Congressman John Delaney (MD-6) joined me this morning, the second of the Democrats expected to seek their party’s nomination to face President Trump in November 2020. (The first was Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio.)
HH: I am so pleased to begin my run, post-election through all of the Democratic would-be nominees with Congressman John Delaney, formerly representing, well, he’s still representing Maryland’s 6th Congressional district. He hasn’t retired, yet. He’s about to. Representative Delaney is a graduate of Columbia University. He’s a Harvard guy. I’m always worried about the Columbia people that they actually got accredited. And then he went to Georgetown Law. But what you’ve really got to know is he is the son of an electrician. His father’s union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, was what, ‘64 in New Jersey. He got to Columbia, went to Georgetown, built businesses, went to law school, and then, you know, ran for Congress. And now he wants to be president. Congressman, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
JD: Great to be with you, Hugh.
HH: I am worried about that Columbia thing. Did they still, you know, is that an accredited institution, still?
JD: Last I checked, it was.
HH: Okay, just…you probably had at Georgetown one of my law professors, Alex Aleinikoff, who taught me at Michigan, and one of, you know, he was a young…
JD: Oh, you know, Alex and I are really good friends.
HH: That’s a very, I guessed it. He and I used to…
JD: So my wife was the chair of the Georgetown Law board when Alex was the dean.
HH: Oh, see, then you’ll know Regina Pisa as well. It’s a very small world, and Alex and I would have dinner together…
JD: Yes. Alex is terrific.
HH: Yeah, so did he talk you out of this? Did he say what are you, crazy running for president?
JD: He, you know, he’s my go-to person on refugee policy. You know, he’s one of the leading people in the country on this.
HH: Yeah. Yeah. And he taught immigration, refugee law and state and local law.
HH: Let’s start with…
JD: He’s a wonderful human being.
HH: Yeah, so we’ve got common ground. And I do interviews, not debates, and I don’t do gotchas. Let’s start with why are you doing this? George Will wrote this great column about you, and I like to talk to Democrats. Tim Ryan’s a pal of mine. I want to put them all on. Why is John Delaney seeking the nomination?
JD: Because Hugh, I think the central issue facing this country is how do you we take this terribly divided nation and start bringing it back together. And I think I’m the right person to do it. And I think it’s incredibly important that we do it not only so that we feel better about ourselves, not only so that we believe there can be something better than the state of our politics now, but also so we can start getting some real things done, because the world’s changing incredibly rapidly because of technology. And we need to do some real things to prepare our citizens for the future.
HH: Now is six years in Congress combined with great success in business which no one is going to ignore that you had, so you bring great success in business. Is six years in Congress enough to be ready to be president? We’ve got a president right now who’s very controversial. He’s never held elective office before. Maybe it’s a good thing to hold elective office for a while.
JD: I think it is. I don’t think I’d be able to be the president of the United States if I had not served in the Congress. I mean, I tend to think of that, you know, 10,000 hour rule, which is you become an expert after you spend around 10,000 hours on something. I think that was in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier.
JD: And I feel like I really now understand how the federal government works.
HH: And so with that…
JD: And how the Congress works. And it’s really important, I think, for a president to understand if they actually want to get anything done from a domestic policy perspective that the Congress is really their client. Unless you understand the Congress, you don’t really understand how to get things done in this country.
HH: Now what I like to do with would-be presidential candidates, I did 170 interviews with Republicans in 2016 trying to get the nomination. I like to ask you about policy areas. And I am a defense wonk.
HH: So I want to start with defense, because it’s the number one job of the president, is to provide for the common defense and be the commander-in-chief.
HH: Is $716 billion dollars enough in the defense budget?
JD: Listen, I think it is. I think the big question is how do we spend it? I mean, I tend to think the more important question is not what we spend on our military, but what are we asking them to do, because obviously we have to fund them once we ask them to do certain things. Yeah, I do think what we’re spending on our military is, give or take, a sufficient amount. It is the most important job of the president, and I think the American people want to be safe, and I believe the United States has an important role in building the world order. And our military is part and parcel in our ability to do that.
