Official portrait, 2019
|United States Senator|
January 3, 2001
Serving with Gary Peters
|Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee|
January 3, 2017
|Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee|
January 3, 2015
|Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee|
January 3, 2011 - January 3, 2015
|Secretary of the Senate Democratic Conference|
January 3, 2005 - January 3, 2007
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Michigan's 8th district
January 3, 1997 - January 3, 2001
|Member of the Michigan Senate|
from the 24th district
January 12, 1991 - January 14, 1994
|William A. Sederburg|
|Member of the Michigan House of Representatives|
from the 58th district
January 6, 1979 - January 12, 1991
|Thomas M. Holcomb|
Deborah Ann Greer
April 29, 1950
Gladwin, Michigan, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Dennis Stabenow (before 1990)|
(m. 2003; div. 2010)
|Education||Michigan State University (BA, MSW)|
Deborah Ann Greer Stabenow (; born April 29, 1950) is an American politician serving as the senior United States Senator from Michigan, a seat she was first elected to in 2000. A member of the Democratic Party, she became the state's first female U.S. Senator after defeating Republican incumbent Spencer Abraham. Before her election to the Senate, she was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Michigan's 8th congressional district (1997-2001). Previously she served on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners and in the Michigan State Legislature.
Stabenow served as Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee from 2011 to 2015. She was reelected to the Senate for a fourth term in 2018. She became the state's senior U.S. Senator upon the retirement of Carl Levin on January 3, 2015. She became Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee in 2017.
Stabenow was born in Gladwin, Michigan, the daughter of Anna Merle (née Hallmark) and Robert Lee Greer. She grew up in Clare. She graduated from Clare High School, and received a Bachelor of Arts from Michigan State University in 1972 and a Master of Social Work magna cum laude from Michigan State University in 1975.
In 1994, she ran in Michigan's Democratic gubernatorial primary to challenge incumbent Republican John Engler in the general election. U.S. Congressman Howard Wolpe defeated her in the primary, however, with a plurality of 35% to Stabenow's 30%. After the primary, Wolpe chose Stabenow as his running mate, and she appeared on the general election ballot as the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Stabenow failed to become Lieutenant Governor of Michigan as Engler defeated Wolpe 61%-38%.
In 1996, Stabenow ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives, challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Congressman Dick Chrysler for the opportunity to represent Michigan's 8th congressional district. She defeated Chrysler 54%-44%. In 1998, she won re-election to a second term with 57% of the vote.
Stabenow did not seek re-election to the House in 2000, choosing instead to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Spencer Abraham. She won the Democratic primary unopposed. In the general election, Stabenow defeated Abraham 49.5%-48% (a difference of 67,259 votes).
Stabenow was re-elected to a fourth term, defeating Republican nominee John E. James by a margin of 52.3%-45.8%. Stabenow was re-elected by 275,660 votes (a 6.50% margin), making this the closest U.S. Senate election in Michigan since 2000.
Stabenow is only the second person from Michigan to have served in both houses of the Michigan State Legislature and in both houses of the United States Congress. Stabenow is also the first person to have served as a Michigan state legislator to be popularly elected to the U.S. Senate (until enactment of the Seventeenth amendment to the United States Constitution in 1913, U.S. Senators were selected by the state legislature).
Stabenow became the third-ranking Democratic Party member in the U.S. Senate on November 16, 2004, when she was elected as secretary of the Democratic caucus. As caucus secretary, she assisted Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to set the Democratic agenda and priorities. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) was elected Minority Whip, the second-ranking Democratic spot. In November 2006, Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that Stabenow would leave the caucus secretary position to succeed Hillary Clinton as chair of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, charged with "engag[ing] Democratic Senators and community leaders across the country in an active dialogue".
After Tom Daschle, President Barack Obama's nominee for United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, withdrew his name, the National Organization for Women urged the president to appoint Stabenow, citing her focus on health care and "her background as a social worker".
Stabenow became the Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee in 2011, following the defeat of Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln. A controversial item during Stabenow's tenure, has been the renewal and reform of the 2012 U.S. Farm Bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) reintroduced 2012's Senate Farm Bill in the new 113th Congress in January 2013, saying that the Farm Bill was on his top priority list, and Stabenow voiced support for Reid's move, stating "Majority Leader Reid has demonstrated that the Senate will once again make supporting our nation's agriculture economy while cutting spending a top priority."
On October 29, 2014, Stabenow introduced the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act (S. 1603; 113th Congress), a bill that would reaffirm the status of lands taken into trust by the Department of the Interior (DOI) for the benefit of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band. The bill would clarify that the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band's land trust could not be challenged in court under the Supreme Court decision of Carcieri v. Salazar.
