Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison endorsed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Democratic primary bid in the 2020 election on Friday, arguing that Sanders has the principles and record needed to take on the country’s growing economic and social disparities.
“The most pressing problem of our time is inequality,” Ellison told HuffPost in an interview. “For working-class people, they really can’t thrive and grow in this economy. And Bernie has the best prescriptions now and over the course of time has demonstrated the most consistent commitment to working families.”
Ellison, a former co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, attended the first Democratic presidential primary debates in Miami this week.
Sanders’ influence was evident even on the first night when he was not present, Ellison argued, noting that every candidate had to respond to ideas like single-payer health care and tuition-free public college that Sanders brought into the mainstream with his 2016 presidential run.
“The wealthy in our society are accumulating more and more wealth which they use to influence government and corrupt democracy,” Ellison said. ”We need somebody with the spine to confront it.”
Ellison’s endorsement of Sanders is not surprising. He is a longstanding political and ideological ally of Sanders, becoming the lead co-sponsor of single-payer health care legislation ― commonly known as Medicare for All ― in the House prior to his departure in 2018. The then-Minnesota congressman was one of the first and only members of Congress to endorse Sanders in the 2016 election cycle. Sanders backed Ellison’s unsuccessful run for DNC chair in 2017, as well as his successful bid for Minnesota’s top law enforcement post in November.
Ellison nonetheless adds an influential left-wing voice to Sanders’ team as competition escalates between Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts for the support of progressive primary voters.
Ellison said he had great respect for Warren, who he called “a wonderful candidate.”
“I’m very glad that she’s in the race,” he added.
Ellison, who is African American, became the first Muslim member of Congress in 2007.
He declined to make commitments about hitting the campaign trail for Sanders, citing his job as Minnesota’s top law enforcement official. But he vouched for Sanders’ credentials as a champion of racial justice and religious tolerance.
“Bernie was getting arrested fighting for fair housing in the ’60s ― there are photos of it,” he said. “Bernie has a consistent history.”
He also said he believes Sanders’ policies and record should be more important to voters than his identity as a white man.
“Let’s face the facts ― and this is me talking, not Bernie ― [Supreme Court Justice] Clarence Thomas is black,” Ellison said, referring to Thomas’ conservative jurisprudence. “If all you want is diversity, that doesn’t necessarily tell you what the person stands for. I’d love to see a diverse group of people leading the country, but the most important thing is what that person stands for.”