Ellison on losing DNC race: 'It sucked'

Keith Ellison on DNC race: 'I was in it to win it. I wasn't in it to make a point.'

Story highlights

  • Ellison looks forward to what he can accomplish as deputy chair for the party
  • "Stay tuned," he says

Washington (CNN)Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota summed up how it felt like to lose the Democratic National Committee race on February 25 in two words: "It sucked."

"We were hoping to win. Because I'm in it for the people," he told CNN in his first solo interview since the race last month. "I was in it to win it. I wasn't in it to make a point."
Ellison announced he was running for DNC chair after Donald Trump won the 2016 election. He ultimately lost the race to former Labor Secretary Tom Perez in a 235-200 vote. Immediately after winning, Perez appointed Ellison as the deputy chair in a move to fold his supporters into the DNC.
    "I can be helpful as the deputy chair," Ellison said. "I'll lead, I'll follow -- it's all about winning for (the party)."
    Ellison said he was proud of his accomplishments during his race for the seat, including strong support from labor groups like the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and the United Steelworkers, and from advocacy organizations like Democracy for America, Bend the Arc Jewish Action and Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
    He also said 750,000 Americans signed petitions in support of his campaign.
    As deputy chair, he said he plans to help push back on Trump's administration -- but the specifics of the DNC plan are not ready to be released yet.
    However, Ellison did express anger over Trump's new travel ban executive order that was signed Monday and bans immigration from six Muslim-majority countries. The order drops Iraq from the list of countries included in a January measure that was later blocked by a federal court. It reinstates a temporary blanket ban on all refugees.
    "It's a Muslim ban. It's a revised one. It's a lawyered-up one," Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, said about the ban. "The man said he wanted a complete and total ban of Muslims. And then it gets struck down ... and then he comes back a few days later with something else. He is trying to restrict access to the United States because of their religion. The people that it does ban are banned because it's Muslim."
    Ellison, who called DNC opponent Perez his friend "for years," said that as deputy chair he looks forward to reforming the Democratic Party -- but still plans to stay in Congress as well. During the race, he said he'd leave his congressional seat if he was elected to lead the DNC.
    "I think both of us share a belief ... we (have) got to be fighting for the grassroots, and on the national level too. We can't just be a presidential party that mobilizes every four years," he said. "We got to be active."
    As for his future with the Democratic Party, he responded: "Stay tuned."