STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And you know our political editor, Ron Elving, once made an observation about the presidency. When you're president, he said, the other side may score against you, but every time they do, you get the ball back with a chance to score yourself.
By many accounts, President Trump has had a chaotic start to his presidency, but he gets the ball back tonight with an address to Congress. And the many voices in both parties we're hearing this morning include a man whose new job is to coordinate the opposition. Tom Perez, former labor secretary, has now been elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Perez, thanks for coming into the program.
TOM PEREZ: It's great to to be with you, Steve.
INSKEEP: And congratulations on your win.
PEREZ: Thank you.
INSKEEP: So the president's going to be looking out at a Republican Congress, speaking to a nation where most states have Republican governors. How much trouble is your party in?
PEREZ: Well, we have work to do, and we need a 50-state strategy, plus the territories. And that's what we talked about down in Atlanta last week making sure that we redefine our mission as a Democratic Party, so that we're not simply electing the president, but we're also working to elect people from the school board to the Senate across the nation. And we saw that happen in Delaware this weekend where a state senator got elected and tipped the balance to the Democrats there.
INSKEEP: You just said 50-state strategy which is a phrase that Howard Dean, your predecessor from about a decade ago used a lot, and he was talking about competing in red states of which there are many. Do you have a real way to do that?
PEREZ: Well, absolutely. You look at what happened in Kansas. Donald Trump won by 14 points, and they picked up 14 seats in the state legislature because there's radical social engineering going on by Governor Brownback.
In Alaska, for instance, the House of Representatives flipped democratic. When we invest in the states, and when we have an every-zip-code strategy, we can succeed because our values and our message - I think it resonates with the American people. We are the party that fights for Medicare. We're the party that fights for Social Security. We're the party that fights for good wages, and we have to communicate that.
INSKEEP: Although, you're fighting against a president who says he wants to preserve Medicare, preserve Social Security. Is he taking some issues away from you?
PEREZ: Well, that budget will not allow him to preserve Medicare and Social Security. He talks the talk, but they don't walk the walk. He's talked the talk of I'm going to help the little guy, and the first thing he does - or one of the first things he does on January 20 is to take executive action to make it harder for first-time homeowners to buy a home.
A few days later, he's making it harder for people to save for retirement. We implemented an overtime rule at the Department of Labor, and he's seeking to roll that back. So he talks the talk, but the reality is he's not draining the swamp. He's filling it with billionaires.
INSKEEP: Harder to save for retirement - you're referring to that fiduciary rule about financial advisers which the president wants to get rid of. Is that your...
PEREZ: And that was the rule - he's trying to get rid of that rule because he said it's hard for his friends on Wall Street to comply with it.
INSKEEP: Well, I'm sure he would phrase it differently, but I understand exactly what you're saying. Now, the president gave a little bit of a preview of the address to Congress today in an interview with Fox News which is being broadcast this morning. And this question of the president's budget came up in that interview.
He was essentially asked how are you going to pay for everything? How are you going to pay for a drastic increase in defense spending which is said to be a big part of the budget? And he said, well, he's going to do it through economic growth. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think the money is going to come from a revved-up economy. I mean, you look at the kind of numbers we're doing. We were probably GDP of a little more than 1 percent. And if I can get that up to three or maybe more, we have a whole different ballgame.
INSKEEP: Little bit of a fact check there. The economy is growing faster than a rate of 1 percent, but it's not growing massively. And if the president is able to improve it somewhat, could he make the budget balance or get closer to balance?
INSKEEP: His numbers simply don't add up, Steve. You look at what's happening, and, frankly, budgets are moral documents. You know, when you look at those budgets, they reflect the priorities of the nation. He wants to slash the EPA by 25 or 24 percent. He wants to cut entitlements. The Affordable Care Act, people are beginning to learn, is not simply a job. It's not a job killer. It's a lifesaver. And that is what it's all about.
And the president wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and you know what happens? The Affordable Care Act was funded in no small measure by a tax on wealthy people. And so when you repeal the Affordable Care Act, you're not only putting lives at issue, you're giving a massive tax break to people who don't need it. And so this budget doesn't add up. The priorities are misplaced. And that is why Democrats are getting so much momentum across this country.
INSKEEP: Now, Mr. chairman, as you know, the Republicans in Congress have been struggling to come up with a proper alternative to Obamacare, something that they want to agree on as a replacement. Would you help us understand the Democratic approach, the Democratic strategy here? Are Democrats in Congress willing to work with Republicans on a replacement that they would find acceptable? Or is the strategy going to be to vote no on everything and make Republicans come up with all the votes themselves?
PEREZ: Well, the reality is the Republicans don't have a - they don't have a replacement This is a repeal. And when you repeal, what you're saying to people like Ward who I met, a long haul truck driver who in 2015 March 1 got his coverage, on March 15 got his liver transplant. And when I asked him what do you want to do now, Ward, that you have your life back? He said I want to work again. That's what the Affordable Care Act has done. It has been a lifesaver for people. And when you are trying to repeal something that has created access to health insurance for so many people, that makes no sense. And that's why we're fighting against it.
INSKEEP: Tom Perez is the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. chairman, thanks for coming by this morning.
PEREZ: Pleasure to be with you.
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