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Congress Reconvenes After Last Week's Midterm Elections

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Congress reconvenes today, and Republicans still dominate both chambers. That will change, however, in January, when Democrats take control of the House of Representatives after their big wins in last week's midterms. Along with their majority in the House comes new power to hold the Trump administration accountable. So how will Democrats wield that new power in this politically divisive moment? We're going to put that question to Representative Debbie Dingell. She's a Democrat from Michigan, and she is in the running for leadership of her party's policy and communications committee. She joins us in our studios.

Thanks so much for coming in.

DEBBIE DINGELL: Good morning, Rachel. It's great to be with you.

MARTIN: So January rolls around. You get the majority back. What do you want the priority to be? Week 1, we're talking about - what do you want the first action to be?

DINGELL: Well, we've got to come together. I mean, I really - I'm one of the people that think that one of the messages of this November election is that people are unhappy with the tone of the country, and they're tired of the partisan bickering. And they want to see us get things done. So I think we've got - health care is just so clearly an issue that's No. 1 in so many people's minds. We've got to do something about pre-existing conditions, escalating premium prices, higher deductibles and the cost of drugs. I often say, taking my husband, who's older than I am, as many of the...

MARTIN: John Dingell.

DINGELL: Yeah, John Dingell - is like going to a town hall meeting. I mean, I just - people are just desperate. And...

MARTIN: Is that a place where you think you can find common ground with Republicans?

DINGELL: Well, we have to - coming out of this election, pre-existing condition was something that everybody said, of course, they would never take away. So we just have - we have no choice. We have to do something about it. And I know Republicans were hearing about escalating drug costs as much as any of us were. These are real people that we're representing who are scared to death about whether they can afford their medicine.

MARTIN: That would mean Republicans - convincing them to shore up Obamacare. You think that is likely.

DINGELL: We're going to have to - he's not going to get it repealed. So I think we're going to have to work together to find how we do tweak what's there and make sure that everybody's constituents - these are real people who need help and medicine. I'll tell you a second area that I think is going to be very important - not Week 1 but needs to be done immediately. In Michigan, we had a governor candidate who owns - fix the blank blank roads. But we need to do that nationally.

MARTIN: Infrastructure.

DINGELL: Infrastructure - and infrastructure's not only roads and bridges, but it is a vulnerable electrical grid system. It's water. We know that in Michigan - but water across the country. And that's...

MARTIN: President Trump has talked about infrastructure, hasn't he?

DINGELL: Yes.

MARTIN: Didn't put a lot of meat on the bone, but we'll see what happens. But the question is, can you do any of that while you're launching a series of investigations against the Trump administration, which the incoming Democratic committee heads have said they'll do?

DINGELL: So, you know, one, you can eat and chew gum at the same time. And I have seen great oversight, which is a very important function of the Congress - system of checks and balances - and at the same time, very significant legislation be passed. And yes, you can do that. And I think that it will happen. We need to be in a duo track. This election - OK. 2020's coming up. We've got a presidential election that, as far as I'm concerned, President Trump could still win if we don't do a good job, which means we can't just be anti-Trump. We got to show people that we can deliver on the issues that are really in their hearts and souls.

MARTIN: Does that mean you don't think House Democrats should start or even talk about impeachment proceedings? I mean, a recent - I should just note there was a recent poll released yesterday by Politico showing that Americans as a whole aren't that keen on it. But Democratic voters like it. More than 6 out of 10 say they want it to happen.

DINGELL: So you know that we're not - first, I was on our local public radio the day after the election, and I sort of said what I just said to you. And the first person called in and said, I voted for you, but I didn't vote for you to work with Republicans; I voted for you to resist. Well, I'm going to protect our Constitution. You have a fundamental responsibility. I have the biggest population of Muslims in the country. We have to protect freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of press. We can do both.

MARTIN: Do you think Nancy Pelosi should be the speaker again?

DINGELL: I think that we need to have a very tough discussion inside of our caucus about transitions, about creating benches.

MARTIN: That's not a yes.

DINGELL: I'm voting. I mean, I think that we will see all three back at the top, but not until there's a very serious conversation inside of the caucus about how we make sure that this freshman class has got opportunities as well.

MARTIN: Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan, thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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