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An Alternative State of the Union: We’ll Hear from Dennis Kucinich, Raúl Grijalva and Sheila Jackson Lee of the Congressional Progressive Caucus

StoryJanuary 29, 2003
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Also on Tuesday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus held an Alternative State of the Union session in the Capitol.

California Democrat Barbara Lee, who co-chairs the 53-member caucus, opened the session saying, “We are holding an Alternative State of the Union address because we believe that Americans deserve a vision of a future of peace and justice rather than war and economic hardship and inequality. At last year’s State of the Union, President Bush gave us the axis of evil. Today, we face crises and possible war on multiple fronts. In fact, we face possible endless war because the doctrine of preemption knows no limits. It also brings us no security.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go to Congress and find out what Congressmember Dennis Kucinich of Ohio’s thoughts are, as he sat last night in the inner sanctum, being addressed by President George Bush. Your response?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, the president did not do anything to allay Americans’ fears about the condition of the economy. I mean, the national economy is in serious trouble, and it needs a genuine stimulus. And the stimulus must be large, and it has to jumpstart the economy immediately, has to create new jobs and put money in the pockets of the majority of Americans, and to target neglected areas of society, such as housing and schools and water systems. The president didn’t do that. He’s still on that old religion of a tax cut for those who are the most wealthy.

And I think when it comes to healthcare, he didn’t say anything about a guarantee of high-quality healthcare. You have 41 million Americans who, because of the failure of the private market to deliver healthcare, are really deprived access. And you have senior citizens who are being told by the president they should go to HMOs to negotiate a better or some kind of a deal on prescription drugs, while HMOs are already cutting seniors off their list, increasing costs and limiting the kind of quality people can get for what they’re paying.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday, you held a session with your fellow and and sister congressmembers from the Progressive Caucus, which, it might surprise some people to know, is the largest caucus in Congress?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: It is, and we’re becoming more active as time goes on. The Progressive Caucus was instrumental in leading the effort towards getting 126 Democrats to vote against the Iraqi war resolution. We led the way towards unemployment — a statement and policies that would provide for unemployment benefits for Americans. We’ve been leading the way on universal healthcare and a whole range of economic issues and foreign policy issues. So, it’s a caucus that takes in the cross section of all Democrats and all races and creeds and from every part of the country, and it’s very dynamic.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to go for a minute to a new congressmember, who spoke at your hearing yesterday, where basically one congressmember after another from the Progressive Caucus got up and gave a two-minute Alternative State of the Union address. This is Arizona Congressmember Raúl Grijalva.

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: I paraphrased at an earlier event with the Hispanic Caucus something that the late, great Congressman Morris Udall from southern Arizona, that now I enjoy the pleasure of representing, he used to love to say at events, “Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it.” So I appreciate this chance to comment.

Our economy is in crisis. And I think Bush is going to talk about his remedies today. Our economy is in crisis. And I think what he has proposed — I believe what he has proposed only aggravates that crisis. My colleagues have spoken about healthcare and all the issues that are underfunded, not paid attention to, not concerned with. And yet he’s going to talk about his economic package that does nothing to alleviate the crisis that we’re in, but, I think, aggravates it.

The war in Iraq, I kind of simplify it by saying it seems to be a war of personal privilege by the president. The consequence of no evidence is evidence seems to be the mantra that we’re hearing from the administration over and over again. And as we rush and hear that war beat, other issues of importance to this country, as have been illustrated by my colleagues, continue to be there.

One of the things that disturbs me that we’re not going to hear about today in the State of the Union is the assault on civil rights and civil liberties in this country. We’re not going to hear about the workplace and educational remedies, like affirmative action, that have been there for years to address current and past discrimination as a remedy. We’re not going to hear about the insidious kinds of rollbacks and takebacks that we see around environmental protections and regulations in this country, such as public lands, Superfund sites, etc. We’re not going to hear about the takebacks and rollbacks and collective bargaining rights for workers in this country. We’re not going to hear about the rollbacks in worker and consumer protections. And we’re not going to hear at all about the border region in the Southwest, the issue of immigration, what reform is needed, and how desperately it’s needed.

