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Howard Dean On How Democrats Should Move Forward

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

While the Republicans are moving forward towards a legislative win, the Democrats see an opportunity for their party after the victory of Doug Jones in Alabama. We're joined now by former Vermont governor and former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean. Thanks for being with us this morning, sir.

HOWARD DEAN: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. The Democrats, obviously, are hoping to flip Congress in 2018 - a Democratic House and Senate. Do you really think that's possible with Republicans on track to pass a major piece of legislation?

DEAN: Well, the problem is that most of the Republican agenda this year has been unbelievably unpopular with the American people. And the tax bill is no exception. I can't figure out if it's better for the Republicans if it dies or better for the Republicans if it passes. But I'm pretty sure they're not going to be happy. Sixty-one percent of the American people are already against this bill.

And that is because the vast majority of tax relief goes to very wealthy people, including a special provision that was stuck in at the last minute for limited liability cooperations with few corporations, with few employees and a lot of depreciable assets. That is aimed directly at the Trump - that is exactly the kind of business that Donald Trump runs. So this is an - this is basically looting the Treasury, adding a whole lot of debt to our kids, attacking Medicare, which it does, and leaving the middle class out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It will also see many people's taxes go down. That has been what many economists say, as well. It's not - many people will be impacted positively with this bill.

DEAN: No, that's not exactly so. Eighty - or 67 million people will have their taxes go up after five years, not down, because there was no way to pay for this bill, as Congressman Lance talked about. It adds $1.5 trillion, at least, to the deficit. And the way they got around that is - to get around the congressional rules about deficits - is simply to sunset the tax cuts after a five-year period for the middle class people. And their taxes - the average tax for the 67 million people who make less than $100,000 a year is going to go up in five years, not down. This bill is an outrage.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to talk about Alabama. It - isn't the lesson there not that the Democrats can win in a red state but that they can win only against someone like Roy Moore? He wasn't a regular GOP candidate, to put it mildly.

DEAN: No, I'm very optimistic. We've had five or six special elections to Congress. We've lost by an average of about five points in very deep-red districts. Look. I think the public is sick of this. Democrats have got some work to do. What's really fueling all this is the younger generation. They share zero values of the Republican Party. They believe in diversity. They believe in gay rights. They deeply care about the environment. They deeply care in the notion of fair immigration policy. This is not anything like what the Republicans stand for. And you're seeing this again and again and again. And that's what put the - that's what won us Virginia back.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it's interesting that you're talking about young people. A year ago on Morning Edition, you explained the Democrats loss of the 2016 election by saying, our constituent is the union guys and the blue-collar workers. So I think we let them down. But wasn't what we saw in Alabama your most loyal voters, namely African-Americans, leading your party to victory?

DEAN: That is correct. A huge African-American turnout for a special election. It was enormous. I think, also, people in the North and people in the media misunderstand Alabama. The political Alabama leadership is backwards. That's true. But the civic and business leadership in Alabama has been moving Alabama forward for about the last 15 or 20 years. Their manufacturing base has increased. The University of Alabama...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But I'd like to talk about your view on how the Democratic Party should move forward. It seems that it's shifted from 2016. It seemed back then that the focus was on the white working class. And now we hear that black voters really want their social justice issues addressed.

DEAN: There was a debate about the white working class. My view is we should never utter the phrase white working class. Everybody's working class, and those are our voters. And, you know, I think, again, we're speaking about core constituency groups. And that would include particularly women, African-Americans and particularly African-American women, who voted 98 percent for Doug Jones in that election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is that a wakeup call for the Democratic Party to really refocus on their core constituents?

DEAN: Well, yes. But I think they've been doing that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. The map for the Democrats in 2018, as you know, is a hard one. Many have said the Democrats have lacked a coherent message. Do you need one, or should you be running on issues that matter race by race?

DEAN: We should be doing both. We need a coherent message, but in 2018, the message can be we're not Trump. That's why we lost 63 seats when President Obama was president. And then he came back and won re-election. You cannot win the re-election - and we can't win our election for the presidency in 2020 - without a positive message about what we're going to do that's good for America. But right now the outrage that's fueling all this is what - Trump and the Republicans, who don't - you know, the Republicans can criticize Trump. But even Leonard Lance voted 89 percent with Donald Trump as a congressman. So, I mean, they're all going to - you know, all are going to really be in trouble, I think, in this upcoming election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Howard Dean, former Democratic presidential candidate and DNC chair, thank you very much for joining us today.

DEAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.