USA First Look

Bernie Sanders calls for 'total transformation' of Democratic Party

A day after Democrats chose Tom Perez as their chairman, the former Democratic presidential candidate called for a major overhaul of the party.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a federal contract workers rally to celebrate Andrew Puzder's decision to withdraw from consideration to be secretary of labor, on Capitol Hill earlier this month.
Yuri Gripas/Reuters/File
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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) urged Democrats on Sunday to undertake an overhaul of the party’s message as they move forward in the uncertain era under President Trump and seek to regain lost seats in midterm and local elections.

"We need a total transformation," the Vermont senator and former Democratic presidential candidate said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"We need to open up the party to working people, to young people and make it crystal clear that the Democratic Party is going to take on Wall Street, it's going to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, it's going to take on corporate America that is shutting down plants in this country and moving our jobs abroad," he added.

Senator Sanders’s remarks came just a day after Democrats voted to select former Labor Secretary Tom Perez to head the Democratic National Committee over Rep. Keith Ellison (D) of Minnesota. The contentious race pitted Mr. Perez, who served in former President Barack Obama’s administration, against Sanders-backed Representative Ellison, who embodied the party’s more progressive wave, continuing the party's ideological battle that came to the fore during the 2016 primary race.

Over the past decade, Democrats have lost some 1,000 seats across the country, from the presidency, to Congress, to state and local offices, leaving many questioning how the party should move forward to better reach white, working-class voters who were swept up by Mr. Trump’s campaign. Some say that sticking to the party’s more centric status quo that brought Mr. Obama into office is the right move, while others are pushing for change and trying to tip the party in a more progressive direction.

Perez, the first Latino to hold the position, has vowed to reunite the party and bolster Democratic campaigns for both local and national races across the country. He noted that Republican town halls across the country have been flooded with angry constituents, and said that now is the time for Democrats to harness that energy and turn it into a vehicle for victories.

"That's what we have to do as Democrats, help elect people in statehouses, presidency, local government and everywhere in between," Perez said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

Seeking to draw the fragmented party together, Perez selected Ellison to serve as deputy chair for the DNC.

"We don't have the luxury of walking out of this room divided," Ellison said as he took the stage alongside Perez on Saturday.

The race’s outcome disappointed the party’s more progressive wing, with many who supported Sanders's run skeptical that Perez would revolutionize the party's message.

Trump weighed in on the race as well, attacking the Democratic party and calling the election “rigged.”

“The race for DNC Chairman was, of course, totally ‘rigged.’ Bernie's guy, like Bernie himself, never had a chance. Clinton demanded Perez!” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Still, many Democrats are hopeful that Perez can lead the party forward. Sanders praised Ellison’s fight in the race, and noted the important role Perez has stepped into.  

Perez "has a real opportunity on his hands," he said on Sunday. "And I hope he seizes it."

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press. 

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