Ryan Brings Up GM, Familiar Themes at Debate

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan touched on several themes and topics familiar to the constituents of his congressional district – from the job losses in the Mahoning Valley to the need for social and emotional learning in schools – as he sought to define himself among the large field of candidates vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. 

Ryan, D-13 Ohio, was among the 10 Democrats who took the stage in Miami for Wednesday night’s debate, televised by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. The slate, chosen by random selection, was headlined by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. 

Ryan’s presence was largely invisible during the debate’s first hour, as moderators Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie and Jose Diaz-Balart directed only two questions toward the congressman, the first coming about 16 minutes into the two-hour forum. 

Asked about President Trump’s promise that jobs were coming back to places like Ohio and whether he could make the same promise, Ryan recalled how Trump told people living here, during a rally at the Covelli Centre in 2017, not to sell their houses because manufacturing jobs were coming back.

“Under this administration in just the last two years, we lost 4,000 jobs in a General Motors facility that rippled throughout our community,” Ryan said. The automaker benefited from the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, which Trump championed, then had “the audacity” to move production of a new vehicle to Mexico. 

“My area where I come from in northeast Ohio, this issue we’re talking about here, it’s been going on for 40 years. This is not a new phenomenon in the United States,” he said.

Ryan’s next opportunity to speak wouldn’t come until about half an hour later, when he was asked about immigration policy. 

“If you go to Guantanamo Bay, there are terrorists that are held that get better health care than these kids that have tried to cross the border in the United States. That needs to stop,” he asserted. 

“What kind of country are we running where we have a president of the United States who’s so focused on hate and fear and division?” he added. “The end result is now we’ve got kids literally laying in their own snot, with three-week-old diapers that haven’t been changed.”

Ryan fared better during the second hour, with moderators Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow giving the congressman more opportunities to speak.

Asking to interject during a question on gun violence in schools, Ryan said he supported gun reform but called for trauma-based care and social and emotional learning in schools. Ninety percent of the perpetrators in school shootings come from the schools where they take place and 73% feel shamed, traumatized or bullied, he said. 

“We need to make sure that those kids feel connected. That means a mental health counselor in every single school in the United States,” he said. “We need to start playing offense. If our kids are so traumatized that they’re getting a gun and going into our schools, we’re doing something wrong, too.”

Ryan participated in one of a handful of direct exchanges between the candidates when he and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-2 Hawaii, sparred over keeping troops in Afghanistan. When Ryan said the United States needed to stay engaged there, both diplomatically and though military force to the extent it is necessary, Gabbard – who served in Iraq as part of the Hawaii Army National Guard – described his argument as “unacceptable.”

“Is that what you will tell the parents of those two soldiers who were just killed in Afghanistan? ‘Well, we just have to be engaged,’ ” Gabbard said. “As a soldier, I will tell you that answer is unacceptable. We have to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.”

“We are no better off in Afghanistan today than we were when his war began,” she added. “This is why it’s so important to have a president, a commander-in-chief, who knows the cost of war and is ready to do the job on Day One.”

“I don’t want to be engaged,” Ryan countered. “I wish we were spending all this money in places that I’ve represented that have been completely forgotten and that we’re rebuilding. But the reality of it is if the United States isn’t engaged the Taliban will regrow.” 

The sparring continued with Gabbard attempting to depict Ryan as confused about the difference between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. That prompted the Ryan campaign to issue a statement that attempted to clarify his comments.

“While making a point as to why America can’t cede its international leadership and retreat from around the world, Tim was interrupted by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard,” said Michael Zetts, campaign communications director. “When he tried to answer her, she contorted a factual point Tim was making — about the Taliban being complicit in the 9/11 attacks by providing training, bases and refuge for Al Qaeda and its leaders. The characterization that Tim Ryan doesn’t know who is responsible for the attacks on 9/11 is simply unfair reporting. Further, we continue to reject Gabbard’s isolationism and her misguided beliefs on foreign policy. We refuse to be lectured by someone who thinks it’s OK to dine with murderous dictators like Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad who used chemical weapons on his own people.”

During the forum, Ryan addressed paying for climate change mitigation and the need for the Democratic Party to position itself as a “working class party” to achieve its goals and unseat politicians like U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham to secure the confirmation of the Supreme Court picks of a Democratic president. Democrats have a “perception problem” they are not connected to working class people,” he said.

Ryan joined the majority of Democrats on the stage in saying they would not support ending private health insurance in favor of a government-run plan.

“We have got to change the center of gravity in the Democratic Party,” he continued. Without reestablishing that connection, Democrats will be unable to achieve any of their goals.

In his closing statement, Ryan spoke of representing a “forgotten community” and bringing people together. He also pledged that people’s voices will be heard if he is elected president.”  

“There’s nothing worse than not being heard, nothing worse than not being seen, and I know that because for 17 years in Congress I’ve represented a forgotten community,” he said. “They’ve tried to divide us – who’s white, who’s black who’s gay, who’s straight, who’s a man, who’s a woman – and they ran away with the gold because they divided the working class. It’s time for us to come together. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to play some offense.”

Trump’s campaign said Wednesday night’s debate “was the best argument” for his reelection and should be counted as an in-kind contribution to his campaign.  At one point, the president tweeted, “BORING.”

Following the debate, Mandi Merritt, regional communications director for the Republican National Committee, said people saw Ryan and his fellow Democrats “proudly advocate for open borders and a government takeover of health care that would eliminate choice for our families.” Democrats’ “socialist policies would kill our economy and put Americans out of work,” she added. 

Plain Dealer: Tim Ryan’s coveted moment eludes him at Democratic debate: analysis
Washington Examiner: Tim Ryan wins on attitude if nothing else
New York Times: 7 Takeaways from the first Democratic Debate

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