Ryan’s political message meant to connect with middle America


Since losing his bid for House minority leader in November 2016, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan has been busy raising his national profile.

He was the keynote speaker two weeks ago at the South Carolina Democrats’ annual Blue Palmetto dinner and also spoke at a fish fry held by Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina. Clyburn called Ryan a “good friend” and a favorite drinking partner in Washington, D.C.

Interestingly enough, Ryan called for the resignation of Clyburn – along with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer – in June 2017 for what he said was the Democratic Party’s continued failure to connect with middle America.

While Ryan of Howland, D-13th, has a primary Tuesday against two candidates he’s previously defeated, he’s doing more campaigning outside his congressional district than inside it.

In addition to South Carolina, Ryan has campaigned in New Hampshire, Iowa, Alabama, Pennsylvania and said he’s going to Indiana for its statewide dinner next month, returning to New Hampshire in two weeks, and has been invited to speak on behalf of candidates in Kentucky, West Virginia and Mississippi.

All of this leads to speculation about Ryan’s political future.

When I asked about it, Ryan said, “It’s one of those things where I’m sick of losing, sick of everyone else crafting a message that I know doesn’t resonate in places like where I grew up and represent. So I’m trying to take a leadership role here in defining that broader national message. Ever since the race with Pelosi, we’re getting these types of invites.”

Ryan added: “It’s gotten to the point now if I don’t get more people elected who are talking the way I’m talking, the Democratic Party is going to continue to be in the wilderness. I want everybody to know it’s a lot of work to run around the country and do this, but if we want our interests here represented I need more people in Congress helping me.”

While a number of people see a “blue wave” coming in the general election and Democrats regaining control of the House, Ryan said, “I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that we are going to take Congress back. I’m optimistic, but not overly optimistic about it. We’ve got a long way to go.”

He also cautioned Democrats who think Republican Donald Trump has no chance of being re-elected president in 2020.

“He could win again,” he said. “I’m not one of those people who don’t think he could win again. We need to get our message right and start talking to working-class people.”

Ryan – who lost to Pelosi 134 to 63 for minority leader in November 2016 – said he has no interest in challenging for that spot again, even if it means the position is speaker of the House should Democrats gain control of the legislative body.

“No, no, I’m trying to help with the message,” he said. “At this point, I have no interest in running for it.”

With Ryan visiting early presidential primary and caucus states, there’s talk of a possible presidential run though he’d be a longshot and has been politically shy to seek higher office, including governor and senator.

When asked about a presidential run, Ryan said, “No, not right now. I think it’s best for me to focus on what we’re doing here and trying to get this message out, which is obviously a full-time job getting us back on track. It’s starting to work. I’m going to continue to work with candidates who are running and hopefully get us back in the majority and see where we are in November.”

Should Ryan be re-elected and Democrats take control of the House, his seat on the Appropriations Committee will be more prestigious.

Ryan said he’d become the Legislative Branch Subcommittee chairman. He’s currently the ranking Democrat.

Congress’ purse strings

That subcommittee controls the purse strings of the legislative branch overseeing the spending of the House, the Capitol police, the Library of Congress, the Government Accountability Office and is the place where members go for better parking spaces and office furniture. It’s a leadership position that Ryan said would make him “the mayor of Capitol Hill.”

He’d also be the third-most senior Democrat on the Defense Subcommittee, which handles U.S. Department of Defense spending, and remain on the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, which oversees spending on military construction projects, base realignment and closure, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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