Presidential candidate Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, spoke Saturday at the Ames Public Library about the cost of college, the American middle class and his political ideology. Ryan is among 24 Democratic primary candidates seeking to take on President Donald Trump.
Ryan was introduced by Nevada city councilman Luke Spence, who mentioned Ryan’s support for unions in his Youngstown, Ohio based district.
“My background — I’m an airline pilot and airline pilots are the most unionized profession in the country. Well over 90% of airline pilots are union members,” Spence said. “It’s important to me that we have representation in D.C., and in the state of Iowa, to help union workers enforce their collective bargaining rights and bring more union jobs to the state and country as a whole. Congressman Ryan has been one of those advocates in Washington.”
A University of Southern California (USC) student who was among four USC students in the audience asked Ryan about what he would do to make college affordable.
“My wife got her master’s degree a few years back, we’re still paying off her student loans,” Ryan said. “You look at the interest rates on there, and this is ridiculous — you know this is a scam.”
Ryan said there should be a way to re-negotiate student loans and bring interest rates on those loans down, adding he is a sponsor of bills in Congress to make public college and university free, but said “a realistic step is [free] K-14.”
The congressman asked the USC students why they were in central Iowa.
Thomas Martin, among the four USC students in the audience, said they are juniors and seniors, mostly studying political science. Martin said they are staying in the Des Moines area to familiarize themselves with the process of the caucuses and to see presidential candidates.
Ryan told a story about his father-in-law, and other relatives who had worked in manufacturing in the Youngstown area and lost their jobs in the waves of outsourcing American manufacturing saw in the latter half of the 20th century.
“We’ve really lived in the epicenter of America’s deindustrialization,” Ryan said. “My [father-in-law] worked at a factory called Youngstown Sheet and Tube. It was one of the largest steel producing factories in the world in the late 1970s and [it] just shut down one day. My mother-in-law had just bought a house — just borrowed $4,000 dollars from their parents — just had their second baby, and he was unemployed for 13 months.”
Ryan discussed the decline of manufacturing jobs in the United States and “the erosion of the middle class.”
“I know a lot of Democrats don’t want to run against Trump on the campaign,” Ryan said. “I know a lot of people say ‘don’t run on the economy,’ and ‘how are you going to run on the economy,’ you know the economy is — the stock market’s up, the unemployment rate’s down. I’m running on the economy, now damn it, this economy is not doing well.”
The Ohio congressman said he would hold Trump accountable.
“We’re going to play offense, and we’re going to be proactive,” Ryan said. “I’m an old new — I’m a little old fashioned, I may be 45 years old, but I’m a Franklin Delano Roosevelt Democrat. I want us to get this government working again for people.”
Ryan was asked how he could reach across the aisle by an attendee.
“What have you done personally across the aisle and gotten people together to actually get legislation passed,” they said.
Ryan began his answer to their question by saying “the Republican party has been a big disappointment.”
“I got 60, mid 60% vote in my district, Donald Trump won three of my counties, the voters that voted for him vote for me,” Ryan said of his 61-39 victory in 2018. “So those are the votes — it first starts with the political coalition, I can pull that coalition back together.”
Ryan has in the past taken positions that were not supported by a majority of his party in Congress.
Until 2015, Ryan identified as pro-life. Today, only two of the 47 members of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate and three of the 235 members of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House are endorsed by the anti-abortion group Democrats for Life of America. Following the 2016 elections, Ryan challenged now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the leadership of their caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, losing by 134-63.
A Change Research poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers found Ryan with a name recognition of 51%. The poll found Ryan is the first choice of 0% and the second choice of 1% of likely caucus-goers.