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Ellison remarks prompt warning from Barney Frank

Some pointed questions by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison recently earned the Minnesota Democrat a rebuke from a powerful Democratic chairman.

The incident occurred Nov. 7 during a debate in the Financial Services Committee on a bill to give $100 million in affordable housing grants to four urban renewal groups: The National Urban League, the Raza Development Fund, the Housing Partnership Network and the National Community Renaissance Program.

A Georgia Republican, Tom Price, offered an amendment to bar the grants from organizations whose leaders gave money to political campaigns. Price implied that such groups were reaping a reward for campaign contributions — and that the groups in the bill, which work for a predominantly urban, minority constituency, align with the Democratic Party.

That raised a few Democratic eyebrows, including Ellison’s.

“Who on this committee do you believe is a political friend of the groups here?” asked Ellison, a freshman who represents the Minneapolis area.

“There’s not anybody who could say with a straight face that the four organizations identified here clearly have an allegiance to friends on your side of the aisle more than on my side of the aisle,” Price responded. “We don’t feel the love from these organizations, if I may.”

“Are you accusing an organization of corruption?” Ellison countered.

“I’m trying to clean up the potential for corruption,” Price said.

Later in the debate, Ellison went a step farther. “I can tell you the effect of this amendment is that people who receive benefits… would think that they were being singled out for their ethnicity,” he said. “I know the gentleman isn’t doing that, because for me to say that would be to imply something about motives, and I would never do that. But I think that the effect could send a very wrong message that I would not want associated with any party in this Congress, Republican or Democrat.”

Price protested that it was the underlying bill that had singled out the organizations, but just as Ellison sought to reiterate his point, he was cut off.

“The gentleman will please show respect not just for the letter of the rules for the House but the spirit,” boomed Chairman Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat not known for his patience, referring to a prohibition on ad hominem comments.

Later, Ellison stressed he did not question Price’s motives, but he called the amendment “ill-conceived.” Asked about a racial overtone, Ellison said: “I was telling him it would have that effect.”

Price’s office declined to comment for the record, and Frank did not return requests for comment.

The Price amendment was voted down after lawmakers, including many Republicans, pointed out that it would violate the First Amendment right to free speech. The underlying bill was eventually approved, and it now awaits consideration before the full House.

You can watch the markup by going to house.gov. The debate on the amendment begins just before the two-hour mark.

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