But I believe — and that’s why I’m proud to be part of this caucus — that the American people have a tremendous sense of purpose and common sense. And their common sense is about decency and fairness and respect in this country. And I think the stronger our message is, the stronger our common sense is, the stronger we’ll become in this Congress, and the bigger effect we will begin to have on the policies that Bush is promoting and on the policies — and the real policies that the American people want. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Raúl Grijalva. He is a new Democratic congressmember from southwestern Arizona, speaking at the Progressive Caucus Alternative State of the Union hearing yesterday that was co-chaired by Barbara Lee and Dennis Kucinich, who’s on the line with us. As Congressmember Grijalva talked about the issues that were not going to be addressed by George Bush, issues of immigrant detentions and affirmative action, I could only think about Attorney General John Ashcroft, who in fact was the Cabinet member who was not at last night’s State of the Union address, right? He was chosen, in case there was a catastrophe and everyone was wiped out, to be the COG, the cog, the continuity of government.

FRANCES FOX PIVEN: That would really be a catastrophe, right?

AMY GOODMAN: What what did you say, Frances Fox Piven?

FRANCES FOX PIVEN: It would really be a catastrophe.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Kucinich?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, Congressman Grijalva is an example of the kind of articulate spokespersons we have in the Progressive Caucus. For a new member to come in and to be able to articulate in the way that he did the deficiencies in the Bush approach indicates that our caucus is becoming stronger and the message that we take to the larger Democratic caucus is stronger. You know, we believe, as progressives, that jobs should pay living wages, that people should be more easily able to form unions and bargain collectively with their employers, and that the federal government should guarantee Social Security, with the full faith in credit of the United States. Yesterday —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it seems that the Homeland Security Act — Homeland Security Department now is going in exactly the opposite direction, with people losing their — it’s the largest department now, but they’re losing their civil service protections.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Right, and that’s something we argued strenuously over in the debate over homeland security. This country has been — has been undergoing a dramatic shift away from a number of freedoms, away from worker protections, away from the rights of workers, away from human rights, away from basic constitutional privileges, all in the name of a so-called fight against terrorism. And now the president has reduced this country’s role to fighting phantoms. I mean, yesterday in the State of the Union, he said, “Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take just one vial, one canister.” And, you know, he’s stoking fear.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Dennis Kucinich, we’re going to end with the words of Sheila Jackson Lee, who has introduced a resolution to repeal the war resolution in Congress. She also spoke at the Progressive Caucus hearing. We’ll just hear some of what she had to say, the congresswoman from Houston.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Just a week ago, we commemorated Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, celebrated it as a nation. We are reminded of the fact that in the waning days and hours of his death, he spoke to the nation, having seen before him the mountaintop and the promised land. 1968, he knew that we could be better than ourselves.

And I would imagine that Dr. King would have wanted a different story to be told today in the State of the Union. He would have wanted that promised land to be one that reflected all of us. He would have wanted the American people to understand that you do not measure the state of a man or a woman’s patriotism by the willingness to stand up and fight against a war. He would have understood that the Constitution, that provided some minimal protection for the issues that he desired, does in fact instruct the Congress to make a decision of war. He would have also understood that political solutions are, in fact, the way to show strength and power. The United States has done neither.

To the American people who want to divide or who are told to divide by interpretation — the Democrats stand for this, and independents stand for this, progressives stand for this, and Republicans stand for this — please understand that patriotism comes about in one’s desire to see the very best for America and the very best for the American people.

AMY GOODMAN: Sheila Jackson Lee, congressmember from Houston, speaking at the Progressive Caucus’s Alternative State of the Union addresses. For all of those speeches, you can go to their website at www.house.gov/kucinich/progressivecaucus.

And that does it for today’s show. I want to thank all of our guests you can get a copy of the program video or audio by calling 1-800-881-2359. That’s 1-800-881-2359 Our website is democracynow.org. Our email address, mail@democracynow.org. That’s mail@democracynow.org. Democracy Now! is produced by Kris Abrams, Mike Burke, Angie Karran, Ana Nogueira, Alex Wolfe. Rich Kim is our engineer, Anthony Sloane our music maestro. I’m looking forward to going to Madison, Wisconsin, this weekend, helping out WORT. You can call that community radio station for more details. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for listening to another edition of Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!

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