July 13, 2019

John Delaney

Presidential candidate John Delaney discusses why he thinks Democrats running on popular progressive policies like Medicare for All would hand the 2020 election to Donald Trump. The former Maryland Congressman and entrepreneur details his own plans for healthcare and the environment, and makes the case that he is the candidate who will find bipartisan solutions.

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He’s the presidential candidate warning that popular progressive policies will harm, not help, the Democrats, this week on ‘Firing Line.’

I think we should be the party that keeps what’s working and fixes what’s broken.
[ Cheers and applause ] The son of an electrician, John Delaney built not one but two publicly traded companies worth billions.
Then, he was off to Congress to represent Maryland.
After three terms, Delaney left the House to become the first Democrat to announce his bid to take on President Trump.

I think the central issue facing this country is how terribly divided we are.

Delaney has lots of company now and is banking on a moderate message to help him stand out.

How does John Delaney stand out from all the others?

Well, I’m a problem-solver by nature, and I think that’s what we really need.

He says programs like the Green New Deal and Medicare for all are bad policy and bad politics…
Medicare for All is a great slogan.
They’ve hijacked the good name of Medicare and applied it to a law that will cause upheaval in our healthcare system.

…something one of his party’s biggest stars did not like.
Delaney also advocates reaching across the aisle to find bipartisan solutions.

I’ve spent my whole life bringing people together.

But in today’s hyperpartisan battlefield, how does one even begin?
What does John Delaney say now?

‘Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible by… Additional funding is provided by… Corporate funding is provided by… Congressman John Delaney, welcome to ‘Firing Line.’

It’s great to be here.

You were a three-term Congressman from Maryland’s 6th District and an entrepreneur before that.
As a young, 33-year-old man, you were the youngest C.E.O. of a publicly traded firm on the New York Stock Exchange.
And you left Congress six months in to Donald Trump’s presidency to run against him.
Why so early?

After President Trump was elected, I said to myself, ‘I just have to think differently about everything.’

You were surprised.

Yeah, I was surprised.
And the best way for me to try to make a difference is to run for president.
But I also understood the challenges, which is I was not particularly well-known as a three-term member of Congress, and so my view was, ‘I have to get in early and just work harder than everyone else,’ which is kind of what I’ve generally done my whole life.

Well, as of November of 2018, you had been to every single one of Iowa’s 99 counties, and that was many months ago.
You have seven more months until Iowa.

I could do it again.

And will you?

I’ll probably go to half of them again.

So, that’s your strategy, right?
This is how a three-term member of Congress from Maryland, in your view, actually has a fighting shot at the Democratic nomination is really showing up in Iowa and exceeding expectations in Iowa?

Yes. I mean, Iowa and New Hampshire play a very unique role in presidential politics, as we all know.
What they really do is, they find people that the rest of the country may not be focusing on, because they have so many opportunities to meet them face-to-face.
If we had kind of a national primary, then, you know, the national media would effectively be choosing our president.

So, what is the number-one issue you’re hearing from Iowa, New Hampshire primary and caucus voters?

So, beating Trump is always the number-one issue.


But if you talk about a specific issue, it’s healthcare.

Okay. We’re gonna get to healthcare ’cause there’s a lot to do with healthcare, but just in terms of biography, as people are getting to know you — right?
There’s a field of 23-plus candidates.
You’re a businessman.
I mean, this is one of the differentiating features between you and the field…

…but not between you and the current president.


How are you and the current president different as businessmen?

Well, when I look back at my business career, the kind of things I did was, I built businesses from scratch.
You know, he had his basic — his business empire, in many ways, handed to him by his dad.
Right? I think his dad gave him $400 million.
My dad was a union electrician.
I was the first in my family to go to college.
My dad gave me a lot of values and taught me to work hard, but he didn’t give me anything to start with.

Hundreds of millions of dollars.

No. I also think business leaders have certain kind of characteristics in common — real business leaders.
They create jobs, they pay their bills, they innovate.
I always paid my bills, I never filed for bankruptcy, my companies were voted the best places to work in their communities.
He did none of those things.
Right? He filed for bankruptcy multiple times, he stiffed workers.
Workers, in many ways, like my dad.
You know, the electrician who needed to get paid.
And you can do that to those people if you don’t care about having a relationship.
I view him as a business promoter.
I think he was just —
He’s a master marketer.

