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These 103 House Democrats have a message for the presidential candidates

Moderate New Democrat Coalition wants to talk with hopefuls about issues important to their voters

Washington Rep. Derek Kilmer, the chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, is inviting all of the Democratic presidential candidates to sit down with the coalition’s 103 members. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

More than 100 House Democrats, including many of the freshmen who won in moderate districts, want to talk to the Democratic presidential candidates. 

The New Democrat Coalition, the largest ideological group in the House Democratic caucus, is sending a letter to all the Democratic presidential candidates on Thursday requesting individual meetings with them. 

The coalition hasn’t yet decided if it will make an endorsement in the presidential primary. But with 103 members, the coalition carries significant weight in Congress.

New Democrats won 32 of 40 seats that Democrats flipped from red to blue last fall as the party took control of the House.

“Our coalition was the majority makers,” Washington Rep. Derek Kilmer, the chairman of the coalition, said in an interview in his office on Thursday morning. “It’s important that we have candidates that are able to talk to the issues impacting the districts that we won to take back the House.”

Kilmer said he hoped the meetings would be a two-way discussion between the members and the presidential candidates.

The meetings could provide members who won in tough districts a chance to impart advice that could be useful on the national stage. They also would be able to remind presidential candidates of what kinds of national conversations are less useful in the districts Democrats must hold onto next year.

Members of the New Democrat Coalition come from all across the country and include one presidential candidate — Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who failed to qualify for next week’s debate stage. A few other presidential candidates, such as former Beto O’Rourke of Texas, John Delaney of Maryland and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, were members of the coalition when they were in the House. 

“One of the big common denominators is our focus is on trying to grow the economic pie and make sure everybody can earn a slice of it. And that may look different in Oklahoma and South Carolina and Iowa, than it does in New York and Washington,” Kilmer said. 

“A lot of our candidates ran on some bread-and-butter kitchen table issues like infrastructure and health care,” Kilmer added.

Candidates veering left

But in a Democratic presidential primary, with nearly two-dozen candidates trying to appeal to and energize the liberal base, the national conversation may have veered farther to the left on issues such as health care and impeachment than many in the New Democrat Coalition would typically support.

“I don’t think there’s angst about having a debate and discussion around ideas,” Kilmer said when asked about some presidential candidates’ support for Medicare for All.

He noted that most of his members have supported the coalition’s proposals to “restore and strengthen the Affordable Care Act,” and that the current debate over how to expand health care is better than it was in the last Congress, when Republicans attempted to repeal the 2010 health care law.  

On impeachment: Keep pulling threads

The caucus has not taken a position on impeachment, but most members have not called for opening an impeachment inquiry. Republicans nevertheless have made attacks about impeachment part of their 2020 campaign strategy.

“The vast majority have been supportive of the approach that our leadership has laid out, which is that the findings in the Mueller report are too significant to ignore, and that we should have the committees of jurisdiction investigate, pull on those threads and see where the facts take us,” Kilmer said. 

So what would Kilmer, who represents a district Hillary Clinton won by 12 points in 2016, say to a Democratic presidential candidate this year?

“I represent a district where three of the six counties I represent voted for Donald Trump, and the common denominator is they’re hurting economically,” he said. 

“They want to hear how this gets fixed — how our broken politics get fixed and how we ensure that no matter what zip code you live in, you can earn a good living,” the four-term congressman said.

Kilmer declined to layout specific policy proposals the coalition would like to hear candidates support, or conversely, proposals that would be a no-go in the eyes of the coalition.

But he highlighted the role that New Democrat members played in passing HR1, the Democrats’ overhaul of rules governing political money, ethics and voting, as well as the coalition’s support for infrastructure spending, helping Americans navigate a changing workforce and modernizing trade policies.  

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