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Rep. Dingell Presses Clinton To Talk More About Trade Issues


If you want to get a reaction from your friend who's a pollster or is involved in politics, say these two words - Reagan Democrats. People have some strong opinions about who they are. Generally, they're seen as working Americans who traditionally voted for Democrats but in the 1980s felt ignored by the Democratic Party. They turned to Ronald Reagan.

At times, there have seemed to be echoes of that in 2016 with the rise of Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton today is giving a major economic speech in a place known for Reagan Democrats, Macomb County, Mich., outside Detroit. And let's talk about this with a Clinton supporter from Michigan, Democratic congresswoman Debbie Dingell. Congresswoman, welcome back to the program.

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

GREENE: Well, thanks for taking the time. Everyone seems to love coming to Michigan right now. Donald Trump gave his big economic speech in the state earlier this week. And as I understand it, you were there.

DINGELL: I was there. I'm a member of the Detroit Economic Club. And I think it's really important to be respectful and listen. So I went because that's what you do when you're a board member.

GREENE: Did you hear a message from Donald Trump in some of his policies that help you understand why there are many working-class Americans who have felt a connection to him?

DINGELL: I did. I mean, I understand why some of the working-class people are listening to him. I think I was more impressed on Monday by the fact that he never, ever responded to being interrupted more than 17 times during the speech.

GREENE: You're talking about some of the protests that were going on.

DINGELL: The protesters - and that he stayed on script and never went off. But, you know, he didn't have any more substance than what I've heard. He talks about trade. And trade and lost jobs resonates in a state like Michigan. I have constituents who, if you don't dig deeper with them, are supporting Trump.

GREENE: Well, dig deeper. I mean, you - when we spoke a few weeks ago during the Democratic Convention, you said that the key is to get Hillary Clinton to Michigan and start talking to some of these voters who, on an issue like trade, have been drawn to Donald Trump. What is something that Hillary Clinton can say today in your state that you think could win some of them over?

DINGELL: First of all, she's got to be very clear that she's opposed to TPP.

GREENE: The Trans-Pacific Partnership.

DINGELL: Thank you, David. I know I can't...

GREENE: No, no, no. Don't worry.

DINGELL: When you talk about something so much - I mean, people are worried about that. Donald Trump is trying to mislead people and make them think that she won't. So, I mean, I've told - said this to her last night. You've got to be strong on that today and send that message to people very loud and clear.

But the other part of it is - and I think that people like me, probably, are more effective in doing this than she because, you know, people think she's just taking attacks in them. You know, when I heard him talk about currency manipulation last year, I was actually happy about it because I thought someone's bringing attention to an issue that is really hurting the working men and women of my state.

GREENE: He has said that countries like China manipulate their currencies, which hurt the economy for companies in the United States. And you like hearing him talk about that.

DINGELL: Well, yes. We've - Japan, for instance, manipulates their currency. And Toyota has an $8,000 cost advantage when they import their vehicle into this country. So Toyota makes more money on currency manipulation in the United States than Ford did in their worldwide operations.

GREENE: Are you satisfied that Hillary Clinton has talked about that issue enough and proposed enough to deal with it?

DINGELL: I think she will keep talking about it. And she needs to continue to talk about it because Donald Trump is a one-note man. He talks about it. But then he doesn't go deeper. And when you dig deeper, where is he manufacturing the products for his company? He's manufacturing them in China, in Mexico, in Vietnam.

He's not creating jobs in these United States for working men and women here. And then the second thing that bothers me is, you know, Donald - I said it on NPR here - that, you know, Donald Trump was exciting people. He came to Michigan - had a great crowd. But he didn't like something that one of the auto workers said to him.

And just like he can't help himself, the Donald Trump we know and love said in Michigan, well, we're not going to build plants here. We're going to not build in Michigan. We're going to go to another state that pays less an hour. And then the workers will be so desperate for a job, they won't care what they're paid.

GREENE: So it's almost a hope that you have of him getting off message because Hillary Clinton has a better chance when he does that.

DINGELL: That is true.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you this. Let me use trade as a case study if I can. You mentioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP. I mean, President Obama supports it. Hillary Clinton in the administration, I mean, supported it. During the primary season, she comes out and says she opposes it. There have been some sort of mixed messages.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is an ally of the Clintons, said that she's probably just going to say she opposes it during the campaign and then would support it as president. Do you blame voters for not feeling like she's that credible on this really important issue?

DINGELL: I think she just has to be very firm. I have talked to her about this issue for more than a year because I feel so very strongly about it. It's an issue that I have been leader on in the Congress. The first issue I took on - I wasn't even in the Congress before I started opposing TPP and talking about it.

Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine have repeatedly said that they're going to reject trade deals like the TPP that don't meet the high standard of wages - and creating a good-paying job and, at the same time, by the way, enhancing national security. I think she's just got to be clear. Terry - I was so upset at Terry. I talked to John Podesta that night.

And he told me, you tell everybody that you talked to the Hillary Clinton campaign chair - not the 2008 Obama campaign chair. You know, Terry - the 2008 chair. I'm sorry. But Kerry worked hard for Obama, too. He doesn't - he didn't speak for the campaign. I believe Tim Kaine. I believe Hillary Clinton.

GREENE: Sounds like an off-message problem that you said Donald Trump sometimes says.

DINGELL: (Laughter) Yeah, it does. It does happen to all campaigns.

GREENE: All right. We'll have to leave it there. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us this morning. We really appreciate it and look forward to talking more as the campaign goes on.

DINGELL: I look forward to it. Have a good day.

GREENE: You, too.

That's Democratic congresswoman Debbie Dingell from Michigan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.