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New DNC Chairman On The Next Few Years Under Biden

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The new chairman of the Democratic National Committee is on the line. Jaime Harrison of South Carolina was President Biden's choice for the job. He is a former U.S. Senate candidate who lost to Senator Lindsey Graham, but not before raising a lot of money and also telling Graham in a debate to, quote, "be a man and own up to his flip-flops." Mr. Chairman, welcome to the program and congratulations to you.

JAIME HARRISON: Thank you. And good morning to you.

INSKEEP: What is the opportunity for the Democratic Party at this moment?

HARRISON: It's about building for the future. Listen. You know, I think what we have gotten - the rut that the Democratic Party has gotten into over the past years is we just thinking about the two-year cycle instead of thinking about the long term. We are going to embark upon a course to build for the future of the Democratic Party. I want Joe Biden, when he decides to leave the presidency, to be known as the best party builder that we've ever seen. And I think we have the ability to do just that.

INSKEEP: Well, you mentioned the two-year cycle - not to knock you off your game - but there are Democrats who are already worried about 2022. There are Republicans I've talked with who are kind of eager for 2022. Congress is very closely divided. Very frequently the incumbent president doesn't do well. His party doesn't do well in the midterms. And if you lose just a few seats, you lose Congress. How much danger is there of that again?

HARRISON: Well, 2022 is extremely important for us. And listen, history is not on our side, but this is the thing that I've learned just this past election cycle - you can make your own history. You know, we had a history in Georgia of not winning Democrats, not winning runoff elections. Well, not only did we win one, we won two runoff elections. There's also the history of incumbent presidents always getting reelected. For the first time in almost 30 years, we changed that history as well. Donald Trump was not reelected.

And so we can make our own history. But in order to do that, we have to organize, organize, organize - lay the foundation, embed ourselves in these communities, make sure we express the victories and the promises that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were - are able to keep through their legislative work. And if we do that, I feel good and bullish about where we go in 2022.

INSKEEP: How important is face-to-face personal contact with voters to make sure they're engaged and show up at every election?

HARRISON: It's really important. And listen. I learned that lesson when I ran for the United States Senate. Because of COVID, we weren't able to do the things that we traditionally do in terms of ground operation and organizing and being with the voters. And as a result, I think many of us were not able to pull it over the finish line. But Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and the Georgia Democratic Party and Stacey Abrams, LaTosha Brown, they demonstrated that you can do that face-to-face, but do it in a safe manner - in terms of COVID - and at the same time get the voters to the polls. And so we're going to learn those lessons and take those lessons that we've learned and apply them to this election cycle.

INSKEEP: When you talk about the future, Mr. Chairman, I have to note the president is 78. The speaker of the House is 80. The Democratic leader of the Senate is 70. We could go on for some time like this. Do you feel you know where the next generation of Democratic leaders will come from?

HARRISON: Well, I turn 45 in February. We got...

INSKEEP: Well, there we go so, OK. Go on.

HARRISON: We got Stacey Abrams in Georgia, who's in her 40s. You know, there is a great bench of Democratic talent. And what part of my job is, is to make sure that I'm working with my sister committees to foster and develop the next generation of talent in our party. And we'll do just that.

INSKEEP: Sister committees - meaning state party committees?

HARRISON: State party committees, but also the DCCC, the DSCC, you know, we're...

INSKEEP: Oh, the Senate and Congressional, right?

HARRISON: Yes, it's important for them to do the recruitment, but I'm going to be there to assist and aid in that. You know, candidate recruitment and building the next generation of leadership is something that I'm really passionate about. It's what I did in South Carolina, and I hope to do that on the national level as well.

INSKEEP: One of the thing - you are a former aide, some people will know, to Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who famously endorsed Joe Biden, helped him win the South Carolina primary, turn around his campaign, drive him to the nomination. And our colleagues on the NPR Politics team have written of your selection as chairman that this highlights the influence of Jim Clyburn. Do you agree with that?

HARRISON: Well, Jim Clyburn is a great, great man. He's one of the last of the real giants coming out of the civil rights movement. And so he has a lot of influence. And when he speaks, a lot of people listen. And so I'm proud to have known Jim Clyburn and to learn everything I know in politics because of him.

INSKEEP: In a sentence or two, has he given you any advice about your new job?

HARRISON: One of the things he always told me, he said, Jaime, you can either be a workhorse or a show horse - be a workhorse.

INSKEEP: Mr. Chairman, thanks so much. Good to talk with you.

HARRISON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Jaime Harrison is the newly chosen chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.