Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said Wednesday he’ll resign from Congress if he’s elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), removing a major hurdle to his bid that was viewed as a deal-breaker for many in the party.
Ellison is the early front-runner to be the next DNC chairman, racking up endorsements from progressives, mainstream Democrats and labor groups.
But with the national party in crisis and in need of a dramatic overhaul in the wake of a disastrous election cycle, the desire for a full-time chairman who is not splitting duties on Capitol Hill emerged as a major point of contention to Ellison’s bid.
Those tensions burst into the open at a gathering of state Democratic leaders in Denver over the weekend, when former DNC chairman Howard Dean bowed out of the race but urged members to select a full-time chair.
Several other DNC members publicly challenged Ellison to commit to one position or the other.
Under pressure, Ellison on Wednesday said he’d leave his job representing Minnesota’s 5th district if DNC members make him the next party chair.
“In order to further their commitment and maximize my effectiveness, I have decided to resign as a member of Congress if I win the election for DNC chair,” Ellison said in a statement.
“Whoever wins the DNC chair race faces a lot of work, travel, planning and resource raising. I will be 'all-in' to meet the challenge. I want to thank everyone who shared their views on this issue, and I want to thank Democrats everywhere for allowing me to move through my decision-making process.”
Ellison’s decision removes one barrier to his becoming the next DNC chairman. Both of his rivals for the position – New Hampshire chairman Ray Buckley and South Carolina chair Jaime Harrison – have said they’ll make the position a full-time job and signaled that they’d make an issue of Ellison’s non-commitment on the issue.
But Ellison still faces skepticism from some quarters over whether he’s the right person to lead the party’s rebuilding efforts at this critical moment.
Ellison hails from the progressive wing of the party, and some Democrats privately grumble that the party didn’t lose the 2016 election because they weren’t liberal enough.
And Ellison’s past writings as a young man have come under scrutiny. He once praised the Nation of Islam and its controversial leader Louis Farrakhan, who has been accused of anti-Semitism. Ellison has since rejected those views and said he has changed in the 25 years since the content were published.
But Ellison’s his more recent comments about U.S. foreign policy being overly beholden to Israel have caused a significant political problem for him, and even led to charges of anti-Semitism.
Ellison’s defenders believe he’s been the subject of a smear campaign because of his race and religion. Ellison is an African-American and the first-ever Muslim elected to Congress.
In the field of three, Ellison remains the clear cut favorite. But most Democrats believe other candidates are preparing to jump in.
One source told The Hill that President Obama and Vice President Biden are personally urging Labor secretary Tom Perez to join the race. As a Latino with the support of the popular sitting president, some believe Perez would become the instant-frontrunner.
NARAL president Ilyse Hogue is also considering a bid, as is the DNC’s national finance chairman, Henry Munoz.
Updated 12:45 p.m.