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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Townhall with Mayor Pete Buttigieg, D-South Bend IN. Aired 9- 10p ET
Aired March 10, 2019 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TAPPER: Welcome back to Austin, Texas. We're here at the South by Southwest festival for a CNN Democratic presidential candidate town hall with Mayor Pete Buttigieg. I'm Jake Tapper.
The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, would make history as the youngest president ever elected, the first openly gay president. Lieutenant Buttigieg would also be the first veteran of the war in Afghanistan to serve as commander-in-chief. Tonight, Mayor Buttigieg will take questions from voters in his first nationally televised town hall.
In our audience are Democrats and independents who say they plan to vote in the Democratic primaries and caucuses. Please welcome Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
TAPPER: Good to see you again. Thank you so much.
BUTTIGIEG: Thanks for having me. Great to be here.
TAPPER: Have a seat. All right. Before we get to the very important questions, I have an issue of paramount concern, OK? You really have to settle this, because you and your husband seem to have a disagreement on how to pronounce your last name.
TAPPER: According to your Twitter biographies, your husband says on Twitter it's "Buddha-judge." You have "boot-edge-edge." I don't want to get in the middle of a marital squabble...
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, thanks a lot.
TAPPER: But how do you pronounce your last name?
TAPPER: "Buttigieg." BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, you say that three times fast, either way, it comes out "Buttigieg."
TAPPER: So "boot-edge-edge," not "Buddha judge"?
BUTTIGIEG: Either way, it gets you there. Back home, they just call me Mayor Pete.
TAPPER: Mayor Pete. All right, well, very diplomatic. I feel like you said your way was right but then you did not throw your husband under the bus, which is -- I guarantee you that is the right path.
So -- but let's get to the serious questions. We have a lot of questions about your experience. Our first question comes from Grey Monas, a junior at the University of Texas, Austin. Gray?
QUESTION: Thanks for taking my question, Mayor.
QUESTION: As someone who's never held statewide office or even represented a population the size of a congressional district, what makes you feel you're qualified to be president?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, thanks for that question. And I think that's fair game. I shouldn't be running if I weren't prepared to answer it.
But I would argue that being a mayor of a city of any size, especially in the strong mayor system we have in my community, where there's no one else to call when there's an emergency or a major policy issue, is arguably the best kind of preparation you can have. I know that it's more traditional to maybe come from Congress, to have a background in Washington, but I would also argue that we would be well served if Washington started to look more like our best-run cities and towns rather than the other way around.
Think about it. One thing you've never heard of is a city shutting down because they couldn't agree on a policy. Right? It's literally unthinkable. We would never do it.
We couldn't do it, because we deliver water, and you need water to live. So we just figure things out. And that's the kind of attitude that I think we need more of in Washington today.
I get that it might sound a little cheeky as the youngest guy in this conversation, but I actually think experience is one of the best reasons for somebody like me to be in this. I have more years of government experience under my belt than the president. (LAUGHTER)
That's a low bar, I know that.
I've also got more years of executive government experience under my belt than the vice president and more military experience than anybody to walk into that office on day one since George H.W. Bush. So I get that I'm the young guy in the conversation, but I would say experience is what qualifies me to have a seat at this table.
QUESTION: The next question comes from Anjaly Poruthoor, a business manager from Seattle. Anjaly?
QUESTION: Thank you for this opportunity. You have very effectively pinpointed job automation as a key pivot in our near future. And your understanding of the psychological implications of losing your work identity are on point. But how do you tactically propose we avert an unemployment crisis? And how will you shepherd our country's people through this change?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, thanks for the question. It's so important. As you know, automation is transforming our economy, and we can't pretend that it can just be stopped or reversed. I think part of the core falsehood of the current White House and the campaign that got us here was the idea that we could somehow turn back the clock. I don't think you can ever have an honest politics that revolves around the word "again."
So it's not about stopping or reversing technology. It is about making sure that the tectonic social and economic changes that it could drive are changes that can actually work for us, because the pace of change is only going to accelerate.
So you mentioned the word tactical. And some of these things are very technical and near to the ground: Making sure, for example, that the United States is keeping pace with our competitors, like China, when it comes to the investments we're making in AI and automation so that when those leaps and bounds are made, hopefully they're made in and by our country.
But it also rises, I think, to a higher level, which is, how do we make sure that when those job transitions happen -- and there's just going to be more of them. Our generation is likely to change careers more frequently than our parents changed job titles. And what we've got to do in that environment is make it less of a disruptive event in your entire life when those changes occur.
It's why we need portable benefits. It's why the conversation about Medicare-for-all is so important. It's why we might even need to look at guaranteed income for working people as a policy that will help smooth the edges of that.
