As the calendar flips to February 2019, the countdown to the 2020 Iowa Caucuses inches forward. With a year to go, one democratic presidential candidate has already hit all 99 counties in Iowa. We sit down with former Congressman John Delaney on this edition of Iowa Press.

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For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, February 1 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.  


Yepsen: If the 2020 Iowa Caucuses occur as planned in February of next year, this weekend would mark the one year out point. As new candidates announce their intentions on a daily basis, others have already been on the campaign trail for months. Today's guest, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney, is following the old Jimmy Carter model. He has already swept through Iowa's 99 counties and is back for more. He's seeking the democratic nomination. Congressman, welcome back to Iowa Press.

Delaney: Thanks for having me, David.

Yepsen: It's good to see you again. Also joining the conversation are Iowa political reporters Erin Murphy, Des Moines Bureau Chief for Lee Enterprises and Kay Henderson is News Director for Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Congressman, as you share your biography with Iowa voters, what are you telling them best qualifies you to be President?

Delaney: Well, I have a track record of actually getting things done and I think that's what we actually need in our next President. As someone who grew up in a blue collar family and then became a successful entrepreneur, started two businesses from scratch, I was the youngest CEO in the history of the New York Stock Exchange, then I rolled up my sleeves and served my country, I've been in the Congress of the United States. I've got a wonderful family, four daughters, happily married for 29 years. I've done a lot of things in my life and I think that positions me to be the kind of president we need next because our next president actually has to start getting some things done. We talk about so many things. When I go around the state and I talk to hardworking families in their living rooms or in coffee shops and they talk about health care, pharmaceutical prices, jobs in their communities, what is happening with immigration or criminal justice, we just have to start doing some things. The next president has to be a real problem solver and I have spent my whole career building things, getting things done, setting goals, achieving them and that's what I think we need. But the only way we're going to do that is if we start coming together.

Henderson: The Des Moines Register Iowa Poll in December showed you not registering and not at the top of the pack after you have spent a year here. What makes you think that when all these big names do start campaigning in Iowa that you can break through here?

Delaney: Well, I think I have a very unique message. My campaign is really about trying to bring this terribly divided nation back together. I think that's actually the central issue we face as a country, how deeply, deeply divided we are, and how we don't have a sense of kind of common purpose and unity. And I think the American people and Iowa democrats are looking for that. They're also looking for a problem solver, right, which is what I talked about. And they're looking for someone who has a vision for the future. The world is changing so rapidly because of technology and globalization and we need someone who actually has a plan as to how we take these forces which are so powerful and changing so many things in our lives and actually shape them to benefit more Americans. So I think the message that we're running on and what my campaign stands for is not only what this country needs but what Iowa democrats are looking for.

Murphy: Congressman, you talk about that message and when I talk to Iowa democrats one of the things I hear is that a lot of these candidates in this field are going to be similar in a lot of ways, a lot of the policies will be slightly different but close, and one of the important things they're looking for is someone who can deliver that message and be inspiring to voters out there in Iowa. Can you be that person? Can you be someone who inspires democratic voters, rallies them to your cause and your support?

Delaney: I believe so because at the core of my campaign is this notion that we almost ought to have a sense of moral aspiration back to our politics, that we should actually seek common ground and work together to build a better future. And I think that's actually what will really inspire voters this election cycle because they've seen decades of terribly corrosive politics where American is kind of pitted against American and they don't want that. They know that's not the American way, they know that's not the way to make real progress. And I think they want to be inspired around a notion of almost common purpose, which doesn't mean we agree with each other on everything, but what it does mean is we set common goals and we work together to achieve them and we move to a different kind of chapter in our politics where it's not do divisive and dishonest and we restore a sense of civility and respect the political debate and to leadership in this country. So what I think they're really looking for is a leader, someone who will actually bring us together, get things done and get us back to this notion of dreaming again about what our future could be. And I think that is what will inspire voters at the end of the day.

