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Detroit— U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib says her decision last week to use an expletive to describe the president of the United States "was a teachable moment," yet her only regret came when the incident distracted the nation from the government shutdown.

"The use of that language was a teachable moment for me," the Detroit Democrat said during a Tuesday press conference on the 18-day partial shutdown, referring to her much-publicized “we’re going to ... impeach the mother(expletive)” reference to President Donald Trump.

"I understand I am a member of Congress. And I don't want anything that I do or say to distract us. That is the only thing I apologize for, is that it was a distraction," Tlaib said Tuesday.

"We have a course that we have to stick to, and nothing I say should distract us from that. The shutdown has to be at the forefront, that's what I am here for, to shift to. This is so much more important."

Tlaib was here at the Michigan Veterans Foundation, where she and community members discussed the shutdown's impact on residents, such as veterans, employees of human service agencies and an attorney fighting for employment rights for clients.

"It's a critical moment for us in our country to fully grasp the human toll that this shutdown has in our communities," the first-term lawmaker said.

"As we enter the third week of this shutdown, we are still waiting for the United States Senate to take action and for the president to signal a willingness to end this harm not only for our federal workers but for our families and resident impacted by government programs they need today."

After joining colleagues in the House of Representatives to vote to send fundingbills that would reopen the government, Tlaib returned to the district to hear from constituents on how they have been affected, her office said.

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers, more than 5,000 in Michigan, are working without pay or being forced to stay home and go without a paycheck. They include Hodari Brown, a federal employee, a student and a disabled veteran who lives in Redford Township.

Brown said he depends on his paycheck for rent, heat, electricity, water and food.

"All of these things are now in flux for me," Brown said at the press conference. "The longer I go without a paycheck, the longer I fall into jeopardy of not being able to pay my mortgage, which will impact my credit and have a negative impact on me trying to survive." 

Brown said he also helps fill shortfalls for his parents who live on Social Security and retirement checks to pay their bills.

"This is the reality of many folks across the state and the country who now have to wonder when we will receive our next paycheck. ... We need action to reopen the government," he said.

Jack Schulz, a Detroit-based attorney for federal workers who files employment discrimination cases, said the shutdown affects people who rely on the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney's Office seeking justice for various claims.

An administrative order issued by western district of federal court in Michigan said any Social Security cases not yet docketed will be delayed for at least three months, Schulz said.

"That is justice denied. There is a saying in law: 'Justice delayed is justice denied.' Any delay in your ability to file these claims amounts to justice denied in many scenarios," Schulz said.

The press conference came as Trump prepared to deliver on Tuesday night a televised address to the nation. He was expected to outline why he is demanding up to $5.7 billion in Homeland Security aid to build a wall or barrier along the Southern border with Mexico as part of a funding package to reopen nine federal departments.

Tlaib said she plans to be an activist legislator who won't set aside her "movement work" while in office. Tlaib was arrested by police a month before Election Day during a pro-labor rally in Detroit.  

The 42-year-old Palestinian American is part of a group of progressive Democrats elected last fall who want to shake up the status quo in the U.S. House. She is among four new Democrats in Michigan's congressional delegation.

The former state lawmaker plans to push Medicare for All health coverage, a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage and an update to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. She also said lawmakers have a responsibility to hold the executive branch accountable. 

Regarding Tuesday night's presidential address, Tlaib said: "I hope he is talking to us the people. ... He owes us the people at home an explanation. We are the ones literally waiting for him to lead with compassion."

jchambers@detnews.com

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