In 2013, Greg Kaufmann of The Nation wrote an article stating that Stabenow was prepared to cut $8 to $9 billion from the food stamp (SNAP) program. In a lengthy statement, Stabenow's office rejected these accusations, maintaining that Stabenow "strongly opposes any changes to food assistance that make cuts in benefits for people who need help putting food on the table" and that she "has been the number one defender against the House Republican proposal to cut food assistance by $40 billion." Kaufmann doubled down on his charges and challenged in detail the claims made by Stabenow's office.
In 2017, Stabenow fought to prevent the creation of additional work-requirement rules on SNAP recipients who were older or had smaller children and led a bipartisan effort to get the legislation passed.
In October 2002, Stabenow was one of 23 Senators who voted against the War Authorization for invading Iraq.
In April 2019, Stabenow was one of thirty-four senators to sign a letter to President Trump encouraging him "to listen to members of your own Administration and reverse a decision that will damage our national security and aggravate conditions inside Central America", asserting that Trump had "consistently expressed a flawed understanding of U.S. foreign assistance" since becoming president and that he was "personally undermining efforts to promote U.S. national security and economic prosperity" through preventing the use of Fiscal Year 2018 national security funding. The senators argued that foreign assistance to Central American countries created less migration to the U.S., citing the funding's helping to improve conditions in those countries.
Stabenow secured $100 million to repair and replace the water lines in Flint, Michigan, which were contaminating the drinking water with lead. Stabenow also pushed to include a program that would provide fresh fruits and vegetables to Flint children as part of the Farm Bill.
Stabenow has received low scores from free-market groups (Competitive Enterprise Institute, 2013, 0%; American Conservative Union, 2016, 0%; Americans for Prosperity, 2015-16, 0%) and high scores from fiscally liberal groups (Progressive Punch, 2015, 92%; NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, 2012, 91%).
In 2010, she introduced the China Fair Trade Act, saying it would "prevent federal taxpayer dollars from being used to purchase Chinese products and services until they sign on to and abide by the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement." The bill would also require a report on Chinese industrial policies and require the Department of Energy to monitor the development of China's renewable energy sector.
In August 2012, Stabenow expressed support for "strategic partnerships between farmers and industry" and for a recent Obama directive to boost federal purchases of bio-based products.
In 2015, the International Economic Development Council gave Stabenow the Congressional Leadership Award "for her significant contributions in the area of economic development." The IEDC cited her work on the 2014 Farm Bill, her sponsorship in 2013 of the New Skills for New Jobs Act, and her role in the federal bridge loan program."
In 2017, Stabenow introduced her American Jobs Agenda, which included two acts: the Make It In America Act and the Bring Jobs Home Act. The former "would close loopholes in a 1933 law designed to give American companies priority when the federal government purchases goods." She said the act would require that the U.S. government "buy American...If the federal agency says they need a waiver, they need to measure how many American jobs will be impacted by purchasing that product made overseas." The latter "would create a tax cut for companies bringing jobs and business activities back to America from another country."
In April 2017, Stabenow was one of eight Democratic senators to sign a letter to President Trump noting government-subsidized Chinese steel had been placed into the American market in recent years below cost and had hurt the domestic steel industry and the iron ore industry that fed it, calling on Trump to raise the steel issue with President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping in his meeting with him.
In May 2017, she and fellow U.S. Senator Gary Peters announced a $210,000 EDA grant to the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission "to help spur economic development in West Michigan." In the same month, she said that owing to a major change in farmers' margins since the 2014 Farm Bill, the farm safety net needed to be strengthened, especially for dairy farmers.
At a July 13, 2017, economics roundtable, she said that the "#1 request she gets in Michigan" is for "Professional technical jobs, building construction jobs -- folks that can actually make things and do things." She said that Democrats can succeed in elections by "going to our core. We are the party that are willing to take risks to make things better...We believe in our core in an economy that actually works for everybody. That is how you grow America."
The Biotechnology Industry Organization thanked Stabenow in 2017 for supporting development of a "biobased economy," specifically for Stabenow's introduction of the Renewable Chemicals Act of 2017, which would "allow taxpayers to claim a production tax credit of 15 cents per pound of biobased content of each renewable chemical produced during the taxable year."
On October 3, 2017, Stabenow and U.S. Senator Gary Peters introduced the Small Business Access to Capital Act, designed to "reauthorize and improve the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) to help small businesses grow and create jobs." It built "on the successful SSBCI initiative that both lawmakers championed in the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010" and that "funds the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and other state-led lending programs that leverage private financing to help small businesses access the capital they need."
Stabenow has received high marks from groups supporting increased immigration and amnesty (American Immigration Lawyers Association, 2013-14, 100%; National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, 2013-14, 100%) and low marks from groups opposed to illegal immigration: Federation for American Immigration Reform, 2014, 0%; Numbers USA, 2017, 0%.
