Congressman Keith Ellison (MN-5) held a house party on December 17 at the Minneapolis home of Erwin and Doris Marquit. The event was also hosted by Dave Holets and Nancy Arneson. It was a fairly relaxed affair and found the progressive Representative discussing many issues, including the recent budget fight in Washington as well as some major upcoming foreign policy issues.
Rep. Ellison spoke first before taking some questions from the twenty or so gathered guests. He first spoke about the budget fight over the sequester, describing what he thought were the good and bad aspects. He lamented that the Congress would only “lift the sequester” because the military was starting to feel the bite of budget cuts. Rep. Ellison spoke of his leadership in the Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives, saying he wanted to elevate its profile so it’s passing legislation and not just a “debating society.” Rep. Ellison also spoke kindly of the recent fast-food labor strikes across the country. He said these movements were fueled by the same type of activism as the Occupy movement and stated that we “need a massive economic transformation in this country.” Rep. Ellison said that “America has never been richer” but still the federal government seeks to cut Medicare and Social Security. He also called for an “expansion of the safety net” and spoke of his efforts to raise the minimum wage for federal workers. He also said it was a “shame” that we “tolerate these conditions” such as inequality in this country. At the end Rep. Ellison did mention the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, a major “free” trade deal that many international corporations are pushing and said that “150 members of Congress signed a letter” against the agreement.
Rep. Ellison then took a few questions from the group, which was comprised of DFL activists and supporters. The first question regarded the recent gerrymandering of congressional seats perpetrated by the Republican Party. Ellison cited North Carolina and Ohio as examples of this but said that people are starting to see the trend. He said the solution to this is more activism and organizing on the ground, but also pressure on President Obama.
The next question regarded how to turn another congressional district in Minnesota progressive. Rep. Ellison said he thought the best chance here was in the second district (currently held by Representative John Klein). Ellison promoted Mike Obermueller, who ran unsuccessfully against Klein in the previous election cycle, as a viable candidate. He said “people tend to listen to people who help them” and also disparaged Rep. Klein as a “lazy” candidate who barely campaigns and uses corporate money for his advertisements.
The next question concerned foreign policy: more specifically, a two-state solution the Israel/Palestine issue. Rep. Ellison discussed the current negotiations with Secretary of State John Kerry but said Prime Minister Netanyahu is “hypocritical” on the settlement issue. He said he took a trip to the region in the summer, visiting many areas not part of the “official” delegation trips. He spoke of his visit to Hebron, where he said “1,800 Palestinian shops” had been shuttered. He also stressed the need to tap into the Israeli citizenry, who are angry with their government over the occupation. Ellison said that “Congress is not helping," but that solving this issue is in the American interest.
The final question dealt with the situation in Syria. Ellison stated that the civil war there was “worse than ever” and the “worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.” He also stated that the refugee crisis is in desperate need of a solution but that there also needs to be a peace negotiation there.
Congressman Keith Ellison represents Minnesota’s fifth congressional district. He did confirm at this house party that he will be seeking re-election in 2014.