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Why John Delaney sees himself as the ‘most moderate’ 2020 Democrat

In the crowd of 2020 competitors, Democratic presidential candidate John Delaney sees himself as “probably the most moderate candidate in this field.” The former Maryland congressman told PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff in a Wednesday interview that he’s very focused on problem-solving, and that he wants to bring back the notion that the U.S. can get things done.

“Our next president needs to be a responsible president. And a responsible president would bring this country together” around a common purpose and new, big ideas, he said.

Delaney, who was the first Democrat to declare his 2020 candidacy, said he is a proponent of a public option for health care, but rejects the premise of Medicare for All, a proposal introduced by fellow candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and endorsed by a number of other Democratic opponents, calling it “bad policy.”

“We have ample evidence to suggest that if the government is the only payer in health care, it will never pay enough,” he added.

Instead, Delaney laid out a plan to establish government health care open to every American under the age of 65, in addition to Medicare. But unlike Sanders’ plan, Delaney allows Americans to opt out for private coverage. “It gives the American people what they fundamentally want, which is choices and options.”

It’s been nearly two years since Delaney entered the 2020 Democratic race in July 2017. Since then, the former Maryland congressman has toured all 99 counties in Iowa as part of an expansive grassroots campaign to win the first race of the primary calendar.

Delaney has not yet reached the 65,000 individual donor threshold set by the Democratic National Committee to qualify for the debate stage in June (he has met the committee’s polling threshold). Despite the increasingly crowded Democratic field, Delaney said he’s confident about his chances.

“I think this race is wide open,” he said. “At the end of the day, my ideas are better. And the debates will start making that point.”

Other highlights from the interview

On the ongoing battle with the Mueller report: Delaney endorsed efforts by his former Democratic colleagues in the House to access the full, unredacted Mueller report as part of their oversight responsibilities. Asked about President Donald Trump’s declaration of executive privilege over the document, Delaney tempered the idea that it might move  “them closer or not to impeachment,” adding that Democrats are “going to push to get that report, as they should.”

On lifting struggling cities: Asked about his home state’s biggest city, Baltimore, and its struggles with poverty, violence and racial tensions, Delaney said solutions come with investments in public education, job creation and transportation. “The cost of doing nothing is not nothing,” he said. “You’ve got to make it a priority because if you don’t make it a priority, you actually spend more money.”  

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As the first person to declare his candidacy for the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination, John Delaney has been running for president for almost two years.

    The businessman and former Maryland congressman now faces a crowded field and the challenge of taking on some well-known names.

    And John Delaney joins me now.

    Welcome again to the "NewsHour."

    Rep. John Delaney, (D) – Md.: Thank you for having me, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, John Delaney, quickly on our lead story tonight, we're reporting on President Trump exerting executive privilege.

    He will not turn over to Congress the full Mueller report. Do you think, again, just quickly, this moves the Congress any closer to impeachment proceedings?

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Well, I think it moves the Congress closer to having more investigations and trying to subpoena the report and those things, as I think they should as part of their oversight responsibility.

    I wouldn't say it necessarily moves them closer or not to impeachment. I think what the Congress and what Speaker Pelosi are going to focus on is making sure the Congress fulfills its investigative and oversight responsibilities.

    And I think they're going to push to get that report, as they should.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, let's talk about you and your campaign.

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we said, it's a crowded field, more than 20 people running for president, serious candidates.

    How does John Delaney stand out from all the others?

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Well, I'm a problem-solver by nature.

    And I think that's what we really need. Our next president needs to be a responsible president. And a responsible president would bring this country together, right, remind us that this notion of common purpose is central to who we are, and actually start find some common ground and solving problems and bring some new big ideas.

    And that, in many ways, makes me a more centrist and moderate candidate. I'm probably the most moderate candidate in this field, because…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Really?

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Yes, I think so, because I'm very focused on problem-solving, right?

    I really want to get things done, because that's what I think this country needs. I think Congress and the legislative process and the president have largely been absent in getting things done that matter to the American people. And I want to bring back this notion that we can actually tackle these problems, and we can kind of achieve the potential that we have as a people. But we have to work together to do it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of moderation, you have said about some of your more liberal opponents or, I should say, competitors, you have talked about Medicare for all, which some of them advocate, as a — quote — "half-baked socialist policy."

