Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, Candidate For 2020, On Gun Control, Health Care And More

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U.S. congressman from Ohio and Democratic candidate for president Tim Ryan in the studios at WBUR. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
U.S. congressman from Ohio and Democratic candidate for president Tim Ryan in the studios at WBUR. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

Democratic congressman and presidential hopeful Tim Ryan joins us. We talk about gun violence in his home state of Ohio, his views on "Medicare for All" and more.


Rep. Tim Ryan, Democratic congressman representing Ohio's 13th District and candidate for the 2020 presidential nomination. (@TimRyan)

Interview Highlights

How much longer will Ryan remain in the race?

"We're in it for the foreseeable future. We're picking up support. I was just in New Hampshire yesterday. After I got done speaking, four or five people came up. They want to volunteer on the campaign, help us in New Hampshire. We get standing ovations everywhere we go, whether it's South Carolina, teachers' unions. So we're connecting, and we're just building it out. I don't have the name recognition — which is why I'm glad you’re having me on right now  — that some of the other candidates [have]. When you look at the polling, it says, 'If you had to vote tomorrow, who would you vote for?' And then someone has to say who they're going to vote for. But behind that is, 'How certain are you that that's your candidate?' In about 60 to 70 percent of the people, [they’re] saying, 'I'm not certain at all of who I’m voting for.' So it's wide open."

"My agenda gets us out of the left and right conundrum that we're in right now, and gets us into the new and better."

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio

On why he's the best candidate for the Democratic nomination

"My agenda gets us out of the left and right conundrum that we're in right now, and gets us into the new and better. And what progressives should hear when I say that is, the new and better agenda is a progressive agenda. But it's new. I'm talking about trauma-informed care in our schools. Social and emotional learning in every school. A mental health counselor in every school. Vocational training in every school. Art therapy, music therapy, play therapy. If we don't address the trauma that our kids are having, we're never gonna get their brains to function properly. We've learned more about the brain in the last 20 years than the previous 200, and I want an agenda for our kids that actually deals with how their brains [are] functioning. So, a progressive listening to this right now should say, 'Well, that's interesting,' and that is the response I'm getting everywhere I go."

On health care and "Medicare for All"

"When I talk about health care, we don't just talk about health insurance. My agenda is about: How do we get healthy? Not how do we pay for the insurance — which of course everyone needs it, and I'm for it, and it should be affordable and accessible and quality and include mental health — but, how do we get healthy? And how do we incentivize doctors and patients to get us healthy, and keep us healthy, with rebates and refunds for the patients; doctors getting a piece of the action if they get in to keep us healthy? And how do we use things like food as medicine to reverse chronic disease? Because three-quarters of our health care costs are chronic diseases that are largely preventable. So how do we build a system out that reverses Type II diabetes using interventions like food as medicine, and other supports. No one's talking about this. And if we're gonna be the party of the future, we need to implement the best knowledge that we have today, and be the party of infusing this into our institutions right now in our systems that are broken."

Why is it that he does not support a "Medicare for All" system?

"I support universal coverage. I am on the 'Medicare for All' bill, and I have been since 2007. I just don't think, today, that our steps should be, 'We are going to take private insurance, or force people to get out of their private insurance.' That's the only distinguishing factor, really, that I have with everyone else. Because I have a lot of people in Ohio, in Wisconsin, and Michigan and western Pennsylvania, who have really good health insurance. There is zero trust with the political system today. So, I think that it is a big mistake for us as a party — and I think it's bad policy — to go to those people and say, 'I know you've negotiated wages away in your union, in order to get really good health care, and I know there's an opiate epidemic in a lot of these communities, and I know there's sickness, and deaths of despair, and adverse childhood experiences, and a lot of chronic disease. But you have health care right now.' I don't think it's a good idea for us to go into those communities and say, ‘I have a better idea for you. I'm going to take your health care and I'm going to give you a Washington, D.C.-run health care plan.' That is not a good idea."

"I am on the 'Medicare for All' bill, and I have been since 2007. I just don't think, today, that our steps should be, 'We are going to take private insurance, or force people to get out of their private insurance.' "

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio

Rep. Ryan once had an "A" rating from the NRA, for many years. In 2017, he gave a $20,000 NRA PAC donation to nonprofits like Sandy Hook Promise.

Why did his evolution on gun control come only after the mass shooting in Las Vegas?

 "My voting changed over time, starting with watching those things happen [the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012]. You can go back and look at my votes in committee, and the Appropriations Committee. So my voting changed. And then we were all hoping at some point, 'Is the NRA ever gonna try to sit down and do something — like find some common ground on this?' So my voting changed, years and years and years before that. And then, after Nevada, to me it was like, I wanted to help the groups that were doing the work, because I think building up the anti-gun violence groups is really essential to combating the NRA. And I just had the idea: Let me take the NRA money and try to improve my own personal karma with — not getting rid of that money — trying to do something good with it, by helping the other groups. So it wasn't an instant transformation. It had been happening for years and years.

