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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Townhall with Democratic Presidential Candidate John Delaney. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 10, 2019 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TAPPER: Good evening from Austin, Texas. We are here live at the South by Southwest festival for three back-to-back-to-back Democratic presidential candidate town halls. I'm Jake Tapper.

Later tonight, we're going to hear from Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. But we're going to begin this evening with the very first Democrat who announced his candidacy in the 2020 race, former Congressman John Delaney of Maryland.

He has already visited each of Iowa's 99 counties, and here tonight, he'll take questions from voters from across the country in his first nationally televised town hall. In our audience are Democrats and independents who say that they plan to vote in the Democratic primaries and caucuses. Please welcome, without further delay, former Congressman John Delaney.

DELANEY: Jake, thank you.

TAPPER: Good to see you. Have a seat, please. So you've been running for president for almost two years. What has getting an early head start on this process taught you, if anything?

DELANEY: Well, it's given me an amazing opportunity to listen to people, which is in many ways the most important thing for people who have the privilege to lead our country to do, to hear what's going on in communities, listen to the average American, and hear what their concerns are and what's happening in their communities. So not only is it giving me an opportunity to introduce myself to people, Jake, but it's given me the opportunity to really listen about what's really happening in our country.

TAPPER: All right. Well, let's talk to some of the people who can tell you what's really happening.

DELANEY: Good.

TAPPER: Let's get to it. The first question comes from Samuel Veloz. He's a junior at the University of Texas Austin. Samuel?

QUESTION: Good evening.

DELANEY: Hey, Samuel.

QUESTION: As a businessman worth millions of dollars, how do you hope to garner support from an increasingly progressive and socialist electorate growing tired of the wealthy having so much power?

DELANEY: So -- so, Samuel, right? Thank you for that question. And it's a great question. And I actually get it everywhere I go. I mean, people see that what's happening in our country is not really working for them. It's just not working for them. There's a lot of structural economic unfairness that's going on in our country right now.

I have been successful. Right? I've had the privilege of starting two businesses. Right? Some of my business partners are here with me here tonight, creating thousands of jobs. But I grew up at a time when we had institutions in our society that really supported people. Right? And I don't think we see that here today.

I mean, I grew up in a blue-collar family. My dad was an electrician. Neither of my parents went to college. Right? I needed scholarships from my dad's union to give me the opportunity to get the education that I've received. And I had this amazing kind of American dream- type life where I worked hard and played by the rules, but I lived at a time when we were supporting our citizens in doing it.

It's one of the reasons I'm running for president. I want every kid in America to have the opportunities that I've had. You deserve those opportunities. Every young person in our country does.

There's tremendous structural unfairness right now in our country, in our tax code. We have to start investing in people. We have to start investing in communities. I know how to do that. Right? I know how to create jobs. We need entrepreneurs all over this country. Right? That's what I was. I spent most of my business career helping small businesses grow. The Obama administration gave my company an award for the work we did in communities that were left behind.

So I understand what this country needs right now. We need jobs everywhere. We need to invest in young people. We need to make sure people have the opportunities that I've had, and to do that, we need to invest in education and in communities. And I really understand how to do that. And that's why I've dedicated my life now to public service.

TAPPER: So let me ask...

DELANEY: Because I think I know what this country needs.

TAPPER: Let me ask you just a follow-up, if I could. You have said that this primary is going to be a choice between, quote, "socialism and a more just form of capitalism." You say if the party -- the Democratic Party starts to embrace socialism in a purer form, that would be a, quote, "big mistake." Do you worry that if the Democratic Party nominates someone, in your view, too far to the left, that that will deliver Donald Trump's second term?

DELANEY: I do worry that if we embrace socialism in its pure form, right, that that's a mistake. Right? I'm a capitalist by nature, but I really do believe in the model that this country has had. Right? The genius of our country in many ways, Jake, is that we embrace capitalism. We embraced its power to create jobs and innovate. But we also invested in social programs. Right? We did things to moderate capitalism. Right?

We had regulation, we had tax policy, workers' rights. We built great societal infrastructure to make sure people have a chance. So to some extent, it's a bit of a false choice. We are a capitalist country that has strong social programs. And that's what I think our model is going forward.

TAPPER: Let's turn now to Charles Whatley. He's a digital media executive from El Paso. Mr. Whatley?

QUESTION: Congressman Delaney, thank you for being here. Thank you for running for office. While I think most of the people in this room, including myself, believe that it would be a wonderful country to live in with health care provided affordably to everyone, does the Democratic Party need to get better in touch with the realities of the feasibility and the affordability and the practicality of actually doing so?

DELANEY: Thank you for the question, Charles. And health care comes up everywhere I go. I've done over 300 events since I've announced my presidency, and there hasn't been an event, a town hall, a meeting in a coffee shop where health care hasn't come up.

And I believe health care should be a right of every American. Absolutely. It's a basic human right. And I believe it's smart economic policy. My dad, the union electrician, he had one job for 60 years. Right? Back then, it made sense to have health care tied to your job. But I think one of my four daughters might have 10 jobs. Right? We shouldn't have health care tied to people's jobs.

