Rep. André Carson and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke July 19 at Central Library about issues ranging from women’s health care to how to engage more voters in Indiana. The event was part of Pelosi’s Speaker in the House series, which takes her around the country to Democratic members’ districts.
While trying to avoid explicitly political issues, Carson and especially Pelosi couldn’t help but bring in President Donald Trump from time to time. The event came on the heels of racist tweets and other comments from Trump about four freshmen Democratic congresswomen of color: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, known collectively as “the squad.”
“We have a president who is obsessed with distracting Americans from the real issues,” Carson told media members after the moderated discussion.
Responding to an audience member’s question about why Democratic leaders haven’t done more to protect the four congresswomen from the attacks — which have been most heavily aimed at Omar — Pelosi sharply responded “we do protect those members.” The House formally condemned Trump’s comments as racist, though Pelosi made it clear they were condemning the president’s words, not the president himself.
Some, especially those to the left of Pelosi in the Democratic Party, have accused her of opening the door for Trump’s attacks. She recently told the New York Times in an interview: “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world, but they didn’t have any following. They’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got.”
Carson was asked about xenophobia, especially in a state like Indiana that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and then voted for Trump in 2016. Carson said xenophobia is “rooted in prejudice” and that it can come from ideas that are “shaded” by what people are taught in their communities.
Asked how to include more Indiana voters in the electoral process, Carson recommended a blended approach by working with activists who are already involved and other elected officials. Carson represents a safely Democratic district, but he said talking to farmers in rural areas “gave me a sense of seeing our differences are very small.” He mentioned that he used to dine with then-Gov. Mike Pence — some in the audience apologized when the moderator mentioned that the vice president came from Indiana — and said that although they didn’t share much in common when it came to politics, they could bond over a shared concern for their children’s education.
Carson and Pelosi touted the Affordable Care Act, passed under former President Barack Obama, and said strengthening it would help Indiana lower its maternal mortality rate. About 53 Black mothers in Indiana die for every 100,000 live births, according to government data, which puts the state on par with countries like Iraq and Vietnam.
Pelosi talked about getting more people in the “health care loop” and said in a perfect world she would “carpet the country with community health centers” that could provide culturally appropriate care.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.