U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, (D-Detroit) sat down with the Detroit Free Press Editorial Board last week for a wide-ranging conversation her first term in the U.S. Congress, the work she’s doing in Washington and at home, what it’s like to be the subject of relentless attacks by U.S. President Donald Trump . . . and the man who follows her around with a video camera.
Free Press: How often do you walk out of your office or walk out of your home, or go to the grocery store and find that you have a video camera on you?
Rashida Tlaib: So I have a tracker. His name is Dakota. I have a very good relationship with him. Dakota is kind, he’s not in my face. I mean, not all my colleagues in Michigan delegation agree. But, you know, I give him a fist bump. Sometimes at my Congress and coffee conversation series, these mini town halls I have, he’s always in the corner. He’s with America Rising. I had to look them up, but they’re kind of right wing . . .
But I will sometimes acknowledge his presence there. Just so folks know, hey, this person is my tracker, everybody say hello, we’re gonna welcome him into our space.
But Dakota went missing for like four days. And I was like, “Oh my god, did they replace him?” And I told (the new guy), “Who are you? Where’s Dakota?” And he goes, “He’s on vacation,” and I say, “Oh, thank God.” I don’t know, he just he grew on me.
He missed a couple of events and I said, “Dude, you missed some good events, I said some stuff” and he’s like, “You say the same things.” I was like, I know. Just joking with you.
How much of what you had planned for your first congressional term has been hijacked by [the need to defend yourself against] presidential attacks?
I don’t think it’s been hijacked? I think nationally, folks have been distracted, but here locally … I mean, they [Detroit residents] know more about my bills and what I’m doing at home than the folks in the national level. … there’s this national appeal, because it’s, oh, you just held somebody in contempt in the administration, which is what my residents want me to be doing. But at the same time, they want me to be elevating them out of poverty, they want me to focus on auto insurance. They want me to focus on that.
We have a president who would very much like you yours to be the face of the Democratic Party for the next year or two.How do you take advantage of that for your constituents and still avoid becoming a liability takes down other Democrats?
I don’t think we’re a liability. … We’re being used. We’re being used by a hate agenda.
If you show up in a lot of campaign ads in moderate districts, that’s going to hurt those Democrats.
Absolutely. I think if it wasn’t us, it would be (U.S. Sen.) Bernie (Sanders of Vermont) or somebody else that supports these different economic policies. I truly believe that this kind of hate-agenda approach is the easy way out, because (Trump) failed us as a president.
One of the big differences between you and some other members of the squad is your political experience.
I understand there’s a process on the inside, and how do I work on the outside? How do I get my movement organizations that are working on Medicare For All working on anti-poverty programs? … I’ve brought a field hearing to the most polluted zip code in my in the state and in my district, and at Kemeny Recreation Center (in southwest Detroit). I didn’t do it at Cobo; I didn’t do it at a fancy hotel or somewhere. I heard committee staff say they got headaches, and that their noses were burning. This is my opportunity to show them what my residents smell every day when they walk out of their homes near Marathon and AK Steel, the lived experience there. . .
No matter how broken the institution [of Congress] is, I’m in love with it. There’s something about the possibility how we shape it, because it’s not like any other institution in the world . . . I mean, I can see places, of course, for improvement. And of course, the institution wasn’t ready for someone like me. But I truly believe there’s a tremendous opportunity there.
Tell us about the state of your district, and what is achievable from your seat to address those problems, given what you’re just talking about, and the difficulty getting anything past the Senate.
It seems like my district is always kind of on the front lines of what to expect. I say to people, you want to come and see what doing nothing about climate change, and climate issues looks like? Come to my area, and I’ll show you what doing nothing looks like, what it can result in: contaminated water, high rates of asthma in certain zip codes right around industry. . . .
I did the housing crisis field hearing in August. Chairman Al Green came down, he’s on the Subcommittee on Oversight for Financial Services. I feel like we need a full investigation of what happened with the Wayne County tax foreclosure process.
I love that we took them on a tour, I showed him like, here’s Fiat Chrysler, they’re expanding, this is how many billions of dollars we’re moving. Now I’m going to take you a block over and I’m going to show you four blocks, just next to the plant. . .
And he [Green] was just shocked to see it, and I told him, it’s not just about mortgage foreclosures. It’s also the tax foreclosures, tagging on the water bills to the to the tax bills, all of that.
So at the end result, we are now working on some money and help with doing more testing to find discrimination issues with the lending community, and then we’re going to be asking for a full investigation of whether or not the Fair Housing Act was violated.
How confident are you that you will have a competitive primary next August?
Do you think it will be crowded?
What is crowded? Because you’re talking about Detroit politics here . . The largest I’ve ever had was my first state rep race was eight of us, this seat started at 12 or 11. I can’t remember, but it narrowed down to six . . .
This is what I do: Direct human contact on the doors. That’s what I focus on. I think people underestimate direct human contact. No TV ad, no mailer, no robocall, no endorsement, nothing can replace direct human contact. In our last campaign, we knocked over 55,000 doors, in every part of the district. And we won only by 900 votes in my primary.
What do you wish Democrats running for president were talking about?
Honestly, poverty. They don’t talk about the P word enough. We talked about the middle class so much.
We’ve got to protect the middle class, but the middle class has disappeared in my district. We need to talk about the working poor. And the way we build it up is access to homeownership. That is so key. And really looking at our education system. I think the most successful tool to combat poverty in our country has always been our education system. And we’ve got to get back to those core values, and getting people into homes, and making sure they have a safety net there.
Is it a little surreal, as a freshman congresswoman, to be personally attacked by the President of the United States?
You ever go to school, and there’s a bully? So it’s like the school bully, right?
I remember the moment [in her first state legislative term] that Matty Moroun launched the recall campaign against me. … That was very fearful, because I was only in office for six months. Ironically, he might have prepared me for Trump in some ways, psychologically. No, seriously, because he was like, I’m above the law, I don’t care. . .
I was like, Oh, my God, now my residents think that if you stand up to him [Moroun], that this is what happens. If [he] was to be successful, it would have been demoralizing for them.
And so for me, when I see the president kind of hit me like that, how can I push back very hard, very strong, very profound, and show the residents that you can’t allow somebody like that to bully us like, you can’t allow that kind of hate to overwhelm us?
So I keep that as a center of what drives me and not let that weigh on me. . I think when we beat Moroun on the recall, it made Southwest Detroit even stronger . . . Anyhow, I would compare it to that: How do I show my residents?
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