Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez on Tuesday defended the party's primary debate qualifications and nominating process amid accusations that the party is lacking diversity amid its top 2020 contenders.
But in an interview with CNN's John Berman on "New Day," Perez said the party cannot change its rules to ensure minority candidates don't drop out before the nominating process begins, a day after one of the field's most prominent black candidates suspended his campaign after not qualifying for the debate.
"We've set a really remarkably inclusive, and frankly low bar throughout the campaigns ... and I'm proud of that," Perez said. "And as a result of that, we did have the most diverse field in American history. And what we've said every month was that the closer we got to Iowa we would do what we've always done, which is raise the bar."
He continued: "But 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."
Later Tuesday, six Democratic candidates will participate in a CNN/Des Moines Register Democratic debate in Iowa, the final debate before the state holds its caucuses next month. In order to qualify for the debate, candidates needed to meet polling and fundraising minimums, the DNC has raised since the previous debate in December.
The comments from Perez come a day after Cory Booker, one of the most prominent black candidates running for president, suspended his campaign, again drawing attention to a lack of racial diversity atop the Democratic field. Booker's exit leaves just three candidates of color in a race that at one point was largely defined by its exceptional amount of diversity.
The New Jersey senator had criticized the party's rules that kept him from qualifying for last month's debate and was outspoken about the growing lack of diversity on debate stage.
Perez also on Tuesday responded to criticisms lobbed at the party by Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg, who wrote in a CNN op-ed a day earlier that the party's outsized emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire risks ignoring battleground contests. In the piece, Bloomberg said that if elected, he would work to "re-order the primary calendar in ways that better reflect our diverse electorate and channel more resources into" battleground states.
"If you have your first state be a really large state, then ... you're going to reward people who have deep pockets," Perez told Berman. "What we want to do is make sure that our early states are accessible to all the candidates and our early states give opportunities across the board."
"You've got candidates going all over this country, talking to the American people," he said. "The first four states represent only 5% of the overall delegate count, and so yes, you have to have a 50-state strategy to win the Democratic Primary."