Dingell launches Heartland Caucus focused on Midwest
Washington ― Michigan U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell gathered about 20 Democratic colleagues Wednesday on Capitol Hill to launch the Heartland Caucus in an effort to underscore the contributions and electoral might of the Midwest.
The Ann Arbor Democrat put forward a coalition of lawmakers whom she said are united by common issues, values and work ethic, covering a swath of the nation's manufacturing and farming sectors, as well as urban cities and the small towns, and the home of the Great Lakes.
“The reality is the heartland is the industrial and the agriculture core of the U.S.,” Dingell said.
She estimated the caucus will number about 40 members and its mission will be to “elevate and engage” on issues facing communities in the region, including manufacturing and labor, agriculture, racial equity, rural health care, broadband infrastructure and the environment. She named the upcoming farm bill among the legislation the group would be active on.
“We must ensure that, as we're creating policy here in Washington, we are prioritizing the views, the values and issues of these communities at home that are too often overlooked, not integrated into policy consideration before congressional action,” Dingell said. “To be clear, all roads to majorities and to the White House go through the heartland of America.”
Multiple lawmakers who spoke at Wednesday’s news conference said the Midwest is too often forgotten as “flyover” country, rather than the center and “heart” of the nation.
They are gunning for more attention from their colleagues and from House Democratic leadership, whose members have largely been from the East and West coasts, and they want their collective voice to be heard, they said.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, offered the example of funding inequity between Great Lakes Basin and the Western states served by the Bureau of Reclamation.
“It has real challenges. When I look at the funding and bills that several Congresses have improved, I see that organizations like the Bureau of Reclamation receive billions,” Kaptur said. “That isn't true with our region. And so we have to speak louder and more forcefully.”
“We have no one in any position of leadership from the heartland,” she added later. “This is one of the realities we face over and over and over again.”
Michigan Reps. Haley Stevens of Birmingham as well as Rashida Tlaib and Shri Thanedar of Detroit attended the launch, along with lawmakers from Illinois, Minnesota and Ohio.
Stevens credited lawmakers from the Midwest as being key to legislative efforts to renegotiate the North American Tree Trade Agreement, the recent climate bill, as well as the CHIPS and Science Act that invests billions of dollars in domestic semiconductor manufacturing. The recrafting of NAFTA into the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement was signed in 2020 by President Donald Trump, the Republican who campaigned on changing NAFTA.
“It was the voices from the Midwest that rose up that said we need this, and we need this now,” Stevens said about the CHIPS and Science Act. “We were the early drumbeat.”
Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio said the caucus is about unity and not division within the Democratic caucus.
“I stand with my colleagues representing that Heartland being from the great Midwest, but we stand strong with our Democratic colleagues, whether from the East or the West or South,” she said.
“It's about recognition, and it's about us saying, we have found our place and we are very comfortable being from the heartland. … There's so much more to come because of our power and because of our unity.”
Dingell added that she believes the current Democratic leadership, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York and his deputies (who hail from California and Massachusetts) “hear us.”
“I just want to say the Heartland Caucus will not be quiet,” she said. “It will be effective and everybody here has everybody else's back as we fight for the districts that we represent.”