Aspen Ideas: Do you know Rep. John Delaney? He’s running for president | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Ideas: Do you know Rep. John Delaney? He’s running for president

Ideas Fest from Monday, June 25, 2018.

If Americans want to stop divisiveness in the country, the onus will be on them to confront it head on.

Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. John Delaney, D-Maryland, the first in his party to officially declare his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election, called on Americans to take proactive measures in order to lift a country consumed by a seemingly daily barrage of bickering and incivility.

"First of all, we have to decide that this is a problem, because I think it's the central issue facing this country right now, which is how we take this terribly divided nation and start bringing it back together so that we not only kind of have the sense of common purpose and unity that forever have been the cornerstone of the American experience, but so we can also start getting things done," Delaney told the Doerr-Hosier Center audience and interviewer Steve Clemons of The Atlantic.

Delaney called for more "open, public debate" rather that what he sees as one-way communication from politicos through statements, news conferences and tweets, which in turn are left for the media to digest and interpret.

"What the American people are looking for is someone, or a party, to bring the country together," he said. "And it's going to be very hard for the Republican party to do that while Donald Trump is in office, in my opinion."

A congressman since 2013, Delaney announced his candidacy in July 2017. He is one of the wealthiest members of Congress — he co-founded two companies that are publicly traded — and he fancies himself as a moderate representative committed to bipartisanship. GovTrack, a nonpartisan website, ranked him the third highest among House Democrats for bipartisanship.

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"I think we need to elect people who actually raise their hand and say, 'I swear never to divide us,' which doesn't mean they don't call out bad behavior or call out hate when they see it, but in general they take a new oath," he said. "What we've had are people engaging in divisive politics for their own short-term gain, and that happened year over year for really several decades, which put us in a position where some of the great ideals that were fought for, for so long in this country, are really now at risk."

Delaney also said Americans should take more ownership in their country, perhaps with high school graduates participating in some sort of service, whether it's in the military or working at national parks.

"We need to have some kind of call to action," he said. "That is not only about doing things substantive, but also bringing us together.

"But what really has to happen is the American people have to own this. The American people have to decide that this is something that's important to them. They have to be called upon to actually do something in their lives to try to reduce the barriers and the friction and to stop giving people the answers before they hear the questions, and listen and engage in more civility and respect. Really, this won't change until the American people decide to change."

Delaney already has been hitting Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states on the 2020 presidential-election path — Iowa holds a caucus, New Hampshire a primary.

A poll in Iowa showed Delaney has the fifth most recognized name among 34 possible candidates for the Democratic nomination; those in front of him were Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Cory Booker, Clemons said.

Delaney said he doesn't expect the Democratic party will be as fractured as it was in 2016 when Sanders and Hillary Clinton vied for their party's nomination.

"They want results," he said, "and they want someone who can win."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com