During the brief January 2018 government shutdown, Stabenow was among 81 Senators that effectively ended the shutdown by approving a three-week stopgap spending bill that "included reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program for six years". This agreement was obtained after the Republican leadership "pledged to soon take up immigration legislation". She stated they had "reached a bipartisan agreement that funds children's health insurance and moves us closer to a solution that provides long-term certainty for Michigan families and our national defense,".
In January 2017, she opposed Trump's executive order temporarily limiting immigration from several Muslim majority countries, saying it "is ruining America's reputation in the world, undermining our relationships with our most critical allies, and most heartbreakingly, destroying the lives of good and law-abiding people."
Recounting a 2014 Senate hearing on income inequality, George Packer singled out Stabenow as the only committee member who pushed back on the idea that it was caused largely by the withdrawal from the workforce of middle-aged people who preferred to collect welfare. Stabenow "pointed out that almost all the voters she heard from in high-unemployment Michigan still wanted to work."
Her 2012 GOP opponent Pete Hoekstra accused her of supporting wasteful government spending. "It's wasteful government spending versus American jobs," he said, dubbing her "Debbie Spenditnow" and claiming that Obama's stimulus cost the country 2.6 million jobs. "Her big-spending policies," Hoekstra said, "have shackled job creators, increased our reliance on China, threatened our national security, and put America on the path to bankruptcy." Hoekstra noted that Citizens Against Government Waste rated Stabenow as "hostile", while it called Hoekstra a "superhero." Her campaign replied with a web commercial critiquing some of Hoekstra's votes while serving nine terms in Congress.
In 2011, Stabenow introduced the Reengaging Americans in Serious Education Act (RAISE UP Act), whereby the Labor Department would fund programs to help "disconnected youth" get diplomas, degrees, and job certifications. In 2012, she co-sponsored a bill to freeze student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent and make additional funds available for Pell Grants.
She expressed "strong concerns" about Trump's nomination of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, saying that "DeVos and her family have a long record of pushing policies that I believe have seriously undermined public education in Michigan and failed our children."
After the Orlando nightclub shooting, Stabenow participated in the Chris Murphy gun control filibuster. One month later, she supported Democrat proposed bills to ban people on the terrorist watchlist from buying guns and to expand background checks. Neither bill passed the Senate. Stabenow blamed the NRA for the bills' failure to pass.
Stabenow has helped open 10 community health centers in Detroit while in office.
In the 2000 campaign she "promised to make the pharmaceutical industry lower prescription drug prices, to maintain Social Security benefits and to give Medicare a new prescription drug plan." She pledged to "fight the pharmaceutical and insurance industries - the two industries that spend the most money lobbying federal officials" and accused the pharmaceutical industry of "making up to 20 percent net profit each year...on the backs of families, seniors and businesses," Her spokesperson said: "In the last election, I think the pharmaceutical industry spent more campaigning against her than any other candidate...She was enemy number one." Stabenow voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009, and she voted for the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. She also sponsored S. 2257, the Excellence in Mental Health Act.
In August 2019, Stabenow was one of nineteen senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin and United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar requesting data from the Trump administration in order to aid in the comprehension of states and Congress on potential consequences in the event that the Texas v. United States Affordable Care Act (ACA) lawsuit prevailed in courts, citing that an overhaul of the present health care system would form "an enormous hole in the pocketbooks of the people we serve as well as wreck state budgets".
In April 2019, Stabenow was one of forty-one senators to sign a bipartisan letter to the housing subcommittee praising the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's Section 4 Capacity Building program as authorizing "HUD to partner with national nonprofit community development organizations to provide education, training, and financial support to local community development corporations (CDCs) across the country" and expressing disappointment that President Trump's budget "has slated this program for elimination after decades of successful economic and community development." The senators wrote of their hope that the subcommittee would support continued funding for Section 4 in Fiscal Year 2020.
In December 2011, Stabenow voted in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. The bill included highly controversial provisions, drafted by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain in closed session, that would allow for the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens deemed potential terrorists and enemies of the state.
On August 10, 2009, Stabenow was reported by The Detroit News as saying "Global warming creates volatility. I feel it when I'm flying. The storms are more volatile. We are paying the price in more hurricanes and tornadoes." She has, however, opposed regulation of greenhouse gases, enhanced fuel efficiency standards in California, and greenhouse gas emission reporting standards.
Stabenow voted for the SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011 (S.493). In March 2011, the Think Progress website accused her of joining "the pro-polluter frenzy sweeping the U.S. Senate," saying that the legislation was "being used as a vehicle for senators who wish to prevent regulation of greenhouse pollution from oil refineries, coal-fired power plants, heavy industry, and other major emitters. Stabenow has added her amendment to three others intended to hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of carbon polluters."
