Obama fingerprints at DNC?

Former President Obama’s White House political director is informally providing strategic advice to leaders at the Democratic National Committee (DNC). 

David Simas, who is now CEO of the Obama Foundation, is close with DNC Chairman Tom Perez and has been in regular contact with Sam Cornale, a top adviser to Perez.

A source who has been involved in the transition said Simas has provided strategic advice on hiring decisions.


The new chairman has asked for resignation letters from most DNC staff as he begins the process of building his own team, although so far the DNC has only unveiled its communications team.

The talks with one of Obama’s most prominent political aides underscore the delicate line walked by the DNC as it charts a way forward after a divisive presidential primary battle last year.

Any conversations between Perez and political figures who are viewed as being part of the establishment can be greeted with suspicion by liberal Democrats, who want to see the DNC stocked with progressives after the organization tilted the scales in favor of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: The center strikes back Democratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE and against Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: The center strikes back Sanders against infrastructure deal with more gas taxes, electric vehicle fees Sunday shows - Voting rights, infrastructure in the spotlight MORE (I-Vt.) last year during the presidential campaign.

Perez, Obama’s Labor secretary, was seen as the former president’s favored candidate in the race for the chairmanship earlier this year. Progressives were disappointed when he defeated Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who ran with the support of Sanders.

A spokesperson for the DNC downplayed the conversations, saying Simas is not advising in any official capacity and that talks with Perez represent just a small part of the input the chairman is taking from Democrats across the country as he seeks a path forward for a party devastated by its loss of the White House in 2016. 

“Hundreds of people from across the country have given input, volunteered their time, or sat down with Tom and other DNC officers to help rebuild the party,” DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement. 

Some liberals also say they’re not concerned about the conversations — as long as the DNC changes its operation.

“Tom Perez can talk to whoever he wants,” said progressive activist Jonathan Tasini. “The more critical measure is looking at whether he will clear the decks and purge the party of the whole class of consultants and self-promoters, from the sleazy David Brocks to the various people pocketing big bucks who shake down campaign committees and super PACs, all of whom have failed miserably over a decade if you look at the party's woeful state at every level.”

Others argued that it makes sense that Perez, a former Obama administration official who has no formal electoral experience of his own, would seek advice from seasoned political hands.

“They’d be smart to listen to folks who have experience with this sort of stuff,” said a former DNC official.

But other liberals expressed concern that former Obama officials could have too much influence over the DNC’s direction.

“Hopefully it’s just Perez taking advice from as many sources as possible, but it also looks like the DNC did not learn any lessons from 2016 that the party needs to be rebuilt by grassroots liberals, not from the top down,” one progressive told The Hill. 

Perez, Ellison and the DNC have gone to great lengths to signal the party is coming together after last year’s divisive primaries.

Perez tapped Ellison, a progressive favorite and rival DNC chairman candidate, to be his deputy chairman. Perez and Ellison have already hit the road together for campaign-style events seeking to capitalize on liberal energy ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

Perez will venture out with Sanders later this month on a nine-state tour to push progressive policies that the former Democratic presidential candidate championed during his campaign. 

Liberal groups have been happy to see Perez attend their resistance events, as he did last month when MoveOn rallied outside the White House against President Trump’s ban on immigrants coming from Muslim-majority countries.

“The Perez-Ellison team has been more real than I thought it would be,” the former DNC official said. “I think they’re serious about fully integrating the Democratic Party.”

There have been stumbles along the way.

Last month, progressive groups aired their frustrations with the DNC after it announced a 30-member transition advisory committee, believing the roster needed more liberals. 

But some Democrats believe the left was well-represented on a committee that included labor activist Ai-jen Poo, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), union activist Brian Weeks, Black Lives Matter figure DeRay McKesson, former American Federation of Teachers aide LaToia Jones, and former DNC chairman candidates Pete Buttigieg, Sally Boynton Brown and Jehmu Greene.

That has frustrated some mainstream Democrats, who believe no amount of concessions to the left will ever be enough.

“I think there’s some groups where the advocacy is not a means to an end; it’s a means in perpetuity,” one well-connected Democrat told The Hill. “They’re just contrarian, and nothing you can ever do will be enough.”

Perez has since met personally with representatives from Progressive Change Campaign Committee, as well as several other liberal groups, like MoveOn and the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

“The lines of communication are open and we’ve had initial conversations with chairman Perez about what a win-win partnership with grassroots liberals might look like, as opposed to top-down outreach,” said Kait Sweeney, the spokesperson for PCCC.

“He is committed to rebuilding our state parties and we hope that process respects the millions of liberal activists taking action in the Trump era,” she continued. “They’re engaged now and they don’t wake up thinking about the DNC. These people have to be brought into the party and we hope the DNC will genuinely engage with progressives groups that have experience mobilizing millions because that would be a win for everybody.”

-- This story was updated at 11:31 a.m.