This is IJR’s first segment of The 2020 Twenty. We’re asking every 2020 presidential candidate 20 questions on their plans, policies, outlook, and background as well as some lighter ones to help our readers get to know the people and their personalities as they compete to run the country.
Former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) was the first Democrat to jump into the 2020 presidential race back in July 2017.
In the ever-growing field of candidates, Delaney is painting himself as the moderate candidate. He’s straying away from strategies such as “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal in favor of building on the progress of past policies. However, he’s also bringing in some fresh ideas, such as a climate-focused national service program and debating Congress.
Delaney spoke with IJR about his vision for the future of America — one he’s hoping to build on common ground.
1. As president, what would be your day one, number one priority?
John Delaney: Well, what I would do as president in my first 100 days — I’d call for us to pursue five or six big things, all of which currently exist in the Congress and have bipartisan support. So that’s part of my agenda is to advance some ideas that already have broad bipartisan support. I’ve called for national service as something that I think would be incredibly important to bring this country together, and that would be one of my top priorities.
2. Speaking of national service, I saw that you had an idea about implementing a Climate Corps. Why do you think that would be one of the best options to solve climate change?
To deal with climate change, we’ve got to do many, many, many, many things; that’s not the only thing I’m proposing for climate change. But I think as part of national service, it would be really great if young people — the way they serve their country is to go around and help build sustainable infrastructure and help people, maybe seniors, retrofit their homes for energy efficiency, that kind of stuff.
3. What made you want to run for president in the first place?
I believe in the politics of progress, which means that people who have the privilege to serve should get things done, and what was really frustrating me while in Congress and when I was a private citizen as an entrepreneur is how we’re so deeply divided, and it’s prevented us from getting anything done, and I want to really be the president that brings us together and restores this notion of common purpose and actually starts doing things that matter to the American people.
“…what was really frustrating me while in Congress and when I was a private citizen as an entrepreneur is how we’re so deeply divided, and it’s prevented us from getting anything done…”
4. President Donald Trump made history by meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018. Would you have taken part in that summit if you were president? What would you have done differently?
Doing that summit, meeting with the leader of North Korea, is actually one of the things I do not criticize the president for. I do think that diplomacy matters, and in many ways, you have to meet with the people you have the most disagreements with if you ever want to make progress. So I don’t actually think that meeting was a bad idea. At this point, they haven’t really accomplished anything, it’s hard for me to critique what they’ve done, and I think it’s hard to get something done, so I wouldn’t critique the fact that they haven’t gotten anything done yet. I do worry that the president will cut a bad deal, and I do worry that the way the president has talked about Kim in a way that’s not truly reflective of the brutal dictatorship he leads. So what I would’ve done differently is I would’ve talked about him differently.
5. Do you support marijuana legalization? If so, how would you address the significant number of people imprisoned and impacted by strict drug laws?
What I do support is, really, the federal government getting out of the way. What I mean by that is if a state decides to make — to either decriminalize marijuana or move it to legal recreational status or to make medical marijuana legal or whatever the case may be, then I think that the federal government shouldn’t be making that impossible, which it does right now with our current laws because marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug. What I would do is remove it from the schedule. The question of whether it’s legal for medical purposes or decriminalized or legal for recreation purposes, I think it’s fundamentally up to the states. So I wouldn’t have the federal government pre-empt states’ decision on the issue. If states decide to make it legal in some form or fashion, I think the government should have a regulatory framework they should apply, they have to tax it, but then they should allow banks and other things to recognize that legal status.
6. Artificial Intelligence. Unlike most candidates, you highlight AI in your policy proposals, but for many voters, AI isn’t a present concern. In the simplest of terms, why should the everyday, working-class American be aware of the possible impacts of AI?
I think that it’s changing everything in our world, including jobs and, really, what is work. And I think the American people deserve a president who understands where these trends are going and addresses them in a way where our citizens are prepared for and get good jobs.
7. In your policy proposals, you have a specific focus on mental health, why is mental health important for you to highlight in the health care debate?
I think we have a mental health crisis in this country right now. I think so many of the issues we have can be traced to mental health, and the reason for that is we have not treated mental health on parity with physical health. So as a result, there’s a stigmatization of it. A lot of people are afraid to step forward and say they have a mental health issue, and they don’t get treated fairly in the physical — in the health care system, and so I think it’s a really important issue.
