Ryan Clashes with Sanders at Democratic Debate

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan found himself sparring with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont for much of his time during Tuesday night’s debate of candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.  

Ryan, D-13 Ohio, was among the 10 candidates who participated in the first night of the two-night event in Detroit, which is being carried on CNN. Among the headline candidates of the debate were Sanders and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. 

An early exchange with Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, produced one of the more memorable lines of the night. In response to a proposal by Sanders and Warren to replace private insurance with government-sponsored health care for everyone, Ryan pointed out that union members had given up wages to get good health care.  

Sanders defended the plan by stating that the coverage they would gain under his plan would be superior to what they have now because it covers all health-care needs. 

“But you don’t know that – you don’t know that, Bernie,” Ryan said. 

“I do know that. I wrote the damn bill,” Sanders retorted. 

“Sen. Sanders does not know all of the union contracts in the United States,” Ryan responded. 

“I’m trying to explain that these union members are losing their jobs, their wages have been stagnant, the world is crumbling around them. The only thing they have is possibly really good health care,” he continued. “And the Democratic message is going to be, ‘We’re going to go in and the only thing you have left we’re going to take it and we’re going to do better.’ I do not think that’s a recipe for success for us, it’s bad policy and it’s certainly bad politics.”

By 10 p.m., before the debate was over, Sanders’ campaign had put out a fundraising solicitation offering donors a sticker with the slogan, “I wrote the damn bill.”

Sanders and Ryan later clashed over Sanders’ support for providing undocumented immigrants free health care and free college, which Ryan said gives them an incentive them to enter the country illegally.

“Right now, if you want to come into the country, you should at least ring the doorbell. We have asylum laws,” Ryan said.

The congressman also voiced his opposition to decriminalization of illegal immigration and said undocumented people can purchase health care.

“I don’t think it’s a stretch for us to ask undocumented people in the country to also pay for health care,” he said. 

Ryan and Sanders came closer to agreement on Sanders’ proposal to eliminate, by 2040, sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2040.

“If we get our act together, we won’t have to worry about it,” Ryan said. “My plan is to create a chief manufacturing officer so we could actually start making things in the United States again. That would pull the government, the Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, work with the private sector, work with investors, emerging tech companies, to dominate the electric vehicle market.” 

Sanders responded that he gets “a bit tired of Democrats being afraid of big ideas. Republicans are not afraid of big ideas,” he said.

“Republicans can give $1 trillion in tax breaks to billionaires and profitable corporations and bail out Wall Street crooks, so please don’t tell me that we cannot take on the fossil fuel industry,” the Vermont senator said.  

“I didn’t say we couldn’t get there until 2040, Bernie. You don’t have to yell,” Ryan responded to laughter from the audience. “All I’m saying is we have to invent our way out of this thing. And if we’re waiting for 2040 for a ban to come in on gasoline vehicles, we’re screwed. So we better get busy now. that’s why I’m saying get a chief manufacturing officer, align the environmental incentives with the financial incentives, and make sure that people can actually make money off of the new technologies that are moving forward.”

Ryan also referred to his plan to create a chief manufacturing officer in response to a question about whether he would support the steel tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump. Some of them are effective but Trump has “no grand strategy,” Ryan said.

“We need some targeted response against China. But you know how you beat China? You out-compete them. And that’s why I’d put a chief manufacturing officer in place to make sure that we rebuild the manufacturing base,” he said. “We’ve got to fill these factories that – in Detroit, in Youngstown – that used to make cars and steel. We’ve got to fill them with workers who are making electric vehicles, batteries, charging stations, make sure they’re making solar panels.”

Ryan also disagreed with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who said she would “always be willing to meet with [world] leaders to discuss policies.”

Moderator Jake Tapper posed the question in the wake of North Korea’s launch earlier in the day of two short-range missiles, the second such launch in the past week. 

Ryan has said he would not meet with North Korea dictator Kim Jong-Un unless a deal was close, Tapper noted.

U.S. presidents “shouldn’t meet with dictators,” Ryan said. In particular, he took issue with Trump’s visit to the Demilitarized Zone, which provided the dictator with “ a huge photo op” and “global credibility.” 

At one point during the debate, Ryan voiced overall caution about the approach that Democrats were taking, noting plans to do away with private health insurance, decriminalizing entering the country illegally and giving undocumented workers free health care. 

“I quite frankly don’t think that that is an agenda that we can move forward on and win,” he said. “We’ve got to talk about the working class issues, the people that take a shower after work, who haven’t had a raise in 30 years. If we focus on that, we’ll win the election.”

Although he was more actively engaged by CNN moderators than during the June 26 debate televised by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, Ryan was still largely ignored during sections of the debate. He was not questioned on climate change, gun control or civil rights.

Additionally, the congressman – who has often talked on the campaign trail about plant closings in the Mahoning Valley, including the shutdown of the General Motors Lordstown complex – was bypassed on a question concerning the closing of a GM plant in Michigan this week. 

Throughout the night, Ryan emphasized finding policy solutions that weren’t “left or right,” but “new and better” instead. 

“That’s how we win the future,” he said.  

Tracking by The New York Times showed Ryan spoke for nine minutes and 47 seconds during the forum – which ran more than 2 1/2 hours – ranking him eighth out of the 10 candidates. About a quarter of that time – two minutes and 31 seconds – was spent on economic issues, according to the tracker. He spoke for another two minutes and 15 seconds on foreign policy. 

Commanding the most speaking time during the forum was Warren, who spoke for 18 minutes and 33 seconds, nearly a minute more than Sanders.

In his closing remarks, Ryan voiced the hope that he had “at some level captured your imagination,” and again emphasized his “new and better” approach on the economy, education system and health care. 

“There’s not going to be a savior, not going to be a superstar that’s going to fix all this. It’s going to be you and me. It’s going to be us,” he said. “That’s how we fix this country: You and I coming together to do big things, to imagine the new country that we want by coming together. Not left or right. New and better.”

After the conclusion of the Detroit debates Wednesday night, qualifying Democrats will again debate in Houston Sept. 12 and 13. As of earlier this month, Ryan had failed to meet the increased polling or fundraising thresholds – reaching 2% in four national polls and receiving donations from 130,000 unique donors – to take the stage.   

Shortly after the end of the debate, Mandi Merritt, regional communications director for the Republican National Committee, said Ryan and the other Democrats made clear they would raise taxes and to pay for “big government health care and enact open border policies which turn a blind eye to the flow of drugs and crime coming into our nation.”

The “radical platforms” proposed by the Democrats “will lose to President Trump’s roaring economy and America First policies,” Merritt said in an email. 

“Tonight we saw Democrats once again embrace far-left progressive policies such as a complete overhaul of our health-care system and open borders, policies that will kick 200 million people off of their private insurance and put American lives at risk,” Evan Machan, communications director for the Ohio Republican Party, said in an email. “Tomorrow, we will see more of the same: proposals that are simply too progressive for Ohioans.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.