Keith Ellison - The Future of the Democratic Party - Extended Interview

February 6, 2017 - Keith Ellison 02/06/2017 Views: 57,025

Rep. Keith Ellison discusses his bid for DNC chair and talks about what Democratic lawmakers need to do to put economic equality at the forefront of the party's platform. (19:27)

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Please welcomeCongressman Keith Ellison!

-♪ -(cheering and applause)

-Welcome to the show. So beforeyou say anything, -Thank you.

before you go anywhere,I want to play this clip

that always reminds me of you.

Anybody, uh, uh, fromthe Democratic side of the fence

who-who, uh, thinks that...

who-who's terrifiedof the possibility

of-of President Trumpbetter vote,

better get active,better get involved,

because this manhas got some, uh, momentum

and, uh, we better be readyfor the fact

that he might be leadingthe Republican ticket.

-(laughter)-I know you don't believe that,

-but I want to go on to...-Sorry to laugh.

-Next week... -You know,George, we had Jesse Ventura

in Minnesota winthe governorship.

Nobody thought he was gonna win.I'm telling you,

stranger things have happened.

(cheering and applause)

I-I only have one question.Like, if that happened to me

on national television andthat I was as right as you were

about Donald Trump, like,that would be my ringtone.

Do you... do you bragabout that today?

'Cause you werecompletely right.

Well, you know, I wasn'tthe only one completely right.

I think that, um... I thinkyou might've called that one

-yourself a little bit.-Yeah, but I was crazy,

'cause I was from,like, not here.

So, I mean, it's different.You're a congressman.

Yeah, Michael Moore called it,uh, Van Jones called it.

People saw it coming. I mean,look, you got to be talking

about the issuesthat are pressing

-for American working people,-Yeah.

and you got to be talkingdirectly to them as well.

And I don't think we werereally doing much of either one.

And so it was... came up andwe... and it hit us really hard.

-I mean, you've got to campaignin Wisconsin. -Yes.

You know, in Kenosha, Wisconsin,

uh, they used to have-have$25-an-hour jobs.

Plant went down, left,and now folks are ear...

hoping to workat the Amazon plant for $13.

And they're just havingtough times.

And this is going onall over the country--

Midwest, South-- andif you're not speaking to that,

you're not speaking to them,and it leaves a-a billionaire

who's always abused workers ableto run right in there.

And that's just what happened.

L-Let's talk a little bitabout the Democrats

and the plan moving forward.

We see every single daywhat Donald Trump is doing

and dragging the Republicansalong willingly,

-you know, them-them joining in.-That's right.

But the question is,what are the Democrats doing?

Is there a plan?Is-is there a mission statement?

Is there an ideathat goes beyond, "Bad Trump"?

-Right. -Is there somethingthat the Democrats are planning

for 2018and for the next election?

Well, let me tell you,I think we've got to unify

and coalesce a lot more,but there have been

some valiant individual efforts.

I like what Bernie Sanders

and I likewhat Elizabeth Warren are doing.

-I think, uh... I think that...-(cheering and applause)

Honestly, what Chuck Schumer'sstanding up, uh, on this...

on this Supreme Court thingis a very stand-up thing to do.

I thinkChuck is doing a great job

and deserves some applauseas well.

-(cheering and applause)-And, um...

But that... but that, for you...Is that... Even though...

I mean, at some point,you have to acknowledge

-the symbolism of it.So you go... -Right.

The Democrats do not havethe numbers

to permanently block that seat,so is it just about going,

"We are blocking youat all costs--

it does not matterwhat we can and cannot achieve"?

I think we've got to fight himat every turn,

no matter what the outcome is,because...

Look, you know, there isa very smart politician.

Her name is Mary Ellen Otremba,

and she was froma very rural part of Minnesota.

She said, "Keith,people do not always expect you

"to be successful, butthey expect you to be faithful.

"They expect you to fightevery t... every day for them

and to never stop tryingto make their lives better."