So we need universal health care. But a big theme of my campaign is being honest about the problems and honest about the solutions. Right? Having a government-only solution to health care is not the right answer. Right? It's not the right answer. Medicaid, which is the largest health care program in this country, only pays about 80 percent of health care costs. Medicare pays about 95 percent of health care costs. And private insurance pays about 115 percent of health care costs.

So there's no evidence to suggest that if the government was the only payer of health care that we'd ever actually pay the cost. And that would result in limited access and limited quality.

So I've got a proposal to provide universal health care to every American. It leaves Medicare alone. It creates a new system from when you're born to you're 65. We roll Medicaid into that. You get it as a right of citizenship. But if you don't want it, you can opt out, get a small tax credit, or you can buy a supplemental system. And it's fully paid for by eliminating the corporate deductibility of health care.

That's the right solution to the problem we have in health care. It provides everyone with access. It keeps a vibrant, private market. It will ensure that Americans have high-quality health care and good access, right, and we can do things to control the cost of health care.

TAPPER: I want to bring in Amber Ivey. She works for a nonprofit in Washington, D.C.

DELANEY: Hey, Amber.

TAPPER: She previously worked for the state of Maryland. Amber?

QUESTION: Thank you, sir, for taking my question. So, as a black woman, one of the things I'm concerned about is that this is the time of year where election season comes around and now all of a sudden people care about the black vote. Who do you plan to partner with to ensure that the agenda for black Americans is not just a part of your stump speech but is actually a part of your platform?

(APPLAUSE)

DELANEY: Great question. Great question, Amber. So you're from Maryland?

QUESTION: Yes.

DELANEY: Where are you from?

QUESTION: I live in College Park.

DELANEY: Great, great. So I've spent a lot of time while I was in Congress -- I spent the last six years in Congress working very closely with the Congressional Black Caucus, which I think is not only the conscience of the Congress -- I really do think of it that way -- the real conscious of the Congress, it's the caucus within the House of Representatives that is really standing up for people every single day. And I've developed terrific relationships with lots of members in the Congressional Black Caucus.

And that's one of the places I go when I think about the things we need to do to make sure we don't say equality in this country, but we live it. That's the place I go when I have ideas about how do we actually start not only standing up against kind of brazen and open racism like we saw in Charlottesville, but how do we actually start addressing what I call soft racism, which is kind of the institutions in our society that are fundamentally racially injust. How do we actually come up with laws around criminal justice and how we fund education to actually make a difference?

So your specific question was, where do I go? You know, I had the privilege of serving in the Congress and working so closely with so many of the terrific members in the Congressional Black Caucus. That's kind of where I go, to be honest with you, when I really want to get a check as to whether the ideas that I come up with really make sense for the community. Thank you.

TAPPER: Congressman, you've talked a great deal about the need for bipartisan legislation to combat climate change. On that topic, I want to bring in Brett Jenks. He runs a global conservation organization in Virginia. He says he and his wife live in a green home. Brett?

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. Regarding climate change, personal behavior is a pretty good indicator of one's values and attitudes. And I just wonder, over the last 12 months, what have you and your family done to reduce your own greenhouse gas emissions?

DELANEY: You know, it's a great -- it's a terrific question, because if we all did something, right? I remember President Obama joked about -- didn't joke about, he was serious about what we should do with the air in the tires, right? And he was mocked for that. But he was actually right. Right? Because if everyone did that, how much it would reduce our footprint.

I mean, my wife and I and our four daughters, we spend a lot of time talking about what we can do specifically to reduce our environmental footprint, installing energy-efficient systems in our homes, right, trying to be as efficient as possible with just how we live our day- to-day lives, having renewables as part of our home energy strategy.

So, you know, we try to -- we try to kind of walk the talk, which is what you're getting at. But we also have to -- you know, we also, as a leader, we have to put forth policies. I mean, I think climate change is one of the great threats to the next generation of Americans. And we have to stop talking about it.

We have to start doing things, which is one of the reasons I introduced the only bipartisan carbon tax bill in the Congress. Puts a price on carbon. All the revenues get collected, get given back to the American people in the form of a dividend. Right? And it's bipartisan. It's one of the reasons I've called for a five-fold increase in the Department of Energy research budget, because the American way in solving problems is through innovation. Right? And we need more innovation around storage and transmission.

It's one of the reasons I'm working on unique ideas to fund negative emissions technologies, which I think have to be incredibly important to how we get out of this climate dilemma. These are machines that actually take carbon out of the atmosphere. And they exist. The problem is they're really expensive. So we need to create a market for them. And if we can do that, it can not only help get the United States to where I believe we need to be, which is net zero by 2050, but we can also have the technology that can save the world.

So we try to walk the talk. My wife, April, and I, who's right here in the front row with me, we try to walk the talk in our family. But I also, you know, importantly want to be a leader on this and I want to get something done right away, because we need to act on climate immediately.

