Voters Had Their Say And They've Split Control Of Congress
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Nancy Pelosi was the first female speaker of the House and now could be the second.
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NANCY PELOSI: We will have accountability, and we will strive for bipartisanship with fairness on all sides. We will have a responsibility to find our common ground where we can, stand our ground where we can't, but we must try.
INSKEEP: A broad majority of voters across the country removed a Republican House majority that had aggressively protected the president from scrutiny. President Trump still proclaimed victory, a claim that is not entirely without reason since Republicans extended their hold on the Senate. NPR's Domenico Montanaro is in our studios and has been following all this. Hi there, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: How is the House different other than having a Democratic speaker?
MONTANARO: Well, the House, you know, is more representative of the country than these Senate races were, in particular. I mean, these were very conservative Senate races for the most part across the country. With the exception of the Florida Senate race that President Trump's, you know, picked nominee, Rick Scott, won, the rest of them were all very conservative places. That's not to say that that isn't a big win for them to a degree. But it's a major loss, a major blow to the president to lose the House and to have everything that comes with that.
INSKEEP: Everything, including investigations...
INSKEEP: You have the House Intelligence Committee, you have the House Oversight Committee, other committees that will be looking more strictly into the administration as well as whatever legislation they push. But you allude to the Senate there, which is not only more Republican but more pro-Trump. I'm thinking, for example, of Tennessee where Bob Corker, sometimes a critic of the president, is replaced by Marsha Blackburn, who is much less so.
MONTANARO: Absolutely. And look; the power of Trump was pretty clear in a lot of these Senate races. He worked very hard over the last week or two to try to prop up some of these candidates. And it showed that the ardent support that he has still with his base - they're there for him, right? He is one of the most polarizing presidents that this country has ever had. He - you know, some 40 percent of people will say that they strongly disapprove of the president. And that showed up in the House for sure. But in the Senate, they were able to save a lot of those Senate seats and expand by driving out the base.
INSKEEP: So what do Democrats make of this? We're going to bring in Tom Perez. He is chairman of the Democratic National Committee. And he's in our studios. Mr. Chairman, welcome back.
TOM PEREZ: It's always great to be with you, Steve.
INSKEEP: Congratulations to your side. I assume you are celebrating. But what can Democrats do with this victory?
PEREZ: Well, we're going to do a lot of things, not simply in Washington but across the country. We had a historic night in state Houses, flipping seven governorships from red to blue. That hasn't happened in a quarter-century. We...
INSKEEP: Whole bunch in the Midwest - they were from.
PEREZ: Including Michigan, including Illinois, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Maine...
PEREZ: What's the matter with Kansas? They're electing Democrats - Nevada as well. And then six state legislative chambers were flipped - and also broke super majorities in four key legislative chambers. So just to give you that perspective - if you put the special elections from last year in place, we won 30 - 333 state legislative races. And so here in Washington, we're going to fight for a good infrastructure bill. We're going to protect people with pre-existing conditions. We're going to make sure that we hold - in the last week of the election, I heard Republicans saying for the first time they actually wanted to protect...
INSKEEP: ...Pre-existing conditions.
PEREZ: ...People with pre-existing conditions. We're going to hold them to it.
INSKEEP: Well, do you assume that people were voting for your party, or was this really more of an anti-Trump vote, and now you have to prove yourselves?
PEREZ: Well, I think it was a little both. And people - health care is the No. 1 issue across America. We saw that last year when Ralph Northam was elected governor of Virginia. And we see it again yesterday in the exit polling and, for me, more importantly, in our door knocking. We heard that from people everywhere. We heard a lot about education. The reason we have a Democratic governor in Kansas is because her predecessor undermined public education in a big way by starving funding for public education. And so these are the things we're going to fight for here in Washington - again, health care, solid support for public education, making sure we have a strong infrastructure bill.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about, though, some things that did not go quite as well as Democrats would have hoped. In the South, there were a number of high-profile Democrats who tried for more progressive campaigns in traditionally conservative states. I think of Stacey Abrams running for governor in Georgia. I think of Beto O'Rourke running for Senate in Texas. And of course, in Texas, the winner was the person we're going to hear next, Republican Ted Cruz.
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TED CRUZ: We saw an assault that was unprecedented. We saw a hundred-million-dollar race with Hollywood coming in against the state, with the national media coming in against the state. But all the money in the world was no match for the good people of Texas and the hard-working men and women across our state.
INSKEEP: Unpopular president, charismatic Democratic candidate, tons and tons of money, as Ted Cruz says - and it still wasn't enough for Democrats in Texas.
PEREZ: Well, let's put this in perspective. The amount of dark money spent by the Republicans in Texas and in Florida and in Georgia is off the charts. It pales. It dwarfs what Democrats spent. What we have to understand and what we've become, again, is a 50-state party. And am I disappointed in all those three outcomes? Of course, I am. I want to win every race.
PEREZ: But at the same time, we have made dramatic progress in all of these states. We're not at the mountaintop yet. But we are getting closer and closer. And what I take away from this as a civil rights lawyer - civil rights is about persistence. It's about continuing to talk to people. It's about building 12-month-a-year relationships. We saw that happen in Florida. We see that happening in Georgia and Texas as well. And what we're going to continue to do is to redouble our efforts, organizing in every zip code in Texas, Georgia and Florida as we move forward.
INSKEEP: Do you take a signal that Democrats should be more progressive from these results? Because, frankly, a lot of centrists won, as you know.
PEREZ: I think what we have to continue to do is what my former boss Ted Kennedy said. If anyone ever asks you what wing of the party you're from, tell them you're from the accomplishments wing because you want to get stuff done for people. That's exactly what the American people want. They want protection for people with pre-existing conditions. They want to lower the cost of prescription drugs. They want to make sure we protect Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, invest in infrastructure, help our DREAMers. That's what they want - results.
INSKEEP: In a sentence, are Democrats going to be willing to work with this president to get results?
PEREZ: Absolutely. But it takes two to tango. And if he's going to be hostage to his far right, it's going to be hard.
INSKEEP: Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, thanks for coming by.
PEREZ: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.