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Detroit Free Press: Rep. Debbie Dingell talked to Joe Biden after speech to Congress: What was said

Detroit Free Press: Rep. Debbie Dingell talked to Joe Biden after speech to Congress: What was said

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, appeared to have something of a short, spirited talk with President Joe Biden on Wednesday night after his speech to Congress.

The topic? Autos, of course.

"He stopped and wanted to know if I was OK," Dingell said on Thursday morning, adding that the president started talking to a group of Democrats on the House floor asking what they thought of the speech. When the subject turned to autos, she said, she told him she "was working hard to bring everybody together."

Vice-President Biden touring NAIAS 2017 shown with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell.

By everyone, Dingell was referring to automakers and suppliers, labor unions and the environmental community to help tease out a solution to what remains a sticky problem for the U.S.: How to address climate change by moving to put more electric vehicles on the roads while at the same time not gutting the union jobs making cars and trucks with internal combustion engines.

The environmental community and many states, led by California, want to move entirely to electric vehicles being sold within their states in several years, but the UAW has warned that could lead to a loss of union jobs, since battery makers are not necessarily as union-friendly. Automakers and experts already know it takes fewer workers to assemble electric cars and trucks with most of the labor going into the batteries.

Biden made a few brief mentions during his speech — his first as president to a joint session of Congress — that suggested his commitment to encourage the move to electric vehicles, rely on American-made products and put more union workers to work as part of it, specifically mentioning the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as key to installing electric vehicle charging stations across the country.

Getting legislation passed in Congress and all sides to agree to what sort of incentives and restrictions should be part of any government program or regulation is a thorny problem, however. Dingell, who has been holding regular meetings with all sides, is at the center of it. 

That legislation could eventually put in place wage or labor standards to incentivize the creation of more union jobs, though that could bring political risks — particularly in the Senate, which is divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans and where 60 votes are needed to pass most bills.

"I just said I'd get it done," she said she told him when the president said he needed her help.

On Thursday morning, Dingell unveiled legislation of her own which, if approved, would authorize $1 trillion a year to be spent over the next decade to improve infrastructure, build electric vehicles and environmentally friendly buildings, prop up farmers using methods that protect the environment, protect open spaces and wetlands, and invest in institutions that care for children and older Americans. It calls for wage and labor standards that would guarantee workers be paid at least $15 an hour and their rights to organize with labor unions be protected.

In his speech, the president spoke less about "green jobs" and retraining workers and more about using American labor and products, perhaps aware of the sensitivity of the conversations under way.

Biden seemed pleased with his brief chat with Dingell — offering her a fist bump as he moved on to others on the House floor.

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