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Story highlights

Rep. Keith Ellison defends Bernie Sanders' record

Rep. John Lewis said he never saw Sanders during key moments of the civil rights movement

(CNN) —  

Rep. Keith Ellison, Bernie Sanders’ lone supporter in the Congressional Black Caucus, defended the Vermont senator’s civil rights record after Rep. John Lewis said he never saw Sanders at key moments during the 1960s.

“He didn’t see Bernie Sanders because Bernie Sanders was doing fair and open housing in Chicago – that’s why he didn’t see him. No matter how good your eyesight is – if you are standing in Alabama, you can’t see people in Chicago,” Ellison told CNN. “That doesn’t mean he wasn’t absolutely there, fighting for justice, fighting for open housing.”

The Minnesota Democrat effusively praised Lewis, saying, “If he needs a kidney, he should ask me.”

Asked about the vast majority of his fellow Black Caucus members supporting Hillary Clinton instead of Sanders, Ellison brushed it off and said, “I really feel that Bernie is going to win and when he does, you know, we’ll all be supporting Bernie Sanders.”

Ellison said he sought out Sanders when he came to Washington because he sat on the Financial Services Committee and “made friends with him.” The two still frequently talk on the phone about the state of the campaign and are both “political junkies.”

He planned to campaign for Sanders next week in South Carolina. At least a dozen Black Caucus members are expected to fan out across the state to boost Clinton’s campaign in the state.

He pushed back on Clinton’s criticism of Sanders’ policy proposals in the debate on Thursday night as unrealistic, saying her message was “technocratic management” contrasted with “an inspirational, inclusive vision for the nation” from Sanders.

“Pragmatism is not always a good thing. Experience is not always a good thing. Experience should teach you not to vote for an Iraq War where this country has not attacked us,” Ellison said about Clinton.

Clinton’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Ellison’s latest comments.

But Ellison made a point to say Clinton was “a great person and a wonderful public servant” and said she would be “one million times better than the best Republican candidate.” He said he would actively campaign for her if she won the nomination.