Rep. Keith Ellison's vision for the Democratic Party

Rep. Keith Ellison, U.S. House District 5
Rep. Keith Ellison, U.S. House District 5
William Lager | MPR News graphic

MPR News host Tom Weber continued his conversations with members of Minnesota's congressional delegation during their April recess when he spoke with 5th District DFL Rep. Keith Ellison on Wednesday.

Ellison is also the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Party chair Tom Perez appointed Ellison to the post after he lost his own bid to lead the Democratic Party after last November's elections.

Here's what the congressman had to say on a few key issues.

• On the direction of the national Democratic Party

Ellison said the Democratic Party needs to shift from a party that over the past eight years has focused intently on the presidential election, and national races in key swing states and districts, to an organization that competes in "every state, every county, every precinct."

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"We're doing all of that," he said. "We're every race, all over the country, all the time. It's a big re-envisioning of what the Democratic Party is supposed to be."

The strategic goal of the party, Ellison added, is to reconnect with the grassroots activists, and to let their voices determine the direction of the party and the policies it fights for.

The key for the future he said is to convert that grassroots energy into electoral victories.

"We're in this mess because we lost elections," he said. "Not just one. Over a thousand. The way we're going to get out of it is by winning all those elections back, and even more."

• On Democrats' game plan as the minority party in Washington

"I would say the goal is not to exist to fight Trump, and it's not to exist to figure out a way to work with Trump," said Ellison. The priority, he said, is what the American people need.

He said Democrats will fight for better paying jobs, well-financed public education, infrastructure and retirement security.

"Our responsibility is to make sure we're always asserting a positive vision, so people don't make the mistake of thinking we're all wrapped up in our opposition."

• On a looming budget showdown

Congress has only five days when it returns from recess next week before federal spending authority is set to expire.

Ellison said he anticipates another budget fight, which will include health care dimensions. But he doesn't think there's an appetite in Washington to shut down the government.

He said he believes Republicans will need Democratic votes to pass a continuing budget resolution. And he said Democrats would only vote for a so-called "clean" resolution, one that funds the government, but doesn't include any controversial policy riders.

• On primary elections

Ellison said the Democratic Party will not choose sides in primary elections. Leaked emails last year showed the committee favored eventual Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

"The base expects the party to be utterly neutral," Ellison said. "No matter what, nobody should ever find an email that indicates that the DNC is not calling it straight down the line for every primary candidate."

To hear the full segment use the audio player above.