How They Will, and Will Not, Work with President Trump

WARREN, Ohio – The fate of establishment figures in both parties is one of the factors driving the debate over leadership of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan said Monday.

Ryan, who with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown attended yesterday’s launch of the Mahoning Valley’s My Brother’s Keeper at the Kent State Trumbull Campus, responded to reporters’ questions regarding reports he might seek the leadership of House Democrats.

Ryan and Brown, D-Ohio, said they are uncertain about the impact of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the presidential election a week ago. Despite losses in both houses of Congress, Republicans retain majorities, and will hold the White House as well.

And, as first reported by The Business Journal, Ryan is considering a challenge to his mentor, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Who is best positioned to lead House Democrats as they move forward is “a conversation we need to have,” Ryan said. He is angry over last week’s results because he feels Democrats are the party “that can best deliver for working-class people” but hasn’t connected with them.

“There is a real anti-Washington, D.C. sentiment out there and we have seen what has happened to establishment figures, from Jeb Bush and John Kasich to Hillary Clinton and others,” he said. “So figuring out a way to have a different message, a different approach, maybe even different people to bring that message, is an important conversation to have.”

Democrats “need a leader” who can not only go into districts the party held this election but into districts that they need to pick up, “and a lot of those districts look a heck of a lot like Youngstown and Akron,” he remarked.

He praised Pelosi as a mentor and expressed his gratitude for helping him get on the House Appropriations Committee. “I couldn’t have more respect for her, but we need to have this conversation,” he says. “The whole country is looking for a change and I think as Democrats we owe it to those people who put us in office to have that bigger conversation. It’s not an easy conversation to have within the family of people who all love and care about each other to really rip the Band-Aid off and try to understand what happened.”

Brown said he is surprised by the margin Trump won by in Ohio. “Trump says he won easily. He didn’t win easily. He didn’t really win the popular vote,” he said.

“He’s the president. Nobody is disputing that. That’s the way that the Electoral College works,” he continued. “I would think because the country is so divided that [President-elect] Trump would not want to further divide but would want to heal on issues that will help the Mahoning Valley.”

Ryan said he became concerned about the outcome when knocking on doors before the election and encountered voters who supported him but also had Trump signs in their yard.

Brown said he is prepared to work with Trump regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he opposed as a congressman.

“I hope that this president will decide that he is personally going to buy America and encourage buy America, and encourage us to have a different trade policy and a different tax policy so companies don’t shut down in Warren and Niles and move to China to set up business. We’ve seen far too much of that,” Brown remarked.

The incoming administration has indicated it wants to do more regarding infrastructure, which Brown supports. “I look at the condition of streets and bridges and water and sewer systems and highways all over the Valley, all over the state,” he said. I’m hopeful that we can do some things together.”

Among initiatives Ryan says what he is prepared to support is Trump’s stated intent to “drain the swamp” in Washington. “I’m all for it,” he said. “You want to fix politics in America? We have to publicly finance campaigns. We have to limit campaigns to two months like they do in Great Britain.”

Ryan also supports Trump’s intent to pursue a transportation bill, which he said has to be big, bold and “take our infrastructure to the next level,” and to create a new trade model for the United States.

But the Democrats say they are prepared to stand against Trump where they believe they need to.

Trump is beginning to fall into the “traditional supply-side economic Republican orthodoxy,” Brown said, noting that he tapped Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman, as his chief of staff. Priebus is “very close” to House Speaker Paul Ryan, who wants to privatize Medicare, cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans at a time when the United States has “huge deficits” and needs huge infrastructure investments.

“I’m concerned that Trump is going to fall into that orthodoxy because by all accounts he doesn’t pay a lot of attention – I mean, he doesn’t get into the details,” Ryan said. “That doesn’t make him a bad guy but these problems are deep. I hope he recognizes, whether it’s on the military side or the economic side, how much he’s got to pay attention, how much he’s got to read and understand.”

Brown added that Trump looks to “fall in line” with Republicans on more tax cuts for the upper class and wants to weaken Wall Street consumer rules.

“I stand strong against him on that,” he said. “When he does what he said and moves the country in the right direction on jobs, I’m with him. But if he does things that I think hurt the public interest, I will oppose him. More tax cuts for the rich and trickle-down economics has decimated the Valley already. I don’t want to see more of it.”

Ryan is uncertain as to what Trump’s election means for initiatives such as America Makes, the additive manufacturing partnership President Obama established in Youngstown four years ago, or his education-related priorities such as introducing mindfulness in classrooms.

“We’re in uncharted waters here. I don’t think we know what’s going to happen,” he said. “We know that Republicans want to cut discretionary spending. They don’t appreciate the value of these public-private partnerships.”

Brown acknowledged that he has some concerns with how Ohio could be treated under a Trump administration. Although Trump won the state, Gov. John Kasich publicly denounced and refused to vote for him, and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, withdrew his support following release of the Access Hollywood tape. Trump is known for evening scores with people whom he feels have wronged him, he said.

“Presidents can’t act that way. I hope he puts that behind him,” Brown said.

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