TAPPER: So let me ask you just a follow-up, if I could. You've slammed the Green New Deal as, quote, "about as realistic as Trump saying that Mexico is going to pay for the wall." What do you say to supporters of the proposal who say this is a time for bold solutions to address this crisis?

DELANEY: It is a time for bold solutions. But we also have to put our shoulder behind things that can actually get done. Because climate, Jake, is not like other issues. Right? We have an infrastructure issue in this country. But if we wait five years to deal with our infrastructure, it's a missed opportunity. But it doesn't get exponentially worse.

So we have to deal with climate change right away. Right? So what I'll do in my first year as president, get a bipartisan carbon tax bill passed in the Congress. That we can get done. That will reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent.

Then what we have to do, as I said to the gentleman, put energy behind innovation and new strategies. We have to have a goal around climate that's realistic. We shouldn't be tying action on climate to universal health care, which I support. Don't get me wrong. Right? Or we shouldn't be tying action around climate to something like universal basic income. Right? Which I actually don't support. Right?

If we actually think climate change is the extensional issue of our time, then what we need to be doing is focusing on that and getting something done right away.

TAPPER: The next question...

(APPLAUSE)

The next question comes from Molly Lynn. She's an aviation professional from California. Molly?

QUESTION: Thanks, Jake. Thanks, Congressman, for taking the country.

DELANEY: Hey, Molly.

QUESTION: The country right now is more divided than it's been in its recent history. The political climate is bonkers. What do you plan on doing to be a unifying president? How do you plan on reaching across the aisle to build relationships and form compromise?

DELANEY: Thanks for the question, Molly. And I think it's the central issue we face as a country is how terribly divided we are. And I think our president really thrives on these divisions. You know, I think you could describe his presidency as putting -- pitting American against American. And it's a huge issue right now.

I was ranked the third-most bipartisan member of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. That's something I'm actually really proud of. I don't think bipartisanship is a dirty word. I think our leaders, and I think the president in particular, should effectively swear never to divide the American people.

I think a president should wake up every day and say, what can I do to bring this terribly divided nation back together? I think a president shouldn't act like half of the country is entirely wrong about everything they believe. We know that's not true. I think a president should be intentional about what they do to bring us together. Right? I've called for national service. Not mandatory, but an exciting

national service program, where young people can serve our country. I think it would be incredibly unifying. I've said in my first 100 days in office what I'm going to advance is an agenda of five or six things that are currently bipartisan in the Congress, where good-minded Democrats and Republicans have found common ground and come up with real solutions.

I've called for the president debating the Congress once a quarter. The networks would love that. Right? Once every three months for three hours on national television having a debate with the Congress. See, the American people start seeing who's telling the truth.

You know, I think the tone at the top matters. I started two companies and I took them public, and I always felt as CEO of my companies that my actions really mattered. And I think the president more than anyone who has the privilege of serving in this country has to literally try to do everything they possibly can to unify this great nation and remind us that this notion of common purpose is the beating heart of who we are as Americans.

TAPPER: Congressman, can I just ask you...

DELANEY: Sure.

(APPLAUSE)

You said there are five things you want to work on in a bipartisan way.

DELANEY: Sure. Yeah.

TAPPER: Just list the five things.

DELANEY: So, carbon tax. Right? Bipartisan carbon tax. Big thing. I've got a bipartisan way of doing it. Infrastructure. Right? There's lots of bipartisan ideas around infrastructure. I have one that received huge support from Democrats and Republicans.

We need to do more around criminal justice reform. There's some good ideas to do that. Immigration reform, right? We know there was a terrific comprehensive immigration reform proposal from 2013 that passed the U.S. Senate. It would have passed the House if it had a vote and President Obama would have signed it into law. It never got a vote in the House. That's on my list.

Privacy, digital privacy. There is a lot of bipartisan consensus that we need federal privacy legislation. National service. Right? These are things that the American people agree with each other on. Right? And I want to be the president who leads by finding that common ground and getting things done. Those are just some of the things that could be on that agenda.

TAPPER: And how would you as a Democratic president improve relations with the Republicans in Congress? That's always -- it's a perennial issue. If there is a Republican in the White House who doesn't get along with the Democrats, if there's a Democrat in the White House that doesn't get along with the Republicans. What would you do?

DELANEY: You have to work it. Right? I would have a member of Congress over to the White House every morning for breakfast. I know it sounds silly. Right? But you have them over, you spend a half hour with them to an hour, you talk about what's going on in their district, talk about how you could work together. You really have to work these relationships.

When you're the president of the United States, your client on domestic policy is the Congress. You need the Congress to get things done. So what I want to do is go out to the American people and show them that I have ways of actually getting things done. And I think if the American people actually see that, if they start having more faith in their government again, that it can actually do things to help them, I think there will be a tremendous amount of pressure from the American people on the Congress to work with the president.

