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Detroit — Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan emphasized economic issues Tuesday as he occasionally tangled with progressive Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the first of two Detroit debates.

In his opening statement, Ryan said, "America is great, but not everyone can access America's greatness."

"The systems that were built to lift us up are now suffocating the American people," he added. "The economic system that used to create $30, $40, $50-an-hour jobs that you can have a good, solid middle-class living now force us to have two or three jobs just to get by.  We deserve better."

Ryan was among 10 Democratic on the Fox Theatre stage who dealt with issues ranging from health care and immigration to gun violence, race relations and foreign policy.

In a question about Sanders' proposal to eliminate gas-powered cars by 2040, Ryan said he wants to create a chief manufacturing officer "so that we can actually start making things in the United States again."

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Tim Ryan and Bernie Sanders clash on whether Medicare-for-all would be bad for union autoworkers who bargained for good benefits. The Detroit News

The officer would put the Department of Energy and the Department of Transportation to work with the private sector, investors and emerging tech companies to "dominate the electric vehicle market," he said.

"I want us to dominate the battery market, make those here in the united states...the charging stations, solar panels," Ryan said. 

While the 46-year-old congressman opposed Medicare for All, he backed a different form of universal health care.

"...Move Medicare down to 50," Ryan said. "Allow people to buy in."

"America's political system is broken, too, because the entire conversation is about left or right, where are you at on the political system? And I'm here to say this isn't about left or right. This is about new and better. And it's not about reforming old systems. It's about building new systems."

On the issue of immigration, Ryan was asked if Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' proposals would "incentivize"  undocumented immigrants to come to the United States illegally.

Ryan said he thought so, adding that "If you want to come into the country, you should at least ring the doorbell" and use the country's asylum laws.

The congressman was asked about foreign policy and North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un. 

"I don't think presidents of the United States meet with dictators," said Ryan, who added that President Donald Trump gave the North Korea leader a "photo-op" when he met with him. "Don't go give a dictator a huge win. Sit down and do your job."

Ryan unsuccessfully ran against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the House Democratic leadership post in 2016. He promises to unite the Democratic party's working class and progressive wings to beat Trump in 2020.

In his closing statement, Ryan said the country will improve with new and better policies.

"That's how we win the future," said Ryan. "It's new and better. A new and better economy. A new and better education system. A new and better health care system that focuses on prevention."

Ryan last visited Michigan in May 4 when he campaigned in Grand Rapids.

See all candidate major moments 

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