Stabenow's proposed amendment to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions for two years also drew criticism. The amendment would have given "coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and other industrial sources a two year exemption" from rules requiring them to report greenhouse gas emissions. Stabenow defended her position by calling her amendment "a common-sense approach that allows protections from carbon pollution, determined by scientists and public health experts, to continue being developed while providing businesses the support and incentives they need as they reduce pollution, generate new clean energy technologies and create jobs."
In February 2019, in response to reports of the EPA intending to decide against setting drinking water limits for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) as part of an upcoming national strategy to manage the aforementioned class of chemicals, Stabenow was one of twenty senators to sign a letter to Acting EPA Administrator Andrew R. Wheeler calling on the agency "to develop enforceable federal drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, as well as institute immediate actions to protect the public from contamination from additional per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)."
In 2010, Stabenow called for a total ban on drilling in the Great Lakes. Critics noted that "a U.S. federal ban on all oil and natural gas offshore drilling in the Great Lakes" had already "been in place since 2005," and that Canada banned offshore oil drilling but had "roughly 500 offshore gas wells in Lake Erie," plus 23 "slant wells" that "drill for oil on shore but extend under Lake Erie." In 2015, Stabenow and Gary Peters introduced the Pipeline Improvement and Preventing Spills Act "to ban shipping of crude oil by vessel on the Great Lakes and require a comprehensive, top-to-bottom review of hazardous pipelines in the region."
In May 2017, Stabenow expressed support for the bipartisan effort to retain funding for The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
On August 31, 2006, Stabenow, along with Senator Carl Levin and Rep. John Dingell, announced an agreement that would completely cease Ontario's dumping of solid waste in Michigan within four years. This had been an issue in Michigan for the past several years. Stabenow had previously introduced legislation in the Senate that was intended to reduce the dumping of Canadian trash in Michigan. In July 2006, the Senate unanimously passed a law sponsored by Stabenow requiring the payment of a $420 inspection fee for every truckload of Canadian trash being brought into Michigan.
Asked in 2009 by Bill Press whether she would support a return of the Fairness Doctrine, under which the federal government enforced an ideological "balance" on the airwaves, Stabenow said yes: "I absolutely think it's time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves." Asked whether she would push for Senate hearings on the subject, she said, "I have already had some discussions with colleagues and, you know, I feel like that's gonna happen. Yep." It has been noted that Stabenow's then husband was Tom Athans, an executive in left-wing radio (Air America, Democracy Radio), whose career would have benefited from such legislation.
Stabenow, as Senate Agriculture Committee Chair, added an amendment to the 2013-14 Farm Bill that prohibited state laws requiring labeling for foods containing GMOs. She has been criticized because this amendment aided Monsanto and other agribusinesses, which donated over three-quarters of a million dollars to her campaign during that election cycle. In 2016 she was criticized again for her role in the passage of a law that overruled state laws mandating GMO labeling.
She opposed Trump's nomination of Jeff Sessions as AG: "Because of his record on civil rights and his votes against anti-domestic violence legislation, I cannot support him to be our nation's highest law enforcement officer...Families in Michigan and across the country deserve an attorney general who will enforce the nation's laws fairly and equally."
She opposed Trump's nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court: "After reviewing Judge Gorsuch's rulings, it is clear that he has a long record of siding with special interests and institutions instead of hard-working Americans. And, therefore, in my judgment, he does not meet this standard of balance and impartiality."
In 2003, Stabenow married Tom Athans, co-founder of Democracy Radio and former executive vice president of Air America. She and Athans have a stepdaughter, Gina. In 2008, Athans admitted to paying a prostitute for sex. They divorced in 2010.
Stabenow belongs to Grace United Methodist Church in Lansing, Michigan.
|Republican||Spencer Abraham (Incumbent)||1,994,693||47.86|
|Natural Law||William Quarton||5,630||0.14|
|Democratic gain from Republican||Swing||-4.02|
|Democratic||Debbie Stabenow (incumbent)||2,151,278||56.9||+7.4|
|Democratic||Debbie Stabenow (incumbent)||2,735,826||58.8%||+1.9|
|Natural Law||John Litle||11,229||0.2%||+0.1|
|Democratic||Debbie Stabenow (incumbent)||2,214,478||52.3%||-6.5|
|Republican||John E. James||1,938,818||45.8%||+7.8|
|Natural Law||John Wilhelm||16,502||0.2%||+0.2|
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Michigan's 8th congressional district
|Party political offices|
| Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Michigan
2000, 2006, 2012, 2018
| Secretary of the Senate Democratic Conference
| Chair of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee
|New office|| Vice Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee
| Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee
| U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Michigan
Served alongside: Carl Levin, Gary Peters
| Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee
| Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee
|U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
| United States Senators by seniority