Democratic Rep. Fudge Weighs In On Obama's Key Points

Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, joins Steve Inskeep with reaction to President Obama's State of the Union address.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio is with us next. She is the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of the lawmakers who was listening to President Obama's State of the Union speech last night. She's a Democrat. She's on the line. Welcome to the program.

REP. MARCIA FUDGE: Thank you. Happy to be here.

INSKEEP: Thank you. I'm glad you joined us. Does it bother you that the president named big issues - income inequality, equal opportunity - but did not necessarily offer big answers last night?

FUDGE: Well, it didn't bother me because I think he did have some answers. He talked about how he is going to personally ensure that a large portion of federal employees do have a higher wage. He is going to make sure that any federal contractor pays their employees at least $10.10 an hour. You would not be surprised, I don't think, because you know a little bit about government, how many employees that is.

He also talked about rewriting the tax code. He talked about things that we need to do right away - in the wars and close Guantanamo. I think that there were some concrete things that he said in the speech that maybe were overlooked because of all of the big things about opportunity for all, et cetera. But I think that he was very clear on some issues, and those are some of the ones that I thought he expressed very well.

INSKEEP: Although you mentioned the minimum wage. Of course that's something that he can do on his own authority when it comes to federal contractors, but of course raising the minimum wage across the country would be far more difficult at this point.

FUDGE: No question about it, because that would then require that Congress make that decision. And to this point I haven't seen the willingness on the Republican side, the majority, at least in the House, to raise the minimum wage.

INSKEEP: Did you hear a proposal that the president mentioned last night that as you looked around at your colleagues on the other side of the aisle in the House of Representatives and in the Senate as well, that you thought, well, actually, there could be movement on this issue in 2014?

FUDGE: Well, I think immigration - I believe that there will be some movement on immigration. I do believe that we all will ultimately be on the same page as it relates to foreign diplomacy. He talked about that last night, and I thought he was very, very strong; very, very clear.

INSKEEP: When it came to things like Iran, saying that he would veto an additional sanctions bill if it got to him?

FUDGE: Absolutely. About, you know, what we've done in Syria. I think that he was really stating what our foreign policy is going to be going forward. And he made no bones about the fact that he wanted to let diplomacy work. And I'm real pleased with that. So I think that - as well he talked about education. There are some things that we know we must do for all people to have a quality education.

The Education Department is working on things. He talked about Race To The Top - which some people are not so enamored with, but it's a start. And he talked about how every child at the age of 4 should have pre-K. So I think that there are some things that people in this country will feel good about.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you mentioned education, Congresswoman Fudge, because that was one of the items that the president mentioned in the early part of the speech; really, the first 30, 35 minutes of the speech. And as I listen to that early section - where he talked about raising the minimum wage, universal preschool, job training, education - I thought I was hearing things that you could argue about the policy merits, and many of them may not actually pass Congress this year, but they sounded like things that Democrats might very much like to run on in this fall's elections. Is that correct?

FUDGE: Absolutely. I mean, who can argue with the fact that if we're going to pay for job training, then we train people for jobs that exist today? Who can argue with the fact that a person who works 40 hours a week should make a living wage? No one who works, goes to school, does all the things right, should live in poverty. Who can argue with that?

INSKEEP: I guess the argument against it is that that's government intervention, which many conservatives are skeptical of. And it doesn't always work.

FUDGE: Well, I mean what's more government intervention - someone telling you who you can sleep with, someone telling you that you can't have an abortion, someone telling you that women's reproductive rights are to be determined by men? What is more intrusive?

INSKEEP: Let me ask one other thing, Congresswoman Fudge, if I might. President Obama's approval rating, as you know, is not what he would like it to be. It's in the low 40s nationally in many surveys. And in fact we noted that in some of the key states where some of the key elections are going to take place, especially for the Senate this fall, his approval rating is below 35 percent. How are Democrats going to handle that.

FUDGE: Well, I'm certainly hopeful that, after this speech and after he does some of the things that he talked about last night, that that approval rating will be significantly higher by the time we get to the midterms.

INSKEEP: Marcia Fudge is chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Thanks very much.

FUDGE: Thank you.

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