When Rep. John Delaney of Maryland said he was going to make an announcement about his political future in late July, most expected him to decide between running for re-election for his seat or running for governor.
But the Democrat, now in his third term, shocked everyone when he announced that he would be running for president of the United States. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Delaney is lagging behind other big-name potential candidates. In a poll released by the University of New Hampshire Oct. 18, he garnered zero percent, placing him dead last among 12 names, behind “Other” at 5 percent.
Roll Call’s Eric Garcia caught up with Delaney for a phone interview recently to discuss why he jumped in so early, what makes him different and why Democrats need to talk about something other than Donald Trump.
The interview that follows has been edited for length and clarity.
RC: A lot of people were puzzled when you announced.JD: I think America is looking for new and different leaders. I’ve had this interesting set of experiences where I grew up in a blue-collar family. My parents didn’t go to college. I became the CEO of two New York Stock Exchange companies that I founded. Now I’ve done public service.
It’s a pretty rare mixing of a working-class background, the only former CEO of a public company in Congress and now having served in the Congress. A lot of people think we need outsiders, which I obviously am because of my business career. We need people who understand the private economy, which I do. We need people to talk to working-class voters. I grew up in a working-class family. But we also know from the president we need people who understand government.
RC: Why did you decide to jump into the presidential race?JD: I obviously think I’m the right person for the job, and I think I have the right vision for the country, but the issue I have is that I’m not particularly well-known. So the best way to solve that problem is to get in early and spend time listening and introducing myself to voters and giving them the opportunity to get to know me, what I stand for and what I want to do as president.
RC: What has been the reception?JD: The reception has been great. I was a little anxious that people might say this sounds great but come back in a year. It was the exact opposite. People are excited to get the conversation started. They know we have a really important conversation for 2020 based on our electoral results, which have been terrible. I think the fact we are out there and giving them an opportunity to talk about something other than Trump is very exciting for people.
RC: So what in particular made you decide to jump in?JD: I think I have a little [bit of a] unique perspective on what our country needs right now, which is to come together as a nation and start focusing on what we agree on as opposed to always talking about the things we don’t agree on, so that we can actually start getting things done for the American people.
“A lot of people think we need outsiders, which I obviously am because of my business career.”
We’re paying a huge price as a country, and future generations are going to pay a bigger price. So it’s time for someone to lead the country the way it needs to be led, which is by trying to bring the country together, focusing on bipartisan solutions, and actually getting things done to help the American people.
RC: Do you think Democrats have been focusing too much on Trump and not enough on their message?JD: I think they want us to fight Trump when he does something bad, which is pretty often, by the way. They also want us to put forth our own vision … because hopefully one day there’s no more Trump, and then [we’ll be] governing.
RC: A lot of people consider running for president. What are some policies that set you apart?JD: I don’t go to the political debate with the view that half the country is entirely wrong about everything they believe. My job as a member of Congress and my job as president is to find the best ideas really no matter where they reside, whether they be progressive ideas or conservative ideas.
You have large amounts of our country that have been hollowed out over the last several decades, brought on by the fact that we’ve become part of a global economy, which was the right decision. But the wrong decision was to do nothing about all of the communities that would be hollowed out by these changes.
So we need real policies that can actually restart economic growth in these areas. I’ve got the biggest bipartisan infrastructure bill in the Congress by any measure. We need to create incentives for private capital to flow into these areas. One of the things I’ve worked on is a proposal that would allow Americans with unrealized capital gains to sell those investments [and] defer their capital gains tax provided they invest the proceeds in areas that are economically distressed. And we need more impact investing, which is an area where I’ve been a leader in the Congress. We ought to be doing some regulatory reform.
In many ways we need a new social contract. So things like making changes to the K-12 education system so that it produces kids who have more schools and can get jobs. Making changes to community college so that it’s free, provided they are actually graduating kids to get jobs. Providing support to kids who want to get technical training. We ought to be delinking health care from employment. Everybody ought to have health care, but it shouldn’t be tied to your job.
And then we’ve got a resource question. If you look at the kind of debt we are leaving our citizens financially and environmentally, it’s immoral and we ought to do things to strengthen Social Security. I have, I think, the only bipartisan bill on Social Security in the Congress.
RC: You mention delinking health care from employment. How do you plan to do that?JD: When you talk about health care, you need to talk about three things: access, quality and cost. We need to be putting in place long-term health care reform that deals with all three of those things. Everyone should have access to health care. The debate about health care in the last decade or so has largely been about access. The Affordable Care Act was about access. The people who are advocating for single-payer are about access.
I think everyone should get a basic health care package in this country from when they are born to when they die. And it should be a right. I think to make sure we are dealing with quality and cost, we ought to overlay a private market on top of that. Which is why I don’t support a pure single-payer system, but I do support a system where everyone has health care as a matter of right but they also have the ability to effectively also trade that in and get credit for it to buy in the private market.
The most impactful thing we can do, and the thing that is in some ways simplest, is to allow people over 50 or 55 to buy into Medicare.
RC: Former [New York GOP] Rep. Richard Hanna endorsed you. Do you think those kind of things, do they have appeal?JD: I think the country is overwhelmingly looking for someone who can bring us together and work with the other side, because they understand intuitively that’s how you get things done. I have been consistently ranked one of the most bipartisan members of Congress. I think what they actually want us to do is work together and work for them. Right now I think they see us as working for ourselves.