Dingell, Rajput discuss priorities, policy and campaign strategy

Monday, July 27, 2020 - 4:10pm

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The Michigan primary election for Michigan’s 12th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives is on Aug. 4. Solomon Rajput, a current medical student at the University of Michigan, is taking a leave of absence to run for Congress and challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., who has served three terms as the representative from the 12th district. The Dingell family has represented the district for the past 87 years –– Dingell was preceded by her husband John Dingell Jr. and his father John Dingell Sr. Candidate Jeff Jones is running uncontested in the Republican primary for the 12th district. 

The Washtenaw County Democratic Party recently hosted a debate for Rajput and Dingell where they discussed the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy and the environment. Last week, The Daily met with both Democratic candidates to discuss their experience, main policy issues, campaign strategies and the importance of voting in the upcoming election before the primary. 

Medicare for All and Healthcare

Though both candidates support Medicare for All, Dingell cited universal healthcare as her top issue going into a new Congress in 2021 and was a lead sponsor of the Medicare for All Act in 2019. 

“The number one issue that I am going to get done is Medicare for All,” Dingell said. “I think every person in this country has a right, when they’re sick, to be able to go to the doctor (and) not have to think about (being) able to afford the treatment that they need. I have always felt this way but having been a caregiver for five years, and seeing this (first-hand), I know I’m luckier than many and the days that I was desperate, I couldn’t navigate the system. I couldn’t make it work.” 

Rajput spoke on the current healthcare system’s need for reform, calling it a “dystopia,” and told The Daily that his campaign supports Medicare for All systems. 

“We are ardently supporting a Medicare for All system, single-payer health care system that would guarantee health care for all people in this country, because right now, our system could not be more dysfunctional,” Rajput said. “Our health care system is kind of the health care system you’d find in a dystopia.”

Rajput also said Medicare for All is more necessary than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“(People are) not only worried about getting the virus,” Rajput said. “They’re also worried about losing (their) job and losing their health care, and then not being able to get treatment for the virus because they no longer have health care. So still, (a) Medicare for All systems is something that we’re really fighting for.”

Rajput said his experience as a medical student gives him a unique, first-hand understanding of health care issues. 

“We go see patients (and) we try to figure out what's going on with them,” Rajput said. “So often, we have to tell patients we know exactly what’s going on with you and we got the perfect thing for you, but we can’t give it to you because your health insurance doesn’t cover it. And it’s some pretty sad, heartbreaking stuff.” 

The Green New Deal and Climate Change 

The environment is a top issue for both candidates. Dingell has a long track record of working with the 12th district on environmental policy reform. Rajput said the Green New Deal is his top priority and noted climate change as the reason he decided to run for Congress now. 

“With climate change, we don’t have time to do incremental, baby-step nonsense,” Rajput said. “We only have 10 short years left before we reach a point of no return and on the path to catastrophic, irreversible, global warming. It’s a really short amount of time left. And so what we need to do is create a plan. (A plan) that matches the magnitude of the crisis.”

Rajput said while the environment is at the forefront of the Green New Deal, he also supports the plan’s potential economic stimulus.

“The Green New Deal ... will be creating millions of good-paying, green energy, unionized jobs,” Rajput said. “There will never be a larger expansion of unionized jobs in this country than what a Green New Deal would predict. So I’m very excited about the Green New Deal not only for environmental impact, to avert the largest catastrophe that mankind has ever witnessed, namely climate change, but also for the prosperity that it will create in this country and for the strength that it will bring to unions.”

Dingell currently sits on both the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Committee on Natural Resources. While Dingell does not support the Green New Deal, she emphasized several recent pieces of legislation she has worked on pertaining to the environment. 

“I’m very proud to be the lead sponsor on the 100% Clean Economy Act,” Dingell said. “I introduced (it) because the Green New Deal was part of the coalition, (the) Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), the Wildlife Federation, all the environmental groups. I'm (also) the author with Ed Markey of the Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator that would publicly finance and stimulate assessments into creating renewable energy.” 

While Dingell said she agrees climate change is a colossal challenge facing the nation, she said she does not support the Green New Deal because she believes organized labor should be included in the discussion to build coalitions to defeat President Donald Trump. 

“I believe that climate change is the defining challenge we face and that the best way we’re going to combat it is to build very meaningful, impactful coalitions that are going to get a bill that saves our planet signed into law,” Dingell said. “The most important thing we all have to do is to defeat Donald Trump, who has repealed almost 100 environmental regulations while he's been in office.” 

Dingell also emphasized the importance of including everyone in the conversation to make necessary changes for climate change legislation. 

“I’m trying to bring everybody to the table,” Dingell said. “We’ve got to get this done. And the only way we're going to get it done is to bring everybody to the table, and the manufacturing labor unions need to be part of that discussion...(I’m) talking to everybody, I’m working with everybody. And we’re committed to working together so we’re all together when the new Congress convenes next year.”

COVID-19 Response

Dingell held weekly town hall meetings throughout March and April about COVID-19 where she emphasized the importance of stopping community spread of the virus. 

“When COVID started, it was very important that we had to stop community spread,” Dingell said. “And there were people who didn’t think they could afford the test. They didn’t have access to the test (or) couldn't find the test, or if they were sick or exposed (they) wouldn't admit it because they were afraid that they couldn’t get off from work.”

