As Democrats try to fine tune their economic message heading into this year’s midterms, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer is hitting the road this weekend for his second “Make It in America” listening tour.
Starting Saturday and continuing through Tuesday, the Maryland Democrat will travel to Pittsburgh, followed by Toledo, Ohio, and finally Indianapolis with members of his House caucus. He’ll be meeting with small groups to talk about entrepreneurship, infrastructure and education.
All three stops are in traditionally Democratic areas but in states President Donald Trump won in 2016. Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to win the House in November. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting districts in all three states, plus in other Rust Belt states that voted for Trump, and to win there, the party knows it needs more of a platform than simply opposing the president.
So why have Democrats lost their footing in some of these areas? “I think there’s a perception,” Hoyer said, “that the two coasts think about themselves and not the interior. If the middle is not healthy, the coasts will not be healthy for very long.”
Hoyer launched his “Make It In America” plan in 2010, which he now sees as a subset of the Democrats’ “A Better Deal” agenda that party leaders rolled out last summer. The goal of this trip, as it was with the first listening tour last fall, is to better understand the economic struggles of Americans and learn from them.
“And by our presence, indicate we care about middle America,” Hoyer added.
Hoyer is adamant about the “listening” part of this venture.
“I don’t talk much, and I make it clear to people we’re here to hear your ideas,” he said.
“We took copious notes,” he said of the last tour, which took him to Las Vegas; Peoria, Illinois; and Kansas City, Missouri.
This time, he’s traveling to Pittsburgh with Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle to learn more about entrepreneurship in the area and how it can be scaled around the country. He’ll visit the Energy Innovation Center and Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center on Saturday.
Monday takes the minority whip to Toledo, where he’ll be joined by Reps. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware for a roundtable at a vocational school to talk about education and skills training. Hoyer will then meet up with Indiana Rep. André Carson in Indianapolis to check out an electric bus and hold two infrastructure roundtables, one centered around investment near the airport.
California Rep. Nanette Barragán will be joining Hoyer in Toledo and Indianapolis.
Hoyer is most eager to hear what audiences think about infrastructure. “But also how they think we ought to pay for it,” he said. He wants to hear from local leaders whether they think they can shoulder the spending burden called for in Trump’s recently unveiled infrastructure plan.
Hoyer doesn’t currently have plans to hold listening sessions in Republican-held districts, but he said the meetings he’s convening, which are set up by the local members, may include constituents from nearby GOP districts. He said it’d be “terrific” if Republicans were in attendance.
Asked about criticism that House Democratic leadership is dominated by coastal representatives, Hoyer emphasized the importance of members hosting him on these listening tours who can speak to all of “middle America,” not just their districts.
Hoyer cited Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, who hosted him in Peoria last fall. She’s one of three members who co-chair the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee and heads heartland engagement for the DCCC. He praised Kaptur, the senior-most female member of the House who’ll be hosting him in Toledo next week, for being focused on revitalizing her region’s economy.