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Saturday 24 August 2019

Wary Dems target mid-term fightback

The 51st State

President-elect Donald Trump. Photo: AP
President-elect Donald Trump. Photo: AP

Gina London

This past week I was in Washington to work with a client. Back in the city where I had been employed for more than 10 years, I had dinner in Georgetown with a former news-anchor colleague, I toured the newly remodelled East Building of the National Art Gallery with a friend from the State Department, and I had a conversation with US Congressman Don Beyer.

He thinks he's only about one-sixteenth Irish, but his American wife, Megan, had both sets of grandparents born on Irish soil, in Co Clare and Co Cork.

And while he has yet to visit Ireland with his wife, he is certainly an American lawmaker who thinks globally. Don served as US Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein from 2009 to 2013. (I told him I would happily stick with protocol and refer to him as "Mr Ambassador", but he said he preferred "Don".)

So, Don is an internationally minded person. He is also a Virginia Democrat, who is feeling what he describes as "great fear and trepidation" about the incoming Donald J Trump administration.

"Trump only got 46pc of the vote, like [failed 1988 Democratic presidential candidate] Mike Dukakis. He starts out as unpopular as any president has ever been."

But, of course, President-elect Trump is not alone. Republicans control both Houses of Congress going into the new term - "bigly", one might add.

"Now that the Republicans have a big majority in the House and the Senate, plus a Republican president, there's opportunity for great mischief," Don told me.

"Getting rid of the Clean Water Rule, taking out the planetary science division from Nasa, deporting everyone without the proper papers - each of these has devastating human consequences," he said.

He described what Trump is already doing during his transition as a "weird world of hypocrisy".

Just days after he boasted about saving a (now disputed) number of factory jobs in Indiana, Trump took to Twitter to slam Boeing over the alleged high cost of building a new presidential plane, Air Force One. Boeing stocks took a dive after Trump's tweet, and that, said Don, frightened a new set of American workers.

"I spoke to a [US Representative] friend who represents Boeing in Seattle, who told me Trump's actions are confusing Boeing workers. They say, 'We voted for Trump to protect jobs, but now he's killing ours.'"

"He governs by tweets," Don added. "I prefer to have conversations and think things through."

Trump's tirade of tweets give hope to Democrats that they can take back seats in the 2018 mid-term elections.

"We realise the whole notion of doing 'demographic politics' is not sufficient anymore," Don told me. "We have to have a broad message for the middle class."

I asked him what that message might be.

"I don't know the specific words that you put on the hat. [Those hats!] I don't know. But we have to rebuild rural America. A third of America are doing great. Their incomes have risen. But two-thirds are not. Their factory jobs, their farming jobs have given way to technology."

That's the big elephant in the room, isn't it? I'm not referring to the symbol of the Republican party, but technology. Don agreed.

"I've been in a lot of factories and there aren't many people manufacturing. They're fixing the robots."

When the new Congress convenes in January, Democrats say they'll work with Trump when he's right and contest him when he's wrong.

"And we expect he'll be mostly wrong," Don added.

But, since Democrats are such a minority in Congress, it will be almost impossible for them to block Republicans - prompting the Dems to turn to other methods to gain support.

"There will be a lot of op-eds, speeches in our districts, trying to communicate through our rotary clubs, through social media," Don listed. "We'll have to put a lot of effort toward 2018. If not to take back the House, to at least get a lot closer."

Asked if there was anything he did agree with Republicans on, Don pointed to his ongoing bi-partisan efforts with Republican Congressman Bradley Byrne of Alabama to lift people permanently out of poverty.

There is one thing that Don agrees with the President-elect on too. That's the lowering of America's corporate tax rate of 35pc.

"I'm a staunch supporter of reducing the corporate tax. But we must buffer that idea because the average corporation here is really paying only about 13pc. They're getting out of the tax," Don said. "But, the Trump idea of tariffs is terrible."

The presidential inauguration in Washington is just six weeks away. To attend the swearing-in ceremony, you must have a ticket, which you can only get through your local representative or senate office. Don told me they are only given 20 tickets and he already has more than 600 requests. Which is interesting, because just 25pc of his district voted for Trump.

"I never thought he would get this far. We thought we knew something about politics. But we were wrong. The people who will be upset about his policies in the first year will come out in the mid-term and elect Democrats. That's been true for the past 80 years," Don said.

"We have a good chance of picking up seats, which will make it harder for Trump to do his agenda in years three and four."

As for the inaugural ceremony on January 20?

"I'm inclined not to go. If I don't go and my wife doesn't go, that's two more tickets for someone else."

Gina London is an award- winning US journalist now living in Ireland

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