2020 and the Fight Within the Democratic Party
Nina Turner talks with Paul Jay about the struggle within the Democratic Party in the lead-up to the 2020 elections
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. We’re live. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. Don’t forget, before we kind of kick into this segment, we’re in the midst of our winter fundraising campaign. This is apparently Giving Tuesday, so if you haven’t donated yet to The Real News, we have a matching grant. Given that it’s Giving Tuesday, I guess it’s a good time to give. I hope you do. At any rate, jockeying for the Democratic Party nomination for the 2020 presidential election has begun. Amid the speculation of who’s going to run, is a real struggle over who will control the party organization and get out the vote machine. As we know, who controls the DNC and the party apparatus goes a long way to deciding who wins the primary. After the release of Donna Brazile tell-a-lot book — I don’t think all, but it was a lot — which revealed how much the Clinton campaign had taken over the DNC during the primary fight with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren was asked if the Democratic Party was rigged — I should say, the Democratic Party primary was rigged. Here’s what she said.
ELIZABETH WARREN: This is a test for Tom Perez. Either he’s going to succeed by bringing Bernie Sanders and Bernie Sanders’ representatives into this process. They’re going to say it’s fair, it works, we all believe it or he’s going to fail. I very much hope he succeeds. I hope for Democrats everywhere, I hope for Bernie and for all of Bernie’s supporters that he’s going to succeed.
JAKE TAPPER: Very quickly Senator, do you agree with the notion that it was rigged?
ELIZABETH WARREN: Yes.
PAUL JAY: Well it was rigged and Tom Perez needs to bring people in, Sanders’ supporters in. How is Tom Perez doing with the inclusiveness thing? Well, Sanders’ supporter James Zogby was demoted from the DNC Executive Committee to an at-large position. Sanders’ ally Keith Ellison, his supporters, New Hampshire Democratic Chair Ray Buckley, the first trans person elected to the DNC, Barb Siperstein, and Ellison’s former secretary, Alice Germond, were removed from DNC positions. Former lobbyist Jeff Berman, who represented the private prison group GEO group and the Keystone XL pipeline company, along with Maria Cardona and Minyon Moore, senior officials at Dewey Square Partners who represented predatory lender, Countrywide Financial, were appointed to the DNC committee. Tax lobbyist Chris Lu and Frank Leone, a lobbyist for anti-environmental interests, were also appointed to the committee. Jaime Harrison, a former coal lobbyist, ran for the DNC chair, endorsed Perez after dropping out, well he was appointed. Joanne Dowdell, a senior executive in the lobbying division for the Fox News parent corporation News Corp, was appointed an at-large member and to the Resolutions Committee.
Registered lobbyists Calla and Roxanne Brown were appointed at-large members. Clinton fundraiser and registered lobbyist Tonio Burgos was appointed to the DNC Finance Committee. Daniel Halpern was chosen to serve as co-chair of the DNC Finance Committee, as chairman of the Georgia restaurant association, Halpern played an active role in shutting down a bill that would’ve increased Georgia’s state minimum wage. Hillary Clinton advisor, Tony Coelho, received appointments. Former Ready for Hillary national finance co-chair Francisco Domenech was appointed as an at-large member, despite his formal support last year for Republican Jenniffer Gonzalez’s bid for Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner. It goes on. Hillary Clinton’s Nevada and Colorado state director, Emmy Ruiz, was given an at-large position. Clinton campaign staffer, Ellie Pérez, Craig Smith, Cristobal Alex were also appointed. Former Bill Clinton advisor, Harold Ickes was also appointed to the Rules Committee despite his record of outbursts that include biting a political rival on their leg.
