WASHINGTON – Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez defended the committee's commitment to inclusion Tuesday amid criticism about the lack of diversity when six Democratic candidates take the stage in Iowa for the seventh primary debate.
When the field had roughly two dozen candidates, it included six women and seven nonwhites. Tuesday, every candidate on the stage will be white, though that includes two women and a gay man.
Perez told CNN on Tuesday that the DNC set "remarkably inclusive and frankly low" bars to entry for the debates. "As a result of that, we did have the most diverse field in American history, and I'm proud of that.
"I take a back seat to no one in my commitment to diversity and inclusion," Perez said.
The DNC raised the criteria to qualify in each debate. For the first debate, which took place in Miami on June 26 and 27, the candidates had to have at least 1% in three national or early state polls, or 65,000 unique donors. For Tuesday's debate in Des Moines, the standard rose to 5% in four national polls, or 7% in two early state polls, or 225,000 unique donors.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. – who dropped out of the race after failing to qualify for Iowa, the second consecutive debate he didn't make – told CBS News on Tuesday that he was "very concerned" about the lack of diversity on the debate stage.
"The Democratic Party, which represents the true rainbow coalitions of America, has got to do a better job of getting more candidates running at all levels," Booker said.
Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who is still running but failed to make the cut for Des Moines, said in a statement Tuesday, "Tonight, six candidates will take the debate stage, all remarkable public servants. Yet tonight America will not see herself in full. … The debates have stopped either showcasing the field or representing the nation. … Surely the leadership of the Democratic Party must now see that the criteria chosen have not served to demonstrate to Democratic voters or to the nation the breadth and depth of diverse talent in the field."
Tonight, America will not see herself in full on the debate stage, but we must ensure issues facing people of color stay in the forefront as we address our future. Democrats cannot win in November without voters of color, and more importantly, neither can America. Full statement: pic.twitter.com/njFu1h6s6Q— Deval Patrick (@DevalPatrick) January 14, 2020
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who made the cut for December's debate but not Tuesday's, called for changes in the thresholds to make the debates.
"It's both an honor and disappointment to be the lone candidate of color on the stage tonight," Yang said last month.
"Why am I the lone candidate of color on this stage? Fewer than 5% of Americans donate to political campaigns," he said. Yang argued that if more people had disposable income to donate, the field would be more diverse.
Perez stood by the criteria.
"We made the rules, they were very transparent, they're very inclusive, and we can't change the rules midstream because there's a candidate that I wish were on but didn't make the debate stage," Perez told CNN.
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Perez said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. – who is both an African American and Indian American woman – would probably have qualified for the Iowa debate had she not dropped out of the race.
The DNC chairman said the large number of people seeking the Democratic nomination was a factor in keeping people out of the debates.
"We've had a large field this year, and as a result, we have sitting senators who weren't able to make the debate stage," Perez said.
Perez argued that regardless of the racial makeup of the candidates in Tuesday's debate, the Democratic Party has a "long track record of fighting for diversity and inclusion."
"All you need to do is look at the photo of the House Democratic Caucus and the House Republican Caucus and you know which party is going to continue the fight to make that diversity and inclusion is part of who we are," he said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democratic debate: DNC head Tom Perez addresses lack of diversity