A Muslim Lawmaker Appeals to Bernie’s Camp to Stop Trump
Rep. Keith Ellison was an early champion of Sanders. But now he’s urging Bernie’s backers to get behind Clinton to defeat what he calls an existential threat: Donald Trump.
PHILADELPHIA — Rep. Keith Ellison is desperately trying to convince fellow Democrats who backed Bernie Sanders for president that it’s time to rally around Hillary Clinton — but he’s finding it tough going.
“You know, supporting a candidate is not nominating them for sainthood,” the Minnesota congressman told an older African-American man in an impromptu debate on the sidewalk in downtown Philadelphia.
Ellison, an early and staunch supporter of Sen. Sanders’s bid for the Democratic party’s nomination, defended his decision to endorse Clinton this month. But his sparring partner would have none of it and pushed back, lumping Clinton in with neoconservatives because of her vote for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Ellison countered that Republican nominee Donald Trump posed a serious risk to the country and had to be defeated.
“It’s not a close call here,” Ellison said, pointing to Trump’s disparaging comments against Mexicans, women, and Muslims.
Despite the intense summer heat, the two kept arguing, even as the congressman’s staff attempted to nudge them both along.
After a few more minutes, Ellison finally threw his hands up. “I can’t say a word — you’ve already got your mind made up!”
The argument underscored the challenge now left to Ellison and other elected officials after this week’s Democratic convention. The four-day event was intended to offer primetime proof of a party united behind Clinton, but has instead been marred by heckling from frustrated Sanders’s supporters and anger over Democratic National Committee emails showing officials trying to undermine the Sanders campaign.
Party leaders are trying to persuade holdouts loyal to Sanders that Clinton represents the best and only chance to defeat the Republican nominee, who Ellison sees as a dire threat to the country’s democracy and traditions of tolerance.
“I’m not aware of any nominee for any major party who’s openly called for religious exclusion, who said, ‘no fill in the blanks can come here,’” he told Foreign Policy.
“It’s racism — there’s no other way to put it.” And Trump has made it “mainstream,” he said.
“This is a clear and present threat to the republic — this should alarm everyone,” he said.
Although it means overlooking some prior disappointments with Clinton, for Ellison, an African-American and one of two Muslim members of Congress, helping her defeat Trump is deeply personal.
Ellison represents Minneapolis, a midwestern city with a Somali community that has been caught up in the heated debate over U.S. counterterrorism tactics, criminal justice reform, and the “Black Lives Matter” movement brought to the forefront by the 2016 election.
Ellison has been critical of President Barack Obama’s homeland security measures, suggesting that the government at times unfairly targets and effectively entraps young, black, Muslim men in his city.
“We know that if you look at all the domestic terrorism in the country, the greater bulk of it is white, right-wing extremist groups,” he said in an interview Sunday in Philadelphia, as he walked to a union fundraiser.
“I’m not saying there aren’t Muslim people who do it; they do,” he said. “But we’ve got to have a budget that better aligns the investment with the threat.”
The public debate over the right balance between civil rights and security is disingenuous, he said.
“They create this false choice: rights or safety,” he said. “Meanwhile, white people seem to not get profiled … It’s not that hard.”
Clinton too has taken Trump to task for his anti-Muslim rhetoric, saying U.S. authorities need to work with Muslim-American communities to counter terrorism instead of alienating them. Ellison said he will be holding any future administration accountable on the issue.
He acknowledged that Sanders had questioned Clinton’s national security judgment, slamming her 2002 vote for the Iraq War. But he said: “I’m comfortable with the fact that she has the benefit of hindsight … I think she is going to approach calls to arms very carefully.”
Ellison introduced Sanders on stage at the convention Monday night, using the moment to focus on the choice presented by Trump. Ellison told FP he is optimistic that voters ultimately will opt for Clinton in November.
“I believe in the American people: we’re going to reject him,” Ellison said. “It hasn’t happened yet, but when we do, it’s going to be something very important for the nation. It’s the haters’ last stand.”
Photo credit: Bloomberg / Contributor