Democrat John Delaney Says His 2020 Campaign Geared Toward Independents

Apr 1, 2019

Credit Ali Oshinskie for NHPR

John Delaney is a former Congressman from Maryland who's running for the Democratic presidential nomination. He first announced his candidacy almost two years ago after Donald Trump won the 2016 election, and he's been in the Granite State several times since.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley sat down with Delaney to chat about his candidacy and views on where the Democratic Party is headed.

(Below is a transcript of the NHPR interview.)

You've been pretty clear that a priority for you is bipartisanship. I think that's been a real theme so far of your campaign. You've pledged to focus solely on bipartisan proposals in your first 100 days in the White House if elected. Can you tell us about your most significant achievement or something that required real negotiation as a Congressperson -- when you really reached across the aisle?

Sure. Well a great example is something I did right before I left Congress, which was to craft the only bipartisan carbon tax bill in the Congress. In other words, get Democrats and Republicans together to agree how we can actually put a price on carbon, how we give all the money back to the American people and how we actually create something that can get done that makes a big difference on climate change. So you know, I mean I was ranked the third most bipartisan member of the house. And the thing about bipartisanship, it's kind of a means to an end, right? Bipartisanship in and of itself is not a goal. What the goal is is to get things done. The goal is to actually do things that matter to the American people. And if you look back, all the great stuff we've ever done as a country has been done when we build big coalitions, and to some extent of a coalition builder.

But how do you convince voters in a primary, a Democratic primary, that this is something that is laudable, that it's something we should be going after? You know we've got a very polarized nation. We've got parties who are being pulled to their extremes.

And I agree with you. I think the extremes in this country have basically held the rest of us hostage.

So how do you get to those voters in a primary?

So some people really care about what your ideas are and what your solutions are. And I think relative to any of the other candidates, I've actually really thought through these issues and can show the American people how I can get all these things done. But some people in the party really think the most important thing is to beat the president, that we cannot have another four years with him as our president. And for those people what I would say is I agree with you and I'm the one to beat him. And the reason I'm the one to beat him is because I'm the kind of candidate who can capture independents.

You know a lot about independents here in New Hampshire. A lot of your citizens are independents. And I think they are looking for a candidate like me, someone who's a problem solver [and] who bring this country together. I think a lot of the reason people are independents is because they're tired of the elected officials putting their political party ahead of their country. And someone like myself who's pledging in my first 100 days to only advance bipartisan ideas, who's calling for national service as a way of unifying us, who doesn't talk about half the country is if they're entirely wrong about everything they believe, I think those people know that someone like myself is the right person to be our next president. And I think a lot of Democratic voters are going to realize that this election is going to be fought in the center. The president is going to turn out his voters and he's going to turn out our voters. And so what that means is whoever wins the center is going to win.

Well what is your take on the increase in proposals from Democratic candidates that would see some fundamental changes to our government? We're talking about this kind of shift a little bit -- like changes to the Electoral College and adding justices that the Supreme Court for example. I mean, these are things that we're hearing from the left right now.

So listen, I think if we make this election about completely changing the United States of America, that feels really risky to me.

Do you think those kinds of changes are aspirational? Do you think that you want to look at in the future for those kinds of thing?

I'm not in favor of these kind of inside the beltway kind of arms race techniques, right? For example, Harry Reid got rid of the filibuster rule to help get Obama judges approve because the Republicans were being obstructionists, which they were. As a result, now the Republicans have been able to approve two Supreme Court justices without really any Democratic support, which is never the way we were able to put people in the Supreme Court. So I think what we have to realize is that while some of this stuff may feel good, like increasing the size of the court -- and I get it. Listen, what happened to Merrick Garland was terrible. I think what Mitch McConnell did in blocking a vote on Merrick Garland or a hearing on Merrick Garland was unpatriotic and unconstitutional at some level. But that doesn't mean the right answer is for us to increase the size of the court. Because there might be a day when Republicans are in control of government and they'll just increase it again. And I just don't think that's where we need to go as a country. Where we have to get back to as a country is the reestablishment of the norms in our society, and that's what we've lost in the last couple of decades because of super partisan politics.

And again, I think the Republicans in Congress are a lot worse than the Republicans around this country right. Most Republicans I mean on the trail around the country I can work with, and a bunch of Republicans in Congress don't really represent them because of all the gerrymandering that's gone on. That's a recent perversion of democracy. Too much money in politics is a perversion of democracy. Gerrymandering is a perversion of democracy. But court packing is not the answer. The answer is to get rid of gerrymandering and to get rid of some of this money in politics.

Do you feel like we're hearing more about these extremes but we're not hearing about kind of a silent majority in the middle?

Yes and that's unfortunately been true for a while, and we tolerated it as a country. And now we have Donald Trump. Donald Trump to me, is the punctuation of decades of terrible politics where the extremes have run the country, right? Because their kind of no compromise approach to politics has created a broken federal government that has failed the American people. And that's why Donald Trump got elected president.

New Hampshire has a low unemployment rate. Employers are having a hard time retaining and recruiting workers right now. What kind of solutions do you have for economic development i

So we need to do things to the public education system. We need, I think, at least a million new apprenticeships in this country. One of the things I've called for is national service, which would involve a big apprenticeship program -- to have young people kind of rebuild national parks [and] federal buildings for energy efficiency all as part of serving their country. I think that would make a difference. I think we need more funding for career and technical training. Right now a disproportionate amount of our funding encourages people to go to college. And I think we have to balance that out with putting more incentives around people doing career and technical training. And then I think we need a whole agenda for rural America and distressed communities to create incentives for people to invest in these places.

What would that look like?

Well a couple things. There's four things I would do one. One thing I already did, which is to lead the bipartisan effort to create the Opportunity Zone legislation. I don't know if you follow that. It's a federal tax incentive that passed that people get effectively a break on their capital gains if they invest in distressed communities. I would pair that with requiring 25 percent of the government contractors in this country to have half their employees in distressed communities. I would pair that further with the National Infrastructure Plan, with spending more money in distressed communities things like rural broadband that kind of stuff. And then I would take something called the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is by far the best kind of tax program we have in this country for workers. You know it puts money right in the pocket of workers. I would double that in distressed communities. So those four things working together will turn around a whole bunch of communities in this country.

Why do you think these ideas have not come to the forefront before?

Because no one talks about the things that we agree with each other, because that's not good politics.