After being elected to a leadership role in the House Democratic Caucus Monday, Rep. Cheri Bustos is primed to shape outreach and communications efforts for a party that suffered a series of pivotal losses in November's election.
Bustos was tapped to co-chair the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee after winning every county in her downstate swing district last month.
In an exclusive Ward Room interview Tuesday, Bustos stressed the importance of continuing to incorporate jobs and the economy into Democratic messaging and outreach, encouraging members of her party to talk about those issues “in a way people understand.” President-elect Donald Trump, who was elected amid a wave of populist support, won 11 of her district’s 14 counties.
“I can’t predict exactly what’s going to happen under the Trump Administration, but I do know this, we have to continue talking to working families,” Bustos said. “We have to continue to talk about our solutions, and we’ve got great ones.”
Bustos pointed to the House Democrats’ “Make It In America” legislative plan as an example. The plan focuses on four key areas: expanding entrepreneurship and innovation, closing the skills gap, building a 21st century infrastructure, and breaking down barriers to manufacturing. Two of Bustos’ bills, which aim to encourage private sector job creation in the U.S., are included in the package.
“We have a lot of work to do so that people understand that what they used to think about Democrats, we haven’t changed, but we’ve gotta make sure that they know that we're fighting for those values and those policies that mean so much to them and their families,” Bustos said. “And that’s why messaging is so important.”
As a leader of the minority party, Bustos will now be tasked with countering the Republican agenda. Republicans will soon hold the White House, as well as majorities in the House and Senate. During Monday’s interview, the congresswoman was critical of Trump’s recent appointments.
“If you look at the start of the Donald Trump Administration, we’re one month into it and his choice for attorney general spent his legal career on the wrong side of the civil rights movement," Bustos said. “His pick for education secretary doesn’t even believe in public schools. His nominee for health and human services wants to end Medicare as we know it and take away healthcare from 20 million Americans."
“And then, at a time where you get working men and women who think that Donald Trump was speaking their language, he’s put some of the biggest Wall Street insiders in charge of the treasury and commerce departments,” she added.
In a Sunday interview with 60 Minutes, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that repealing and replacing Obamacare would be the incoming GOP Congress’ first order of business. On Tuesday, Bustos admitted that the Affordable Care Act needs to be revised.
“We’ve got some issues that we have to address,” Bustos said. "Premiums are going up at level that is troubling, that many people can’t afford, so we have to address that."
However, Bustos lauded the program for insuring 20 million Americans and pointed to, what she considers, some of its best aspects.
“We have to make sure that we don’t lose some of the best components of the Affordable Care Act,” Bustos said. "The fact that insurance companies can no longer discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, that insurance companies can no longer charge women more than men for their healthcare, the fact that we have closed the Medicare doughnut hole, the fact that our children up to age 26 can stay on our health insurance."
"The only way that we’re able to keep the good parts of the Affordable Care Act is if it’s a sustainable program,” she added. “And Donald Trump and the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have offered no solutions and thats just not good enough.”
During Tuesday's interview, the congresswoman also looked ahead to the 2018 Congressional elections.
“We have a lot of opportunities in two years to hopefully win back some seats and spread what we think is important to working families,” the congresswoman said. “Spread that at a deeper and broader level throughout the country, and that will be part of what I hope to play a part in."