Out of 187 DNC appointments, 187, the only Sanders’ supporters included Keith Ellison who was moved down to the Executive Committee, James Zogby, at-large Resolutions Committee, Larry Cohen at-large and Symone Sanders at-large and Resolutions Committee. Most importantly none were appointed to the Rules and Bylaws Committee, which will be presented for the Unity Reform Commission’s recommendations in December 2017. We’re going to talk about that meeting, which is coming quite soon. Perez reappointed Rules and Bylaws Committee co-chairs now get this one, Lorraine Moore and James Roosevelt Jr., the same chairs presided over the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee during the primaries, when the memo Donna Brazile revealed handed DNC operations to the Clinton campaign. Now joining us to discuss the fight within the Democratic Party as we already lead up to the 2020 elections is Senator Nina Turner. Senator Turner joins us from Washington. She’s a former Ohio state senator and Bernie Sanders’ surrogate, is now the president of the group, our revolution. Thanks for joining us, Nina.
NINA TURNER: Thanks Paul Jay, good to be here on Giving Tuesday. I certainly agree with you asking people to give and to support The Real News.
PAUL JAY: Thanks very much. Let’s talk about this what’s gone on in terms of the DNC appointments. These things are very linked, the idea of the unity commission meeting coming soon, the beginning of the talk of who’s going to be the candidate and I see in a lot of the press while Bernie Sanders is clearly at the top of everyone’s list and is polling very high the drum beats about his age are always added to any article that he’ll be 79 in 2020.
NINA TURNER: Paul Jay, can I just …
PAUL JAY: Yeah, jump right in, go ahead.
NINA TURNER: I hate to cut you off on that but I think any kind of ism is bad if it’s not respectism, respect is not respectism but just ageism, racism, sexism, all of those isms are wrong. In a society where especially from a political perspective you have people particularly on the left and rightfully so to jump up and down about racism and sexism as we should as a country, not tolerate any of that kind of stuff that puts one group at a disadvantage or elevates another group over another group based on gender and that kind stuff, sexual orientation, you name it, ageism falls right into that category. If all of us are blessed to live long enough one day we will be 70, we will be 80, we will be 90 and how would we feel if somebody was discriminating against us based on our age. That just really gets to me, not just because it’s Senator Sanders but there’s a whole generation of elders out there who have given so much and have so much life to live and so much to give that people just tolerate ageism bothers me a lot.
PAUL JAY: Bernie is certainly in all the polling and the recent article in the Hill, which did a poll of Democratic Party insiders, number one on the list was Bernie Sanders. While in poll after poll Bernie Sanders is the most likely person to defeat Trump, assuming Trump is the candidate in 2020, still if you look at what the appointments of Tom Perez and Elizabeth Warren had this challenge to Perez to be inclusive with the Senators’ wing of the party and far from being inclusive it’s virtually a purge. The party machine is being prepared, one thinks — I think, at any rate — to make sure Bernie Sanders actually doesn’t win the nomination.
NINA TURNER: I agree, I mean your point about what Senator Elizabeth Warren said, her finer point was that if the DNC wants to succeed it needs to be inclusive and it needs to embrace the Sanders’ supporters. That is so important. The quicker they learn that and understand that, the better off they will be. What happened at the DNC in terms of removing a Dr. Jim Zogby who has been in the fight for Democrats for a very long time as you may know, Paul Jay, he worked on the campaign for Rev. Jesse Jackson. Rev. Jesse Jackson, people don’t talk a lot about how he transformed the Democratic Party, the whole notion of rainbow coalition, he was the first candidate in a very long time to try to bridge the divide between race and class, as he would call it, that we need to talk about these issues.
Caste and class, that they both go hand in hand but to do that to Dr. Zogby, an Arab American, is really not the right thing to do. Also, to alienate Sanders’ supporters, one would think that if you’re chairman of the DNC that you would do everything possible to try to heal that divide through your leadership and through appointments, if not but for political reasons. I mean I think it’s the right thing to do morally but also it’s the right thing to do politically as we head into the 2018 elections. What happened at the DNC certainly was not helpful to trying to heal some of the wounds.