Murphy: That sort of sounds like, and you have been described by some as maybe a centrist or a moderate candidate. Is that fair?

Delaney: That's totally fair.

Murphy: And can a candidate running in that lane, so to speak, win a democratic primary where a lot of democrats are very upset with the way things are going right now and want a stark contrast to oppose the current President?

Delaney: Yes. And democrats are right to be incredibly upset with what's going on with the President. In my judgment the President is entirely unfit to be the President and he has been unrestrained in how he has conducted himself. So Iowa democrats and democrats all around this country are right to be upset about that. But what they're looking for is something so fundamentally different. They're looking for the opposite of what we have. They're looking for someone who wakes up every day and tries to unify the country, not divide it. They're looking for someone who wants to get things done. And they're looking to win, most importantly. Right? So if Iowa democrats are looking for someone who can beat the President and get us back on a fundamentally different trajectory they should be looking for a more moderate or more centrist candidate, which is what I am.

Henderson: Let's talk about some of the issues that are animating the Democratic Party at this point. Health care. People talk about universal coverage, they talk about Medicare for all. What would you do as President?

Delaney: They first thing I would do is fix the Affordable Care Act. The first 100 days my whole agenda is bipartisan proposals that exist in the Congress including some terrific ideas to fix the Affordable Care Act so that Americans immediately start getting better health care. After that, I would work towards a universal health care system that I've laid out, which basically creates a government health care program as a right for every American, but also gives them choices to choose private health insurance or to choose private supplementals on top of their government plan. I think every American should have health care as a right in this country. But I also think the American people want choices. The problem with the Medicare for All bill as proposed in the Senate is it's not ultimately good for access, quality or cost because it effectively makes the government the only provider of health care in this country.

Henderson: But you're saying you're giving people choices. Essentially the Medicare system that exists right now is what you're describing for everybody.

Delaney: Right, the way Medicare works is you get a basic plan and then you can buy supplementals and that's the way I think it should work for everyone.

Henderson: But the government runs that system. Why do you argue that what is currently being discussed in the Senate is anything different?

Delaney: Well, the government doesn't really entirely run the Medicare system because, again, most Medicare beneficiaries also elect to get a supplemental plan. Right? So that's how I --

Henderson: But that's what you're describing.

Delaney: That's what I'm talking about, right. But a lot of the proposals that have come forth really don't allow that. They have a government plan for everything.

Murphy: Taxes is something else we want to tackle here. You've had some candidates talking about what level the top income earners in the country should be taxed at. You have Sherrod Brown who is in Iowa this weekend and he has proposed repealing the Trump tax cuts and punishing corporations that pay low wages. What does the President Delaney tax plan look like?

Delaney: Well, I would agree with Senator Brown that we should roll back the GOP tax cuts. It wasn't really tax reform, it was just tax cuts. So I would roll most of those back. There were some things in that tax cut provision, if you will, that I support. But in terms of the top marginal rate, etcetera I would roll those back.

Murphy: Even though that will get portrayed as Congressman Delaney is going to raise your taxes?

Delaney: Well I'm actually going to, what I'm going to do is I'm going to roll back some of them and then I'm going to double the Earned Income Tax Credit, which I think should be the centerpiece of democratic tax policy. I think the Earned Income Tax Credit, which puts money in the pockets of hardworking Americans and really in many ways is the best anti-poverty program we have, should be the absolute centerpiece of democratic tax policy. If we want to do something to help hardworking Americans, that's what we should do. It also has the benefit of historically being very bipartisan. So I've called for a doubling of the Earned Income Tax Credit. I would pay for that by rolling back the marginal tax cuts that were in that bill and I'd also do something called the Buffett Rule which basically says that those who invest for a living will pay the same tax rate as those who work for a living. One of the great kind of structural unfairnesses that exists in this country is that the investor class, if you will, pays materially lower taxes as a percentage than the working class and I think we have to get rid of that unfairness. So I call for a doubling of the Earned Income Tax Credit and I pay for that by rolling back some of the tax cuts from the last tax cut bill that the GOP did and by putting in place this thing called the Buffett Rule.