He’s skilled in that, but it’s just not what real business leaders or real entrepreneurs do.
In many ways, I’m the best person to go against him, because the economy is doing well on a relative basis, if you look at just the traditional metrics.
I think we need someone who can actually look out at the American people and say, ‘Whatever you like about this economy, I’m gonna keep it, and the things that are broken about the economy, I’m gonna fix.’

You’ve written a book about unifying the United States.
It’s called ‘The Right Answer: How We Can Unify Our Divided Nation.’
Talk about the state of bipartisanship right now in the country and how you actually think you can change it.

If you look back across our history, all the great things we’ve ever done — Medicare, Social Security, sending someone to the Moon — whatever the case may be — all of those things happened when consensus was built around the idea.
In other words, 60%, 70%, 80% of the American people got behind the idea, and then you had bipartisan legislation to get it done.
So, the real goal is to find those ideas where you can get common ground.

But can you have those ideas anymore —
Yes. For example, one of the things I’ve pledged is, in my first 100 days as president, my administration will work on five or six big ideas.
You know, in infrastructure or in healthcare — big categories.

That’s a lot for 100 days.

But every one of them — every single one of my proposals will be based on an existing bipartisan bill in the Congress.
I won’t even change a word of them.
Not even a comma.
‘Cause I want to say to the American people, ‘These ideas, your representatives — Democrats and Republicans — have found common ground.

So, when you were in Congress, how did that go for you?

It went very well.
I was ranked the third most bipartisan member of Congress.

But how many bills did you pass?

You know, a lot of amendments, not so many bills.
I was in the minority the whole time.


Which makes it much harder.

Yes. And still none of them passed.

Well, some of them passed.

Not bills, though.
So, how do you persuade people that you have a record of getting bipartisan bills accomplished or bipartisan legislation pushed through?

First, I would point to my career before Congress.
On all the big issues, I have the only bipartisan climate bill.
I had the biggest bipartisan infrastructure bill.
I actually had the only bipartisan bill to extend the solvency of Social Security for 75 years.

In a Democratic primary, how on Earth does a centrist get traction?

Well, I think what the Democratic party will soon realize is, this is how we get elected.
And the most important thing is to beat Trump.

You may be correct, and it may be true that somebody with your pedigree actually stands the best chance of being elected in a general election.
What makes you believe that the Democratic primary process, especially in a caucus process, is actually going to yield a more moderate Democrat as opposed to a more progressive Democrat?

Because I think Democrats, even caucus-going Democrats, are yearning for something different, something better —
They’re also yearning for Medicare for All where there is no private insurance industry.

Most Democrats aren’t yearning for that.
Like, for example, the polling on Medicare for All —
That’s right — not most Democrats — but the progressive base of the party is.
So how do you square that?

‘Cause I think, in the caucus and in the primary, the loudest voices in the room — You know, what we’re hearing now is kind of —
The caucus is the loudest voices in the room by definition.

I just think most Democrats are sensible.
They want solutions.
They really do.
They may not be the loudest voices in the r–
Is that based on any evidence, though, or is that based on your pragmatic idealism?
Which, by the way, I aspire to.

It’s based on the 2018 midterms.

So, based on the fact that the 2018 midterms so strongly repudiated, in your view, Donald Trump’s first two years as president, you believe that that will carry through and yield a more moderate voice in the Democratic party to beat Trump in 2020?

I think everyone knows how we took back the House of Representatives in 2018.
So that was an historic victory for the Democrats.
The House is gerrymandered, right?
It’s gerrymandered massively in favor of Republicans.
Most people gave Democrats almost no chance of taking back the House in 2018.

I just have to stop you there.
Yeah, I don’t know that it’s fair to say that the House is massively rigged in favor of Republicans.
It’s certainly true that gerrymandering exists.
In fact, I wanted to talk to you about that, because the Supreme Court just ruled on a gerrymandering case where they reviewed partisan redistricting, both in your state of Maryland and in —
My district.

Precisely. Exactly.
And in the state of Wisconsin, where Republicans have gerrymandered Wisconsin and Democrats have gerrymandered Maryland to the extent that you actually won your seat because of it.
And the Supreme Court ruled that they actually have no role in regulating partisan redistricting.

Yeah, I disagree with that outcome.
But here’s the thing.
When I was elected in 2012, I was elected into a House that heavily favored Republicans.
I mean, they had 20-plus more seats than Democrats.
Yet on a popular-vote basis, Democrats outvoted Republicans just to show you how gerrymandered it is.
So, my point is, in 2018, most people thought the Democrats had no chance against the Republicans.
Obviously, Trump’s — you know, his performance changed that dynamic.
We flipped 40 seats.

