Portman Says Clinton May Be Too Mainstream for Democrats

U.S. Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who may run for president in 2016, said Hillary Clinton’s potential Democratic campaign for the White House won’t intimidate others from seeking the office.

“The Democratic Party is more populist and more liberal than it was when she ran last time, and yet she’s more mainstream,” Portman said today at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington. “It is no longer the party of Bill Clinton.”

Portman, 58, mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate in 2012 and 2008, said he’ll consider running to replace President Barack Obama if he’s not satisfied with the Republican candidates. He wouldn’t say who he’d support.

Republicans have lost four of the previous six U.S. presidential elections. Chances of reversing that trend in 2016 depend on whether the party can reach beyond its base of white male voters, Portman said.

“We need a broader party,” Portman said. “If we’re not doing better with millennials and women and Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans and others, we will have a tough time being a majority party at the national level.”

Portman, who said he plans to seek re-election in 2016 for his Senate seat, said he’ll support a reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank if his colleagues agree to changes in how the bank operates. At least three Republican senators -- Mark Kirk of Illinois, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Mike Johanns of Nebraska -- are backing a five-year reauthorization proposed by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Manchin’s Proposal

Portman said he’s withholding support for Manchin’s plan, which would ease restrictions on financing coal-fired power plants. Portman, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said he wants to include changes to the Export-Import Bank’s board and other modifications to ensure that more small and mid-size companies benefit from the bank’s low-cost loans and to include more taxpayer protections.

He said a measure with those changes would increase chances of the Senate passing a bill by month’s end.

Authorization for the bank, which provides government-backed loans that support U.S. exporters such as Boeing Co. and General Electric Co., expires Sept. 30. Renewal of the 80-year-old bank came into question after Representative Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican who was elected House majority leader, said last month that lawmakers should let the bank expire.

‘Huge Mistake’

“It would be a huge mistake for us to take away that tool,” Portman said. “It’s the wrong time for us to be pulling the rug out from under American exporters.”

Portman said he didn’t know whether he’d support a $3.7 billion request from Obama to boost border security and temporary housing to handle a surge of illegal border crossings. More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border since Oct. 1, about twice as many during the same period a year earlier.

“It continues the crisis,” Portman said. “The fact that these kids are coming here, some accompanied by their moms, some unaccompanied, it’s not because we haven’t passed immigration reform. It’s because we’re not sending a clear message as to our current law.”

Portman said Obama needed to make clearer that children will be returned to their Latin American counties.

‘Ambivalent Message’

“The president sent an ambivalent message out to the rest of the world about what our policies are,” Portman said.

Portman voted against the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill last year, saying it needed improved workplace enforcement measures. House Republicans have refused to consider the bill.

Portman pointed to a proposal this year from House Speaker John Boehner, a fellow Ohio Republican, that would give legal status to some undocumented immigrants in the U.S. while allowing them to seek citizenship.

“That’s probably where you end up,” he said.

Boehner has said it would be difficult to pass an immigration plan because Republicans don’t trust Obama to enforce existing laws.

Portman said holding the party’s national convention in Cleveland in 2016 give Republicans a chance to reach out to independent voters in Ohio, a state that both parties have viewed as competitive in recent elections.

“It represents exactly the kind of folks that the Republican Party needs to reach out to,” Portman said.

LeBron James

Portman, who lives in the Cincinnati area, helped bring the convention to Cleveland. He declined to say whether he could help the city’s NBA team, the Cavaliers, recruit LeBron James. The 29-year-old James, who grew up in the Cleveland area, is deciding whether to re-sign with the Miami Heat or return to Cleveland, where he played his first seven National Basketball Association seasons.

“Kyrie Irving could use a little help,” Portman said in a Bloomberg Television interview, referring to the Cavs’ All-Star point guard. “So I sure hope that he agrees to come back to Cleveland. We’ll know in the next few days.”

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