And once we say,"Well, we're not gonna win,

-so we're not gonna fight,"-Yeah.

that's how we end uplosing confidence.

That's how come people feellike, uh, we don't have

any fight in us or any gutsor any backbone.

And we got to showsome backbone.

Like when-when John Lewis

led us on the House flooragainst, uh...

-on the... on the, uh,firearm issue, -Yes, yes.

-(cheering and applause)-I mean, people... Look.

I mean, people said,"Hey, you know,

"this is what we're looking for.We know that you don't have

the numbers,but do you have any fight?"

And that is what theDemocratic Party has to show,

courage, conviction, that wereally mean it when we say it,

so that when we saywe're for working people,

they say, like,"Yep, we believe that."

Do-do you think there wasa little bit of complacency

in the party, looking at,you know, the polls

looking at Hillary,looking at the fact

that Trump was laughed atby most of the mainstream media?

I think that the problems oflast November started long ago.

-Yeah. -We have lost about athousand state legislative seats

across the country since 2008.

We've lost governors,we're down to about a third.

We've lost state legislators.

And this is whythey can pass right to work

for less in placeslike Kentucky,

places like New Hampshire,Missouri.

This is why, in New Hampshire,Kasich is signing laws

to take a woman's rightto choose away.

This is whyso much pain is going on

across the state, our states.

These really bad photoI.D. laws, which are designed

to do nothing but take people'sright to vote away,

passed in well over 30 states

because we've been losingfor eight years,

not just in November.

What is the path back?

Be fierce fighters for workingpeople every single day.

Never beon the other side of...

So fight for Social Security,

fight for the right to organizein a labor union,

fight for better wages,fight for fair trade deals.

Make sure that you are...

And then, don't justfight for those things.

Go to people and talk directlyto them and listen to them.

Go to the VFW hall,go to the union hall,

go to the diner and say,"What is going on in your life?

What would you have us doto fight for you?"

If we do those things,we will win.

But we can just hopethat we get a fumble from Trump.

I mean,we've got to have a plan,

-and we've gotto be out there swinging. -Wow.

(cheers and applause)

It's... it's interestingthat you've said more than once,

-"the working voters."-Yeah.

And, I mean, what I'm picking upbetween the lines

is you almost saying

the Democratic Party needsto realign itself

with the peopleas opposed to the corporations.

Yeah, that's what I'm saying.

-(laughter, applause & cheering)-Yeah. I... -Do you, like...?

When you look at the party...

Let's look at it throughthe lens of the DNC race...

-Sure....that's coming up.


So, a lot of young peoplewere really disillusioned

by what happenedwith Debbie Wasserman Schultz,

where you sawthe backdoor dealings

of people tryingto sabotage Bernie Sanders.

You saw, you know, aninstitution that, on the face,

seemed likeit was open to everyone,

but did favor one partyover another now.

Everyone has excusesfor why that happened,

but that's whata lot of young people saw.

And one thing a lot of peopledidn't like was the idea

that money was still controllingthe Democrats, even though

it was what a lot of peoplewere trying to fight against.

Is this something that isachievable going forward?

Can the Democrats truly bean organization

that is not controlled by money?

Absolutely, and we've...

One of the most important thingswe have to do is show people

that the Democratic Partyis theirs.

They own it.

You know, whoever, you know,

pays the piper calls the tune,right?

And if the American people feellike this is their party,

and they're going to send their20 bucks in to fund this party,

we'll have morethan enough money.

I mean, Bernie provedthat you could fund

a presidential campaign27 bucks at a time.

-I mean, it's doable. -Yeah.-(applause and cheering)

And... and you can do it.

And even Trump showedthat you can fund a campaign

one small-dollar donations.

So this has really gotto be our emphasis.

And we have got to make itvery clear that if you have...

that if you're seekingsome sort of a...

-some sort of favor...-Yeah.

