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Politics & Government

Democrats To Meet Friday To Finalize National Party Platform

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now we're going to talk about differences among Democrats and a sign that the party might be coming together. The other Democrat in the presidential race, Senator Bernie Sanders, was on Capitol Hill yesterday talking about unity.

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BERNIE SANDERS: We are working with Secretary Clinton on some initiatives. I hope we can reach agreement on them sooner rather than later.

GREENE: The Democratic Party leadership will be meeting tomorrow to finalize their national party platform. That committee writing it includes six members who have endorsed Secretary Clinton and five who endorsed Senator Sanders. We called one of those Sanders supporters, Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, to find out how far apart the two sides remain.

Well, Congressman Ellison, welcome to the program. Thank you.

KEITH ELLISON: Great to be on the program. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So when it comes to this party platform, it sounds like there has been a good bit of agreement. I wonder how you're feeling heading into these final meetings.

ELLISON: You know, I feel that this is the most progressive Democratic platform that I've ever had the privilege to study. There are some things we don't necessarily have unity on yet. But I emphasize yet because I think we will get there. And there's also some things that we weren't able to get in the platform yet that is ironically Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton do agree on for...

GREENE: Like what?

ELLISON: Well, like the Transpacific Partnership.

GREENE: The TPP, the big trade deal that...

ELLISON: Yeah.

GREENE: ...President Obama supported.

ELLISON: So Secretary Clinton agrees that the TPP is not the right direction for the United States and so does Senator Sanders. But because President Obama supports it, some people don't want to take an explicit position in the platform against it.

GREENE: And isn't that reasonable, if this is a president United States who is from your party?

ELLISON: No, I don't think that's a reasonable position. But let me just say, first of all, I am a huge fan of President Obama. I think he's done so many great things. But, I mean, look, Democrats don't agree with the direction the United States has been taking on trade. We can only count 13 House Dems who support the TPP. And if you look at the overwhelming masses of Democratic just regular members across America, they don't favor it.

GREENE: Let me move onto another issue that I know is very important to you, and that's the minimum wage. The platform draft includes a $15 minimum wage support of that from the party. Did you get the language you wanted there?

ELLISON: No. We wanted language that reaffirmed 15 and also put in indexing. I think that language did not make it in.

GREENE: And indexing is tying minimum wage to make sure it increases with inflation as time goes on.

ELLISON: Yes. I mean, there's a lot of other things that are indexed that well-to-do people benefit from. I think we should at least index the minimum wage to inflation.

GREENE: How hard are going to fight to get that extra language in there?

ELLISON: We're going to - we fight for what we believe in. And if we lose, we lose. But we don't ever, ever play ourselves cheap.

GREENE: Well, Senator Sanders has said he is holding back on endorsing Hillary Clinton until some issues are worked out. I mean, is this one of the specific issues we're talking about?

ELLISON: Well, I think they're working it out actually. But I tell you, I'm one of those people who does support the position that Senator Sanders is taking because I think at the end of the day, people go to the polls not because they're enamored with a personality, but because of the issues that the party is standing for that animate them. I mean, as much as Senator Sanders is a charismatic wonderful guy, I think what really drove his campaign is that he stood for the issues that people really need somebody to stand for. So I think that it is in the best interest of Democrats generally to get the issues that are really resonating with the people out there.

GREENE: And are you close enough to an agreement that we should expect an endorsement from Senator Sanders sometime very soon?

ELLISON: I don't speak for Senator Sanders. But I can tell you this, I don't think there's any need for people to worry about who Senator Sanders is going to be supporting. I mean, I think it's pretty clear that he is all on board to help defeat Donald Trump. And I think that he has expressed admiration for many positions that Secretary Clinton has taken. I think that they have a friendly relationship. And I think people who are worrying oh, when is he going to say the E word. I don't think that's...

GREENE: Endorse.

ELLISON: ...Worth worrying about. I think it's fine. And I'm sure that by the time Philadelphia comes and goes, we will all be solid.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you about Hillary Clinton. The director of the FBI James Comey said that she mishandled classified emails, essentially, this week, seeming to contradict much of what she had said about that private email server. Should voters trust her?

ELLISON: Yeah. I mean, I do. I think that - look, here - this is a woman who literally millions of dollars have been spent to try to besmirch her reputation. I think that Hillary Clinton is an honest person. That's my opinion. The issues that Bernie Sanders fought for resonated more closely to my own, which is why I supported him. But if she ends up being our Democratic nominee, and it looks like she is, then I would be very honored to support her. And, you know, she's done a lot of good things, like State Children's Health Insurance, like SCHIP. That's a great program. She helped lay the groundwork for the Iran deal. She visited the whole globe. She advanced women's rights. I mean, there's a lot of good things to say about Hillary Clinton, in my opinion.

GREENE: Can we use the E word and say that Congressman Keith Ellison is now endorsing Hillary Clinton for president?

ELLISON: I think you could say that I'm for sure going to vote for her and I will be campaigning for her. And - but I'm going to hold my powder dry on the E word until Bernie does. So - but I think that when he does, I clearly will. And I think that she'll be a great president.

GREENE: All right. We'll leave it there. Congressman, thanks so much for the time. We appreciate it.

ELLISON: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.