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Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan thinks it's time for Democrats to reset their agenda


President Biden is marking a year in office, with much of his agenda stalled and the American public weary from the pandemic and anxious about inflation. Just this week, Democrats failed to move ahead with voting rights legislation. Biden's massive domestic policy and spending plan also faces an uncertain future. And now some of his fellow Democrats say it's time for a reset. Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio is one of the Democrats critical of his own party right now, and he told me there are several reasons the president can't seem to get a win.

TIM RYAN: It's a complicated scenario that the president finds himself in and we all find ourselves in here, with a deeply divided Congress, very slim majorities for his party. But what I would like to see is for the president to organize the next year around some consensus. It can't be about Democrats and Republicans. And that's why I think, you know, getting us around these tax cuts, I think, can be something that we could either get bipartisan support on or pass as Democrats. Fentanyl poisoning is still a huge issue around the country, and we have some history of a bipartisan deal around the comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that we passed a few years ago. So there's some things that I think we could move forward on, and we need the president to lead on these issues. And I'm hoping - and from his speech this week, it feels like he wants to move in that direction as well.

ELLIOTT: But he also tried, I think, at his news conference to put a bit of the blame on Republicans. Let's listen to what he said.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: One thing I haven't been able to do so far is get my Republican friends to get in the game of making things better in this country.

ELLIOTT: So with two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, being the ones who got in the way of getting voting rights legislation passed this week, is it really fair to put the blame on Republicans here?

RYAN: Well, we're having a conversation now about two Democrats, which, of course, you know, have frustrated me and the president and his administration and a lot of people in Congress. There's no question. But there's 49 Republicans who haven't lifted a finger. You know, where's the Mitt Romneys? You know, where are these guys that are retiring that don't have to face election this year? Look; there's plenty of blame to go around here. We need to let that go and say, what are we going to do moving forward?

We have some big accomplishments. I mean, the rescue package, which put billions of dollars into local communities, counties and cities that are now pushing that money out in infrastructure projects and job creation projects - that's not insignificant. This huge infrastructure bill that was done in a bipartisan way with 20 Republican senators - and so let's go out and brag about that and pin the Republicans as not wanting to solve these problems. But we've got to be very aggressive. We've got to take the gloves off, step up and lead this country in the direction that the American people want us to go in. And if we provide some relief with tax cuts, put money in people's pockets, their anxiety level will be reduced. We can reestablish trust with the American people, and then they will trust us to lead them in the coming years.

ELLIOTT: You are running for Senate. It's a very difficult environment for Democrats, both nationally and in Ohio. You're running for the seat that's held right now by Republican Rob Portman, who is retiring. Political observers seem to think that Republicans are poised to retake Congress. How do you press the case that Democrats deserve to stay in power right now when they're not addressing these very issues that you're talking about?

RYAN: Well, I think we have to - I think we already - you know, we cut taxes. We did the infrastructure bill. But look; I'm not running as a Democrat; I'm running as an Ohioan. I'm running as someone who's lived in the state for a good part of my 48 years. And so we'll take on the Democrats like I have my entire career, and we'll take on Republicans like I have my entire career because my focus is working people in Ohio, and that's a winner back home.

ELLIOTT: I want to circle back finally to something you talked about, you know, early on, and that's the divide in this country. How do you see the country moving from the current ideological divide, where even people in the same family really have a hard time finding...

RYAN: (Laughter).

ELLIOTT: ...Common ground to talk about the future of our democracy?

RYAN: Well, you know, that's why I think the economic arguments are so important. When you look at the polling, too, you know, it's like, the No. 1 issue for women is the economy. The No. 1 issue for Black people is the economy. The No. 1 issue for Latinos is the economy. So focusing on those economic issues, I think, are important. Let's talk about things and propose things in the context of lifting all boats. I'll just say this at the end. When you look at the founding documents that established our country, what do we talk about in those documents? The common good. Provide for the common defense. The general welfare. Our country was established to lift everybody up, and we got to get back to that and stop all the division. Let's all move forward together.

ELLIOTT: Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio. Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us.

RYAN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.