...and that is whyyou're donating and giving,

that that's not the kindof money that we want,

because we don't mind peoplebeing generous and giving to us,

but we don't want themgetting us

into some sort of atransactional relationship...

-Uh-huh. -...where we've gotto now handle...

we can't fight, you know,corruption on Wall Street,

we can't fight corruptionin the pharmaceutical industry

becausesomebody's hooking us up.

This cannot...

We have got to havean unfettered,

unrestrained path toward helpingworking people every single day,

and they need to know that.

And you know what, Trevor?I'm gonna tell you.

A lot of well-to-do peoplebelieve the same thing.

I mean, they donate,but they get very frustrated

when Democrats don't stand upand fight.

So this is really nota 99 versus one percent thing.

It is all of the peopleversus people

who have an interest,a financial stake

in the outcomeof which party wins.

And the Democratic Party needsto get on the right side

and align with the people.

-You are someone who wantsto run the DNC... -Yup.

...which is insanein most people's eyes.

-(laughter)-It's like...

No. It's, like,why would you want that job?

-Yeah, I hear you.-You know, if you look at it...

For instance, coming up in 2018,you have ten senators

who are in Trump states,

-you know, places that havevoted for Trump. -True.

And then you have one...

So these are ten Democratic senators in Trump states.

-Sure. -And thenyou have one Democratic...

one Republican senatorin a Hillary state.

It feels like those stateswill turn on those senators,

and then, as the next headof the DNC,

whoever's in that positionwill immediately take an "L,"

you know, will losein that situation.

Why would you want that job?

Isn't it a taskthat seems impossible for now?

Absolutely not, and let me tellyou why it's not impossible.

Because it's not so much that...

of who people voted forlast time,

but it's who didn't vote at all.

We can go to all those statesyou mentioned

and find literallymillions of people

who had the right to votebut for some reason

didn't make it to the polls--because they were not inspired;

because they somehowwere not engaged.

-Yeah. -And if we go engage themand we go talk to them,

they will come out.You know, let me ask you,

would p... if wecalled for a summer canvass

in all these states,would people turn out

and help us knock some doorsall over America?

-(cheering, applause)-Would they show up? -Yeah.

Would they...

you know, would they goto the VFW Hall?

Would they go to the union hall?

Would they stand outside thegrocery store and get voters?

If we call for it,they would do it.

And this is what we have to do,we have to say, look,

we care just as much abouta voter who might be infrequent

as we do a voter who is...who votes every time.

-Yes. -We carejust as much about a voter

in a red state or a blue state

as we doin a so-called swing state.

The problemwith the Democratic Party

is we ignore red state,blue state,

and we ignore, uh, the votersthat are infrequent,

and we only talkto the swing state voters

who are likely, and that's whatall the models are based on,

and whenever they're wrong,we lose.

That's why we lost Michigan,that's why we lost Wisconsin,

that's why we lost Pennsylvania.

We should be winning Ohio,

we should be winningNorth Carolina,

but we got to play,we got to be fighting,

we got to be in theretalking to people

-about what they care about.-What's weird, though,

is you talk about fighting,but it seems like

within the Democratic Partythere is a cold war of sorts.

-You know, let's look at yourrace, for instance. -Sure.

You know, I rememberwhen the race started up,

and it was Keith Ellisonand there was...

versus, uh, Perez.


the fight, strangely enough,felt like--

and you can correct meif I'm wrong--

but it felt like there wasno real objection to you

other than the fact that...

you weren't what peopleconsidered in the establishment.

You weren't, you know...

-I'm with the people.-Was-was there...

No, but, I mean, but genuinely.That's what it felt like.

-(applause) -Yeah, yeah.-That's what it felt like.

So, because the two of you havevery similar views.

The only difference is,you know,

Perez is someone whohas been more in the mainstay

and you are someone who has not.

If it were to go to Perez,do you think the party

would still be able to mobilizein the same way,

seeing as you shareso many views?