Here’s the question.
It continues to be the case that the partisan primary process of nominating a president polls to the more extreme views and enthusiasms of the progressive base of the party.
So I have sincere doubts that a centrist representative will emerge from that process.
But back to gerrymandering —
Iowa has never selected the most left candidate in recent memory.
Hillary won Iowa.
John Kerry won Iowa.
Obama was actually not the most progressive candidate in the race.
You know, they’re very sensible people, folks in Iowa, and they pay really deep attention to these issues.
And I think they get it.

I just want to put a button on gerrymandering, though.
What would you do about gerrymandering?

Independent commissions, simple.
And national redistricting reform.
That is the solution.

And do you think the gerrymandering in Maryland helped you?

Well, it took a district — Yes, it took a district that was heavily Republican.
It’s still the only competitive district in the state of Maryland.

What it did is it yielded a more bipartisan nomination.

That’s right.

Are you a deficit hawk and a debt hawk?

I would consider myself someone who’s prudent on deficits and debt.
Some people want zero deficits.
That’s stupid policy.
And some people think deficits don’t matter.
There’s this Modern Monetary Theory, whatever this nonsense is.
They’re both wrong.
What we should have is long-term deficits of 2% of our economy.
We’ll grow our economy 2 1/2% to 3%, and our kids will all be fine.

Can you just go back to Modern Monetary Theory?


You’ve said this is stupid.
This is actually a great example of where the progressive base of the party is incredibly enthusiastic because this is the economic theory that is gonna pay for all student-loan debt forgiveness, all free healthcare, and a Green New Deal, because what it means is we can just print money because the dollar is the global currency, we can print as much money as we want.

Yes, it’s basically like them looking at the laws of gravity and saying it doesn’t apply anymore.

So you don’t buy it.

No, I don’t buy it Of course not.

Okay. Even though this —
But how he said that —
This economist counseled Bernie Sanders in his last campaign and has informed many of the views of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, and the progressive base of your party.

Which is why I don’t think the two individuals you named there, Senator Warren or Senator Sanders, should be the nominee for president of the United States.
A bunch of people are running on impossible promises, things they can’t ever make happen.
Or, in many cases, even if they were to, they’re bad policy.

Let’s go back to healthcare.
This is an area you know well because you were a businessman in this area, and you’ve taken a dramatically different approach, again, than most of your peer set in the Democratic party.
I’d like to show the audience one clip of you making the case at the California Democratic Convention about Medicare for All.
Let’s take a look.

But we need, as Democrats, to build an economy that works, but it’s got to be with smart policies.
Medicare for All may sound good, but it’s actually not good policy nor is it good politics.
[ Audience booing ] I’m telling you.
[ Booing continues ]
There was booing at the end of that clip.
And we’ll get to the policy of Medicare for All, but the politics, you said — the politics of Medicare for All is bad politics.

Because embedded in Medicare for All, it’s a single-payer system and it makes private insurance legal.


There’s no reason we have to do that.
If this new universal-healthcare plan we create like I’ve proposed in my bill, BetterCare, is so great, then people will make a decision not to have private insurance and have the government plan instead.

Okay. So what’s —
So we don’t have to do any of that.
So I just think, when people realize what’s in this bill, we will lose the election to Donald Trump by 10 points.

After that speech at the California Democratic Convention, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, ‘There are so many people running for president.
John Delaney, thank you but please sashay away.’
What do you say to that?

My reaction to that was, I was disappointed at the level of intolerance that is in part of the party.
For someone to say that you have no basis of running because you don’t support a specific policy proposal, I think, is the definition of intolerance.

Is that good or bad for the Democratic party?

It’s terrible.
It’s obviously terrible.
This should be the battle of ideas.

Is she bad for the party?

I don’t think she’s bad for the party. Right?
She brings a unique perspective and a lot of energy, obviously, so in that way, she’s great for the party.
But I think we have to be a tolerant party.
If you think about the greatness of America, the exceptionalism of America, which I buy into, it’s about this battle of ideas.


It’s about the free market of great ideas.
And in some ways, when you say, ‘Hey, you don’t agree with my ideas, so get out of the race,’ you’re rejecting all of that.

What’s BetterCare?