"I think in a lot of ways I represent a lot of Americans. I come from a state where the hunting culture is something that is important to everyone, the sportsman culture is important to everyone. I do a duck every year, at least once a year, with our oldest son. So I I hunt. ... I came to Congress with like this general idea like, 'OK, I want to protect the Second Amendment, right?' Didn't give it a whole lot of thought. And then, over time, I watched what happened. I experienced what was happening to our kids. I experienced, with everybody else, I was like, 'OK this is kind of crazy, we've got to do something.'

And then my vote started to change, and then I kept watching it happen. And then, quite frankly, six years ago, I got married to a schoolteacher, and she brought two kids into the marriage, and so now Mason and Bella are in schools. And then we had Brady, and Brady's 5 now, and he goes to school down the hall from from where my wife teaches. And so, I don't know what to tell people — I'm a human being that's 46 years old, and I don't believe the same thing I believed when I was 29. And if you want to hold me to some standard of when I got the Congress, through 17 years of experience and watching this stuff happen — I'm very passionate about getting these weapons of war off the street.  I'm very passionate about the background checks. It sickens me to see what's happening to the country today and to think that a few politicians like Mitch McConnell can block basic, common-sense gun legislation that 90 percent of the American people support.

"I would just assure everybody, you don't have to worry about me taking money from the NRA or anybody else. I'm passionate about these issues. I work very closely with the gun-control groups."

On President Trump's "lies" to the people of Ohio

"I can also pull some of those working class people back, because Trump has lied, on every one of these issues. And he was in my area just a year and a half ago saying, 'Don't sell your house.' And since then we lost two shifts at the General Motors plant. So there's not a better person in this race to dog Donald Trump on economic issues than I am, because he lied to my folks back in Ohio. And I can make sure that these economic arguments are made directly. And I tease people all the time, 'I'm Irish. I'm OK with getting in a little bit of a fight.' ... I'm ready to go against this guy. I've been in Congress 17 years; I've represented this district [Ohio’s 13th District]. And I think the other thing about my candidacy that's interesting is: I'm talking about the new economy. I'm talking about building electric vehicles, building batteries, building charging stations, building solar, building wind. Right now — and this is what I will hit Trump on hard — China dominates 50 to 60 percent of the electric vehicle market. They dominate 60 percent of the solar market. And so this new economy stuff — that I've been working on in Youngstown and Akron, Ohio, my entire career — we have one of the preeminent additive manufacturing centers in Youngstown, Ohio. I know the new economy. I know about the skills gap. And that's the argument that we're gonna make to beat Donald Trump."

From The Reading List

Rolling Stone: "Candidate Tim Ryan: GOP ‘Needs to Get Their S--- Together’ With Gun Control" — "Fed up Ohio Congressman and presidential candidate Tim Ryan blasted Republicans for doing nothing about gun control, telling MSNBC on Sunday, 'Republicans need to, quite frankly, get their s--- together and stop pandering to the NRA because people are getting killed.'

"Ryan called out the majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell for not bringing forth gun legislation on background checks that Congress passed a few weeks ago. Ryan said it’s inexcusable because the bill is 'a basic step that 99% of the American people support.'

"Ryan went on to speak passionately about this weekend’s victims, saying, 'All these people had hopes and dreams, they had plans this week, they were going to do things, they were going to meet with their friends, they were going to meet with family, they were going to go to church or their synagogue, and now they are gone.' "

CNN: "Tim Ryan wants to use yoga and mindfulness to 'get us out of the rat race' in 2020" — "Rep. Tim Ryan wants to be America's 'zen president.'

"On Tuesday night, the Ohio congressman and 2020 Democratic presidential contender held a New York City fundraiser that featured a yoga class and a breathing session. 'Healing America Through Mindful Leadership,' the yoga portion, was led by two military veterans, former Army Ranger Rolf Gates and Dan Nevins, who lost his legs to a roadside bomb as a US soldier in Iraq.

"The event was part of what Ryan said he expects to become a continuing theme of his candidacy: Be mindful.

"By placing that — and yoga — at the center of his campaign, Ryan said, he wants to emphasize 'reconnecting and starting with taking the temperature down in the country.'

"'I think America's going to be looking for a zen president after this,' he said. 'You look at the presidents we admire over the years, and they have that quality of equanimity in rocky times.' "

Roll Call: "Rep. Tim Ryan leads gun control ‘caravan’ to Mitch McConnell's hometown" — "Democratic presidential candidate and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan is leading a caravan of gun law reform activists 376 miles from his hometown of Niles, Ohio, to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

"The caravan, co-led by the gun control group Moms Demand Action, will make its sixth and final stop Thursday at City Plaza next to the Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville for a rally at 7:30 p.m.

"'It’s been 150+ days since the House passed 2 comprehensive gun reform bills & Mitch McConnell still has done nothing. That’s unacceptable,' Ryan tweeted on Wednesday, announcing his caravan."

Stefano Kotsonis and Dorey Scheimer produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on August 19, 2019.

This program aired on August 19, 2019.



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