And then at the highest level, we've got to pay attention to the fact that when somebody loses their job or is transitioning jobs, what's at stake isn't just their income. It's their identity. I think we don't always recognize that, that you get community, purpose and identity from the workplace. And yet we can no longer count on a lifelong relationship with a single employer as a source of community and identity and purpose in the same way.
That's OK as long as we have other things to replace that lost sense of identity. And I think there are some very good answers for that. As a mayor, I see it happening a lot in terms of community itself. People who go through all kinds of jobs, but I know exactly where they fit in, in the community, and that is stable.
It could also come from answers that are traditionally thought of as more conservative, like faith and like family.
But the most important thing is that we build up answers for that, because if we don't, some very negative and very ugly things, from substance abuse to the worst kind of white identity politics that I think we were served up in 2016, could rush in to fill the void.
TAPPER: Let me just follow up, if I can. What do you mean by a guaranteed income?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, again, we're at the outset of learning about what these policies could do on the ground. For example, there's an experiment going on right now in the city of Stockton with what's called universal basic income, where they're actually simply distributing payments to people to make sure that that income floor is lifted. The idea is there are too many Americans who couldn't find even $400 in an emergency to get them through that.
Now, I'm not yet sure that we know that that's the right way to go, but I do think it's the sort of bold policy we should contemplate, especially if we can construct it in a way that it's connected to work. But maybe we ought to broaden our definition of work. So, for example, if you are taking care of a parent or raising a child, isn't that work? And shouldn't we honor that, too?
TAPPER: I want to bring in Dr. Natasha Demehri. She's a physician here in Austin. Dr. Demehri?
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question this evening. As an ER physician, I work on the front lines of America's fractured health care system. And whether that's uninsured patients coming to the ER for primary care issues, or it's patients who are sick and insured under Medicare who can't get timely follow up for because they're insured under Medicare, the system just seems broken either way. So if you're elected president, what changes do you intend to bring to office and to America's health care system to help bring more equitable access to health care? BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, thanks for what you're doing on the
front lines of the medical community. And it's an incredibly important question that I think hangs over our well-being as a country.
First of all, we still have uninsured and underinsured people, millions. And it's one of the reasons why we can't be satisfied with where we are. The ACA made a great difference. It made a big difference for members of my own family. But it hasn't gotten us all the way there, and it's vulnerable to being undermined. As a matter of fact, right now, it's under attack by the current administration.
That's why I believe we do need to move in the direction of a Medicare-for-all system. Now, I think anyone in politics who lets the words Medicare-for-all escape their lips also has a responsibility to explain how we could actually get there, because as you know, from working on this day in and day out, it's not something you can just flip a switch and do.
In my view, the best way to do that is through what you might call a Medicare-for-all who want it set-up. In other words, you take some flavor of Medicare, you make it available on the exchange as a kind of public option, and you invite people to buy into it. So if people like me are right that that's ultimately going to be more efficient over time and more cost effective, then you will see that very naturally become a glide path.
But your question mentioned something else, right, which is even within Medicare, there are a lot of issues, delays, concerns about whether the rate setting and reimbursement is done in the right way, and so there's also some technical work we've got to do under the hood.
You know, we as a country pay out of our health care dollar less on patient care and more on bureaucracy than almost any other country in the developed world. And so it's very clear that we've got to do some unglamorous technical work. Actually, some of the benefits of automation could come in this sense. You think about how many hands have to touch a prior authorization sometimes. And the right answer to that should be zero, but we're not there yet. So we've got to do that, that kind of unfashionable technical work within CMS to make the system more efficient.
We've also just got to broaden access to it until everyone has health care. I just refuse to accept that when citizens of just about every developed nation in the world enjoy this, that we should settle for less.
And it's become very personal for me, too, because we lost my father a few weeks ago. And it was to cancer. It was a brutally difficult time for our family. I make decisions for a living, and I was not prepared for some of the decisions that we faced in consultation with the medical team.
But what I'll say is, the decisions that we made only had to be about what was medically right for dad and what was right for our family. We didn't have to think about whether our family would be financially ruined, because of Medicare. And I want that to be available, that kind of security, that kind of freedom, frankly, to be available to every American.
TAPPER: I just want to take a moment, if you'll have a seat. I want to ask you about your father, Joseph. We're going to show the audience a picture of him. He was an English professor at Notre Dame. He passed away in January just a few days after you announced you were exploring a presidential bid. I just -- we wanted to take a moment just to honor his memory and also ask you, what did he think about you running for president?
BUTTIGIEG: He was excited. He came to this country from Malta, this tiny nation, some place "Buttigieg" is a common name.
