Top Democrats Line up Behind Progressive Keith Ellison for Party Chair

The Minnesota congressman is a well-known liberal.

ByABC News
November 11, 2016, 11:14 AM

— -- New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, slated to take over soon as the Senate's Democratic leader, is backing progressive Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison to be the new chair of the Democratic National Committee, according to Schumer’s staff.

Schumer and Ellison “spoke yesterday," Schumer spokesperson Matt House told ABC News. "Without a Democratic White House, Schumer’s view is the DNC is where grassroots organizing in sync with legislative battles should be organized.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders announced yesterday that he too supports Ellison, who was one of only a handful of congressmen to back Sanders during his presidential primary bid. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in an interview Thursday that she thinks Ellison would be “terrific” for the job.

Progressive grassroots organizations such as ‘People for Bernie’ and ‘MoveOn’ have been quick to lobby for Ellison too and are circulating petitions.

If Ellison wins the post, which could be decided as early as next month, it would signal a significant shift by the party toward embracing a Sanders-style progressive agenda in the wake of a bruising election loss that has left Democrats with a massive identity crisis. In some ways, Clinton’s loss emboldened the party's left-wing members, who argue that their candidates and message excited voters more than hers and that they are more prepared to take on a Trump presidency.

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, has not formally announced that he wants the job, but has said he will make an announcement of some kind on Monday. The congressman met with activists Thursday night about the election results and possible next steps.

“We can present a very clear alternative to the American people as to what we could have if we organize and engage,” Ellison said. “We have to use the First Amendment ... to oppose Trump and Trumpism at every turn.”

Donna Brazile has been the acting chair of the party's national committee since the Democratic National Convention in July, after Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in the wake of emails posted by Wikileaks. Ironically, any thought that Brazile may stay on was wiped away this month, before the election, when the most recent emails posted on Wikileaks appeared to show that she too may have helped the Clinton campaign when she was active with the party committee but before she was acting chair.

Besides Ellison, other possible candidates for DNC chair include former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean who announced on Twitter that he was throwing his hat in the rang to take the job again. Dean held that post from 2005-2006, employing what he called a “50-state” strategy that attempted to put even traditionally red seats into contention, reaping tremendous success with Democrats taking control of the Congress that year.

In addition, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a former presidential contender, said he was “taking a hard look” at the role too.

According to the emails posted on Wikileaks this month, many of Clinton’s top advisers seemed to like former Michigan Governor Jen Granholm for the job of DNC Chair. Other names floated include New Hampshire Party Chair Ray Buckley and South Carolina Party Chair Jamie Harrison.

Even beyond the attention to who will chair the party committee, both Sanders and Warren have made a point of being visible in the press and to the pubic during this week when so many other Democrats have stayed out of the spotlight.

Sanders said during an interview with CNN Thursday that he understands voters are angry about, what he calls, a decline of middle-class jobs. “But we have got to channel that anger against the people who caused the decline of the middle class and so many people living in poverty, not take it out on our neighbors, who may happen to be Muslim or Latino or women. That is demagoguery.”

Sanders’ aides says he will not rule out another run for the White House in 2020, but they acknowledge that he would be 78 then and his health may be a variable. As for now, the Vermont senator is not planning to challenge New York Sen. Chuck Schumer for the position of Senate minority leader that becomes vacant with the retirement of Nevada Sen. Harry Reid at the end of the year. But Sanders' team confirmed that he is looking for ways to take on a leadership role during this turbulent time for Democrats and progressives.

“I think he can play a big role,” Sanders’ spokesperson Michael Briggs told ABC News. “He really connects somehow with people … they are looking for leadership.”

Warren gave a stern, passionate speech to AFL-CIO union folks Thursday, where she argued that Democrats' first job in the “new era” is to stand up to Trump’s “bigotry.”

“There is no compromise here … Whether Donald Trump sits in a glass tower or sits in the White House, we will not give an inch on this, not now, not ever,” she said.ABC News' Ben Siegel contributed to this report.

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