DETROIT – Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell visited the Local 4 newsroom Monday to talk about the upcoming Democratic presidential debates in Detroit.
The Democratic National Committee-sanctioned debates will be held at 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday from the Fox Theatre in Detroit.
The 20 candidates set to participate in the debate will be split in half, with 10 scheduled for the first night and 10 scheduled for the second night.
Importance of debates in Detroit
Dingell spoke about the importance of the debate in the current political climate.
"This debate really matters," Dingell said. "The fact of where it’s happening and the timing matters. I put it in two buckets: One is Detroit, where race was such a critical issue in the last debate. It remains an issue throughout this country. Detroit is an urban city with a lot of issues, with a lot of challenges. Those issues need to be talked about at this debate. This election is going to be won in the Midwest. It's going to be won in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana."
She emphasized how important it will be for candidates to touch on issues that matter to everyday people in the heart of the country.
"A lot of times candidates tend to talk about issues that matter on the coast, including Florida and Texas, New York, California," Dingell said. "They need to come to the heart of this country and talk about issues that matter to working men and women, and they are here at a time where people want to hear it.
"They'll know if they see working men and women coming out and saying, 'You talked about the issues that I wanted to hear you talk about.' They'll know when the Detroit community and New York and (Los Angeles) and Chicago -- when urban communities across the country say, 'Hey, you talked about stuff that impacts my life every day.'"
Current political climate
Dingell said it's equally important for U.S. citizens to know that their vote is important. She doesn't believe President Donald Trump has done his job uniting the country.
"Too many people think that elections don't matter, that their vote does not matter," Dingell said. "You know, I have always tried to respect the office of the president, but the president's job is to unite us as a country. Two weeks ago, when he was attacking the Squad (Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, of Michigan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, and Ayanna Pressley, of Massachusetts), he was attacking people in the city that I live.
"In the city of Dearborn, Arab-Americans who are children that are third generation Americans (are) actually afraid of what is going to happen to them. This week, what he's doing in Baltimore, it's just unacceptable. He is dividing this country with fear and hatred. Our job -- we need to remember the spirit of the Pledge of Allegiance. United we stand, divided we fall. We've got to stop. We've got to stop hardening our hearts."
Touching on issues that matter to people
Dingell admitted Trump is still a contender in the next presidential election. She said the Democratic Party is partially to blame.
"We've got to really talk about the issues in the electorate," Dingell said. "Look, as you know, I said that Donald Trump could win Michigan three years ago because a lot of people that I talk to every single day felt like Democrats didn't care about them. We've got to care about everybody. We have to talk about the urban issues. We have to deliver on urban issues, not take people in the city of Detroit and the suburbs for granted, but we can't take working men and women for granted, either. We have to understand that they are worried about bad trade deals that ship their jobs to Mexico, or their healthcare, or their retirement. Those issues matter, too. Democrats have to do a better job talking about them."
That leads into this week's debates, during which the Democratic candidates need to address how they plan to bring the country together on important issues, according to Dingell.
She said it's important for candidates to acknowledge the problems in this country, rather than take cheap shots.
"I think we've got to hear how they are going to talk about how they are going to bring us together on race issues," Dingell said. "Not taking cheap shots, but acknowledging it continues to be a problem in this country. What do we do to address problems that are very real in urban communities, about working two jobs and still being at the poverty line? How do we educate our children so that they have equal opportunity?
"But they also have to address bad trade deals that ... allow General Motors to have a blazer plant in Mexico and pay $1.50 an hour. They've got to address the Teamsters, of which we have the largest number, who worked a lifetime for, gave up pay increases so they'd have a safe and secure retirement, and no longer do. We've got to talk about those issues."
Dingell also said the candidates should address how much prescription drugs cost residents. She said it's not a party issue, but an American issue.
"Even people with auto health insurance or good health insurance from the University of Michigan are experiencing really tough problems," Dingell said.
How to get people engaged in election
Dingell said one of the most important goals of the debate is getting people engaged in the upcoming presidential election. But that will take more action after this week.
"For starters, the media needs to help talk about some of these other issues," Dingell said. "It's going to be done door to door. It's going to be done neighbor to neighbor. It's going to be done because everybody is going to engage and help touch all those people that are part of their community and say, 'This election is about our future, and we've got to get everyone engaged.'"
Dingell said people around the country, and especially in places like Detroit, want to know that the person in office cares about their needs. She said they want to know how specific candidates will affect their day-to-day lives.