    You would support, instead, a public option…

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … Medicare-like option for people under the age of 65. That wouldn't cover every American, though, would it?

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Well, I'm actually — I do have a universal health care plan that actually does cover every American.

    A public option is something I would do right away. That's kind of a first-100-day agenda that I think I can get done to improve health care for the American people right away.

    But then I would push for my plan to create universal health care, where every American has health care as a right. I just don't believe the way to accomplish universal health care is with a government-only program.

    That's why I think the Medicare for all proposal is in fact bad policy, because it makes the government the only provider of health care. And we have ample evidence to suggest that, if the government is the only payer in health care, it will never pay enough.

    Right now, Medicaid and Medicare don't cover costs. So, if you take private insurance out of the equation, I think the quality of health care will go down.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you would keep private insurance…

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … but still find a way to cover everybody?

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    And you can do that. Right?

    My proposal leaves Medicare alone. It creates a new government plan that everyone gets from when they are born until they're 65. We roll Medicaid into that. So, that means everyone has health care from when they're born to the end of their life.

    But I also allow them to opt out, get a small tax credit, buy their own plan, or to do what Medicare beneficiaries do, which is to buy supplemental plans. That creates a mixed model of a government plan, plus private health insurance.

    It's a much healthier and stronger health care market. And it gives the American people what they fundamentally want, which is choices and options.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, let's talk very quickly.

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Sure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have spent a lot of time campaigning all over the country, early primary states.

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Your home state of Maryland…

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … big city, Baltimore…

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … has a lot of problems, city problems, violence, tensions between the races, poverty.

    What would you do in the short run to help cities like Baltimore?

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    I think we have to invest in them, at the end of the day.

    I think nothing happens unless someone invests. And I think, for many of these communities, there's been chronic underinvestment, in public education, in job creation, in transportation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And where would the money come from?

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Well, you have got to make it a priority, because I think, if you don't make it a priority, you actually spend more money.

    I think the cost of doing nothing is not nothing. And we are seeing firsthand, with the state of Maryland's failure to really invest in Baltimore the way they should have, that all citizens of Maryland are actually now paying a much higher price.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to — there are so many things I want to ask you.

    Your campaign, you resorted to some pretty unconventional means to try to spread out the number of people donating to your campaign. You at one point, I think two months ago, said you were going to give $2 of your own money for every charitable contribution to charities…

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … for anybody who contributed to your campaign.

    So how many more people did you pick up?

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    We got quite a bit. You know, we got thousands and thousands of additional donors for it.

    It was really simple, Judy, because we have to get 65,000 donors to be on the debate stage.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In order to participate in the debates.

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    You don't really have to. I have qualified for the debates because of my performance in the polls. But this is another way to also…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you still need to raise money from 65,000?

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Well, it's an either/or. You either qualify through the polls or you qualify with 65,000. But we want to get both.

    And I would rather actually give money to charity than to give money to digital marketing firms, because that's kind of what you have to do to get that many donors.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are you at 65,000?

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    We're not there yet, but we're making good progress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We said you were the first Democratic candidate to announce. You announced back in July 2017.

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I think nobody has been campaigning more than you have in the state of Iowa. There have been hundreds of campaign events, Iowa, New Hampshire, and other states.

    But you are still at 1 percent in the polls.

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Well, we actually..

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, and let me just say…

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … that others who have gotten in the race, they're ahead of you.

    Why do you think you have struggled to get your identity out there?

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    Well, we're doing better in other polls. We just had a poll in New Hampshire that had us doing better. We had a poll in Iowa a couple weeks ago that had us at a higher rate.

    I think we're doing great on the ground. I think this race is wide open. Right? We have eight offices open in Iowa. We have got as big of a campaign team as anyone else. Four county chairs of the 99 counties in Iowa have already endorsed me. None of the other candidates combined have any endorsements from any county chairs, right?

    I have been to all 99 counties in Iowa. I have campaigned everywhere. I think this race is wide open. They're not going to caucus in Iowa for 10 months. And I just think we're in a really good position on the ground there.

    And I think, at the end of the day, my ideas are better. And the debates will, I think, start making that point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On May the 8th, 2019, John Delaney, thank you very much.

  • Rep. John Delaney:

    It's so nice to be here. Thank you.

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