So you kind of need an inside and an outside strategy. You work the Congress, and then you go out to the American people and say, these are the things we agree with each other on. Why aren't we doing these things? And that's how you do it.

TAPPER: We're going to be right back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential candidate town hall with former Congressman John Delaney, Democrat from Maryland, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential candidate town hall with former congressman John Delaney at ACL Live at the Moody Theater in Austin. So we're going to go to another audience questioner. And we have with us right over here Warren Robinson. He works at the energy industry in Houston. Warren?

QUESTION: Thank you so much for the opportunity. College costs are soaring, and I'm really worried. Here in Texas, even the public universities are $20,000 and $30,000 a year. Not only do I have no idea how I'll send my own kids to college, but I also worry about the way this will impact the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

DELANEY: Yep.

QUESTION: So what are your plans for making college more affordable?

DELANEY: So, again, Warren, this is a question that comes up everywhere I go. Right? There hasn't been a town hall I've been at where people haven't come forward with this question, which shows how much anxiety there is.

And when I went to school, right, if you look at how education has gone up in cost, it's gone up about twice the rate of inflation. So it's much harder, much harder for young people today than it was for someone like myself.

So there's a couple things we need to do. I've called for what I'm calling pre-K through 14 to be the new K-12. So I think every kid should start with pre-K as a right in this country. It's the best investment we make.

(APPLAUSE)

Right? It's the best -- it's the best investment we make. We actually need more zero to 3, particularly for low-income kids.

(APPLAUSE)

But your question is about college. Right? And so I think everyone should have something after high school as part of basic public education, either two years of free community college or some type of career and technical training. Because our kids need it.

Last year, the U.S. military said that 70 percent of the high school graduates weren't eligible for the military. So obviously, what that means is 7 out of 10 kids graduating from high school need something else.

So what I call for is free community college. I want to lower the rates on student loans. Right? Right now the federal government makes money on student loans. I don't think we should make any money on student loans.

(APPLAUSE)

Right? So I want to charge -- I want to charge a rate on student loans equal to the government's cost of funds. So that's the second thing I want to do. I want to have more repayment programs tied to your income. Right? President Obama actually started that, and it was successful. I want to do more of that.

So those are some of the things I think we need to do, because if someone is going to a four-year college now, that's the path they want to go, and that's not right for everyone, but if that's the way they want to go, if they can get two years of community college for free, and then do two additional years, and have the rates on their loans be lower, and have creative loan repayment programs, that's going to make four-year college much more affordable. And then we'll also have a society where everyone is getting something after high school, which is what they need.

But just to underscore how terribly unfair this system is right now, the only debt in this country that can't be discharged in bankruptcy is student debt. So if you happen to unfortunately have to file for bankruptcy in this country, every debt you have can be discharged, meaning erased by the bankruptcy judge, except student debt. How unfair is that? That shows you how kind of rigged this system is against students. And those are the things I want to do to make a difference.

Thank you for the question. Yes?

TAPPER: Let me just follow on that.

DELANEY: Sure.

TAPPER: The point about students being able to declare bankruptcy. Is that the best way for kids to...

DELANEY: No, it's not. But it's more of a point -- and I kind of led on this issue in the Congress in part because I hadn't realized it until I actually had someone in my district tell me about their experience.

No one wants to file for bankruptcy, obviously. But the whole point of bankruptcy in this country is that, you know, something happens and you need this process to get a fresh start. We've actually written the laws in this country so that you can't get a fresh start with respect to your student debt.

So, no, that's not the right thing to do. If people have a lot of debt now, I want to have programs where they can refinance their loans at lower rates and with more flexible repayment programs. But it's more of a point of how unfair the system is. We've got a lot of things in this country, Jake, as you know, that are structurally unfair. Right? Where kind of the little guy is getting a bad deal. And this is a good example, I think.

TAPPER: I want to bring in Jacqueline Lavorgna. She works as a strategist for Southern New Hampshire University. Jacqueline?

QUESTION: Good evening, Congressman.

DELANEY: Hi, Jacqueline.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question.

DELANEY: Thank you for asking it.

QUESTION: I was wondering, how will you prepare the American people for imminent displacement and job disruption resulting from advances in artificial intelligence and automation technology?

DELANEY: I'm so glad you asked this question, because to some extent, this is actually the most important thing for us to be talking about. People think by 2030, 50 million jobs in our country could be displaced or fundamentally changed because of artificial intelligence and automation.

So I've called for a national artificial intelligence strategy. I founded the AI Caucus in the Congress. And I have called for this country to have a strategy. Right? Other countries have it. Germany has one, the E.U. has one. China absolutely has one, trust me. We don't have one.

It should have four components to it. It should be focused on work, which is what you're getting at. How do we make sure people have the skills, how do we make sure there's jobs in the future, where I think there will be. Right? But we have to make sure they're everywhere and in all communities.

You know, last year, 80 percent of the venture capital in the United States of America was invested in 50 counties out of 3,100 counties. Think about that. Right? We have to make sure technology jobs and these kind of things are happening everywhere.

