Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, speaks at an event at Pretzel Bell on February 23, 2020. Dominick Sokotoff/Daily.  Buy this photo.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., gave her annual State of the District address Monday morning to an audience of about 700 people via livestream. The event, hosted by the Southern Wayne County Regional Chamber, updated the community on Dingell’s recent work.

To start off her annual address Dingell discussed the pandemic’s impact on the daily life of her constituents.

“The most important thing for us right now is to stay safe,” Dingell said. “We are using technology to touch each other, stay close and talk about the issues we care about. There’s nothing normal about the year that we’ve been in. Because of all the chaos and the uncertainty, traditions are something that we actually hold on to tighter to give us a sense of normalcy and hope.”

Dingell also discussed the riot at the Capitol Building that occurred earlier this month and her experience during the attack. Dingell, who is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group with equal numbers of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, said the attempted insurrection on Jan. 6 strengthened her commitment to fighting for democracy.

“I didn’t envision the depths of division that we would experience over these last few weeks,” Dingell said. “Never in a million years did I think I would find myself sheltering in an undisclosed location in the United States Capitol, while my fellow citizens attacked a sacred building that gives young democracies around the world hope. …  All of us have to be engaged for democracy to work. This needs to be a wake-up call for everybody.”

During her address, Dingell discussed her early commitment to combating the spread of the coronavirus.

“Confronting and combatting COVID has been my priority for the last year,” Dingell said. “I was one of the first members of Congress that wrote to anybody about it. I wrote to the CDC and said, ‘Why are we screening at some airports and not ones like Detroit?’”

In early January, Dingell requested that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide an update on the steps they were taking to ensure all travelers coming from China — the early epicenter of the virus — were safe from COVID-19. The CDC expanded additional screening facilities at some major U.S. airports but some, including the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, still had direct flights to areas where COVID-19 cases were being reported. COVID-19 screenings were first introduced at DTW on Jan. 28, 2020.

Dingell also discussed the bills she plans to introduce in Congress this year, including legislation to help strengthen personal protective equipment supplies in hospitals and to ensure underserved communities are provided with clean water. 

“We’re introducing legislation to strengthen the Strategic National Stockpile, but we’re going to make sure we don’t get stuck flat-footed the way that we did last time where we didn’t have PPE equipment for our frontline workers,” Dingell said. “We’ve got to increase access to home & community-based care. I will be introducing legislation, this week, that will prohibit water shutoffs nationwide and provide financial assistance for low-income households to pay for drinking water.” 

Dingell, who is on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce said she plans to protect jobs at auto plants while introducing new technologies to this sector.

“Last year, I talked about the undeniable shift towards electric vehicles that is gaining momentum and self-driving vehicles,” Dingell said. “Even with a pandemic that upended our daily lives, this shift is continuing … I want to make sure that we’re bringing in newer technology and newer products to the plants that we have down here and that people think that our communities are a good place to live.” 

Dingell said she plans to work with the Biden Administration to remove PFAS and other chemicals from local waters, as well as fix local infrastructure and introduce a renewable energy plan. After her address, Dingell answered questions about student debt and renewable energy incentives. 

The first audience question touched on the student debt crisis, to which Dingell replied that it is important to find a balanced solution. 

“I think some of them are going to be viable because I think our students are really hurting,” Dingell said. “The question is what’s the right formula … We have to figure out how to lower the cost of education to young people and make it more affordable to everybody on an equal playing field.”

LSA senior Nimalan Murugan felt that in comparison to some politicians, Dingell’s response was not satisfying.

“I think her response is really vague, it sounds more like they’re trying to focus on existing student debt,” Muragan said. “Obviously you need to think about existing student debt and put freezes or give some kind of aid for people that are struggling. But also the reason why I think it’s really vague is because I feel like I like politicians such as Andrew Yang (…) (who) have better constructive proposals.”

Engineering senior Zach Wernet said he thought Dingell’s plans for implementing renewable energy strategies and addressing climate change made it clear that prioritizing the climate and creating jobs can occur simultaneously.

“I feel like there is this mindset that some people have where you can’t have both jobs and a green approach to climate,” Wernet said. “I think, in fact, you actually can and that is what she was alluding to in her response.”

Daily Staff Reporter Gabriel Boudagh can be reached at

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