President Trump will deliver his second State of the Union address Tuesday at a time when he's facing mounting political problems that have besieged his administration. The president's approval numbers are just now starting to show signs of recovery from the devastating hit he took during the record-long government shutdown that emboldened Democrats and exposed divisions within the GOP. The sting of the shutdown has been exacerbated by special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into his presidential campaign's ties to Russia, with the probe nearing a boiling point.
Fox News Radio's Marie Harf sits down with Chair of the Democratic Committee & a guest of Speaker Nancy Pelosi tonight Tom Perez and got his thoughts on what he expects to hear tonight.
Marie Harf: [00:00:12] Welcome back to this very special edition of Benson & Harf on State of the Union night. We've been talking about it all evening with Democrats with Republicans. I've been giving you all some of the history of this night. And as I've told you I am a political junkie. So despite the fact that some people complaining about the state of the Union I will always love it. I will love everything about it except I probably won't love all of the policies discussed tonight. But I love the whole idea that every year the president has to tell the nation what they want to do. And I think that's a good thing. I am very very excited for our next guest. I think first time on Benson and Harf the chair of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez later this evening he will be at the State of the Union as a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and he made some time to join me on the show tonight. Thank you so much sir for joining the show.
Tom Perez: [00:01:08] Oh Marie it's great to be with you and with your listeners. It's an honor to be going there tonight. I do agree with you on the institution of the state of the Union. And I had the privilege of President Obama's labor secretary of having a near front row seat. So it's something I'll never forget.
Marie Harf: [00:01:28] Of course now I get chills whenever they announce the president coming in into the well and I think it's just good for the country to have this. Although as I said tonight is going to be a little bit of a difficult one to watch. In many ways I think because of what we expect President Trump to say I want to get from you as the chair of the Democrats first. What do you expect to hear tonight. And what would you hope to hear if you could maybe tell the president some ways he could possibly reach across the aisle.
Tom Perez: [00:02:04] I would love to hear unity and hope. But what I expect to hear if history is a guide is fear and division because that's been his that's been his M.O. from the campaign through governance. You manufacture a crisis at the border to deflect attention from the real issues of health care and making sure people get a good wage. You have the run up to the midterms. What did we see in the run up to the midterms. The caravans the caravans the caravans distraction. I would love to see an inspiring message of unity and inclusion but that doesn't play well to his base. The fear and division has been his M.O. And what Democrats are going to talk about and I'm so excited about Stacey Abrams historic presentation here in black history month is that she will talk about hope and she will talk about the optimistic inclusive inclusive vision of the Democratic Party. We believe that health care should be a right for all not a privilege for you if you have diabetes you shouldn't have to worry about whether you're going to lose your health insurance. You shouldn't have to worry about the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs. We believe that all youngsters should be going to a neighborhood school that's going to prepare them for the future and we believe that we ought to have access to the ballot box and that's why Stacey Abrams is such an important messenger tonight for our message of inclusion and opportunity for everyone.
Marie Harf: [00:03:41] Absolutely I think she was a wonderful pick to deliver the rebuttal. One thing I want to focus in on is this issue of tone because a lot of the specifics of policies get lost in these states of the Union addresses. But a lot of the tone really comes through and one of the things we've seen with President Trump is consistently as you mentioned a fearful tone. It was American carnage at the inaugural. We hear him talk about all these threats some real some perceived some not real. And when you contrast that with already the people we see running in the primary on the Democratic side as you know better than anyone. It's a growing group of people. But what really struck me about all of them is their sense of optimism that we can do better. And they seem so positive in that message is just something we haven't seen because we're so used to President Trump's tone.
Tom Perez: [00:04:37] Absolutely. When you put hope on the ballot I think that's when Democrats do well and when we allow people to divide our nation through fear we don't do so hot. My former boss your former boss Joe Biden used to say to me we're only as optimistic as our leaders were never were never more optimistic. And would you have leaders who set that tone of optimism and that false optimism but optimism right that we can build a better America that we can summon the better angels that we can ensure a better healthcare system that ensure a better education system that we can ensure clean water and clean air and an America where you are judged by the content of your character not the color of your skin. That's the America that works for everyone. When we make sure that prosperity is shared and not just prosperity for a few at the top. That is an America that works for everyone and that's what all the candidates are talking about. You mentioned the large field and I welcome that large deal. And what they all have in common is that sense that America can do better. It's that sense of optimism that we can summon those better angels and they all understand that this campaign is not about them. It's much more than them. It's about our democracy and it's about restoring our democracy. And if there are 15 people in the race 14 are going to make it to the mountaintop. But you know what. I'm confident that all of them will be very supportive of whomever the nominee is.
