Seeking To Bridge Divisions, Democrats Come Together In 'Unity' Tour

Apr 20, 2017
Originally published on April 20, 2017 6:20 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

All week, two prominent figures on the left have been traveling the country on a Democratic Party unity tour, except there has not been too much unity. Senator Bernie Sanders and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez are the headliners. Sanders has made headlines himself for criticizing the Democrats and saying the party needs to make changes.

NPR's Scott Detrow has been on the road with Sanders and Perez and joins us from Grand Prairie, Texas. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Last night, Bernie Sanders told an audience in Miami that Donald Trump did not win the election. The Democrats lost it, he said. That is a harsh statement, especially on a unity tour.

DETROW: Yeah, Sanders is saying that for years, the Democratic Party has just been out of touch and hasn't had a clear message. He said that same thing about the Democrats during an interview that he and I did this afternoon. I asked him what exactly he meant by that.

BERNIE SANDERS: Because I think the Democrats have not put forward an agenda that speaks to the needs of people who are in pain.

SHAPIRO: So Scott, what is he trying to accomplish on this unity tour then?

DETROW: I think he's really putting out the case for the types of really progressive stances that he's talked about for years and he's saying that the party needs to come on board with - things like, you know, a Medicare-for-all health care system, much more aggressive regulation of the financial sector.

Sanders believes that the majority of the country is on board with this type of stance. And I asked him about that since, you know, as we all know, Republicans control government up and down from the state houses of most states to the entirety of the federal government. Again, Sanders put that blame on the Democratic Party.

SANDERS: And I think the answer to that is the failure of the Democratic Party to have a progressive agenda, to bring people into the party, to mobilize people. And that's what I'm running around this country trying to do.

SHAPIRO: OK, so you have Senator Bernie Sanders criticizing the Democratic Party while on a unity tour with the man who runs that party, Tom Perez. What does DNC Chair Tom Perez say about all this?

DETROW: Well, I think that Perez and some of the DNC leaders who have come on board - again, he's only been chair for about a month or so. I think they're all pretty honest about the fact that after last year's primary, they really do have a trust issue with a lot of Bernie Sanders' base voters. And these are voters that they really need to have on board. So I think a big part of this tour is Perez kind of gritting his teeth and taking advantage of Sanders' star power to have a chance to also speak his case to these skeptical progressive voters.

SHAPIRO: Had a little audio glitch there. But what do you think Democrats need to do to solve this problem, Scott?

DETROW: Perez feels confident that he can just talk to these voters and win them over, just communicate that he's pretty progressive himself.

TOM PEREZ: And when we sit side by side and talk about what our fears and hopes are, what I've been learning is that we have incredible alignment in what our goals are.

DETROW: And there were moments over the last few days where he's been right, where the crowd was kind of murmuring, ready for Bernie Sanders to come on. But Sanders would say something, like criticizing Donald Trump or talking about, you know, climate change or health care, and he would win big applause.

SHAPIRO: Scott, you're in Texas, which doesn't seem like the most obvious place for Democrats to focus given the politics of the state. What's the thinking behind the itinerary on this tour?

DETROW: The symbolic nature of this is not that subtle from the Democrats. Both Tom Perez and Bernie Sanders are really insistent that the party needs to get more aggressive in red states, stop ceding big chunks of the country to Republicans. And that's why they're in places like Texas. They'll be in Utah tomorrow. They're going to Arizona. They're trying to show that they're serious about that.

SHAPIRO: All right, NPR's Scott Detrow, thanks a lot.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.