Dingell discussed the unemployment legislation she worked on in Washington, D.C. to help Washtenaw County residents feel secure during this time of ongoing uncertainty. 

“We passed unemployment (benefits) and put in an additional $600 so they would feel immediate economic security,” Dingell said. “We need to make sure that people have access to food. People don’t realize when the schools closed, for too many children, the only meals that they get are at school. I was at a mentoring program about six months ago in Ann Arbor, and there was a little boy who was just sad and unhappy. And I said, I know you just want to go home and have dinner with your parents, and he said, we don’t eat dinner at home. So we needed to make sure that the school breakfast and lunch programs, which we do in the summer, were used as models and that we got food to the kids that were now going to be at home.”

Rajput also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing the failure to address the crisis is a result of a lack of reasonable leadership in government. Rajput hosted several virtual events throughout the pandemic about affordable housing and health care. 

“There’s a reason why the United States, which is the richest, most powerful country in the entire world, is the epicenter of coronavirus cases and deaths for the entire world,” Rajput said. “The reason is we have the world’s dumbest people leading our country. They don’t believe in science ... They don’t believe in research, evidence-based methods and treatments. They just go off a vibe. And that vibe is killing lots of people. What we need is leaders to recognize that all of their decisions need to be based off of robust evidence and research and to be guided by science.”

Rajput referenced his medical school experiences as an outline for how he would address the public health crisis facing the nation.

“One of my key takeaways from medical school as somebody who’s now trying to run for office (is that) if you're a doctor, and you’re trying to decide what medicine to give somebody, you can’t just give someone a medicine or a treatment because that's just how you feel,” Rajput said. 

Bipartisanship

During a recent debate, Dingell said bipartisanship was likely the issue she and Rajput disagreed on most. Rajput has said the 12th district is one of the most progressive in the country and that its representative should thus support more progressive policies. In a previous article in The Daily, Rajput argued bipartisanship is an appealing idea that doesn’t work in practice, especially amid a polarized Congress. 

“I do believe at this point, bipartisanship is a myth,” Rajput said in February.

Rajput pointed to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as an example of the failure of bipartisanship, noting the Obama administration and Democrats made extensive concessions to convince Republican lawmakers to support the bill when no Republicans ultimately voted for the healthcare program. He said Democrats shouldn’t try to reach out to Republicans when they aren’t willing to negotiate in good faith.

“Let’s not water down what we’re trying to do here in order to appease Republicans that are not going to vote for this to begin with,” Rajput said. “Republican politicians have shown us who they are. They’re obstructionists. They are not interested in enacting anything meaningful that is related to the Democratic agenda … I’m a lot less interested in (bipartisanship) than to actually enact meaningful change for people in this country.”

Dingell said bipartisanship has both short and long-term effects and spoke to her experience working with Republican colleagues on the Hill to pass legislation.

“For the short term, we have a Republican United States Senate and a Republican President,” Dingell said. “If you don’t build a bipartisan coalition, you simply aren’t going to get anything done. I have worked with Republicans on a number of significant issues that actually have been passed.”

Dingell also acknowledged the political polarization in the United States today and said we need to think of ourselves as Amercians, not Democrats or Republicans. 

“We’re already too divided as a country, we’re way too partisan," Dingell said. “You know, we’re Americans first, not Republicans or Democrats first, and some of the strongest moments in this country have been when we think of ourselves as Americans and not blue or red. I (bring) everybody to the table. I listen to everybody. And I try to find common ground because that's how you build winning coalitions ... And that’s how you build a consensus in this country to support policies that make a difference.” 

Voting

Dingell spoke about the importance of voting not only in the general elections, but also in the primaries. 

“Everybody in Michigan should have an absentee ballot application mailed to them, and they need to return it,” Dingell said. “You know, I think democracy is the most important form of government that exists in the world. And democracy thrives when the maximum number of people participate.” 

Akshita Verma, Rajput’s campaign manager and Michigan State University alum, spoke to The Daily about her involvement in the campaign. Verma said she discovered Rajput via a campaign Youtube video and it inspired her to reach out to him to get involved. 

“I was actually very interested in his video because it talks a lot about all the reasons I have been feeling more interested in politics and a lot of his ideas resonated with me,” Verma said. “You know, he talks about making college free, eliminating debt, (he) really seemed brave and having the political courage to actually fight climate change and not take corporate money from you know, Exxon, BP.”

Danny Hwang, LSA sophomore and campaign intern for Dingell, told The Daily in an interview he wanted to work for the congresswoman because of her positions on issues important to constituents. 

“She is an expert in the auto industry and she has done a great job (overall) to use her expertise to create new bills as well,” Hwang said. “We are seeing how Michigan’s economy is growing, but she is focusing on the cultural side of Michigan too … She has done a very good job passing bills that will help create a better future for Michigan.”

Verma emphasized the need for change during this time of political polarization.

“I feel like we just really have a choice right now …  between really sticking with the status quo, sticking with someone who thinks, you know, there doesn’t really have to be a lot of change,” Verma said. “Or choosing Solomon who thinks no, we have to overhaul our system, get rid of institutional racism, institutional sexism, classism, all that kind of stuff at the root and have big change.”

Summer News Editor Sarah Payne can be reached at paynesm@umich.edu. Daily Staff Reporter Arjun Thakkar can be reached at arjunt@umich.edu.