So our national AI strategy should focus on work, it should focus on national security, because that's really our threats going forward. It should focus on privacy. Right? My wife is a Washington director for Common Sense Media, which does a lot of work on digital privacy. And it's a big issue.

And it should also focus on programming bias, meaning the machines that people are coming up with now, these miraculous machines, they're going to make all the decisions that human beings have historically made. And we've had a hard time getting the bias out of our human- based society. I worry it's going to be programmed into all the machines.

But your issue, which is the future of work, is a very big issue for me. I think there will be a lot of jobs in the future. I just want to make sure everyone can get them and they're located everywhere in this country. So, thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: The next question comes from Ariel Smith. She's from Houston. She works in an energy technology company.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for taking my question.

DELANEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Having grown up in the most -- one of the most diverse cities in the country, I understand both the threat and opportunity that illegal immigrants have brought to my community. I firmly believe that if there wasn't a market for the illegal immigrants to bring in -- so by way of drugs, labor, trafficking -- that we could dramatically reduce the problem that we see at the border currently.

DELANEY: Right.

QUESTION: What would you suggest that we could do domestically to combat the markets that make illegal immigration so lucrative?

DELANEY: Well, it's a terrific question. And I've spent a bunch of time at the border in the last year. I went down to Brownsville and McAllen to look at some of the economic issues associated with what's going on at the border. And my wife and I went down about two months ago. We took 14 law students to Dilly, Texas, where the largest detention facility exists in this country, to help people seeking asylum make their case.

So, you know, I've tried to really spend time really seeing what's going on, on the border. You know, we've got to reduce the market for drugs in this country. And we all know what we're doing now doesn't work. Right? Having these things being sold in the shadows, et cetera, which is why in many ways there's such a movement at the state level to legalize marijuana, to decriminalize it, and at a minimum to allow it to be legal for medical purposes. And I think the federal government should get out of the way and let

that movement continue, because right now the federal government is blocking it by keeping marijuana as a scheduled substance. Right? And I think that's preventing the states from doing really what they want to do. So I'm in favor of that, which would basically get marijuana out of the shadows and get it into a market where it could be regulated, where we can make sure it's labeled and distributed appropriately, where we can tax it.

So that's one of the things we need to do. But as we know, there's a lot of other drugs that are coming into this country. And we have a huge addiction crisis in this country. We have to invest in technology at the port of entries, which is where 90 percent of this stuff comes in. So that's another solution I would do.

TAPPER: I want to...

DELANEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: I want to bring in Estevan Aviles from Austin. He organized the gaming festival here at South by Southwest. Estevan?

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Delaney. My question is, how much do you see yourself putting weight into Christian values and the teachings of the Bible in your decision-making as president of the United States?

DELANEY: It's a good question. Estevan, right? Congratulations, by the way, on organizing the gaming aspect of the conference. That's terrific.

QUESTION: It's coming up next weekend.

DELANEY: Oh, it's coming up.

QUESTION: So stay tuned.

DELANEY: I firmly believe in the separation of church and state. Full stop.

(APPLAUSE)

So a lot of us get our values from our faith. Right? A lot of us get values in terms of -- I'm Catholic. My wife and I and our daughters, we're practicing Catholics. And to some extent, some of the social justice orientation I have probably comes from that. But I don't think my church and my church policies and doctrines should decide public policy in this country, because I also believe...

(APPLAUSE)

I also believe strongly in the freedom of religion. Right? And I believe strongly in the separation of church and state. So I don't think anyone's religious doctrines should inform public policy, but we all know people's faith informs oftentimes how they think about the world. So, thank you. TAPPER: So let me just ask you a follow-up, because I know you're a

practicing Catholic and you're deeply involved in your parish. Your party, the Democratic Party, is at odds with your church on a number of subjects, but let's just talk about abortion.

DELANEY: Right.

TAPPER: Abortion rights groups consistently consider you an ally. But as a Catholic, is this something that you struggle with at all?

DELANEY: I don't struggle with it as a matter of public policy at all. I'm pro-choice. And I...

(APPLAUSE)

And I completely support a woman's decision to make her own reproductive decisions about her own body. Fully. So I don't struggle with that. I don't struggle with that as a matter of public policy, not at all.

TAPPER: OK. I want to bring in Len Edgerly from Denver, Colorado. He's a retired natural gas executive. Len?

QUESTION: Hi, Congressman.

DELANEY: Hey, Len.

QUESTION: You have been visiting with Iowa voters for a year now. And I wonder, what advantage do you think that will give you now that many others are entering the race?

DELANEY: So I guess I didn't clear the field, is what you're saying.

(LAUGHTER)

So listen, I think it's a huge advantage. Right? Because I've had an opportunity to listen to people. Right? Not only have had an opportunity to introduce myself to folks, but I've really had an opportunity to listen to people.

You know, and I've traveled to all 99 counties in Iowa. I've done 24 trips to Iowa. I've done 14 trips to New Hampshire. And I've sat down with citizens in those states and many other states. I'm going to go to all 50 states as part of this campaign.