Well, let me tell you,Tom is a good friend of mine.

I admire him.He's done a lot of good things.

Uh, and if I don't win,I will help him.

You know, uh, that'swhat I have to say about that.

But if I do win,

I'm gonna be callingon him and everybody else

to go knock on every doorin America

and to call on peopleto run for office

who maybe never thoughtabout running before.

There's a young womanwho is a good friend of mine--

she's actuallyin our audience tonight.

She came out to see...I don't know where...

-Kim, where you at?-Oh, Kim's over there. Yeah.

-There you go.-(cheering, applause)

And I was... and I was like,"Hey, Kim, you know,

"what if you ran for office,what if you got involved

in training organizers?"

And-and she's beenin corporate America, right?

But we're talkingabout people who, uh,

who were in corporate Americabut now they're like,

"Look, what can I do?How can I get out there?

"What can I doto make a difference?

"I don't want to just letTrump's America roll by

-"and roll over everybody.And I got skills -Mm-hmm.

that I can contribute,and I'm not doing it."

And, you know, I have a staffer,young woman named Mitra.

She says, "Keith,I'm running for office."

I said, "Well,we're gonna make sure you do."

And I had two young staffers,Erin Maye Quade

and Fue Lee-- now they areRepresentative Erin Maye Quade

and Representative Fue Lee.

And they asked mewhen I met them, you know,

I asked them,"What do you want to do?"

They said, "I want to runfor office like you."

I said, "Well,we're gonna train you,

and we're gonna make sureyou get out there."

And now they swore their oath,

and they are killing itout there

in the Minnesotastate legislature,

fighting every single dayto help people--

new Americans, you know,working class Americans,

veterans, uh, you know, women,people of color, everybody.

Well, let's talk about it.I've got to let you go soon.

I could talk to you for hours,because I... it's...

it is refreshing and it isan interesting proposition.

Here's an honest questionthat I have for you.

In 2006...

-when you were being sworn in...-Yep.

you asked to be sworn inon the Quran,

-Yes, I did.-not on the Bible.


Which is... allowed.

-Yep. Sure.-And, in fact,

I believe the Quranthat you used

-was owned by Thomas Jefferson.-You are right on both counts.

-(woman whoops)-All right. But at the time...

Yeah, you see,people are shocked.

-(cheering, applause)-But at the time...

people were like,"Who is this man

"who is against our country?

Who is this man who is defilingAmerica and what it stands for?"

People just ignore the ThomasJefferson part, the Quran part.

But I go, do you thinkthat America is ready?

Because you cannot denythat you are a Muslim man.

-I am... I am that. -You cannotdeny that there are some people

-even on the Democratic side...-Sure.

who may be like,"Yeah, I like him, but...

"am I ready to havethe Democratic Party run

by a Muslim man?"

Do you think that Americais ready for that?

Absolutely. And, you know,Americans are, uh...

(cheering, applause)

Americans are...are really fair-minded people.

Americans know that the C...

You know, in the first clauseof the first amendment

of the Constitution, it says,

"Congress shall make no lawestablishing a religion

or abridgethe free exercise thereof."

Later on in the Constitution,it says, "Congress shall not

set up a religious testfor people to hold office."

It is... You know, America...The found... the framers

of the Constitution gotrace wrong, got women wrong,

got Native Americans wrong,but they got religion right.

Because they saw these warshappening in Europe

and around the world,people killing each other

over some different religiousideals, and so they

put it in the Constitutionthat you have freedom of faith.

You can worship as you please.I think Americans know that,

and when somebody saysAmerica is a Christian country,

even Christians are like, "Well,what kind are you talking about?

"Do-do I have to be your kind

-Yup. -or can I bethe kind I want to be?"

And so this is somethingthat I think,

if we appealto people's best nature

the noblest idealsthat people hold,

we will-we will absolutely,uh, reas... rai...

not just get common ground,

boy, we gonnago to higher ground.