BetterCare is universal healthcare.
In other words, everyone gets basic healthcare as a right.
So, we leave Medicare alone, we roll Medicaid into that, so you don’t have Medicaid anymore.
But you have the option of not taking your federal healthcare, getting a tax credit, using it to buy your own private insurance.
You could say, ‘You know, I’d rather have Aetna.’
You can get a credit, a tax credit from the government, you can basically say, ‘I don’t want my government healthcare.’

It would be disruptive because you’re reorganizing how it’s administered to them.

I think it would be behind the scenes is how it would be disruptive, right?
Because I think employers could still offer their group healthcare plan, right?
They would lose the tax deductibility of that ’cause that’s what pays for universal expansion.

So that tax savings is passed on to the individual, and they use that tax credit to pay for…
And that’s how you create a universal system.

And this is how you pay for it.

Yes, that’s right.
Everything I propose I fully pay for.

And then it travels with individuals from job to job, as opposed to being provided only by that employer?

Yes. So, let’s say you showed up at work here and you had your federal healthcare, you decide not to take it in any given year, you give the credit to your employer, they use that credit to help pay for the insurance they give you privately.
You then leave here and want to go start a business.
You would immediately revert back to your basic federal healthcare.
So it’s a much smarter system.
We absolutely need universal healthcare.
We can’t sit around and think the healthcare system that we have now works.
It doesn’t. Right?

It works for some people, it doesn’t work for other people.
Certainly, people slip through the cracks.

I’ll be the only president who’s actually ever been in the healthcare business.
I understand how this industry works, and I came up with a plan.
It doesn’t have the disruption like Medica– Medicare for All is upheaval.
It has minor disruption behind the scenes, yet it accomplishes universal healthcare, so everyone gets healthcare as a right, and it does things to improve quality and lower cost in the long term.

I want to point you to a moment in the very first debate where you had a very different view about private insurance and its role in the whole healthcare ecosystem than all of the other opponents on the stage.
Let’s take a look.

I’m a defender of private insurance.

100 million Americans say they like their private health insurance, by the way.
It should be noted that 100 million Americans — I mean, I think we should be the party that keeps what’s working and fixes what’s broken.
[ Cheers and applause ] I mean, doesn’t that make sense?
I mean, we should give everyone in this country healthcare as a basic human right for free, full stop.
But we should also give them the option to buy private insurance.
Why do we have to stand for taking away something from people?
And also, it’s bad policy.
If you go to every hospital in this country and you ask them one question, which is, ‘How would it have been for you last year if every one of your bills were paid at the Medicare rate?’
every single hospital administrator said they would close.

Why does nobody else understand that?

Because they don’t care to.
I mean, in many ways, Senator Sanders came up with Medicare for All — single-payer Medicare for All — as part of his agenda — right? — which is rooted in his views of socialism.
All these other candidates — Senator Warren and the rest of them — they’ve all outsourced their healthcare to him.
It’s unconscionable to me.

Well, see, that’s what’s very curious about it, though, because many of the other candidates who are running in the field that you’re running in have signed on to Bernie Sanders’ bill.
And so they’re for Medicare for All, which is the elimination of private insurance, and they stand up there, and when they’re asked, ‘Are you for eliminating private insurance?’ only four of them over the course of two nights and 20 candidates raised their hands.


So, are they lying?

Haven’t we had enough of that in politics?

But are they lying?

I think that they don’t care.
They don’t know the difference.
They’ll say to one audience what they want to hear —
You think they don’t understand their positions?

No, I think this is what they do.
They want to tell people what they want to hear.
They pander.

Which is both.

Depending on the audience.
You know, they’re happy to go in front of the people — I mean, when I was speaking in San Francisco, I was following Senator Sanders.
There was a lot of people in the audience who believe in his view of Democratic Socialism.
So, when they were in front of those people, they want to say they’re on Medicare for All.
But then, when they’re in front of people maybe like yourself, who understand these policies a little more, they want to have it both ways.
To me, that’s not leadership.

Do you think that’s what Kamala Harris is doing?
‘Cause she’s basically said both.

I think a lot of them are doing it.
If she said both, then she’s doing it, too.
Healthcare is the number-one issue facing the American people.
And if you’re nominee for president can’t even be honest about where they stand on healthcare and if they can’t be principled and if they don’t have a view as to how they’re gonna actually improve the most important thing for us to improve, domestically, in our country is healthcare for all kinds of reasons, then I think you have to question whether they’re actually suited to be the president of the United States.

Here’s another moment from the first Democratic debate that I’d like to get your reaction to.
Let’s take a look.

