WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton is thinking about running for president, he told BuzzFeed News in an exclusive interview.
The Democrat, best known for being a vocal critic of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, spent the 2018 cycle mentoring and endorsing Democratic candidates nationwide, work that has taken him through early presidential states like Iowa and made him a rising Democratic star. He is fresh off a trip to New Hampshire, where he spoke to Democrats in Bedford last weekend.
“I’m thinking about running for president,” Moulton told BuzzFeed News. "I’m not definitely running, but I’m going to take a very hard look at it. A very serious look at it. Because I believe it’s time for a new generation of leadership, and we gotta send Donald Trump packing.”
Moulton has long been calling for a “new generation of leadership,” but it has generally been in the context of the House. Moulton was one of the faces of the opposition to Pelosi being speaker of the House, and the narrative shifted under his feet. Originally, there was widespread sympathy within the party to the argument that younger Democrats need opportunities to move up in a party that prioritizes experience. But as the new Congress approached and an alternative to Pelosi failed to materialize, Moulton was reportedly greeted at town halls with accusations of sexism and ageism. He would go on to ultimately vote for Pelosi as speaker at the start of the current Congress.
Moulton argues that’s all in the past, pointing to the fact that no one in New Hampshire asked him about House leadership. “We got a lot of things that wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t willing to stand up and say we’re not just going to rubber-stamp the establishment,” Moulton said, referencing, among other things, the term-limit deal Pelosi agreed to. “So I think it was the right thing to do. I also think Speaker Pelosi is doing a great job right now.”
Moulton would enter the race as a solid fundraiser; in the last cycle, his Serve America PAC alone raised more than $2 million, giving him the bandwidth to back dozens of candidates.
He would also enter an already crowded Democratic primary field and would be the second Massachusetts lawmaker, behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and one of several veterans, behind Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, to announce a 2020 campaign. He’s also not the only Pelosi challenger thinking about running for president — Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who faces challenges similar to Moulton’s in that a senator from his state is seen as likely to run for president (Sen. Sherrod Brown), told BuzzFeed News he is also still mulling a presidential run.
Asked what he would bring to the field that isn’t already there, Moulton pointed to his four tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine. “I think it would be valuable to have a commander in chief who’s had to make life-or-death decisions before. I think we need someone who you know, for whom standing up to a bully like Donald Trump isn’t the biggest challenge he or she has ever faced in life,” Moulton answered. “And I think we need leaders who are focused on the future. Who are respectful of the past but are ready to turn the page, and chart a bright new course for this country.”
“I’m a proud Democrat, and I’m proud of my party, but that doesn’t mean that I’m afraid to disagree with it.”
He also signaled he wouldn’t lose his flair for pushing back against his own party, something he’s done since he won his seat in Congress in 2015 by knocking out a nine-term incumbent Democrat. “I’m a proud Democrat, and I’m proud of my party, but that doesn’t mean that I’m afraid to disagree with it. That doesn’t mean I’m afraid to stand up to our party establishment when I think we need change.”
Moulton said Warren called him about a week before she announced she was considering running at the end of December to let him know.
“She said, ‘I don’t know what you’re planning to do, but I want you to let me know.’ And I said, ‘I’m not sure either, but I’ll let you know when you figure it out,’” Moulton said.
Moulton also said he’s spoken to former president Barack Obama about running “about a year ago” at Obama’s invitation, but he would not discuss the details of the conversation.
Moulton said other big names entering the race, such as like former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke and former vice president Joe Biden, wouldn't affect his decision. “I don’t look at this as a horse race. I just look at it as: How can I best serve the country? Maybe other people look at it that way, but that’s not my approach.”
Asked if he was worried he might wait too long to catch up to candidates already in the race, Moulton said, “That’s one of the questions that I’ll be asking as I look at this over the next couple of months.”
There’s long been presidential chatter about Moulton, despite — or perhaps, because of — his penchant to vocally criticize House Democratic leadership. But for nearly as long, Moulton has said he had no intention to run for president, including when BuzzFeed News asked him in August.
But in recent weeks, even as he visited New Hampshire, Moulton has dodged the question. After the New Hampshire event, Moulton told reporters he was not there to talk about 2020, the Boston Globe reported.
It’s his travels around the country, he said, that have led him to consider running for president. Citing a long-held resentment about the way Washington operates that first consumed him while he was in Iraq, Moulton said he’s now seeing a similar anger among people he meets on the campaign trail.
“Every single day I was inspired by the young Americans I served with but felt betrayed by the people in Washington that sent us there. And that sense of anger and frustration is something that I’ve carried with me for a long time. It’s fundamentally why I decided to run for Congress a few years ago, to change that,” Moulton said. “And now I think I see that same kind of anger and frustration with Washington in a lot of the American people that I meet.”
Another major factor for Moulton will be the question of dragging his young family into a grueling presidential campaign. In October, Moulton and his wife Liz had their first child, Emmy. Moulton said he knew he wouldn’t be able to make a decision about running until he understood what it would be like to be a dad, and it remains one of his largest hang-ups while deciding whether to jump into the race.
“It’s literally hard to leave her every week, and the prospect of being on the campaign trail for a couple of years is more difficult knowing that she’s at home,” Moulton said. “But the other thing about having a child that I’ve come to appreciate the last few months is you feel a lot more invested in the future because you realize this isn’t just about you, it’s about her too. And I do not want Emmy growing up in this world, and I think I’ll regret it if I don’t do everything I can to try to change it.”
Before Emmy was born, Moulton said Liz had promised to support him if he ran, but that it would be difficult on the family. Since their daughter’s birth, Moulton said Liz is actively encouraging him to run. “She now says, ‘This is going to be hard on me, this is going to be hard on our family, but you should do this,’” Moulton said.
While he mulls over a presidential bid, there’s a chance Moulton could leave himself vulnerable to a primary opponent in his own district. Local activists upset by his challenge to Pelosi have already begun talking about taking him on in 2020, including a former state senator who has said she’s considering running against him.
Massachusetts law would allow Moulton to seek both the presidency and reelection to the House, so he wouldn’t have to give up his seat if he decides to pursue a presidential bid. Moulton responded with little concern about the difficulty of keeping his focus on protecting his seat while mulling a White House run.
“I’m just gonna serve the country however best I can. And if you want to lead, you have to take risks. But I’m not afraid of a primary challenge. I got here on a primary.”
Moulton would be one of several veterans to enter the 2020 presidential primary. An earlier version of this story said he would be the second.