Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) defended removing references to “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI) from his campaign website this week amid criticism that the change was apparently made due to pressure from his top financial backer.
Hedge fund investor Bill Ackman, who announced Sunday he will donate $1 million to a PAC backing Phillips’s Democratic presidential run, said the congressman’s use of the term was a “mistake” Tuesday.
The references to DEI on Phillips’s site were changed to “Equity & Restorative Justice” after Ackman’s remarks.
Phillips in a CNN interview Wednesday denied that Ackman had told him to make the change.
“I believe in diversity, I believe in equity. I believe in inclusion. But what has inclusion done for the Black community in this country?” he said. “What have both parties done to close the racial wealth gap? I want to take it a step further. I made that change to restorative justice.”
Phillips said the change was not sparked by pressure from Ackman, but rather part of a process of “education.”
“Nobody buys me,” he said. “If a donor came to me and told me to do something, I will tell the donor to go pound sand. That’s the truth.”
“I’ve been learning from so many people over the last two months about a lot of things I wasn’t aware of,” he added. “Mr. Ackman is one of them, one of thousands of people that have shared perspective. He has not asked me, told me, informed me to do anything at all.”
Phillips blamed the media for making the issue more than it is.
“Am I being educated by Mr. Ackman and many others on both sides of this issue and every other one? Yes,” he said. “And frankly, I wish more members of Congress would get out of Washington, stop the nonsense and start listening to everyday Americans who are saying that costs and chaos and the racial wealth gap is intolerable, and they are sick and tired of the promises that are never kept.”
Phillips said Monday he would consider a Cabinet position for Ackman if his long-shot White House bid is successful.