Find all of our Election 2020 coverage and other candidate interviews here. More interviews will be added as the election draws closer.
The Congresswoman seeks to heal divisions by targeting xenophobia and antisemitism.
Rep. Debbie Dingell is running for her fourth two-year term in Michigan’s 12th Congressional District representing Dearborn, Downriver suburbs and Ann Arbor. Her opponent, Republican Jeff Jones, did not return the JN‘s request for an interview.
Dingell recently sat for a Zoom interview with JN Editor Andrew Lapin. This account has been edited for length and clarity.
What is your message to Jewish voters in your district?
My district is very unique, with the largest population of Arab Americans in the country. And I have a Jewish community in Ann Arbor that are friends. I think we need to worry about how this country is being divided by fear and hatred. We are seeing an increase in antisemitism, and we’re also seeing increases in xenophobia.
I try to bring people together, build bridges, not tear them apart.
People have far more in common than they realize.
How are you working to build bridges in your district?
Last summer, we called all the rabbis and imams and we brought everybody together at the University of Michigan-Dearborn to take on hate.
It ended up being one of the most unique, honest conversations that you’ve ever heard.
The Black ministers talked about caring in their churches, and they talked about being real, and that started conversations.
My Muslims are good people. They’re teachers and pharmacists and work in the auto industry. People we need to respect each other and their religions. There is an increase in people being targeted in both communities.
A big concern is the presence of BDS activity on the U-M campus in Ann Arbor. You voted “no” on a House resolution to condemn BDS.
Because I don’t support anything that denies freedom of speech, and boycotts are part of freedom of speech. But I very strongly denounce antisemitism just as I do xenophobia. Freedom of speech is something that we cannot take for granted. And I will fight antisemitism every way I can.
Would you want to see a President Biden go back to the Obama policies regarding Israel, Iran and the Middle East?
Times change. We need to reassess where we are and not commit to anything right now. I think that the foreign policy of Donald Trump has destabilized our relationships with many countries and weakened our position in the world. But I really want to hear what the recommendations are of a foreign policy team that takes diplomacy seriously.
I do believe that Israel’s got a right to exist, too, just to leave it on the record. And I’m a very strong supporter of the two state solution. And when people want to say that idea is dead, I’ll never let that happen. We need to pull people together. We need to focus more on what we have in common in every aspect of our lives.
What top policy goals do you have for the next term?
Healthcare will always be my No. 1 priority.
Also, jobs, the economy and keeping manufacturing here. Our supply chain has been shipped overseas — 90% of our medicines are being made in China or India. And we shouldn’t be dependent on other countries.
In addition, we need to worry about the environment and global climate in all aspects.
Flint raised our awareness of water issues. But there are a number of issues protecting the Great Lakes. Much of our water in the state is found to have significant PFAS [a harmful chemical], recently found in Dearborn and Melvindale.
Also, how is the auto industry going to convert from an internal combustion engine to electric vehicles? What are we going to do to protect those jobs? How are we going to build a new electric vehicle infrastructure?
What do you say to win back Democratic voters who voted for Trump four years ago?
I was one of the people that warned that Donald Trump could win. I kept saying to everybody, “I don’t think this is in the bag.” I think we’ve seen trade deals that shift jobs overseas, NAFTA being one of them. The administration was pushing TPP [the Trans-Pacific Partnership]. I was one of the leaders of the opposition to it. And I had said to Hillary Clinton, in no uncertain terms, that is a rare time that the auto industry and the unions were on the same side — that TPP would have really hurt U.S. manufacturing.
I think a lot of people were worried about their jobs being shipped overseas. And that gets to the issue that I’m telling you about, where we’ve talked about what’s happened to our supply chain. I think our supply chain is a national security issue.
I think COVID has helped people understand that Donald Trump hasn’t done anything. I mean, honestly, our relationship with Russia should concern us all. Why is he afraid to hold Putin accountable?
If you talk to Dan Coats, a very respectful, decent man, I don’t agree with him on everything, but he was a Republican Senator and House member and ambassador to Germany before he was Secretary of Homeland Security. And he has warned us that Russia and China are both trying to interfere with our election. Russia is trying to impact the outcome of this election. That should worry us.
I think Joe Biden is somebody that gets what it’s like to be a working man or woman and the importance of bringing back our supply chain.
Joe Biden’s been a friend of John’s and mine for 40 years. And I would talk to him about the auto industry. I’m the one that said to Joe, you should take on Detroit, you get it, you understand it. You should become the champion. And he did in the Obama administration.
I talk to people straight out. I say to them, do you really like the path we’re going in in this country? Do you like the way we’re all being pitted against each other? Or do we want someone who’s going to pull us together?
Let’s talk about law enforcement. I go to many events in my community — for instance, 22 Black Lives Matter [marches] and 10 [events] in support of and thanking policemen for what they’re doing in our communities. We need a leader that’s not afraid to have uncomfortable conversations, and we do need to have it. Racism is real in this country, but we don’t need somebody who’s going to put kerosene on the fire. We need somebody who’s going to not afraid to have uncomfortable conversations, but it’s also not afraid to stand up and say, violence is wrong. If people do what they do, they need to go to jail. We don’t a leader that stokes fires. We need a leader that brings us together.
What would you like to see Congress offer to the people in Michigan who are still living with the medical and the economic effects of COVID-19?
[The president’s diagnosis] shows that COVID is still real, still here and anybody can get it. If we would just do simple things like wear masks and keep our physical distance — scientists and the medical doctors tell us that right now they can be effective as a vaccine. So, the House has passed a bill which has been scaled down, which will do what we’ve been trying to do for four-and-a-half months.
When I’m home, I’m careful, very careful. I’ve got my mask. I keep my physical distance. But on a given weekend, I pretty much leave the house at 8 am and am out all day, at farmer’s markets, at events outside meeting people. They’re scared. They are worried about their income. The bill the House passed last night would extend unemployment and give an additional $600.
People need to be able to get tests. We need to put more money into testing and tracing.
We have a real food insecurity issue right now in this country. People are hungry, and they’re your neighbors.
People are worried about their rents and their mortgages. We have rent and relief mortgage in the bill. We put more money into PPP [Paycheck Protection Program]. We put money in to help the airline industry, independent restaurant owners.
People need a helping hand. They’re not asking for a handout. They’re asking for a hand up. And right now, we need to be supporting each other. The head of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, has said you need to be investing, investing, investing right now. That’s what we need to do. We passed a bill four and a half months ago. One of the things the Republicans categorically won’t do, which needs to be done more than anything, is to give aid to state and local governments.
What steps should be taken right now to combat climate change? Is it the Green New Deal? Is it something else? And what is realistic?
I am working with everybody. Labor was not at the table on a Green New Deal last time. And they have to be; this is about jobs.
Ford announced that they’re going to build the first F-150 electric vehicle truck. But people aren’t going to buy it if they can’t afford it, if they don’t have confidence that they’re going to be able to charge it.
So we need to deal with electric vehicle infrastructure. I want to make sure that we’ve invest our money in developing a battery that’s got range, so people have confidence the vehicle they buy is going to have that range. We need to make sure we build it here.
I’m a cosponsor, and we’ll reintroduce it next year, of 100% carbon-free by the year 2050, and we’ve got a lot of steps to take in between.
Our president has rolled back a hundred environmental regulations. We have got to go back and put back the original legislation that protect our water, our air, our lands.