But you learn so much in people's living rooms, in coffee shops, right, in their community centers. Hearing their concerns. Hearing stories about what's happened to them. You know, the mom I met in New Hampshire who lost both her sons to opioid addiction. The woman I met in Iowa who has had HIV her whole life. She's in her mid-40s, but because of the Affordable Care Act, she was able to get a job. And now she's actively engaged in her community, fundamentally changed her life.

You know, I was with a police officer in Manchester, New Hampshire, last week, and he told me something I didn't know, which is there was a company marketing bullet-proof backpacks in Manchester, New Hampshire, because that's how concerned parents are.

So having the opportunity to go around and talk to the American people and really listen is a huge blessing, but I also think it's a big advantage in this campaign. So thank you for that question.

TAPPER: I want to bring in Jake Herman. He's a freshman studying journalism at the University of Texas. He's originally from your home district in Maryland.

DELANEY: Hey, Jake.

QUESTION: Hey, Congressman Delaney, thank you for taking my question.

DELANEY: Great.

QUESTION: My question is about gerrymandering. My district was recently brought to the Supreme Court because of the way that the district lines were drawn back in 2010. You've introduced legislation to curb partisan gerrymandering in the House, but it never made it to a vote. So you made it clear that solving this is one of your top priorities. How do you plan to get it done?

DELANEY: So it's a great question. And it's a question I obviously know personally, because of how my district was created, which I had nothing to do with. But I heard from my constituents after I was elected, both Democrats and Republicans, how upset they were with the partisan gerrymandering.

And they're right to be upset. Right? Politicians shouldn't be kind of choosing their constituents. Constituents should be choosing their elected officials.

(APPLAUSE)

I mean, it's -- it's kind of -- it's kind of common sense in some ways, right? So I think gerrymandering is one of the most insidious forces in our politics. Gerrymandering, combined with too much money in politics, combined with voter suppression -- right?

(APPLAUSE)

It has bent the will of the American people -- bent the will of the American people away from kind of what they really need. So it's one of my top priorities. And I think a president really needs to run on this, because I don't think most Americans really understand even how bad this is.

Whenever they understand this, no one likes it. Right? No one likes it. The only people who like it are the elected officials who benefit from it. So we need federal legislation to end gerrymandering, and we also need things to get some big money out of politics and deal with voter suppression.

But gerrymandering is kind of part of that three-headed monster. And I want to be a president that finally ends gerrymandering in this country. So, thank you.

TAPPER: Thanks, Jake. We'll be right back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential candidate town hall with former Congressman John Delaney of Maryland.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to Austin, Texas. Tonight, a series of back-to- back-to-back Democratic presidential town halls. Later tonight, you're going to hear from Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and then South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Buttigieg.

But on the stage right now, we're going to continue with former Maryland Congressman John Delaney, who announced his candidacy for the presidency 20 months ago. Let's go back to the audience. I want to bring in Vavesh Shah (ph). He's a digital strategist from California. Vavesh (ph)?

QUESTION: Good evening. Turning the focus to our current president, my question for you is, in your opinion, what is the single-most -- what's the single-most damaging long-term consequence of the Trump presidency?

DELANEY: It's a long list.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

It's a long list. So for the American people, what he's done to degrade the standards in our society, the fear-mongering, his notion that the -- your enemy is your fellow American, I think that is so corrosive and so damaging.

But as I said, I think what a president should do is be bringing us together, appealing to, as Lincoln said, our better angels, lifting us up by telling the American people that we can do better, but we have to do better together. Not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Americans.

And I think he's a deeply divisive president who fear mongers and his approach is not who we are as the American people. It's not who we are.

(APPLAUSE)

But I also think what he's done internationally, right, one of the great assets of this amazing country is the alliances that we've developed since World War II. We've worked so hard for 70 years to work with our allies, right, on a value-based approach to building a world order for peace and security. It has been in the best interest and the self-interest and the national interest of the American people.

He has a very narrow transactional view of the world. He doesn't value our allies. He doesn't value the institutions that we've worked so hard to build. He doesn't believe in a values-based approach. Right? Which is why I believe he lacks a moral compass.

So that moral compass or that lack of a moral compass animates itself in terms of how he divides the American people, but also in terms of what he's doing to our allies and these institutions that we've worked so hard to build, you know, NATO, things like the Paris Accord that President Obama worked so hard on, you know, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which I was a big supporter of.

So, you know, it's a long list of grievances that I have with him as our president. But I think it's this fundamental lack of a moral compass. I think that will be the biggest lasting damage.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: On the topic of foreign affairs, let me bring in Alexandra Barrientos. She's a tech recruiter who lives in the Austin area. Alexandra?

QUESTION: Hi. My question is, all the national security agencies are in agreement that the U.S. was targeted by the Russians seeking to shake up the 2016 election. So what is your plan for defending the United States against another attack like that?

