the fact that Ellison's campaign stalled and failed and that so many high-profile Democrats endorsed Perez after Bernie Sanders backed Ellison left a lot of liberal activists frustrated. Perez was clearly mindful of this. He talked over and over about party unity, addressing it again after his win.


PEREZ: It kind of reminds me of Thanksgiving dinner at my house when we have the extended family, and we have spirited discussions, and we have viewpoint diversity. And then we all lock hands and celebrate our shared interests.

DETROW: Perez and Ellison are making it clear to everyone they can that they're on the same team. They were calling each other buddy after the vote, posing for pictures with each other's families and even wearing each other's campaign buttons. Ellison says he's looking forward to working with Perez to rebuild the DNC. Standing next to the new chair, he addressed his supporters.


ELLISON: I want you to support Tom Perez. I want you to put your energy, your time, your resources behind making this the best Democratic National Committee it can possibly be.

DETROW: That's going to be a hard job. The committee itself has been in a holding pattern since this summer, when internal emails likely stolen by Russian hackers made their way to WikiLeaks and led to major turnover and high-profile resignations. And on top of that, Democrats are in the minority in most states and in all of the federal government. Perez framed it this way.


PEREZ: We are suffering from a crisis of confidence, a crisis of relevance.

DETROW: Step one to rebuilding - putting the focus on the one thing Democrats can agree on, stopping Donald Trump. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.