And he came here for the educational opportunities that this country offered and then he became an American citizen after that. He believed in education. He believed in this country, but he also was very passionate about all the ways it was falling short.
And so I don't think he ever guessed that I'd be doing this. Frankly, we didn't either until about a year ago. But when I was getting ready to make the announcement, he was already in pretty rough shape. He was intubated at that point. And I wasn't sure about whether to go, but I knew he wanted it to happen. And so I said, you know, I hope I'll make you proud. And he mouthed around the tube, "You will." And I think we are. I'd like to think we are.
TAPPER: I'm sure you're making him proud. May his memory be a blessing.
Let's go back to some of the...
Let's go back to some of the audience questions. This is Kelli Blount. She's an accounting professor at Austin Community College. Professor?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mayor Pete. If you were nominated, you'll be the first openly LGBTQ candidate on a major party ticket for president. How do you think that this would affect the lives of LGBTQ people in America?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, I think it helps me to understand what's at stake in politics. Sometimes politics gets covered or talked about like it's just all about the show, especially now, because it's kind of a horror show, right?
And it's all about who looked good in the hearing and what's going on in Washington, and it's not very much about everyday life. But philosophically, I think the whole point of politics is everyday life.
And part of how I understand that is that the most important thing in my life -- my marriage to my husband, who's here -- it -- yeah, deserves a round of applause.
I married a teacher, so I married up.
You know, that intimate thing in our lives exists by the grace of a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court. And it's a reminder that the freedoms -- you know, our conservative friends talk about freedom a lot, but they're always talking about "freedom from," as if government is the only thing that can make you unfree. That really important freedom in my life, the freedom to marry, came about because of choices that were made by policymakers who had power over me and millions of others.
Now, we got to marriage equality. I would not have guessed that that would be possible. Frankly, when I first got into politics, elected politics at the beginning of this decade, in Indiana, in -- in Mike Pence's Indiana, I thought you could either be out or you could be in office, but you couldn't be both.
I came out in the middle of a re-election campaign, because it was just that time in my life when I had to do that. Pence was governor. We weren't sure what it would do to my political future in a socially conservative community. I wound up getting re-elected with 80 percent of the vote.
So -- but let's be under no illusions. There are attacks on, for example, transgender Americans from the Oval Office, picking on troops, people willing to lay down their lives for this country, not to mention teenagers in our high schools. I can't think of a more -- high school is an intimidating and frightening place when you're trans -- when you're not transgender, high school is an intimidating and frightening place, right?
And, you know, for a transgender teen to get the signal from the White House that the highest officials in the land can't tell the difference between her and a predator and make it harder for her to go to the bathroom shows you just how out of whack the climate is in our country right now. So we've got to end the war on trans Americans. And we need a federal equality act that would say that you cannot be fired just because of who you are or just because of who you love.
TAPPER: I want to keep on this topic and bring in James Doty. He's a professor of neurosurgery at Stanford. Professor? QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for your service and your position in
politics. The question I'd like to ask you is, as you pointed out, Vice President Pence is obviously quite conservative. And in regard to these conservative views, in regard to religion and in sexuality, in comparison to the average voter or the voter in Indiana, let's say, are his views an aberration? Or is this really representative of the state? Or are most people more like you in your more liberal views about us as humans?
BUTTIGIEG: Please don't judge my state by our former governor.
I think those views are so out of line with where anybody is. And, look, I got to tell you, this was kind of a difficult journey for a lot of people. I mean, if you were conservative and you're from an older generation, and you were brought up by people you trusted to believe that it was morally wrong to be, for example, in a same-sex marriage and then the pace of change has happened so quickly -- I've benefitted from the pace of that change. But I also understand how disorienting it must be for people to have gone through that.
So when we had this huge and painful controversy in 2015, when Mike Pence divided our state with this so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was really a license to discriminate, provided you remembered to mention your religion as an excuse for discriminating -- that's what that was -- when that happened, we worked really hard to invite people who were struggling to come on to the right side of history but wanted to get there to feel that we weren't going to judge them because they had struggled. We just wanted them on our side.
But the amazing thing that happened in Indiana was that Democrats and Republicans rose up. There was a coalition of mayors, business leaders, sports leaders, I think even NASCAR put out a statement saying they were disappointed. And the business Republicans in our state revolted right alongside us progressives.
And so that shows me that there is a belief in just decency that really does stand against that kind of social extremism. And my hope is that same decency can be summoned from our communities in red states and blue states to change what's happening in the politics of our country before it's too late.
TAPPER: Do you think -- do you think Vice President Pence would be a better or worse president than President Trump?
