Dems challenge Trump with guests for address

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Rep. John Conyers didn’t attend President Donald Trump’s inauguration last month, but the Detroit Democrat plans to be at Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night.

To make a point, he will be accompanied by Nabih Ayad, the lead attorney for the Arab American Civil Rights League who filed suit in Detroit challenging the constitutionality of Trump’s first proposed travel ban.

Conyers and several other Democrats are bringing guests to the speech who have spoken out about or would be personally affected by Trump’s immigration policies or by GOP plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

“We’re sending a message that there’s a system of checks and balances, and our forefathers had the vision to make it that way,” Ayad said. “That message is, Mr. Trump, you don’t trump the Constitution.”

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, will be joined by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who 18 months ago uncovered elevated levels of lead in the blood of Flint children.

Hanna-Attisha, who grew up in Royal Oak, came to the United States at age 4 with her parents from Iraq, fleeing the autocratic regime of Saddam Hussein. In a column in the New York Times this month, she noted that 25 percent of practicing physicians in the United States are foreign-trained, and many of them work in under-served places such as Flint and in rural areas.

“While I’m glad I was there to help bring the Flint water crisis to light, I can’t help wondering if, with new limits on immigration, we are losing the next pediatrician who will expose a future public health disaster,” she wrote.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, is bringing Fatima Salman, executive director of Muslim Students Association and a board member of the Michigan Muslim Community Council.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, will take Phoebe Hopps of Traverse City, an activist who helped organize the Michigan contingent of the women’s march in Washington and the protest against Trump’s travel ban at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

“We’re inviting a lot of my Muslim brothers and sisters and others of diverse backgrounds to the address, so it will be interesting to see what he says, and what the response is,” Hopps said.

Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak, is bringing Lindsay Helfman of Hazel Park, a graduate student who says she had limited access to health insurance before Obamacare, going many years without it.

She and her family, including her 2-year-old daughter, are now insured through Michigan’s unique form of expanded Medicaid eligibility that is funded through the Affordable Care Act. She’s worried her family will lose coverage if the law is repealed. With a household income of roughly $28,000 a year, it would be difficult to pay for insurance on the open market, she said.

“Since the election, I’ve been on the edge of a panic attack, following every twist and turn in Congress as to what could happen,” Helfman said. “It’s really terrifying for me.”

Republican members of Congress, governors and the Trump administration continue to debate how they plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has pushed to keep the Medicaid expansion but change the health care program for the poor so it is no longer an open-ended federal entitlement.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, invited Dr. Sharon Swindell, a Ypsilanti pediatrician affiliated with the University of Michigan Health System who is president-elect of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and who has expressed concerns about the effect on children’s health care if the ACA is repealed.

Republicans who make up the majority in Michigan’s congressional delegation are taking a different tack.

Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, wanted to raise awareness of local efforts to combat the heroin epidemic, so he invited a constituent from Jackson, Mike Hirst, who speaks at community forums and summits to support families and others struggling with addiction. Hirst founded the group Andy’s Angels in memory of his son, who died of an overdose in 2010.

The guest of Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, will be Dick DeVos Jr., the husband of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The son of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, Dick DeVos is the company's former CEO who unsuccessfully ran for Michigan governor in 2006. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, is bringing Kalamazoo County Treasurer Mary Balkema, a Republican.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, will be accompanied by Dr. Paul Rogers, director of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Warren.

Several other delegation members are taking friends or their spouse as their guests, according to their offices.

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