El­li­son to forgo seat in Con­gress for top DNC job

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Rep. Keith El­li­son has qui­etly promised la­bor lead­ers that he would give up his seat in Con­gress in or­der to win the chair­man­ship of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, putting him­self out on a limb for the top party job.

The Min­nesota Demo­crat at first hemmed and hawed last month when asked whether he’d make that dra­matic move, but even­tu­ally he told a closed­door meet­ing of AFL-CIO of­fi­cials that if he had to do it, he’d give up his seat in Con­gress, ac­cord­ing to

mul­ti­ple sources fa­mil­iar with the ex­change.

The pre­vi­ous chair, Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz, kept her con­gres­sional job and faced crit­i­cism for con­flicts of in­ter­est be­tween the two roles, and for fail­ing to give enough at­ten­tion to party-build­ing.

That’s left a num­ber of high-pow­ered Democrats say­ing the next chair­man must de­vote more time and send a clear sig­nal their sole pri­or­ity will be the DNC.

Mr. El­li­son, the first Mus­lim elected to Con­gress, has been un­will­ing to go that far in pub­lic, say­ing his work ethic would al­low him to jug­gle his du­ties in Con­gress with those of lead­ing the party, and say­ing the sta­tus of the chair is not to blame for de­pressed turnout that hurt Democrats in the elec­tion.

“I say to folks, ‘Can we keep the main thing the main thing, and dis­cuss that?’” Mr. El­li­son said last month.

His con­gres­sional of­fice didn’t an­swer re­peated in­quiries from The Wash­ing­ton Times over the na­ture of the prom­ise he made to the AFL-CIO at the Nov. 22 meet­ing.

Mr. El­li­son won re-elec­tion in Novem­ber, and since an­nounc­ing his bid to lead the DNC has faced un­flat­ter­ing re­ports about his past calls for a sep­a­rate black state in Amer­ica, ties to Louis Far­rakhan and com­ments about Is­rael, which the Anti-Defama­tion League said were “dis­qual­i­fy­ing.”

As a re­sult, Democrats have won­dered whether the 53-year-old is the best per­son to help the party re­con­nect in 2018 with the work­ing-class vot­ers who aban­doned the party this year.

Con­cerns about Mr. El- li­son have opened the door for his cur­rent ri­vals — New Hamp­shire Demo­cratic Chair Ray­mond Buck­ley and South Carolina Demo­cratic Chair­man Jaime Har­ri­son — as well as others mulling bids, in­clud­ing Sec­re­tary of La­bor Thomas E. Perez and Phil An­gelides, for­mer Cal­i­for­nia state trea­surer and the 2006 Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for Cal­i­for­nia gover­nor.

Mr. El­li­son has also lost some of the mo­men­tum that was fu­el­ing his bid last month af­ter he col­lected en­dorse­ments from in­com­ing Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, as well as Sens. El­iz­a­beth Warren of Mas­sachusetts and Bernard San­ders of Ver­mont, who was backed by Mr. El­li­son in the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial pri­mary.

Buoyed by that sup­port, the Min­nesota con­gress­man met with the AFL-CIO’s po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tee, which also met with Mr. Buck­ley and Mr. Har­ri­son, as it weighed the pos­si­bil­ity of mak­ing an en­dorse­ment in the race be­fore the vote in late Fe­bru­ary.

It was there that Mr. El­li­son, who has a 98 per­cent life­time rating with the ACLU, said if push came to shove, he would be will­ing to step down from Con­gress to take over at the DNC.

Mr. Buck­ley and Mr. Har­ri­son, mean­while, were less wishy-washy in their re­sponses to the AFL-CIO, telling the group — as each has also stated pub­licly — that the job is full-time.

While Ms. Wasser­man Schultz and then-Vir­ginia Gov. Tim Kaine pulled dou­ble duty as party chair, Mr. Har­ri­son told The Times Tues­day the dif­fer­ence this go-round is that Repub­li­cans Don­ald Trump and Mike Pence will be in the White House fol­low­ing eight years of Pres­i­dent Obama and Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den.

“I think the role of DNC chair changes dra­mat­i­cally when we don’t have the White House,” he said. “With that I think it has to be some­one who is will­ing to com­mit 100 per­cent of their time to the job.”

Mr. Har­ri­son said the votes are not there for a part-timer.

“I don’t think any­body can win this chair­man­ship un­less they make a com­mit­ment to serv­ing full-time,” he said.

Fol­low­ing the meet­ings with the can­di­dates, AFL-CIO Pres­i­dent Richard L. Trumka fired off an email to the en­tire AFL-CIO’s ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil, say­ing “it was clear from the dis­cus­sion that, to the ex­tent en­dorse­ments have been made, Con­gress­man Keith El­li­son is the leader,” and adding that “in a straw poll, a strong ma­jor­ity of the Po­lit­i­cal Com­mit­tee in­di­cated that the AFL-CIO should en­dorse Con­gress­man El­li­son at this time.”

The email in­cluded a bal­lot that pro­vided re­cip­i­ents with op­tions of en­dors­ing Mr. El­li­son, mak­ing no en­dorse­ment at this time or ab­stain­ing from the vote.

The dead­line for vot­ing closed Tues­day. The AFL-CIO did not re­spond to re­quests seek­ing the re­sults.

Mr. Trumka’s let­ter sparked a back­lash from other la­bor lead­ers.

Harold A. Schait­berger, pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Fire­fight­ers, ac­cused Mr. Trumpka of boost­ing Mr. El­li­son de­spite a lack of una­nim­ity and qualms about rush­ing into an en­dorse­ment.

“Your at­tempt to pre-or­dain the re­sult by in­clud­ing the name of only a sin­gle can­di­date on the bal­lot is con­temptible,” Mr. Schait­berger said in a re­sponse.

“Iron­i­cally, we, you and others within our move­ment talk about fair elec­tions and al­low­ing democ­racy to flour­ish,” he said. “That’s what we should be do­ing with this process — al­low­ing the potential can­di­dates a chance to get into the race and then weigh­ing very care­fully who will have the backs of our mem­bers and lead the Demo­cratic Party in a way that fi­nally rec­og­nizes the im­por­tance of all peo­ple who work for a liv­ing.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rep. Keith El­li­son, Min­nesota Demo­crat, told la­bor lead­ers he would leave Con­gress if he wins his bid to lead the DNC.

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