8. You haven’t specifically addressed how you would handle the issue of gun violence as president yet. Is it a priority, and what would you do? Are there policies that you are still developing?
I would push for universal background checks. I would push for limitations on certain very high-powered assault weapons. I’d push for laws — in the state of Maryland here, they call them red flag laws that allow family members to go to the court to say a member of the family has a mental illness and a firearm and has threatened somebody, and the court can intervene. I favor doing research on the federal level of what really causes gun violence. So those are some of the things that are some of my “ending gun violence” platform.
9. Trump has a clear plan for how he wants to address immigration issues. What’s your specific plan?
My plan is comprehensive immigration reform, similar to the bipartisan bill that was passed in 2013.
10. For the first time in history, the national debt now tops $22 trillion. How would you address this?
Well, you have to have the right goal, and the right goal is to lower the debt as the percentage of our economy. It doesn’t really matter the absolute amount of the debt, what matters is how significant it is as a percentage of our economy. And it’s trending toward 100 percent, and historically, it’s been 60 to 70 percent, so we’ve got to get it down. The best way to get it down is to get the deficit every year below the rate of economic growth. So the Delaney administration will target deficits of minus-2 percent, and we’ll do that by tax reforms to generate more revenues and by ultimately fixing health care, which is the biggest driver of our spending over time.
“It doesn’t really matter the absolute amount of the debt, what matters is how significant it is as a percentage of our economy.”
11. Was your tweet this week about the separation of church and state in reference to the Alabama abortion law that was passed?
The separation of church and state – established by our founders – is a cherished American value and the White House and certain state legislators are determined to tear it down.
— John Delaney (@JohnDelaney) May 16, 2019
It’s something that I feel strongly about in general, and obviously, what’s gone on in Alabama and Georgia is driven by people who are trying to impose their fundamental religious views on the country. So yeah, in general, I favor strong separation of church and state. I think it’s important for government, and I think it’s actually important for religion, but clearly, these specific incidents — which I think have been driven by religious leaders who think their religious beliefs should be imposed on the American people — were behind these movements.
12. An idea unique to you is that you want to debate Congress four times a year. Why is this important?
Because we need to get back to the truth. The truth is the truth, and it doesn’t really exist in our policies these days because political leaders come to the debate with different facts. And I think the best way, particularly in a social media-empowered world where so many Americans get their information from social media […] I think we need more transparency, and I think the tone should be set at the top by the president.
“The truth is the truth, and it doesn’t really exist in our policies these days because political leaders come to the debate with different facts.”
13. Let’s say your proposal was in place now and Trump debated Congress. Which one of your former colleagues would you want to see debate him?
Well, this is the thing. The way it would work is that the whole Congress would be there. So it wouldn’t be one member of Congress, it would be like question time in Great Britain.
14. You recently called yourself the “most moderate candidate in this field.” What do you say to voters who are looking for someone that’s more progressive?
What I’d say to people is the things I’m trying to achieve are progressive. What makes me more moderate is how I get there. I really look for common ground, and that’s the only way we get anything done, so what I would tell progressives is if you think about what I’m fighting for, which is to deal with global warming and to invest in kids and fix our criminal justice system and reform immigration, all these goals are progressive. The difference is I’ve got a real plan to make things happen, and that’s what makes me a moderate. I’m a pragmatic idealist.
“… the things I’m trying to achieve are progressive. What makes me more moderate is how I get there.”
15. You want the presidency as your next job. What was your first job?
My first, first job ever was working for a landscaping company in New Jersey.
How old were you?
Oh, I think it was probably after my … eighth grade, maybe? […] Yeah, my dad was a construction worker, so I always had what I would consider to be physical labor jobs growing up.
16. If you were competing in the 2020 Summer Olympics instead of the 2020 presidential election, what sport would you want to compete in?
Maybe I’d compete in the decathlon because I think I have a lot of skills.
17. What fictional character would you pick as a running mate?
I’d pick Captain Kirk.
18. If you could get a drink with any previous president, who would it be?
Well, you have to go with Lincoln.
19. What is your go-to drink order?
My go-to drink order is a beer.
Are you an IPA guy?
Yeah, I do like IPAs.
20. There are over 20 Democrats running for president so far. What do you want voters to think of when they hear your name?
I want them to think that I have new ideas, that I’m a problem solver, and that I’m doing this for the right reasons.