The Fine Print
Keith Ellison stands out on Capitol Hill.
The Minnesota Democrat is the first Muslim elected to Congress, and now is only one of two. He leads a progressive caucus in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. And he’s not afraid to break out the guitar that he keeps in his office, even playing a few chords of a song for his interview with “The Fine Print.”
When it comes to his religion, Ellison says his fellow members of Congress have generally been respectful but that there have been “a few crazy incidents.”
“Recently, you know, a member said Muslim Americans are not condemning terrorism enough,” Ellison says, referring to a comment made by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R–Kan., that implied that Muslims were being “potentially complicit” in acts of terror if they did not speak out against them.
“And I said, 'well, let me guarantee you, Muslims are condemning terrorism every day all the time ...' and I gave him a whole list, and he said, 'Thanks for telling me, I didn't know, I won't be saying that again,'” Ellison says.
As Muslims across the world celebrate the month of Ramadan, Ellison says he doesn’t “agonize” over fasting from sunrise to sunset in observance of the month considered holy in Islam.
“Ramadan is a wonderful time of year for me,” Ellison says. “It’s the time to reflect. ... Your hunger is supposed to remind you that there are people who are fasting involuntarily all over this world.”
But in order to keep up with his busy Congressional schedule, Ellison says he does try to limit his physical activity.
“I think what you do is you dial your energy level back just a tad,” he said. “Instead of running, you walk -- you know, stuff like that.”
Ellison, who was elected in 2006, is among the most progressive members of Congress and serves as co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He says he’s proud of the progressive issues that President Obama has been able to accomplish during a time of deep divisions on Capitol Hill.
“People wanted to do comprehensive health care and this president got it done,” Ellison says. “This president speaks up for a increase in the minimum wage, and is a real champion of immigration reform.”
Asked if Obama has been enough of liberal, Ellison replies that he instead views him as a centrist.
“You look at poll data and things that are considered liberal that Americans want by large margins: background checks on gun purchases ... raise the minimum wage,” Ellison says. “All types of things that the American people are very strongly in favor of in large numbers, uh and ... for him to say he wants those things is a centrist position.”
To hear more of the interview with Ellison, and to hear him play a few chords on his guitar, check out this episode of “The Fine Print.”
ABC's Gary Westphalen, Betsy Klein, Jim Martin, and Gary Rosenberg contributed to this episode.