DELANEY: It's a great question. You're right. All 17 national security agencies in the United States of America, all 17 of them, are in unanimous agreement that Russia intentionally interfered in our elections. So I believe them over Putin. I'll start with that.

(APPLAUSE)

You know, so our elections are in many ways the most sacred thing in our democracy. So we need to be hardening our election systems in this country to make sure they're safe from foreign interference. And this president hasn't done enough in that, and I will.

But I also think you have to deal with Russia, and they have to understand that they can't do this. Right? So that would be my approach, right? I wouldn't believe Vladimir Putin just because he said he didn't do it, which is what the current president is doing. I would believe our intelligence agencies. I would make it clear to Russia that we have a zero tolerance policy as it relates to them interfering in our election.

But I would also make sure that our systems are hardened, right, that they're hardened against cyberattacks generally, but against this attack specifically, because it gets to the core functioning of our democracy. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

TAPPER: So, Congressman, you talked earlier about going out and meeting voters and meeting a lot of them who have had to deal with addiction.

DELANEY: Yes.

TAPPER: Especially with the opioid crisis. I want to introduce you to Lanette Pogue. She's an accountant here in Austin. Lanette?

QUESTION: Hi. As a mother of a recovering addict, my family and I want to know what you would do to expand the national conversation regarding this opioid crisis with practical steps to eliminate or at least decrease this epidemic.

DELANEY: Thank you for the question. It sounds like you've had to deal with a very difficult situation. And I can't tell you how many times I've had questions like this, right? This is just ravaging our country.

About 200 people die a day from addictions. Over 100 from opioids. It's a public health crisis. It's a public health crisis. And we have to be confronting it as a public health crisis. Right? So that's really what we have to do. We have to be confronting it as a public health crisis. We have to be confronting it as a mental health crisis.

I think a president's voice should be present in this conversation. But I also think a president has to get some things done. Right? There are real programs that work. When I traveled around this country and I go to communities, I see nonprofits on the ground that are actually making a difference. So there are people who are fighting this on the front lines.

Right? Police officers, when you talk to members of our terrific law enforcement community, and you talk to them about how their job has changed, and across an evening, you know, 80 percent of the things they're called in on are overdoses. Right? So it's consuming so many communities.

Part of it is because of all of the economic despair we have in this country. Huge parts of our country have been left behind economically. You know, 50 percent of the American people can't afford a $500 expense. Right? Those are the conditions that breed addiction. We haven't treated mental health on parity with physical health. That's part of the problem. We haven't.

(APPLAUSE)

If I were to -- if I were to ask people in this room, which I won't, to put up your hands if you've had a member of your immediate family that has a mental health issue, I bet every hand would go up. So this is a huge crisis, 40 million Americans, as I said. So we have to address it as a mental health issue, as a public health issue. We have to deal with the pharmaceutical companies, right, that have

(APPLAUSE)

Remember how I said to the other gentleman, I think it was Warren, how I talked about how students -- student debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Well, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, there were stories last week how they were going to file for bankruptcy to avoid the liability associated with this. Just to put it in contrast kind to how our laws are set up in this country. But, you know, it's tearing Americans. It's going to create a huge

foster care crisis in this country. It's just tearing our country apart. We have to put resources behind it. We've got to be backing things that work, and we have to treat it as the public health and the mental health crisis that it really is, and we have to do things to improve the economic conditions in communities that create the environment for this kind of stuff to happen, because it is a scar on our country right now, what's happening. Thank you.

TAPPER: God bless you, Lanette. Thanks for your courage talking about this today.

(APPLAUSE)

I want to bring in Al Carroll. He's a recruiter in the technology industry from Indiana. Al?

QUESTION: I will be blessed to welcome a second little one in June. I'm also blessed to work for a company that allows me six weeks of paid paternity leave. I was the first person...

(APPLAUSE)

I was the first male at my company to take advantage of the policy. And it was amazing. What plans, if any, do you have to ensure paid parental leave is a right all Americans have access to moving forward?

DELANEY: Great question.

(APPLAUSE)

Congratulations on your second on the way and God bless you. You know, my wife and I have four amazing daughters, so I know the feeling and the excitement you're feeling right now.

And this is really important. Right? I think it's a basic right and we should have paid family, you know -- paid parental leave policies in this country. And there's a bunch of legislation, including ones that I've supported in the Congress, that effectively create an insurance fund to allow it to happen. So everyone contributes a very, very small amount, part of their paycheck, we create a national insurance fund and we allow people to access it.

So in my company -- so I started two businesses prior to running for Congress. And I took them public. They were on the New York Stock Exchange. And one of the things I was always really proud of is the benefits that I provided to my employees. It was good for them, but it was also good for the bottom line.

And I think people need to realize that not only are these policies good for families, and they're good for people, they're also good for our economy. Right? These are smart economic policies. Right? These allow people to be more engaged, have better work-life balance. And so I think it's an incredibly important policy. And I plan to advocate for national policy so that everyone has the benefits that your company gives you. And it's good they're doing that. So thank you for that question.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: Thanks, Al. I want to bring in Maggie Curry from California. She works in marketing at a winery. Maggie?

