WASHINGTON -- Democrats are facing a big challenge with the “machine of alternative facts,” and false news coming from President Donald Trump, says Tom Perez, the former Labor secretary who wants to lead the Democratic Party.
“Where’d he go to college? MSU. Not Michigan State University. Making Sh— Up.” Perez told NBC Latino Wednesday.
Perez’s “call to arms,” “rally the troops” speeches became his signature while serving in Obama’s Cabinet, making him a strong contender to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate.
But in his bid for chair of the Democratic National Committee, he’s unleashed more of his inner pit bull, speaking with biting quips in a way he couldn’t fully do as a member of the Obama Cabinet.
In an interview with NBC Latino Wednesday, Perez gave a glimpse of the fighting words he'd employ to take on Trump, and discussed some of the initiatives he'd undertake, should he win the upcoming election to lead the party.
His style could be critical for Democrats as they deal with the fast-moving Trump team’s work on executive orders and its messaging of “Make America Great Again,” “Build a Wall,” “3 million people voted illegally” that resonates with his supporters.
“We have a very significant challenge because they are a machine of alternative facts and fake news,” Perez said.
To appeal to Democrats or independents that voted for Trump, Perez said that when the Democrats deal in facts, “and not the alternative facts of Trump, we will be communicating the message of the betrayal of Donald Trump.”
“He said ‘I’m going to drain the swamp.’ Well he’s filled it with oligarchs and billionaires,” Perez said. “And he said, I’m gonna help lift wages and improve your life and within two hours of when he took the presidency … he made it harder for first time homeowners to buy a home.”
Trump signed an executive order on Inauguration Day suspended new Federal Housing Administration guidelines cutting fees certain borrowers would pay to insure their mortgages.
“Massive break for lenders, massive blow in the face for would-be homeowners,” Perez said.
Heading into three months after the election, Democrats remain without a permanent chair of their party. Perez is one of five candidates for the job, but considered a frontrunner with Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.
If chosen by his fellow Democrats – there are 447 active party members who will decide on Feb. 26 – Perez would be the first Latino to hold the job, and would be a visible contrast to Trump’s “Latinoless” Cabinet, which he is already making a talking point.
"What has Donald Trump done in his first 100 days?" Perez, a Dominican American, said in a question he directed to the Latino community. "He sent a very strong message that I do not value you."
Perez's blunt style, with the occasional expletive, might remind some of another Democrat – former Vice President Joe Biden, who endorsed Perez on Wednesday.
“Tom knows how to talk to people, not down to them. He knows how to explain why our party’s core beliefs matter to the immigrant family in Arizona and the coal miner in West Virginia. That matters,” Biden said in a statement announcing the endorsement.
There’s more to the job than being a public foil. Perez said the party needs a restructuring so that its focus is not only on electing a president but about getting more Democrats in office “from the school board to the Senate,” he said. That means getting involved in recruitment and training of all candidates.
“The Democratic Party and DNC have to be a very conspicuous face of the opposition to Donald Trump and all his divisiveness. At the same time we have to communicate our, I think, positive and inclusive message to everyone,” he said.
Before becoming Labor secretary, Perez was the head of the civil rights division in the Justice department. Under his watch, it investigated voter suppression, abuse by police departments in several cities, predatory lenders and brought a federal civil rights suit against former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for racially profiling Latinos.
Those are issues the next chair of the party will find it has to confront all over again.
The immigration enforcement executive orders Trump signed in his first week in the Oval Office eliminates the arrest and deportation priority system that former President Barack Obama instated and expands who it considers a criminal. The order includes people who have “committed acts that constitute a criminal chargeable offense,” used false Social Security numbers and anyone an immigration officer decides is a public safety or national security risk.
Another Trump executive order renews the deputizing of local law enforcement officers to act as immigration officers.
Perez’s interpretation: “Donald Trump is putting ‘abuelita’ (grandma) at or near the top of the list.”
The new directives also are “going to be an invitation to engage in racial profiling of people who look different,” he said.
“Joe Arpaio built a wall. His was a wall of distrust, and when you don’t have the trust of the community, you don’t have anything,” Perez said. “He claimed to be a law and order sheriff, but he was really lawlessness and disorder.”
With his experience in voting rights litigation, Perez sees a need to ramp up the party’s role on voting rights protection. He wants to create what he calls a Voter Protection and Empowerment unit in the party structure.
The DNC has 3 or 4 people working on the issue, going up against an “army of people” pushing for voter restrictions in the Republican Party.
Democrats should be “taking advantage of opportunities in states where politics is aligned to play offense” to get vote by mail, universal voter registration, early voting days expansion, he said.
And in states where Democrats aren’t the party in power, “we need to have much more aggressive effort on the defensive side to make sure were are combatting these unlawful purges and the voter ID laws that are quite plainly designed to make it harder for African Americans and Latinos to vote.”
Over the weekend, Perez joined in national protests over Trump’s order regarding entry to the county of refugees and others from seven Muslim countries.
His participation had a lot to do with the reason he’s running for Democratic Party chairman, he said.
“When you … allow refugees who frankly have been more carefully vetted than anyone in his Cabinet,” he said, “then you are not only making America less safe, you are making democracy less precious," he said.
He added: "When my grandchildren ask, ‘Where were you when Donald Trump took a sledgehammer to Lady Liberty?’ I want to make sure I can tell them I was there protecting America."