Rep. Debbie Dingell supports Supreme Court nominee and addresses the ongoing US impacts of the war in Ukraine
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and I'm David Fair. On this station this week, you heard the Senate Judiciary hearings on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. It remains to be finalized as to whether she'll win appointment and make history as the first African-American woman to serve on the nation's High Court. The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues. And here at home, gas prices in Michigan are dipping a bit this week, but prices in other parts of the country averaging over $6 a gallon. How is all of this being digested in Washington? Well, let's find out together as we're joined by 12th District Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. Thank you for making time today.
Debbie Dingell: It's always good to be with you.
David Fair: As a Democrat, it's expected that you would support the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson. The hearings this week, again, highlight the partisan divide as Republicans are, of near consensus opinion, she's not worthy of High Court appointment. What did you think of her performance this week?
Debbie Dingell: I think that she did an excellent job. She stayed calm, Gave well-reasoned, rational answers, showed the breadth of her experience, and she has multiple different perspectives that she brings to the Supreme Court. But first as a public defender, as a judge, the kind of cases she took a lot of hard, quite frankly, I think, some of them were insulting questions. She didn't get rattled, and I think she did an excellent job.
David Fair: There were some loud and dramatic moments as you just kind of referred to offered by Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz. Do you think the GOP members on the committee gave her a fair shake this week?
Debbie Dingell: You know, I think different people use these hearings for different things. One of the things that saddens me--you know, a long time ago, people may not know this. I was a Republican, and I worked for Bob Griffin when there was a Supreme Court nomination. And, you know, in those days, it didn't matter which party you were. You were thoughtful, you met with the nominee, you tried to get to know them, and you understood that this court is the highest--this is one of the highest offices you can reach, and they make major decisions on issues that impact all of us. And we need them to be a nonpolitical body. They are part of our system of checks and balances. I think, for some, and certainly not for all, this has become--because there are a lot of cameras--a moment for their time in the sun. I think some of the questions were downright stupid and insulting. And I think some used it for that. But I do think some of the Republicans did ask thoughtful questions, and I could have been more dramatic. I just wish it had been maybe just a little less of some of the drama questions more meant for an individual senator's profile than for really doing the review that you're supposed to be doing when you would be vicing and consenting.
David Fair: I'm glad you reference to the kind of evolution we've seen through these kinds of Senate Judiciary hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court. It has become, for both parties, a stage for political grandstanding, party loyalties, and fodder for election and reelection talking points. Do you think we can ever get that genie back in the bottle and get that part of it out of the process?
Debbie Dingell: David, I hope we can. I continue to tell the people we need to be worried about the fear and the hatred and the division that we have in this country. It is a danger to our democracy. We are one. You know, communities. You can disagree with each other, but you can do it in a civil way. I'm someone that's not going to stop working for it. And I think a lot of people in our community and our country want it. And I think they have to demand it of their elected leaders. And if they didn't like what they saw this week, express that.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with 12th District Congressional Representative Debbie Dingell, and we're going to shift the focus of our conversation for a moment. As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters a second month, I'm sure you continue to hear from your constituents about the prices they're paying at the gas pumps here in America, and there is a possibility, if not a likelihood, they'll go up further if the war drags on. Are you and your colleagues seriously considering taking a look at whether there is oil and gas industry price gouging going on, and maybe there's something that can be done about it?
Debbie Dingell: Absolutely. And there is, quite frankly. I have a chart--I can't show you the chart on the radio--that will show you that the cost of barrels of oil is going down, but the prices the people are paying at the pumps are going up. The oil CEOs have given themselves raises. We at the Energy and Commerce Committee that I'm a member of are going to be calling the oil company CEOs and having hearings and asking these kinds of tough questions. You know, I also like to tell you that these oil and gas producers have 9,000 leases or permits to drill--
David Fair: That they're not using there. Right.
