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2020 Hopeful Tim Ryan Pledges To Represent 'Forgotten Communities'

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, speaks at the Heartland Forum held on the campus of Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa on March 30, 2019. (Nati Harnik/AP)
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, speaks at the Heartland Forum held on the campus of Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa on March 30, 2019. (Nati Harnik/AP)

Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, who is running as a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, calls the strict abortion laws being passed in a number of states “abhorrent.”

But he says he didn’t always feel that way.

“I changed my mind [on abortion] when I started meeting women who explained to me exactly what they were going through,” he tells Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd. “And really I began to understand how complicated and complex pregnancies are and that the government has no business being between the doctor and a woman.”

Ryan (@RepTimRyan) gives credit to Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America advocates for engaging with him throughout his political career, despite entering Congress in 2003 as “a pro-life Democrat.”

“They didn’t cut me off. They didn’t ignore me,” he says. “It led to me opening my heart and mind to the other side of this issue.”

Ryan, who has been involved in Ohio politics for nearly two decades, says he understands the crushing economic struggles families are experiencing in once-industrialized cities and towns.

“We’ve lost thousands of jobs in my community around General Motors. Ford just laid off thousands of people. I’m telling you, this is not working,” he says. “The biggest myth going is the president saying we’ve got a booming economy. We do not.”

If elected, Ryan says he’d focus on the “forgotten communities” in the U.S. by crafting policies that resonate with the working class.

“The Democrats have failed to have a real robust message for working-class people in places like Ohio — these states that Donald Trump came in and won,” Ryan says.

Interview Highlights

On what Democrats can do to protect Roe. v. Wade

“Many women don’t even know they’re pregnant until after six weeks. So [Ohio’s abortion law] is a draconian law. From the federal level, we’ve got to continue to try to fund programs around prevention [and] around Planned Parenthood — making sure that women in these states still have some access to contraception. So that’s going to be really important. But we have to start winning the elections, and we got to start winning races and I think we turn the tide on this particular issue with what’s happening now: a lot of women very courageously telling their stories about why they had an abortion, and what it was like, and humanizing this. And that starts to shift the public narrative on it.”

On if his beliefs on abortion conflict with his faith

“I believe my faith supports my position because to me being Catholic, to me being Christian, to me following the teachings of Jesus is about being compassionate and an open-hearted toward people who you shouldn’t be judging. And to me I don’t understand all of the different scenarios that women are under. And nobody does. And so you show compassion.”

On President Trump’s Chinese tariff strategy

“Well being tough on China is one thing. Being completely erratic with no strategy and dragging businesses and farmers through the mud, using them as pawns in the game, is not the way to beat China. Tariffs are meant to be very targeted for particular reasons, like when China dumps steel on our country and puts people out of work. You have a targeted approach through the World Trade Organization [and] through the International Trade Commission to remedy that situation.”

“He’s killing the farmers. I mean, I was out in Iowa just this weekend and they are getting annihilated. The manufacturing around agriculture, the community, the schools, everything is being affected by this. And the bottom line is we’re not going to defeat China with tariffs. It’s the equivalent of the wall. It’s not the right way to do it. You beat China by outcompeting them, by dominating the new technologies, wind, solar, electric vehicles, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing. We should be reinvesting back in the United States and beating them on the economic playing field. He does this because he knows he’s going to get in the news cycle and it’s a way for him to look tough. I don’t want you to look tough. I want you to be tough.”

On the current economic outlook in the U.S.

“The economy is not strong. All you have to do is go to normal neighborhoods, normal communities and you will see that the majority of Americans are still struggling. We have blown past the metrics of unemployment rate actually mattering for most people. I mean, people have two or three jobs. Yeah, the unemployment rate’s low and they’re saying there’s been a bump in the income. It’s 20 bucks a week. I mean, people have loans. Health care is still a major issue. People are still losing their retirement.”

On whether it’s time to start the process of impeaching President Trump

“We need to continue to have the hearings and to … put Mueller in public in front of the Judiciary Committee. We need to bring everybody before Congress publicly on TV, and then see where we go from there. And if it leads to impeachment, then that’s where we have to go. But I think it’s important for us to educate the American people around this issue.”

On whether he’s satisfied with the job Nancy Pelosi is doing as House speaker

“I am. I think she understands the strategy here. She is holding a caucus together and I think she’s doing a good job. And I think she’s right on this. I want to continue to go down this road. We need to build public support for anything that’s going to happen, and that’s only going to happen by very public hearings until we get all of the facts out and the American people totally understand that this guy did obstruct justice. It’s pretty clear.”

On approving of Pelosi after challenging her in 2016 for the House speaker position

“Well my position is — and I don’t want to relitigate it, I’ve always had an enormous amount of respect for her and I’ve always said that even through challenging her.”

“That’s my concern, is that people that I represent — white, black, brown, gay, straight, people who work for a living, take a shower after work — aren’t really represented in today’s politics. You know, the issue of competing with China, on wages and everything else. We’ve got to talk to people about those issues are not going to vote for us and there is a chance that Donald Trump could win again. And so that was my concern is that our party has become very, very coastal and very, very focused on issues that aren’t resonating with working-class people in the United States.”

On standing out in the crowded field of 2020 candidates

“I’ve been to Iowa [and] New Hampshire. We’re resonating. I was there for three days, we picked up a good number of volunteers and caucusgoers who committed to us. We had good crowds everywhere that we went. So we were excited about it. I come from the epicenter of … industrialized America. I know what families are going through better than anybody, and I understand where we need to go in the new economy better than anybody, and I’m going to use the power of the of the CEO of America — the White House — to rebuild the economy in the United States and to take all these forgotten communities, forgotten people and join them together to take this country back and get this government working.”

On one thing most people don’t know about him

“I have a chicken-wing addiction. … I sometimes can’t get out of a restaurant without at least trying their chicken wings. So that’s my great downfall.”

Jill Ryan produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Todd Mundt.Serena McMahon adapted it for the web. 

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.