Pelosi in Detroit: We must put power back into the hands of the people

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi addresses conventiongoers at the NAACP gathering in Detroit on Monday.

Detroit — Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said members of the NAACP "helped elect a Democratic majority" in the House but that much more needs to be done to protect the vote and address criminal justice inequality in a speech Monday at the organization's convention.

Unlike others before her who took aim at President Donald Trump — who declined to attend the event — Pelosi didn't mention his name once but gave a speech at Cobo Center about how her party stands with the venerable civil rights organization in lockstep unison.

"Once we break the grasp of special interests, once we put power back into the hands of the people, the American people can finally and fully achieve justice in America," she said.

Later with reporters at an early afternoon event at the nearby Detroit Club, Pelosi stopped short of calling Trump a racist and said, "I hardly ever mention his name." The American people, she said, have "a judgment to what he is."

Prior to her comments with reporters, Pelosi in her convention speech put the times in the context of the American Revolution and Dr. Martin Luther King's civil rights fight.

"In the dark days of the Revolution, Thomas Paine said the times have found us. We do not place ourselves in the category of our founders, but we know the urgency of the times," the speaker said. "... The times have found all of us to make the difference our country is crying out for."

Many of the speakers at the NAACP event Monday morning took aim at the president, criticizing him for a "divisive" agenda on issues, such as immigration, civil rights and what has been termed as "racist" rhetoric.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, received a rousing applause in her speech before Pelosi as she called for Trump to be impeached and said "I'm not going anywhere" until that was achieved.

“People have said, ‘Rashida, this isn’t your time.’ I didn’t know there was a line. When is my time?” she said.

Trump has leveled heavy criticism at Tlaib and three other congresswomen and said they should go back to where they came from, stirring many on both sides of the political aisle to condemn the Tweets.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, called Trump a "bully" and even joked about how she wished U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wasn't from Michigan.

"I wish she was not from Michigan. I think we should send her back," Stabenow said.

Rev. Wendell Anthony, the Detroit president of the NAACP, said he expected Pelosi to continue echoing issues that African Americans care for such as health care, voter protection and "economic access and income equality."

"This is not difficult. You can do all the same things at the same time," Anthony said. "The elephant is big. You have to eat it one bite at a time. So the impetus is, keep servicing, and keep helping and keep working for the people, but at the same time keep holding the leader in the White House accountable."

With a presidential forum featuring more than 10 Democrats on Wednesday at the convention, Anthony said the "bottom line is we've got to make a change in 2020. We've got to put somebody in the White House that's going to be for the people, that's not going to be dividing the people."

Pelosi’s trip to Michigan is part of a Midwest tour she began Friday in Indianapolis and continued with fundraising over the weekend in Chicago and then Dearborn.

Sunday’s large fundraiser at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center was expected to draw more than 300 people and was organized by Rep. Debbie Dingell.

Pelosi appeared on stage with Dingell and Reps. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as well as Tlaib. Tickets started at $150 a person and went as high as $5,000 for “sponsors” including a photo and VIP reception or $10,000 per couple that included better seating.

Pelosi spoke Monday at an event on economic opportunity for women at the Detroit Club with Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, who co-chairs the House Women’s Caucus.

During that stop, the speaker added that “our goal is to get the truth, the facts for the American people and go where the facts take us."

"It isn’t about principle," she said. "We are all honoring our oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. I wish the president would. In addition to that, it has nothing to do with elections.”

A House resolution last week condemned the president's remarks that targeted the freshmen lawmakers, Pelosi said, "and they were remarks that were racist."

Outside the Detroit Club, two dozen protesters greeted Pelosi with chants of “Who do you work for?”

The crowd criticized the house speaker for her handling of “the Squad,” a group of progressive congresswomen made up of Tlaib, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

Protesters held signs reading “Defend Rashida Tlaib” and “Defend the Squad.” Tlaib represents Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, which covers portions of Detroit and its Wayne County suburbs.

About 25 protesters march and chant Monday outside the Detroit Club, where Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is participating in an event.

Wayne resident William Toms, 27, said it was a disgrace for Pelosi to meet with donors at the Detroit Club in Tlaib’s district after publicly criticizing her several times.

“We are here today to send a clear message to Nancy Pelosi and senior Democratic leadership when you attack, when you denigrate and when you belittle women of color in Congress, 'the Squad,' the four most popular members of the Democratic congress right now, this is a personal attack on all of us,” said Toms, a member of Michigan for Single Payer Healthcare.

Back at the NAACP convention, Irving Joyner, who traveled to the convention from North Carolina to receive an award for his litigation in police brutality and voting rights cases, wanted to know what the congresswomen would say about protecting voting rights.

"What are they going to do about protecting the voting rights of African Americans and people of color? Joyner asked. "That's going to be under attack leading up to 2020."

Joyner said that education, employment and housing discrimination were other issues important to him.

Kimiah Williams traveled to the convention from San Francisco with a group of students from the organization Operation Genesis.

"I'm not really into politics," Williams said. "I like to see how what (politicians) say compares to what's actually implemented. ... A lot of people talk, but they don't always implement it."

Williams said making sure young people have access to education is an issue she is looking to have addressed by political leaders.

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Staff writer Melissa Burke contributed to this story.