Raise your hand if your government plan would provide coverage for undocumented immigrants.
[ Cheers and applause ] Okay.

I wasn’t on the stage that night.
But I wouldn’t have raised my hand, no.

Would your plan provide coverage for undocumented immigrants?

It does not.
But when done in conjunction with comprehensive immigration reform, which I plan on getting done, the undocumented immigrants in our country would have permanent legal status and a pathway to citizenship, then it would be — they would be covered.

So, then what about the unauthorized immigrants that are in the country?
Do they get covered?

Right now, they have access to healthcare through the emergency-room system of our country.
Because emergency rooms are required by law to provide care to everyone, whether they can pay or not, which I fully support.
So, what I support is, I support taking the 11 million undocumented residents in our country, getting them out of the shadows, getting them on a path to citizenship, which is across 13 years, and giving them permanent legal status, provided they don’t break any laws, et cetera. Right?
These are productive members of our community and our society, and once that passes, that legal status would allow them to actually then be on the government healthcare that I’ve proposed.

You have said very explicitly that you think the Green New Deal is a step backwards on climate change.
Why is the Green New Deal a step backwards?

Because I think if you put forth impossible goals, then people don’t even try.

Some would say that’s aspirational, not impossible.

What the Green New Deal calls for is for us to get off fossil fuels within 12 years.
That’s impossible.
I’d love to get off fossil fuels in 12 years.
Right? I think climate change is a huge risk to the world, to my kids, to everyone’s kids.
But we don’t have enough energy — alternative energy sources to replace fossil fuels.
It is an impossible promise.
It’s not an aspirational goal.

In 1991, William F. Buckley Jr. had on this program Donald Fowler, who’s the former Chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party.

I know Don Fowler.

Here is what Don Fowler had to say about the party then.
Let’s take a look.

…nominating process were distinctly more liberal than the general public.

Isn’t that exactly the challenge today?

History doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme, doesn’t it?

Well, so, how does John Delaney actually tackle that reality, right?
Because here you are in a field with 23, 24 other candidates, the vast majority of which are vastly more progressive than you are.
How do you get elected?

Well, I think I follow Don Fowler’s advice, by the way, who’s still a great active Democrat.
That was 1991.
Bill Clinton came a year later, running as the type of candidate that Don Fowler was talking about.
And that’s, in many ways, the kind of candidate I am.
I’m running on issues that matter broadly to the American people.
When I’m out campaigning, I talk about fixing healthcare, I talk about lowering pharmaceutical prices, I talk about building infrastructure.
What I say to Iowa caucus-goers is, you should nominate someone who you think can win Iowa.
Because Barack Obama won Iowa by 10 points.
Donald Trump won Iowa by 9.
Last election cycle, Iowa flipped two House seats.


Gained four House seats, two of them they flipped.
So, Iowans understand much better than most Democrats actually around the country what it takes to win in a general election.
We’ve only had four years of Donald Trump, but it’s kind of like dog years in the eyes of Democrats. Right?
It feels a lot longer than four years.

Not just Democrats.

It feels a lot longer than four years.
So, the focus on getting rid of Trump, I bet, is greater than the focus on flipping the White House to a Democrat in 1992, in my judgment, because of what we view — Trump is a reckless, as I say, norm-destroying president.

How long are you gonna self-fund?

Well, I’m also raising money.

You’re raising money, too.


How long can you afford to keep going with eight offices in Iowa —
Well, through the early states.
That’s always been my plan.
Listen, you have to do well, in the early states.


If you do well in the early states, then the money takes care of itself.

And how much money are you willing to put in of your own?

You know, that’s a conversation that my wife and I, you know, have, but we don’t talk publicly about.

Does it concern you that you haven’t caught wind?
There have been no John Delaney moneyballs that have come your way.

I understand the path I’m taking is the harder path.
The easy path, for me, would be to run on a lot of these things that take off on Twitter — getting rid of the electoral college, Medicare for All, you know, eliminating ICE.
I’m taking the hard path.
I actually think the hard path is what the American people need.
They actually need someone who’s committed to trying to heal the divisions in this country, and I think that’s what the American people intuitively, deep down, they know that, and they’re looking for some way out of this thing.
And that’s why I’m running.

John Delaney, thank you for coming to ‘Firing Line,’ thank you for sharing your views, and best of luck navigating the progressive primary system.

Thank you, Margaret.

Thank you for being here.

Thank you.

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