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Rep. Tim Ryan on the robust economic message the Democratic Party needs

November 22, 2016 at 6:35 PM EST
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, is facing a challenger. Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his vision for the Democratic Party and a renewed focus on economic issues.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn now to the Democrats and their path ahead.

Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio is making a bid to be minority leader in the House of Representatives, challenging the current minority leader, Nancy Pelosi. He joins us from Youngstown.

Congressman, thank you for being with us.

We did just speak with Kellyanne Conway, advising the president-elect. And it does sound as if he may be more amenable to working with Democrats, working with moderates in his own party than we thought during the election.

How much do you think you and other Democrats are prepared to work with him?

REP. TIM RYAN (D-Ohio): Well, we have to see.

You know, I have been around long enough now, Judy, to know that the devil is in the details. And we want to see actual proposals. And, sometimes, the rhetoric, whether it hardens or softens throughout the course of a post-election a few weeks, is always revealed by the details of the proposals.

So we’re respectful of what the American people have done, although we may not like it, and we have an obligation to sit down and at least listen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In brief, how would your agenda for the Democrats differ from that of Leader Pelosi’s?

REP. TIM RYAN: Well, I think it’s an idea of emphasis, really.

We have not focused on the economic issues that are so important to people in working-class places like Youngstown, Ohio. You look at what happened on election night. Our economic message clearly isn’t penetrating. I think we need to be focused on these folks who live in areas like mine where the median household income is $57,000 a year, which means a husband and wife are working and each making under 30 grand.

They don’t see the Democratic Party as a home for them, and they left us in droves on Tuesday night. And now we’re left to clean up the mess, and I think the issue really is, how do you connect to those voters?

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, are you saying the Democrats’ message has been the wrong one, or they just had the wrong messengers in Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, among others?

REP. TIM RYAN: Well, our party has become a coastal party, and that was revealed again on Tuesday, where the middle of the country is red and we have blue on the coasts.

And that is no way to sustain a national party. And so I think it has been the messengers, it has been the message. The people in Middle America think that the Democrats are too close to the donor class, and that they care more about the donor class than they do about the working class.

So, we have to change that, or we’re never going to get back into the majority, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We know that experts who look at the loss of blue-collar manufacturing jobs in this country over the past decade or more say that, yes, some of these jobs can come back, but many of them will not come back because of automation, because of robotics, because of globalization.

Is there a danger in misleading voters about that?

REP. TIM RYAN: I don’t think it’s misleading them at all. I think it’s being there with them, understanding their issues.

Yes, the low-end manufacturing, it is not coming back. And I think we’re lying to the American people if we say they are coming back. But there is a huge opportunity in advanced manufacturing with regard to aerospace or wind turbines, where the average wind turbine has about 8,000 component parts, gear shifts, hydraulics, bolts, aluminum.

Those are things that we can make in communities like mine and other communities in the Great Lake states. So, a focus on renewable energy really is about a resuscitation of our manufacturing base, all the while trying to create those new high-tech jobs in the maker movement, in additive manufacturing, which is projected to grow at 25 percent a year for the next 10 years, but getting our work force in front of these areas of the economy that are going to grow, but, at the same time, recognizing, Judy, that there’s a lot of people in communities that don’t want to get retrained to run a computer.

They want to run a backhoe and they want to sling cement blocks. And so by rebuilding the country through a strong infrastructure program, we could put those people back to work, too.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned — you talked about the Democrats becoming a party of the coasts, that the rest of the country has been overlooked.

It’s also been said by Democrats themselves the party has been too much into what they call identity politics, paying attention to particular groups, African-Americans, Hispanics, the LGBT community, certain groups of women, and so on. Do you think that’s a problem for the Democratic Party? And if you do, what do you do about it?

REP. TIM RYAN: I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.

I think we have a role and responsibility, especially after the kind of campaign we just came through, to make sure that we are going to vigorously fight for equality for all Americans. And those issues are very, very important to us.

But the heart of our party has to be a message that unites the entire party and unites independents and Republicans maybe to come our way. And that message is a strong, robust economic message. I mean, you look at Trump and why he won, he had all these issues that a lot of people maybe didn’t want to talk about or maybe didn’t agree with him on, but his economic message was so robust that it won the day, and it won the day big time.

And so we better get back to a robust economic message about the future, what’s the future look like, what’s the future of work, where do we have to make investments, where are the public-private partnerships, where are the business incubators, where’s the research. Those are Democratic issues. We know how to do this much better than the Republicans.

But we have got to focus on it and let everyone know, whether you’re a millennial or a middle-class person in places like Youngstown, Ohio, that you’re going to have an opportunity in a Democratic economy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Tim Ryan, running for minority leader in the House of Representatives, we thank you.

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