The New York Times on Tuesday published an article portraying the Obama White House as skeptical of Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison’s ability to lead the Democratic National Committee. Ellison, who endorsed Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary and is viewed by many as a sort of Sanders proxy, declared his candidacy earlier this month, emphasizing a need to prioritize grassroots organizing.
The Times article signaled that the establishment of the Democratic Party is opposed to Ellison’s bid for DNC chair, and laid out an argument questioning the congressman’s ability to lead the party.
One of the article’s two authors, Maggie Haberman, was on an ABC News panel with Ellison in July 2015 when he suggested that Donald Trump might end up “leading the Republican ticket” and that there was a real possibility of his capturing the presidency. Haberman burst out laughing:
The Times article claims that Obama’s White House is “uneasy with the progressive Mr. Ellison,” and that it has “begun casting about for an alternative, according to multiple Democratic officials close to the president.” It notes that some senior Democrats are backing Labor Secretary Tom Perez and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm — both of whom were Clinton surrogates during the 2016 election — for the top DNC spot instead.
The piece also notes some of the concerns about Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, that have been aired in recent weeks: He has left-wing views on the Middle East conflict; in his youth he had some affinity for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan; and he would be a part-time, not a full-time, leader of the DNC.
The Anti-Defamation League, an influential Jewish American group with right-wing views on the Middle East, is quoted saying that while Ellison isn’t anti-Semitic, he has taken positions on Palestine “on which we strongly differ and that concern us.” No Arab American or progressive Jewish American groups are quoted, even though the Jewish anti-occupation group J Street has defended him and he has been a close ally of the Arab American Institute.
The sources for the article’s assertion of White House unhappiness with Ellison are all anonymous. Wikileaks disclosures of emails sent to Clinton campaign chair John Podesta revealed that Haberman, who formerly worked for Politico, was seen as a reliable conduit for the Clinton team. In a January 2015 email, campaign spokesman Nick Merill wrote, “We have has [sic] a very good relationship with Maggie Haberman of Politico over the last year. We have had her tee up stories for us before and have never been disappointed.”