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National

Rep. Terri Sewell On The State Of Alabama And The Country

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We're joined now by U.S. Representative Terri Sewell of Alabama's 7th District. Representative Sewell, thanks very much for joining us here at the Lyric.

TERRI SEWELL: Well, thank you so much for being at the Lyric. And welcome to the 7th Congressional District of Alabama.

SIMON: Our pleasure. We have been received with great warmth and courtesy and thank you. I got to start with the voices we just heard. Those are your constituents. Those are Democrats. Those are union people. They feel that Washington, D.C., doesn't understand them. What do you say?

SEWELL: Listen. I think that the dysfunction that is in Washington is real. It's unacceptable. That's why I think it's so important that folks like myself come back home weekend after weekend, that we're not just in the Beltway. And even though Congress may be dysfunctional, I want the folks back home to know that we are working day in and day out to try to address the job situation.

In fact, your local member of Congress - me - I have my own program called Project READY. Ready stands for Realizing Everyone's Ability to Develop Yourself. It's about putting together all of the resources - federal, state and local - to try to help retrain and focus my constituents on jobs that are here now and the jobs that we're trying to recruit in the future.

SIMON: Just in the interest of time, can you see where people might hear that and might respect your ideas but think, you know, this is the hundredth time I've heard about a new government program?

SEWELL: It's actually not a government program, that's the whole point. The reality is that we're actually leveraging resources that are already being spent locally, federally and statewide. So we bring together the Alabama Career Center. We bring together, you know, Jefferson County industrial development training as well as Jeff State and Lawson State. And we try to - these are community colleges that are located here - trying to leverage the resources that we were already have.

Do I have a bill in Washington that would actually give a tax credit to apprenticeship programs? Absolutely. But is that bill going anywhere? No, it's not. I'm a Democrat.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: What - well, what about...

SEWELL: But I'm not waiting for Washington to solve the problems. I'm trying to leverage the resources we already have.

SIMON: Those three former steelworkers - Democrats, union people - seem to think very powerfully that the Democratic Party wasn't speaking for them or even had forgotten how to talk them.

SEWELL: Listen. Elections have consequences, and we're seeing those consequences. I think that it's so important that the Democratic Party becomes a listening party. We took a shellacking in this last election. And what has to come from that is listening to the voices of average everyday Americans because as the three voices that we just heard said, the Democratic Party is a party that has traditionally been behind labor and we still are. And somehow we're - there's a disconnect going on.

Yes, Donald Trump won, but what is he doing for the average American, the same people that elected him? If you look at his budget, he's cutting Delta Regional Authority, zeroed it out. And that is a program that helps rural Alabama. You know, he's also taking money away from Meals on Wheels and seniors. There are a lot of broken promises. And I think it's...

SIMON: But I think the point of those former steelworkers were they had some hope that he'll fight for us. They're not waiting on government programs. They want a job...

SEWELL: Absolutely.

SIMON: ...And that he will be tough on foreign competition.

SEWELL: But, you know, your budget is a reflection of that which you value. And the budget that the Trump administration has put out is a budget that has cut Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. It's a budget that has zeroed out programs that actually provide skills training. And so...

SIMON: I think they pointed out skills training job doesn't do much good when you need to work like that man whose daughter has to go to college now, can't wait for him to spend two years to learn a new job.

SEWELL: But it's also important that we don't sell a bag of goods. Look. There are a lot of jobs that are not going to come back to America, but that doesn't mean - or back to the Deep South - but that doesn't mean that we don't promote the opportunities that are coming this way. I think that it's so important that we leverage the fact that we have Mercedes Benz and Hyundai and all of these amazing manufacturing opportunities to retool, meaning the future of work is automation.

So we have to be able to get our workers trained and - for the jobs that are here now and the jobs that are here in the future. But look. I'm not going to make any excuses. The Democrats lost the last election. And if we do not listen to Americans and actually put forth policies that make sense for average everyday Americans, we're going to be in this quandary again in four years. But my hope though is that...

SIMON: I hope you don't run over time.

SEWELL: (Laughter) Well, my hope is that the American people will really listen to what's coming on and stay woke in America because there's a lot of misconceptions that are going on right now. And I want you to know that there are folks like myself that are fighting for everyday Americans every day, irrespective of what's going on in the Beltway.

SIMON: Representative Terri Sewell, the 7th District of Alabama. Thanks so much for being with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.