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Rep. Seth Moulton Calls For New Leadership Of The Democratic Party


Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton says his party - the Democratic Party - needs a new vision, a new message and new leaders. Moulton, who's in his second term, joined the Marine Corps straight out of Harvard and did four tours in Iraq. After the 2016 election, he voted against Nancy Pelosi remaining the House Democrats' leader, and he reiterated his opposition to Pelosi after the Democrats lost a special House election last week in Georgia. He joins us from Capitol Hill. Congressman Moulton, welcome to the program once again.

SETH MOULTON: Good to be back. Thank you.

SIEGEL: What was so big about the loss in Georgia that it shows the Democrats need a new message, a new vision?

MOULTON: Well, now we're 0-4 in these congressional special elections. And we're at the worst electoral position that the Democratic Party has been in in decades. And so when you keep losing like that, you can't keep doing the same old thing.

SIEGEL: Well, first, as to message, I went to the website of Jon Ossoff, the Democrat who lost in Georgia last week. And there's a list of priorities. Number one, it says, our economy. Jon's a small business owner, executive, entrepreneur. He knows what it means to grow a company, meet a payroll, balance budgets. And it goes on to say that he has the experience to help Georgia develop into an economic powerhouse. And he also stands for raising the minimum wage to equal pay for equal work. What's the matter with that message? What's wrong with the priority there?

MOULTON: Well, that's actually a pretty good message. Now, Jon had some other problems, like the fact that he couldn't even vote for himself in the election.

SIEGEL: You mean because he lived outside the district?

MOULTON: That's right. But the bigger problem is that Republicans effectively tied him and his campaign to the national party and to our national leadership. And that's where the problem lies.

SIEGEL: They tied him above all to Nancy Pelosi. Back in November, you voted for Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan when he challenged Nancy Pelosi. Should Pelosi go because she's too old, she's too liberal, she's not liberal enough, they make an effective caricature of her? What's her great shortcoming?

MOULTON: Look, a lot of the things they say about her are not true and they're not fair, but they're nonetheless effective. And I think people look at our party right now as really out of touch with most of America. And when you have a party leadership that is out of touch with the rest of the country, then that's a real problem for the entire party.

SIEGEL: Out of touch because she's from San Francisco and her number two is from just outside Washington, D.C.? Is that the problem - geographical?

MOULTON: Well, some people - some people say that. But look, the question is - what do we do to fix this? What do we do to show that we are a big tent party that wants to include everybody in America?

SIEGEL: Well, who doesn't feel - who today doesn't feel they have a place under the tent?

MOULTON: Well, I think we need to show people that they have a place in the Democratic Party whether they come from San Francisco or St. Louis. Clearly, if you look at the congressional map, we're doing very well on the coasts and we're not doing very well in vast swaths of the country, even despite having policies that are very good for a lot of folks that we think should be voting for us yet consistently choose to vote for Republicans.

SIEGEL: Some people say that's because the Democratic message is one of identity politics and the Democrats will talk to women about equal work and Planned Parenthood, they'll talk to Latinos about immigration, that there isn't a coherent message. Do you agree with that, that the party has overdosed on identity politics?

MOULTON: Well, all these things are important. And they're certainly important to groups of people that we want to have a place in the Democratic Party. But we've got to talk about other things as well. Just last week I started a new national security task force to talk about real leadership in national security at a time when the Republicans under President Trump are truly leading us astray.

SIEGEL: Just to understand, if you could sum up - if you have a sense of what the message is that would resonate with middle America and, frankly, with white middle-class voters, what's that message?

MOULTON: Well, Robert, it's got to be an economic message. It's got to be a message of opportunity. Not just fairness, but how do we get you back to work? I think we've got to have a message that's focused on where the economy is going, not just where it's been. Not about going back to 1955 and going back into the coal mines, but really how everybody in America can be a part of the economy of the future.

SIEGEL: Is a man like Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, whom you supported for speaker - is he your idea of the right kind of messenger?

MOULTON: Well, I just looked at the election that we had. We had Nancy Pelosi running versus Congressman Tim Ryan. You can poke holes in either of them. Neither is a perfect candidate. And each has virtues and strengths. But right now, when we're losing voters in middle America, I thought that Tim Ryan, someone who has had to get re-elected multiple times right in the heart of the Rust Belt, is the kind of leader that we could use in the party.

SIEGEL: Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. Thanks for talking with us.

MOULTON: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.