President Barack Obama praised his Labor Secretary Thomas Perez yesterday—who recently announced that he is running for chairman of the Democratic National Committee—as “wicked smart,” but said he likes all of thewith all the candidates and that whoever ends up with the job has to “speak to all of America.”
Perez faces current frontrunner Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison—the first Muslim-American ever elected to the House of Representatives—who has received backing from Sen. Charles Schumer and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom he endorsed for the presidency in defiance of party leaders. The outgoing two-term president—the country’s first black president—said Perez is “one of the best Secretaries of Labor in our history,” saying that he is “tireless.”
“He is wicked smart,” Obama said during his final press conference of the year. “He has been able to work across the spectrum of labor, business, activists. He’s produced, and if you look at his work on behalf of working people, what he’s pushed for in terms of making sure that workers get a fair deal, decent wages, better benefits, that their safety’s protected on the job, he has been extraordinary.”
But he would not endorse him, praising all of the candidates but pointing out that he does not have any say in who ends up winning.
“Now others who have declared are also my friends and fine people as well and the great thing is I don’t have a vote in this,” Obama continued. “So we’ll let the process unfold. I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon.”
Last month, the City Council’s Progressive Caucus backed Ellison and on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio did the same. Also in the running are South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison and New Hampshire Chairman Ray Buckley.
In his famous speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama said that Americans share a common creed and that the red state versus blue state phenomenon is a construct. On Friday, the president said that construct has gotten more and more powerful for a variety of reasons, including gerrymandering, big money and the splintering of media outlets “so people are just watching what reinforces their existing biases as opposed to listening to different points of view.”
But 12 years later, he still feels the same way. He said that there are some regional differences and that people are still “full of contradictions” but that they ultimately care about their families, having meaningful work, their children having more opportunities than they did and that they “wanna feel safe, they wanna feel like things are fair.”
“Whoever leads the DNC and any candidate with the Democratic brand going forward, I want them to feel as if they can reach out and find that common ground and speak to all of America and that requires some organization,” Obama said.
He said that at the end of the day, the party has to make sure it gets its message across to the entire country, whether that be via the DNC or by revamping the party at the state level.
“The Democratic Party, whether that’s entirely through the DNC or rebuilding of state parties or some other arrangement has to work at the grassroots level, has to be present in all 50 states, has to have a presence in counties, has to think about message and how are we speaking directly to voters,” he continued.
And he acknowledged the challenges that he faced when he came into office, noting that what he was able to do successfully in his campaigns, “I wasn’t able to do during midterms.” He said that when people are going through hard times like they were in 2010, they tend to punish the president’s party to some extent “regardless of what organizational work is done.”
“Some of it has to do with just some deep-standing, traditional challenges for Democrats,” he said. “Like during off-year elections, the electorate’s older and we do better with a younger electorate. But we know those things are true and I didn’t crack the code on that. And if other people have ideas about how to do that even better, I’m all for it.”
During his last briefing of 2016, Obama confirmed that Russia was responsible for the damaging hacks that plagued Clinton’s campaign to help President-elect Donald Trump win the election, but said that Russian President Vladimir Putin can only succeed if “we abandon our values.”
Some experts have blamed Obama for the decline of the party’s influence in the states and on the Hill, noting he backed sitting politicians for DNC chair and attempted to turn his campaign apparatus into a rival operation to the official committee.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.