QUESTION: Yeah. Good evening.

DELANEY: Good evening.

QUESTION: So I'm a married working mom of two. And living in California, our family is faced with the double-income need. So I'm wondering how your platform will address that struggle.

DELANEY: Could you ask the question a little more specifically?

QUESTION: I'm a married working mom of two kids, and in California it's almost mandatory that we have two incomes to support the family.

DELANEY: Got it. Because of the cost of living?

QUESTION: Cost of living, of housing, to rent or own. And I'm wondering what you can do with your platform to help ease that struggle.

DELANEY: So one of the things I've called for -- and thank you for asking the question and I hope you're having a good time down here in Austin. One of the things I've called for is doubling of something called the earned income tax credit, which I think is one of the most successful tax programs we have in this country.

And as you may know, this is a tax credit that goes in the pocket of working families. You have to work to get it, but it's designed for hardworking families. And instead of kind of doing the tax cuts that the Republicans just did and Trump just did in the Congress, which were focused on cutting tax rates of corporations, we should have done something like doubled the earned income tax credit, because that would hurt -- that would help the people who need the help. That would help hardworking families by putting money in their pockets and making it easier to live.

Because you live in a really high-cost area, and it's really hard. I mean, we have an affordable housing crisis in this country. And I'm sure you know, based on where you live, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.

It's another thing we need to do, is we need to put more resources behind affordable housing. I introduced a bipartisan affordable housing bill as part of comprehensive housing finance reform that would put about another $6 billion -- it was bipartisan -- put another $6 billion out in the communities for affordable housing.

So I think things like making housing more affordable, creating kind of a universal health system, doubling the earned income tax credit, right, that's an agenda for working families. That's the kind of agenda that will make your life easier. That's the kind of agenda that's not focused on tax cuts for high earners or corporations.

I mean, the thing about the corporate tax cut -- you know, the corporate tax rate in this country was 35 percent. President Obama wanted to lower it to 27 percent or 28 percent to make it more competitive. The business community asked for 25 percent. They would come to the Congress and lobby for 25 percent. President Trump cut it to 21 percent. No one even asked for that. I mean, talk about a bad negotiator. I mean, they didn't even ask for 21 percent.

(APPLAUSE)

The difference between 27 percent, which is what President Obama wanted, and 21 percent, it's about $700 billion. That would have gone a long way to increase the earned income tax credit. That's smarter tax policy that's focused on the needs of the American people.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: Thank you. Our last audience question comes from Lorraine Shill. She's an office manager from Ohio. Lorraine?

DELANEY: Hey, Lorraine.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for taking my question. The current president used make America great again as his platform phrase. Do you have a platform catchphrase that will uplift and give Americans hope?

DELANEY: That's a great question. And I hope my team is listening, because we haven't decided upon it yet.

(LAUGHTER)

So I'm going to be able to say at our meeting on Monday morning, item one of the agenda, I think it is time we have the catchphrase.

No, seriously, you know, really, my campaign is about focusing on the future, right? I'm an optimist by nature. I'm a builder as an entrepreneur. You know, I've lived the American dream. I grew up in a blue-collar family. My parents didn't go to college. Because of a lot of people who helped me along the way, I became a successful entrepreneur.

I've had the privilege of serving in the Congress of the United States. I've had the great blessing of being married to an amazing woman for 29 years and having four daughters. I believe in the life I've lived. I really do.

But we need to do things to create that future for all Americans, because it's much harder now. This is the first generation of Americans that's not going to do better than their parents. Think about that. Right? Young people today, they want to grow up in a world and live in a world where they can get a good job, where they can breathe clean air, where their environment is sustainable, where they're left with debts they can pay. Right now, we're not doing that. But I know we can. I know it can be much better. But we have to stop talking about

things and we have to start doing things. We have to be honest with the American people about the problems and also honest about the solutions. We need someone to bring us together, find the right answer, not the Democratic answer, not the Republican answer, but the right answer, and build a better future as Americans.

We have to confront technology, like one of the questions was asked of me earlier. We have to think about where the world is going. And we have to remind the American people that nothing is impossible in this magnificent country, but we have to do it all together.

So unlike this current president, who wants to turn the clock back to a world that wasn't as good as people think it was, by the way, right, where we had deep divisions, segregation, things that were really scars on our country, I want to be the president that builds that better future, that does the things we need to do to create a better future for my kids, for maybe your children, for all your children. That's why I'm running for president.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: Let's give it up for Congressman John Delaney. Thank you so much for being here.

DELANEY: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: That does it for our first of three presidential town halls here in Austin, Texas. We want to thank former Congressman Delaney, wish you all the best. Thanks for being here.

There are still two more town halls to come back tonight. I'll be back later with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, but up next, a presidential town hall with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, moderated by Dana Bash. Stay with us. We'll be right back.