We're gonna help peopleunderstand

-that, um... (clears throat)-(cheering, applause)

Okay, l-last thing, last thing--I've got to let you go,

they-they keep...But I got to let you go.

This is the one thingthat I-that I... Like I said,

I could keep you here for anhour. Um... Here-here it is--

-so, I understand the ideals.-Sure.

One of the biggest failingsthat I find-- and I-I wonder

if this is something you pick upor if Democrats

are aware of that--is that, beyond fairness,

beyond equality,what is the goal?

You know, Joe Biden

had a great quotethat I-I had here somewhere.

It was, was a fantastic quote.

He said... he said,"You can't eat equality."

And it's a powerful quotethat spoke to something,

and that isit is-it is very easy

for people to saylet's be equal, let's...

But when people are starving,people go for themselves.

-Yeah.-So beyond equality,

beyond identifyingand uniting people,

what is a plan thatcan be put in action,

what is a plan that you seethe Democrats pursuing

that can win working people,

-that can win students,that can win people -Sure.

who don't feel likethe system works for them?

Well, you know, the Democraticparty has always been

standing on two legs,

and one of themis working people's prosperity.

Here's what I mean.Franklin Delano Roosevelt

saw our countryin a great depression.

People were massivelyout of work,

ag prices were in the toilet,it was tough times for all.

And so he helped lead ourcountry to a place

where we'd have social security,labor rights,

we'd have a minimum-wage,

we'd have basic prosperityfor working people.

That's the FDR legacyand that's that prosperity

that, uh, we're talking about.

But, you know...And even Martin Luther King

talked about it--he said what does it matter

if you cansit at the lunch counter

-if you can't afforda hamburger? -Mm-hmm.

But then... but then it's alsotrue that in the 1940s,

'50s, '60s, '70s, America...

and under the...under the leadership

of the Democratic party said,"You know what,

'liberty and justice for all'has to mean something."

And people fought and died,

were murdered, had dogs,water hoses, everything,

in order to establish the idea

that we are all... that all menand women are created equal.

And so we are about...not just, uh, liberty

and not just about justice,

but we're talking aboutliberty and justice... for all.

Justice, to me, justice meansyou're treated fairly

and also meansthat you are given a shot,

in this economy,to be successful.

And so those two ideas ofeconomic inclusion and fairness

and being treatedwith respect and dignity,

two core ideasof the Democratic party,

those ideas are betterthan Republican ideas

that are basicallythat, you know,

rich peopledo not have enough money

and poor peoplehave too much money.

That's basicallywhat they believe in.

-And they...-Or they don't try hard enough.

Or they don't try hard enough.They're lazy,

they're morallynot where they should be.

But the thing is,if you say we got to cut taxes

and regulation for the rich,you're saying

they need more money.And if you're saying

we got to cut food stamps andpublic schools and health care,

uh, for-for poor people, you'resaying they have too much money.

-Mm-hmm.-And so what I'm saying

is that's a lie. I believemost Americans believe that.

56% of Americans

have less than $1,000

in their checkingor savings account.

I'm telling you. And by the way,

18 million white peopleare in poverty.

So it's not justa racialized thing.

It really... it is a sharedreality that we're all facing.

And if I'm DNC chairman,we're gonna go to Kentucky,

we're gonna go to West Virginia,we're gonna go to Alabama,

we're gonna go to Fresno,California, we're gonna go

-everywhere across this country-(cheering, applause)

and we're organize people andwe're gonna get 'em involved

and we're gonnaget veterans involved.

We... we need organizersand we...

Let me tell you,it's not a one-person thing.

You know, the fact isnot everybody can do everything,

but everybody can do something,

and that means everybody'sgonna have to figure out

how can I pitch in, and that'swhat I'll be leading...

-(cheering, applause)-It's gonna be an exciting time

for the Democrats,for the Republicans,

for the country. Thank youso much for being here.

Congressmen Keith Ellison,everybody.

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