Then your point about Senator Sanders, he has been appointed within leadership, within his caucus in the Senate, the Democratic Caucus, the caucus that he caucuses with. The Democrats he caucuses with in the House, he caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate as well. Senator Chuck Schumer and the senator’s colleagues in that caucus, he is outreach, he has been appointed that by his own colleagues. He is still traveling this country lifting people, lifting minds, talking about the issues that matter whether it’s Medicare for all, strengthening the ACA so that we get to Medicare for all or whether it’s talking against this horrible tax plan, which will cripple millions of families in this country who fall in the socioeconomic parameters of the working poor and the barely middle class. He continues to do the work that is necessary to remind people that they are powerful and that they must be engaged and what he is doing is absolutely wrong. The DNC has to do a better job of being a big-tent party, and confessing that things went wrong last year will not take away from the party.
It’s an open secret. I do have to give Donna Brazile a lot of credit for having the courage to come out and tell the truth in her book, that took a lot. Even though she has given the overwhelming majority of her life to helping Democrats, as you know she’s the first African-American woman to lead a presidential campaign. She has been a loyalist to the Clintons as well. You see how they tried to malign her, that whole clique did everything they could to malign her, to call her a Russian spy and just take away her agency as an African-American woman but also as a leader. We have a lot of work to do.
PAUL JAY: When I interviewed Bernie in Baltimore during the primaries I said, I asked him — he talks about fighting the oligarchy, but is it not a section (I said to him) a section of the oligarchy that controls the Democratic Party? That this fight in the Democratic Party is a class fight, and it’s a fight against a section of the oligarchy. This maneuvering of the DNC now, I don’t think they want to win with Bernie. They certainly want to win, but they don’t want to win with a Sanderesque or Sanders candidacy. In fact, I think they might rather lose. Their plan is to make sure that the party machine does not allow that type of a candidate to win the nomination no matter what.
NINA TURNER: The people do and that is what is most important. That’s why organizations like Our Revolution, organizations like that, we are so important because the people have a different idea from those people who are in positions and places where they try to control the dynamics but they’re not going to be able to control a movement of millions of people across this country who have already spoken and have said time and time again and as you referenced, not just the Hill article but even the senator with the Harvard Harris poll, very high approval ratings across constituencies. Even 80% of Democrats feel that way about him, he’s the most favorable active politician in this country. To another point that Senator Elizabeth Warren made is that the whole notion that the Democratic Party would try to ignore a whole constituency of people and think that they’re going to be successful in 2018, that just can’t happen. As somebody once said, that dog does not hunt.
PAUL JAY: The unity commission is going to be having a public meeting soon. One of the fights is going to be over the issue of superdelegates. I saw that even Tim Kaine who ran with Hillary in the last election came out and called for the abolishing of superdelegates all together. How is that fight shaping up and how important is it?
NINA TURNER: That is exactly what the senator said, so glad that he did say that. We will see. As you said the unity reform — and I emphasize the word ‘reform’ because I don’t believe that you can have unity without reform; you can’t have just an artificial unity, you do have to reform. Which is why both campaigns at the time last year came to an agreement, both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders came to an agreement that we needed to have this commission. It is my hope that when we vote and everybody’s going to know on the 8th and the 9th, that is when it is happening, we have traveled the country, our last meeting will be in Washington DC. People can go to the DNC website for the exact location. That is happening.
PAUL JAY: It’s a public meeting, people can attend.
NINA TURNER: It is a public meeting but on the 9th we will vote as the Reform Commission, that commission is made up of appointees by Senator Sanders, of which I am one of those, appointees by Secretary Clinton, and three appointees by Chairman Perez. That is happening. I want to encourage people to really come to that meeting …
PAUL JAY: These appointments that I read out at the beginning, this laundry list of appointments it sounds like if I’m understanding correctly the majority of people now are essentially pro-Clinton types on the unity commission.
NINA TURNER: Well the names that you named are within the DNC apparatus, but your point is well taken that the Unity Reform Commission itself is made up of those three categories, but absolutely Secretary Clinton, her appointees combined with Chairman Perez, they do have the majority. But that does not mean that we will not have consensus across those groups. The groups have been working very well together, and let’s hope that we will be unified for the most part in the reforms that we recommend. You’re absolutely right, from a purely numerical perspective the Clinton Perez coalition, they do have the numbers.