Marie Harf: [00:06:15] And will contribute I think to a discussion in a debate inside our party about where we want to take some of these issues and I think that's a really healthy debate. I want to ask you a question about the economic message because I hear from Trump supporters or Republicans who aren't even independents who aren't supporters of the president necessarily but they say look the economy's doing pretty well. Wages now are finally starting to tick up and I usually respond with sort of a version of Yes but the economy needs to work for everyone and it's not. But I want to hear from you what the Democratic Party message is going to be coming out of the state of the union really heading into 2020. How do we respond to people who say I have more money in my stock portfolio. I kind of likes the tax cuts although I didn't love them. What are you going to do for me as a party. What's your response to that.
Tom Perez: [00:07:06] Well I'd love to be one of those people who has a stock portfolio and I'd love to be one of those people who got one of those big tax cuts. But the reality is that there are tens of millions of Americans for whom our stock portfolio is a distant dream. Yeah they're living paycheck to paycheck. Their car breaks down and the bills are dollars they don't know how to pay that. They have a trip to the emergency room and they're on the road to bankruptcy. They need to get medication for their diabetic condition and they're trying to figure out how to pay for it because it went up 300 percent or whatever that astronomical figure was. And the reality is our North Star for Democrats is what you describe. Shared prosperity for everyone and prosperity requires access to quality health care for everyone. Prosperity requires access to affordable prescription drugs. Prosperity requires access to schooling that enables you to punch your ticket to the middle class it requires clean air and clean water. It requires access to the ballot because if we can't participate in our democracy then we are lesser people in a lesser land. And that is the defining difference. I was I was Flomax when I heard Mitch McConnell say that we shouldn't have a holiday on election day. These Democrats are just trying to get more people to vote and more eligible people to vote with that.
Marie Harf: [00:08:46] Exactly. No I was actually just going to take the conversation there because I was I was very hopeful that the first bill out of the House included this issue of making Election Day a national holiday. I don't understand how anyone could complain that more people are able to vote. I just I'm totally flummoxed as you are.
Tom Perez: [00:09:06] It makes no sense well it doesn't and here's how here's how here's how it's important to understand this. Democrats believe that we should make it easier for eligible people to cast their ballot not simply on election day but to early voting. Read Vote by mail and other innovations that have really helped to raise turnout. Republicans believe that they want less people to vote and don't take my word for it I could play for you a 41 second video or audio right now from a guy named Paul Weyrich who is a founder of the modern conservative movement. This isn't a speech from last year. This is a speech from 1986 the 41 second snippet in which he talks about how I don't want more people to vote I want less people to vote. We Republicans do better when less people vote. That is there. Oh and that is why they have spent so much time investing in secretary of state races. Stacey Abrams tonight Speaker I'm convinced that she lost the governor's race back in 2010 when Brian Kemp got elected secretary of state because he systematically made it harder for many people to vote disproportionately people of color. And that is how he was able to quote unquote win the election in 2018. That's unconscionable that's on Americans and that's illegal. And that's why we need to work like heck to frankly elect more secretaries of state and elect more Democrats writ large and we did it in 2018. We made real progress but we have more work to do.
Marie Harf: [00:10:51] Absolutely. And also also state legislatures I mean when we talk about redistricting that issue I know that you all at the DNC have really focused on down ballot races I know you did in 2018. It's like it's the less sexy stuff than the presidential obviously but as you know better than anyone. This is really where we need to help rebuild the party. Right.
Tom Perez: [00:11:12] The most important change we made at the DNC when I came here is we changed our mission statement. Our mission is to elect Democrats up and down the ticket from the school board to the Oval Office to exactly what we worked on we did it in partnership with many other entities. And as a result of that in state legislatures there was that game for Democrats of almost 400 seats. In 2018 there were seven state legislative chambers that were flipped from red to blue. The last time we flipped this many governorships from red to blue as we did in 2018 was 1982. That's a big deal. And that's why we're that's why we're making progress and I love the remarkable diversity of people being elected across this country. Look tonight at the panorama of the new U.S. House of Representatives with a Democratic majority. That's what America looks like. And that is very exciting.
Marie Harf: [00:12:18] DNC Chair Tom Perez he will be at the State of the Union later this evening as a guest speaker Nancy Pelosi. We really appreciate you taking some time to come talk to us tonight. This is what this is like the mini Super Bowl of politics after a presidential election. So thank you for taking your time and enjoy or enjoy the spectacle of the speech later and we'll look forward to hearing Stacey Abrams response and also what Democrats say just in general coming out of the speech tonight because you know there's one thing we know about the president. He's a little. He can be unpredictable and what he ends up saying.
Tom Perez: [00:12:52] Some people call it unpredictable some people call it unhinged that.
Marie Harf: [00:12:56] I have used both of those words. I am sure on this very show. DNC Chair Tom Perez thank you so much for joining us tonight.
Tom Perez: [00:13:03] Thank you. Have a good day.
Marie Harf: [00:13:04] You too. We are going to take a break. We will be right back after this. You're listening to CNN.