HH: Now $716 billion is coming under pressure from your party as being too much. And the President has talked about cutting it 5%. People on my side of the aisle think we’ve got to increase it dramatically to provide for, like the Columbia Class, the Ohio replacement in submarines, and a bunch of other things. Where, what are you going to campaign on when Democrats start talking about cutting the defense budget? What is John Delaney going to say on the stage?
JD: Well again, I don’t come at this like we have to raise it or cut it. We have to be as smart as possible as we are with the dollars we’re spending. I’m one of those people who believes, for example, that we haven’t spent nearly enough money on our military in terms of advancing our technological needs.
HH: I agree, I agree with that.
JD: I mean, I think while we were fighting a lot of conventional wars, our main kind of opponents in the world right now, China and Russia, were observing that there was no point in really trying to match us in the conventional perspective, and they made massive investments in their technological capabilities. And I would like the United States to have the same type of comparative advantage from a technological standpoint as we do from a conventional standpoint. So I would be someone in favor of greater investments in our technological capabilities. We’re starting to do that. I mean, I think they launched the third reset program a couple of years ago, which is starting to bring us up to speed. But I think there’s a lot of work to be done there.
HH: In 1960, Congressman Delaney, Nixon and Kennedy mixed it up over the missile gap. There is now a hypersonics gap. Are you familiar with it?
HH: What do you think we do, what do we do about that?
JD: Well listen, I think at the end of the day, you know, I think what the American people deserve is the best military in the world in all aspects. And I think if you look at our portfolio capabilities, certain areas where we’ve underinvested, and we don’t have the technological advantage that we enjoy in other areas. And I think the ultimate answer is to invest in research and development, and to continue to lead the world in state of the arts weapons systems.
HH: And specifically hypersonics, are you familiar with them and what they have to do and what they cost?
JD: I am familiar with them generally. I don’t know the specific cost numbers, but I appreciate the gap that we have.
HH: Okay, that’s one thing when you come back, I’ll look forward to diving deep with you. But let me go back to a little more biography. You, like me, am a Roman Catholic. But you, unlike me, have had Donald Wuerl and McCarrick around for a long time. What do you make of the collapse of credibility of our Church in this area of the country? Now I’m back in the Beltway, and I’m confronted with the complete collapse…
JD: Yeah, no, listen, it’s heartbreaking. I mean, you know, wife and I chaired Catholic Charities here in D.C., their gala for several years, and were close to both archbishops, and I think it’s just heartbreaking what’s happened. I mean, I think lay people have to get involved in fixing the Church.
HH: I 100% agree. Does Wuerl have to be moved out? I know he’s resigned, but he’s still running the place. Does he have to go?
JD: Well, yeah, I mean, ultimately, I think there’s going to be a new archbishop. I think it’s just a question of, well, they have to appoint the person and find them. And I support that.
HH: What do you make of Pope Francis through this whole thing, ordering the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops to stand down as he did last week?
JD: Look, I’ve been a big fan of Pope Francis on many issues, but I think the leadership of the Church has never gotten ahead of this scandal the way they should.
JD: So you know, I just think that my view when you have a scandal, you just have to keep acting on it as aggressively as possible until you realize you made one step that you overcorrected. And we’re not even close to that in terms of dealing with this scandal and what’s happened to our Church. I mean, I think the whole is, I mean, you go to Mass, and it’s half full.
HH: That’s exactly right. You overcorrect, and when you’ve gone, when you’ve purged one bishop too many, sorry, buddy.
JD: I remember when I was running my business during the financial crisis, and while the markets were collapsing. And I kept saying to my team and my board members, we have to keep raising capital. And they’d say well, I don’t think we need it. And I kept doing it and doing it, and what I said to them is I said listen, there will be one capital raise I do, and we’ll all conclude I didn’t have to do that. But until we get to that point, we’re just going to keep leaning into this.
HH: And that means…
JD: And I think that’s the way the Church should have handled this crisis.
HH: That means like losing a bishop…
JD: Much more aggressive sooner, and you know, and they didn’t do that.