Debbie Dingell: They're not using. And then, you know, I get a lot of people who say to me, we need to do the Keystone Pipeline, we've got to get this back. People do not realize that our refinery, the oil that goes through their Keystone pipeline, is a heavy oil. Our oil refineries in the United States don't refine that kind of oil. It's going to another country. I want to make sure that we're going to do everything we can to keep the cost of gasoline down. The president already, you know, put nine million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve into the supply for this country. But it is another reason why we've got to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil for the long term, for our national security. And we do--I remember in Michigan when this state legislature was considering renewables and how upset everybody was and how expensive it was going to be, it's working. And not only is it working, it's far less expensive. We need to invest more in alternative and renewable energy resources, so that we take care of ourselves in this country.
David Fair: I want to come back to this notion of further investment in renewable energies and shifting away from fossil fuels, but I want to get there in a little different way. As consumers, we are paying a federal and state gas tax. We are paying a sales tax on that gasoline, and the income taxes we send to the federal government have historically been used in part to provide massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. The International Monetary Fund put that figure at over $600 billion. Many consider it that way too high. Another firm, Oil Change International, it put the figure at over $20 billion annually. Now that's a huge gap, and the truth likely lies somewhere in between. But either way, it's a lot of money that serves as profit enhancement. Most or all of us support capitalism and don't begrudge corporate America a fair profit for services and products rendered. But have we and are we being treated fairly by the oil and gas industry and by our governing bodies that were elected to be stewards of the national well-being?
Debbie Dingell: We are looking at that very seriously, quite frankly. We also sent letters--the Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to utility companies. We did not want to see anybody's electricity shut off or gas shut off during the pandemic. They were given money to help make sure that that didn't happen, and now we're seeing there were more than 200,000 shutoffs in the state of Michigan. We want to hear from DTE and a number of other utility companies across the country that have done that. We have to look at the money that we're investing, the profit that we're helping to support. We want to make sure that everybody in this country has affordable gasoline. Their homes are warm, air conditioned. We need these utilities. But what is the responsibility of a corporation and what is the responsibility of a government? And how do we incentivize people to go to non-fossil fuel use that will actually contribute to our energy independence? And I'm not somebody that just goes after corporations, but I mean, I worked for GM for three decades, but you need to look at what the oil company executives have done just in bonuses and salary hikes to themselves, and they're not passing that on to the worker. But we're all paying the extra price. You know, and it's a very complicated thing about the gasoline taxes because one of the other problems is I'm looking at this at the federal level. We've been talking about it. But the oil companies actually, when you eliminate the the gas tax, the federal gas tax, the oil companies get a part of that even in how it would be refunded or kind of back to the government. How much of that gas tax, if it was there is a temporary holiday, would the consumer really see? And we already have an under-funded highway trust fund. What does it do to that? I've made a decision because I want to make sure people can afford their gasoline. I am worried about inflation. I'm feeling the effects of it myself in many scary ways. But, sometimes, talking points don't result in significant or real relief. And we have to look at how we get that real relief. And when you start with where you started with this question, David, we need to hold the oil and gas pipeline executives accountable.
David Fair: Now, I know a number of environmentalists who have long said fuel prices in America are much too low. We know driving behaviors and fuel consumption levels do change when prices get to over $4 a gallon, and that is certainly better as we work to combat the climate crisis. We talk more about better public transit, greater investments in renewables, and better community design. Now, if we were to take those subsidies and apply them in that manner, how much better off could we be and can we actually get to a place where that is a policy practice?
Debbie Dingell: We have to look at it. I'm certainly not going to increase prices right now on any consumer in this country. The fact of the matter is that most of the middle class and those that are working two jobs and still living below the poverty line are really struggling. There have been, I mean, no, I am talking to people. This isn't a hypothetical radio conversation. I am talking to people who are telling me how hard it is to get to work. There is a story in The Washington Post I would like everyone to read about a family that has stepped way backwards, and she's working two jobs. And, at the end of the week, by the time she pays the bills and her transportation, she's still underwater and cannot get home from working at the A&W. So, I'm worried about that worker, and I'm not going to do anything to hurt her right now.
David Fair: Well, we will pick up our conversation next week, and we will talk further about finding the methodologies and remedies so that we are both surviving and thriving.
Debbie Dingell: Great.
David Fair: That is 12th District Congressional Representative Debbie Dingell. And you heard her live here on your community NPR Station, 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD One. Ypsilanti.
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