Murphy: And how about debts and deficits in the federal budget? Is that a concern of yours? Have those just become a concern of the part that is out of power at the time?

Delaney: Well, there has been a little bit of that but it's a huge concern. We are clearly leaving our children and our grandchildren debts that they cannot repay, both fiscal debts and climate debts. We can talk about that separately. But the fiscal situation and the trajectory of this country is not sustainable. We need some more revenues and we have to fix health care because health care is clearly the biggest driver of our long-term kind of structural deficits and debts in the future. We cannot have a health care system where the rate of health care spending goes up faster than inflation. So I think it's a huge problem. I think we should have deficits at minus two percent of our economy. That will keep us in a sustainable place.

Yepsen: You brought it up so go ahead and talk about it, talk about the climate deficit.

Delaney: Well, climate change is obviously a huge issue. I think it's a threat to American prosperity and I think it's a huge threat to our national security actually. So we have to deal with it, we have to start dealing with it soon. If we don't deal with it we are in many ways leaving a debt to the next generation because they're going to have to do some dramatic things to deal with it that will cost a lot of money, that will take a huge amount out of their economy. So our basically kind of kicking this issue, kicking the can on climate change down the road is basically leaving a future generation a debt they can't repay. What I would do is put a carbon tax in place. I introduced the only bipartisan carbon tax bill in the Congress last year. This gets back to my approach to my candidacy, which is I want to do big things, but I actually want to get them done. I want to find common ground and I want to make progress. I don't want to keep talking about climate change, I don't want to keep moving the goal post on climate change, I actually want to get something done right away and I think a carbon tax is something we can do right away but it has to be structured right. It has got to be structured in a way where all the revenues that we raise from the carbon tax are given right back to the American people in the form of a dividend. And that is the bipartisan proposal that I was able to get introduced into the Congress, that I can make law as President.

Murphy: For people who feel strongly about this there's calls for presidential candidates to support the Green New Deal. Is that something you're interested in, would be willing to support?

Delaney: One of the problems we have with politics right now is people get asked to support things that are not defined. So the Green New Deal as best I can tell is an undefined term. As someone who was given the Legislator of the Year Award by the Citizens Climate Lobby I'm actually incredibly passionate about climate and have done a huge amount on the issue and have very specific plans. So if a Green New Deal means putting a price on carbon, increasing the Department of Energy research budget by fivefold, because we ultimately have to innovate ourselves out of this problem, and doing things to support investments and renewables, if that's the Green New Deal then I'm all for it. But I actually already have those proposals introduced and a bunch of them are bipartisan. So some of the problems with the Green New Deal is no one has defined it yet.

Henderson: You are no longer in Congress to vote on the deal that may be hatched over the wall. Do you consider the wall, as Nancy Pelosi has said, to be immoral?

Delaney: I think the notion of the President building a monument to himself from sea to shining sea, I think that is immoral. I think building barriers as part of a comprehensive, smart border security strategy, then those aren't immoral. I think what we should do is really pretty simple. The Congress and the President should agree on an amount of money to invest in our border, let's say it's $5 billion, and then we should have experts who actually know what they're talking about around border security, and I don't consider the President to be one of those people, come back with recommendations as to what we should do. And I believe those recommendations would be a combination of technology solutions would probably be the most prevalent, there would be some additional personnel at different points along the border and there probably would be some barriers at different points. As President, I would say that's what we should do because it's the most effective thing to do, because the experts are recommending it and it's the most cost efficient.

Henderson: What about immigration policy? Republicans are pressing to retract the number of legal immigrants admitted into the country. You have border crossings where people are claiming asylum and waiting in Mexico for their date in court. How would a President Delaney fix the system? Everybody agrees it's broken but nobody has fixed it.

