WASHINGTON — Congress has no shortage of caucuses: the voluntary groups where members meet to advance commonly-held ideas and legislation number nearly 700, from the powerful, active Congressional Black Caucus to the less-powerful, but perhaps equally active Congressional Bourbon Caucus.
On Tuesday, 5th District Rep. Keith Ellison and 6th District Rep. Tom Emmer added one more: the Congressional Somalia Caucus. In a joint statement announcing the caucus’ formation, the lawmakers said, “for us, and the constituents we represent, Somalia is not a far off foreign policy issue, it’s a matter of domestic policy and national security. We are committed to advocating on behalf of all of our constituents while ensuring that Somalia has the tools it needs to create strong democratic institutions that provide safety and economic opportunity to its people.”
Ellison and Emmer might differ in their politics, but each represents a large Somali community.
There were at least 25,000 Somalis living in Minnesota as of 2010. The Somali population is primarily concentrated in Ellison’s Minneapolis district — about 16,000 are there — but there is also a growing community in Emmer’s district, particularly in St. Cloud. That city’s school district has faced scrutiny for years over alleged harassment and mistreatment of Somali students. In April, after Somali students walked out of school in protest, federal Department of Education officials arrived in St. Cloud to meet with educators and students.
Per Ellison and Emmer’s announcement, the Somalia Caucus will aim to “advocate for peace and stability in Somalia by ensuring the United States is providing sufficient and meaningful assistance so that democracy, good governance, and prosperity prevail over terrorism in Somalia.”
In the 112th Congress, 71 caucuses — a plurality — were devoted to foreign interests. The Somalia Caucus joins the likes of Congressional Friends of Denmark and the Congressional Caucus on Turkey and Turkish-Americans. These types of interest caucuses differ in how they function. Some, like the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, have been active in introducing legislation to advance the group’s mission. In January, that group introduced a largely symbolic bill calling on Russia to release a Ukrainian held by Russian authorities. Other caucuses, like the decade-old US-China Working Group, simply aim to educate members.
Members of Minnesota’s House delegation belong to a number of foreign-interest cacuses:
- Rep. Erik Paulsen: Friends of Norway, US-China Working Group
- Rep. Betty McCollum: Co-chairs Friends of Norway and the Congressional Algeria Caucus and belongs to Friends of Canada, Friends of Ireland, Caucus on the EU, Caucus on Armenian Issues, Caucus on the Netherlands, Caucus on Turkey, Sudan Caucus and the Tunisia Caucus
- Rep. Keith Ellison: Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans
- Rep. Tom Emmer: Taiwan Caucus, Korea Caucus and South Sudan Caucus
- Rep. Collin Peterson: Friends of Denmark and Friends of Norway
No other members of the Minnesota delegation have joined the Somalia Caucus yet, but it’s likely that some will.