By Jonathan Easley - 04-20-17 10:19 AM EDT
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said former President Obama is partially to blame for the Democrats' poor showing at the polls in 2016.
Ellison, now the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, blamed Obama for ignoring party politics while he was in office, which he said had put the president's legacy at risk.
"Look I'm a great fan of President Obama. I totally voted for many of the things he supported - Dodd Frank, Affordable Care Act, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - I could keep going," Ellison said at an event Wednesday at the University of Minnesota.
"Wonderful achievements. But Barack Obama could have been a better party leader, and I think the fact that he wasn't put his legacy in jeopardy," he said.
Ellison added that Obama was "great at getting himself elected" but said he should have worked closer with party leaders to ensure the Democrats were in power to protect his accomplishments.
"Your legacy is not a building that he's going to construct in Chicago housing his presidential papers," Ellison continued. "His legacy is the work he's done, which I believe is tremendous. But given we lost a lot of statehouse seats, governorships, secretary of states, his true legacy is in danger, and I think he can't say that he wasn't part of those losses. Who else, right?"
Ellison's criticism comes as the DNC begins the process of rebuilding the national party under the leadership of new Chairman Tom Perez after a disastrous 2016 election cycle.
Democrats are still reeling from Hillary Clinton's loss to President Trump. The party had also hoped to reclaim a majority in the Senate and make inroads into the GOP majority in the House.
Republicans have gained hundreds of seats at state legislatures nationwide since Obama was elected in 2008. Republicans control the governor's mansions and both chambers of the legislature in 24 states.
"He should have been far more out there in 2010, which was a year when we were going to be doing redistricting. He should've been campaigning like he was on the ballot and should have been very visible," Ellison said. "He's great at getting himself elected but should've worked much more closely with Congress, and I think in 2014 we had record low voter turnout ... and I think that too really was a time when he needed to be visible and present and very engaged ... he needed to raise money for state legislative races."
Many liberals believe Obama allowed the DNC to fall into a state of disrepair under his chosen leader, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). Wasserman Schultz stepped down during the Democratic National Convention after WikiLeaks published internal DNC emails that showed staffers favoring Clinton over progressive favorite Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont.
Ellison backed Sanders during the primary, and Sanders returned the favor when Ellison ran to be the next DNC chair.
Perez, a former Labor secretary under Obama who was backed by key figures from that administration, defeated Ellison to become the next chairman. In a show of unity, Perez made Ellison his deputy chairman.
Perez and Sanders are currently on a unity tour aimed at energizing liberals in opposition to Trump and to healing lingering party divisions from the primary.