Delaney: So what I would do, first of all I think we should be welcoming immigrants to this country. I think they are core to our identity and the fabric of our society. And I think the worst thing for a country economically is to have a shrinking population. It's incredibly important to the long-term growth of this country that we have immigrants. If you go around the world and you look at countries that have shrinking populations because they don't let immigrants in it's a terrible economic picture for them. So we have to get back to this notion that immigrants are incredibly valuable to our country, particularly economically. So I would want to be welcoming of immigrants. What I would do is go back to the 2013 bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the Senate. That deal could get done today and that is the centerpiece of my platform. And I also care about the asylum issue. My wife and I were just down at the border about a month ago, we went to a place called Dilley, Texas, which is right outside of San Antonio, where the largest detention facility that this country operates exists and in that facility when we were there, there were 1,700 women and children seeking asylum. And the reason we went there is we took 14 law students and 2 law professors there for a week to help these asylum seekers process their case. And so I was there listening to these women tell their stories about what they're fleeing in Central America. And what I learned from that is A, we have to really do things to help the situation in Central American because the conditions that they were fleeing are horrific. But it's also a reminder of why we have asylum laws because I think this notion of being welcoming to refugees is in fact important to who we are as a country and our values.

Henderson: You mentioned Central America. Go a little bit lower. What does the U.S. do in Venezuela?

Delaney: Well, we don't engage in kind of a military intervention at all as part of this transition, with one exception, if there were actually American diplomats and citizens at risk then we might do things if they were at risk militarily. But otherwise we absolutely do not engage militarily, which the President has alluded to, and we have to let the Venezuelan people decide their own future and what they really need to decide is if they want to have a democracy. Having said that, the United States should be leading kind of a group of countries that are interested in the situation, which not only include all the countries in the region, many of which are accepting millions of refugees from Venezuela, but also Canada and European countries, etcetera, that have an interest in this country. And we should be prepared for significant kind of humanitarian intervention as that transition unfolds to the new emerging leadership which I believe and hope will ultimately take over that country.

Murphy: So speaking of the military, the Senate this week voted on whether to draw down troops from Syria and Afghanistan. Should we be getting all the way out of those countries? Or should Americans be adjusting to the idea that we may have to leave troops there for years if not decades?

Delaney: Well, I think the American people ultimately want our troops out of those countries, but I think we should only withdraw troops fully from those countries when we have specific kind of goals that we have met that are in our national interest. So as it relates to Syria I think there should be a couple of goals. The first goal should be that we fully defeated ISIS. The second goal should be that Turkey has agreed, formally agreed not to attack the Kurds who were our critical allies in the fight against ISIS on the ground. We cannot leave there until we have assurances these important allies of ours will not be attacked by Turkey. And thirdly, we have to feel like there is a way for that country to have some kind of governance where it's not just a puppet of Iran. So those would be my three goals that I'd want to see reached before we had a full withdrawal of our troops from Syria.

Murphy: How do you convince voters of that who may be war weary?

Delaney: Well, they're right to be war weary. We've been engaged, Afghanistan is the longest war this country has ever fought, we probably have spent $3 trillion if not more on our engagements in the Middle East. That's a huge investment, a whole generation of Americans are missing effectively an investment in them because we've invested in these wars we never should have fought, so they're right to be war weary. But what we have to do now, which is to do what is in the best interest of the United States and our citizens going forward, not to refight the battles of the past, but to actually make the right decisions going forward. The right decisions going forward is to withdraw our troops as quickly as possible provided we're meeting objectives that are in the interest of this country long-term like I laid out for Syria.

Yepsen: Another issue that I think is emerging in the country and involves robotics and automation and the workforce. You're a business person, successful business person. We're looking at a situation in this country where artificial intelligence and robotics are going to start replacing a lot of American workers in large numbers, it already has, but it's going to get more pronounced. What are we going to do to provide jobs for the truck drivers and bank tellers and blue collar folks that are not going to have the same job opportunities that their parents had?

