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Chellie Pingree Says Pandemic Relief Is Her Top Priority

Kris Bridges
For Maine Public
Chellie Pingree at Maine Public's 1st District debate in October.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree will be going back to Washington to represent Maine’s 1st District. She spoke with Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about the election and her goals for Congress in the next session.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Gratz: Does the performance by President Trump trouble you at all?

Look, I mean, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. And we’ve known for a while we’re a divided country. The president’s supporters are enthusiastic, and they clearly turned out. What really troubles me is what the president did in the middle of the night, saying that we were going to stop counting the votes and everything after the polling places closed was illegitimate, you know, completely not recognizing precedent and law, And just the high voting standards, we’ve always upheld in this country. I just had to keep reminding myself this is the United States of America, we know what it is to have late results here in Maine or any state around the country. And for him to say they were illegitimate, and to suggest that he’s going to start fighting it. It felt like one more time when the president could have softened the blow, brought people together, and he just is creating more division and more tension.

What do you see as the priorities for the House as we go into the new year?

Well, No. 1, if we haven’t passed a another COVID-19 relief package, I mean, that’s just got to be job one. The country is going to be really hurting by January. And if the pandemic numbers continue to go up, which is so troubling, we obviously need more assistance to get ourselves to the other side of this. We need support for our small businesses, for people who are out of work, for all the schools that are struggling to be open and stay open. That’s just a vital package. The fact that we passed it in the House last May shows that we were concerned then. If it takes a lot of tough negotiating with the Senate, you know, that’s what we’ll do. But I think by then it’ll be quite obvious with the whole country that this has got to get done. And of course, I think that we have to start shifting some of our focus to climate change. When we can start to see a vaccine and treatment in the foreground, then we have to say, ‘Hey, how do we prepare for the next crisis? What does this country have to do?’

I’m curious as to whether you think, based on what we’re seeing around the country, and based on the way this election is playing itself out, do we need to make any changes in how we vote for president?

Look, if I could get rid of the electoral college? Done. That was set up in a different kind of era, the same time when we thought you had to own land to vote and women didn’t have the right to vote and neither did Native Americans or Black people. I don’t think it belongs in our voting system anymore. Some of the other challenges that we had in this election cycle, like slowing down of the mail at the post office, that’s not a policy change. We have to have competent, nonpolitical people in positions like that to make sure that essential institutions are run well.

In a lot of ways you sound very upbeat, which is not what I’m hearing from a lot of people that I run into who are supporters of Democrats. What do you say to them, since they were expecting more out of this election than they’re obviously going to get?

There were a lot of hopes about taking the White House, taking the U.S. Senate, turn the direction of the country around, shifting our focus on the pandemic and, really, you know, doubling down and solving some of these issues. And I think it’s just been a very scary night for people, and there’s a lot of frustration out there. And we’re all going to be working hard to figure out how to be hopeful, how to think about putting our country back together again, how to work with each other and move into the future. But it is a really troubling, discouraging time, I think, particularly because of so much of the President’s rhetoric that was designed to divide us and, you know, sort of the bullying and the bigotry and the things that just make everyone feel so bad. It’s hard to see beyond that. We all have to remember the fundamental principles of our country in the Constitution that everyone has the right to vote and every vote has to be counted.