PAUL JAY: I was joking with you off camera but from an outsider — and I’m a very ‘outsider’ to the Democratic Party — it looks to me like the way Perez is appointing people at the DNC that what’s hoped for by those forces is that this is a committee or a commission that unites the pro-Clinton type forces against reform. As I was saying earlier, they look like they’re just trying to capture the machinery here. These guys are ready for a fight. I have to say these guys includes President Obama who I apparently worked the phones to make sure that Perez won the DNC electoral fight and Ellison lost.
NINA TURNER: Well I was at that meeting. Let’s just say calls were made across the board by many people to do everything that they could to defeat Congressman Keith Ellison, which that was very unfortunate. He came very close but as you know he’s in there trying to do the best that he can. The Unity Reform Commission does have an awesome opportunity to send a strong message and signal that we are unified and reforming the Democratic Party so that what happened to Senator Sanders and his supporters will never happen to any other candidate.
PAUL JAY: Concretely I know you have only a few minutes before you have to go get rid of superdelegates, what are some of the other specific issues you want to see come out of it?
NINA TURNER: To make sure that in terms of the party reform portion that we organize ourselves as a truly a big-tent party, that we do everything that we can to make sure that we are bringing in and not just bringing in people when it comes to voting but just really bringing in millennials and the point that you made about the socio economic status within the Democratic Party too and who controls a lot of the working class across ethnicities really don’t have a say within the party that we reformed the caucus primary process, but particularly the caucus process.
The caucus can be an all-day investment and a lot of folks do not necessarily have all day to participate. We need to set up that process in a way that people in caucus states can come in, vote and leave. It really does take a lot to give eight hours, sometimes 12 hours. I was in Nevada last year when one of the caucus processes was happening. It really is a long process. It is a way to galvanize people in terms of exciting them that they get involved in the process of the Democratic Party but it is also long and arduous. If you have responsibilities like work or younger children, it can be harder for you to participate. I’m hoping that we change that process as well.
PAUL JAY: One of the critiques that comes from sections of the left is that the Democratic Party needs Bernie Sanders to do this kind of outreach. They need young people to come into the party and get involved in the process but then in the final analysis the machine and I’ve given examples at the DNC level at least, how they think they will control the machine, in the end the machine will win. They’ll get a machine candidate and then all these various people that have joined with enthusiasm around Sanders will have to again work for the more corporate democratic candidate because again the enemy will be either Trump or maybe even Pence. What do you make of that argument?
NINA TURNER: I mean it didn’t work in 2016, Paul Jay. That is not the way to galvanize and get people excited. People will just stay home. That happened in 2016 where we have almost 50% but not quite of eligible voters, people who could have voted in 2016 opted out. For those of us who care about the democracy, forget political affiliation and forget what side of the Democratic Party you’re on whether you’re the progressive, the liberal, the centrist, the corporate or whether you’re Republican, green party, independent, when you have that many people just totally opt out of even weighing in, democracy itself is under assault.
We have a problem. Even if we solve for voter suppression, for gerrymandering, all of those variables that we need to correct as a democracy, the fact that people have said, “I’m not even going to bother because I don’t believe in the system, I don’t believe the people who work and participate in the system, who lead the system, I just don’t believe anymore,” to me that is a bigger problem that we have to deal with collectively as citizens of the United States of America. A democracy is the strongest when people decide that they want to participate. That is very troubling to me.
PAUL JAY: All right, thanks very much for joining us, Senator Turner.
NINA TURNER: Thank you, Paul Jay and to all of your viewers thank you so much and please, please, please participate in Giving Tuesday.
PAUL JAY: Let me reinforce that, thanks very much for watching. You’ll find donate buttons, I don’t know if you’re watching on YouTube or Facebook or at The Real News but the best thing to do is go to therealnews.com and click the donate button. You’ll find various ways to donate there by credit card or PayPal. There’s a phone number. One way or the other we cannot keep doing the Real News unless you help us make Real News. Thanks for joining us.