Delaney: Well, I'm glad you asked it, David, it's a big part of my platform. I've called for a national artificial intelligence strategy where the government the private sector and the non-profit sector actually come together and have an articulated plan around how these extraordinary technologies will affect the future work, will affect national security, will affect our digital privacy and will affect kind of the programming biases that might be put in these systems that are going to make all the decisions. So you're talking about the first one. So it's estimated that up to 50 million jobs in the United States of America could be displaced or fundamentally changed by 2030 because of automation and artificial intelligence. So we need a real strategy and the strategy includes things like the following, making sure we have a strong safety net, making sure we're getting our young people and even people in the workforce the skills they need to succeed in the jobs of the future. Thinking about areas of our economy where people are actually doing work right now and adding value but they're not getting paid. A simple example of that is caregivers. So right now about 30% of the country is considered a caregiver in one form or fashion. That's going to be 50% by 2040. If I was taking care of my mom and you were taking care of your mom and we were to switch roles we'd have to pay each other, we'd have to give each other benefits. So my point is there is a huge value to society on what all these people are doing so we have to create compensation structures for people like that. We just have to think broadly about how we upskill our workforce so they can get the jobs of the future, how we have a strong safety net for people who are displaced by these technologies, and how we think more creatively about all the jobs we need in society, more nurses, more teachers, more mentors, more caregivers, where people are actually doing things and not getting compensated right now and figuring out smart ways of getting compensation to those people.

Henderson: I'm wondering what you think of the entry of Howard Schultz into the presidential contest. Some of your fellow democrats have had some very strong opinions.

Delaney: Sure. Well, their point, which I somewhat agree with, which is that he hurts the Democratic Party if he runs, but I've got actually a very different take on this whole thing, which is the only reason he's running is because he perceives the Democratic Party is going to seed the center. So Howard Schultz is sitting back and saying the democrats are going to put up someone so far to the left that they are unappealing to the center of the country and I'm going to waltz in as the centrist and get all those voters. So my point to democrats is, why are we seeding the center? Why are we taking the fastest growing part of the country, which is the center, the independent party in this country or unaffiliated party is the fastest growing party in this country, why don't we become the party that actually is a big tent where we attract progressives, moderates, independents, even disaffected republicans? That is fundamentally what my campaign is about because if we want to beat Trump and win all these elections we can't seed the center and let someone like Howard Schultz walk in because we have put up a candidate that is unappealing to the largest part of the American people.

Murphy: And speaking of the big tent, the Iowa Democratic Party here has been doing some introspection on how to win back rural voters in this state. You've been to all 99 counties, you've talked to folks there. How can you and democrats in general be more successful in rural Iowa?

Delaney: Well, you have to show up. One of my expressions from my prior life as a successful entrepreneur is you can't fake showing up. It's one thing in life you can't fake. And so you have to show up, which is why I've been to 99 counties. You have to have a plan. I have a plan to get investments in rural communities all over this country that involves incentives in the federal tax code to get private investors to invest, it involves infrastructure investment in these communities, rural broadband, etcetera, it involves creating an incentive for government contractors to locating these communities. I think 25% of the government contracts in this country should go to companies that have half of their employees in distressed communities. And it involves things like increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, which I talked about, with a particular emphasis on these communities. You have to have a real plan that gets at some of the issues that rural American is dealing with, the fact that people aren't creating jobs there.

Yepsen: Why are you the best, we've got 30 seconds to go, you talked about rural Americans, why are you the best candidate to get to 270 electoral votes and beat Trump?

Delaney: Because I'm going to build a big tent. The policies that I stand for and my approach to government and leadership will in fact attract democrats, moderates, independents and disaffected republicans and I'll beat him easily.

Yepsen: Thank you very much for being with us today.

Delaney: Thank you for having me.

Yepsen: We appreciate your time.

Delaney: Thank you.

Yepsen: Good luck out there.

Delaney: Thank you.

Yepsen: And thank you for joining us. We'll be back with another edition of Iowa Press next week when Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds joins us to discuss the ongoing legislative session. That's Iowa Press with Governor Reynolds next week at our regular times. For all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.

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