"It really matters that the debate's in Detroit and in Michigan because Detroit is a city that is trying to make a comeback and Downtown is thriving and how we do involve the neighborhoods," Dingell said. "Race is a real issue in the state of Michigan. I know, and people become afraid to talk about it. We need to not be afraid to talk about it. We need to figure out how we can talk about it. But also, President Trump won Michigan three years ago. There are a lot of people in the state of Michigan, working men and women, that are very similar to the voters in Wisconsin and Ohio and Indiana that want to know that somebody cares about them, that somebody cares about, 'Are they going to have a job? Is their job safe? Can they make enough money to be able to put food on the table? Can they go to the doctor when they need to go? Can they afford it? Can they afford their medicine? Can they educate their children? When it comes time to retire, that they'll have a safe and secure retirement.'"
Advice for Democratic candidates
Dingell reiterated that while the candidates are in Detroit, they need to cover the issues that matter to people in the area.
She said Democrats didn't do a good job touching on the important topics during the last presidential election.
"I've talked to most of (the candidates)," Dingell said. "Most of them are friends. There are few that I don't know well. I am very clear with them: You need to talk about issues that matter to people here. You need to be real. You need to speak in how you are going to address things that impact their lives on a daily basis, and that's what we didn't do last time. They want to know that they matter. If you live in Detroit, you want to know that you care. How are you going to fix my neighborhoods? How are you going to help me get above the poverty line when I'm already working two jobs? If you're an auto worker, how are you going to keep their jobs safe here? How are you going to help them compete against a $1.50 wage in Mexico? How are you going to make sure that when my time comes to retire, that my pension is going to be there? That's what they want to hear."
Understanding what people care about
Dingell said she thinks Trump makes it more challenging to talk about the issues that matter to people.
"I think the president makes it challenging sometimes when he's been as outrageous as he has been on issues that really matter," she said. "When you attack the city of Baltimore, people in Detroit, people kind of feel that, too. When you attack the community that I live in, Dearborn and Arab-Americans, and you've got children scared to death -- but that's what he wants us to do. We need to stay focused on the issues that matter to working men and women across this country. That’s what we need to talk about, and that’s what we need to cut through."
If she could ask questions at the debate, Dingell said she would ask how the candidates are going to protect jobs and keep manufacturing strong in the country.
She said she would take candidates to the Flat Rock plant downriver, where many people think politicians don't care about keeping jobs or strong manufacturing.
"They would be surprised at what they would hear those workers say, and it's how I knew three years ago that President Trump could win," Dingell said. "A second place is -- I would take you to Einstein Bagels in Dearborn, where they would hear a wide variety of perspectives, where I can get yelled at every day but I know what people are really thinking because those guys make sure I stay grounded. They need a dose of reality every day, and they need to stay grounded."
Concerns about divided country
Dingell said Trump doesn't realize that when he goes after the Squad and other Arab-Americans, he's going after communities like Dearborn.
"When he goes after Chairman (Elijah) Cummings, he's going after a city, one of the biggest cities in the country," Dingell said. "His job is to unite us, not to divide us."
When she went to the Ann Arbor Art Festival last weekend, Dingell said she was approached by three different people in a span of three minutes about what Democrats are doing.
"I had some of the vendors listening to it," Dingell said. "One woman told me that Democrats are being too timid. 'You need to get on with it.' The next woman came up and yelled at me about what Democrats were doing. 'Stop this impeachment nonsense.' A third person came up to me and said, 'Democrats need to get off this impeachment message and you need to be working for issues that matter to everybody.' I turned to my vendor friends and said, 'And there goes America.' America is divided about what should happen. I do think we need to be very focused on the election and not do anything that is going to help him get re-elected in November. But we've got to be very clear (that) what he is doing is not OK. That's why you follow the facts. Nobody is above the law, but we need to be delivering for the American people on issues that matter to them.
"That's what I'm very worried about. I think Rep. Adam Schiff reflected the way that I feel very strongly. What he's doing is just so unacceptable, but there are other things in this report that we need to be talking about, too -- about how Russia is trying to divide us as a country. Very few people talk about that, but it's a recurring theme throughout the entire report. He was very strong when he testified last week that Russia is still trying to interfere in our 2020 elections. We have to look at this whole big picture, and nobody is above the law. We need to make this very clear. I am speaking out so strongly about the tone of his rhetoric, how he is dividing us, how his hate rhetoric is dividing us. But, we've got to be smart about how we do this because we don't want to contribute further to dividing us as a country."