HH: Purge, purge, purge, and then worry about it at the end. Now let me switch to politics for a minute.
JD: And if you go one too far, then you can recalibrate.
HH: Yeah, you can bring him back. Give him a new diocese. Congressman Delaney, there are going to be at least 24, as many as 30 candidates. I participated in four of the Republican debates with CNN and Salem Radio in the 2016 cycle asking questions. The stage was crowded with, know, 9. And we had a kiddies table debate beforehand. The Democrats have to figure out how to do this, and how people earn the right to be on that stage. Do you have suggestions? And have you had conversations about that?
JD: Well, I’ve had conversations in terms of when they’re going to be. And it’s the first two, the first debates are scheduled for June.
JD: And I think the networks are wrestling, and I’m sure the DNC is involved in this, too, with how to do them. You know, if the Republican model was to do it based on a combination of national and Iowa polling, and that seems reasonable to me, other people have proposed the first couple of debates be random, which also seems reasonable. I mean, we’re focused on running our campaign, doing well in Iowa. I already have a 79% name ID in Iowa. I have 15 people on the ground. There’ll be 25 people on the ground by the end of the year. We’ll have 100 people there in June. So we’re going to have a very big operation in the early states, which will get us on the stage we need to be on.
HH: Yeah, you and Ryan scare me. Tim Ryan’s a pal, too. You guys scare me, because you get the blue collar thing and how to bring back the Trump voter. So you scare me a little bit. But I’m wondering about these debates. Reince Priebus insisted that the networks include a center-right person like me or Mary Katharine Ham. There were others. Do you believe the Democratic debates ought to include center-right people to ask questions so that you are appealing not just to your hard left progressive base, but to the center of the country, even in the primary campaign?
JD: Yeah, listen, my view, Hugh, is this country is either a center-left or a center-right country, depending on the mood. So if you look at the last, these midterms that happened two weeks ago, why did the Democratic Party do so well? Because they put forth candidates who could beat Big 10 candidates and actually not only attract Democrats and progressives and centrists, but also some disaffected Republicans and independents. And I think that’s not only the right way to win elections, but importantly, it’s the right way to govern. And if you want to get anything done in this country, you have to build very large coalitions. And so that’s, I, you know, a few years ago when we were having our Democratic caucus, you know, the Democrats and Republicans, we go once a year offsite, we kind of bring in experts and we talk about things. And I proposed to my colleagues that we bring in some conservatives not only from a policy perspective, but also from a political perspective, because I said we don’t need to be sitting in the room listening to the same stuff we listen to all year long. We ought to be hearing, you know, what the other side is saying. I’ve always believed in this notion of running at criticism. You want to be listening to what people are saying. That’s the best way for you to refine your ideas.
HH: Last question for you, Congressman. I hope you’ll come back early and often, because I, all Democrats are welcome here on the Hugh Hewitt Show. The Nancy Pelosi for Speaker controversy, you won’t have to cast a vote in that. But you will be living with the party that is in power in the House. Do you think Nancy Pelosi should be the next speaker?
JD: I do. But I think what she should do is she should be the speaker, but then she should commit to lead the caucus through succession planning, because the issue we have right now in the House caucus, because look what’s going on right now. People are, a few people are saying they don’t want her as speaker, but no one has stepped forward to run, which is kind of ridiculous. Obviously, we need new leadership. One of the problems we’ve had in our caucus is we haven’t had enough open discussions about this. There haven’t been enough people stepping forward. One of the most important things for organizations to do is to think about succession planning. And we haven’t done that. So Nancy Pelosi, based on what she did in this midterm election, and what she’s done historically to the party, and based on the fact that no one else is running, she should be the speaker of the House. But she should commit in this term, the 116th Congress, to lead the caucus through succession planning so that in the next Congress or as late as the one after that, we’re ready for a whole new slate of leaders to step forward.
HH: On that note, John Delaney, thank you. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Come back early and often, Congressman.
JD: You, too, Hugh. Have a great holiday.
HH: Thank you.
End of interview.