Does it have to be between those two? (LAUGHTER)
TAPPER: Politics is about choices, man, you know that.
BUTTIGIEG: I mean, I don't know. It's really strange. Because I used to at least believe that he believed in our -- I've disagreed with him ferociously on these things, but I thought, well, at least he believes in our institutions and he's not personally corrupt.
But then -- but then how could he get on board with this presidency? How could somebody who -- you know, his interpretation of scripture is pretty different from mine to begin with. OK, my understanding of scripture is that it is about protecting the stranger and the prisoner and the poor person and that idea of welcome.
That's what I get in the gospel when I'm in church. And his has a lot more to do with sexuality and, I don't know, a certain view of rectitude. But even if you buy into that, how could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency? Is that he -- is that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump? I don't know. I don't know.
TAPPER: We'll be right back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential candidate town hall with Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic president candidate town hall with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. We're at ACL Live at the Moody Theater here in Austin, Texas.
You would be the first veteran of the war in Afghanistan to serve as a president of the United States. The Trump administration is reportedly planning to withdraw about half of the 14,000 U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan. Do you agree with that approach? As president, how many troops would you keep in Afghanistan?
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, we have got to put an end to endless war. You could be old enough...
You could be old enough to enlist and have not even been alive now when 9/11 happened. You know, I was in that war five years ago. And at the time, then they told us that it was ending. And it's still going on.
Now, there may need to be some residual intelligence or special operations capability to make sure that there is never an attack launched against the United States as a consequence of what's going on there. I'm encouraged to see the peace talks that are taking place in Doha. If the Taliban are really serious about being ready to lay down their arms, that's a good sign.
But, you know, I'm also a little concerned that the Afghan government seems to be an afterthought in this process, because the peace needs to be sustainable. At the end of the day, we can't be the guarantors of peace and stability in Afghanistan.
TAPPER: So you pointed out that you, if elected president, would have the most military experience of a commander-in-chief since George H.W. Bush, who fought in World War II.
TAPPER: Barack Obama didn't have any military experience. Does it matter? Do you think it's an important part of your -- it's certainly an important part of your biography, and we honor it, but does it matter as a part of your resume for president that you serve?
BUTTIGIEG: I think so. I don't mean to say that you have to have served in the military to be eligible to run, but I do think that it brings a lot of perspective. First of all, again, you can never lose touch with why politics matters, with why it matters who's sitting on that desk.
I mean, when you have had the experience of taking a letter, writing a letter, and then putting it in an envelope marked "Just in Case" and putting it where you know your family can find it, and packing your bags and leaving, you have a sense of the gravity and the weight of the decisions that are made in the White House.
But there's something else about serving that I think the generation of George H.W. Bush and JFK experienced, which is that it brings you together with other Americans. I mean, when I got into the vehicle, a big part of my job was just driving and guarding vehicles on movements around Kabul or occasionally between Kabul and Bagram. And, you know, when somebody got in my car, my vehicle, they didn't care whether I was a Republican or a Democrat. They didn't care if I was going home to a girlfriend or a boyfriend. They wanted to know if I was doing my job well and if I could keep them safe.
And we learned to trust each other with our lives, even though our politics in our lives back home were so different. And I think we need to get back to that. It shouldn't require going to war to get that, but one reason I'm a big believer in expanding opportunities for national service is that we need more common experiences in this world that's divvied up into Twittersphere bubbles and ideological echo chambers. We need more of those experiences that can bring us together, even when we have nothing in common, except the fact that we're American.
TAPPER: I want to bring in Alicia Figliuolo. She is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who is married to a member of the U.S. Air Force. She lives in the San Antonio area. Alicia?
QUESTION: Sir, Mayor Pete, as a veteran, you understand the hardships servicemembers encounter upon leaving active duty and the strain that it can place on their families when leaving. If elected, what initiatives do you plan on creating that will ensure that our nation's most selfless men and women will be able to effectively leave service and transition into civilian life without needing to apply for social services and state aid?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, thank you for your service, for your spouse's service. Anyone who is married to a member of the military is also serving, so when you're both -- when both of you are both a military member and a military spouse, it's an incredible gift to the country, and I want to honor that and thank you for it.
As you know, coming back is a challenge. Leaving active duty is a challenge. And coming back from a deployment is a challenge. Even I, with, you know, the best -- a great day job to come back to, and the best possible community support, felt the disorientation and the challenge of coming back.
And as you say, or as I think I understood in your question, it's not just a matter of making sure that the minimum kind of social services are available for somebody who can't find anywhere else to go. It's about making sure that that reintegration takes place not just through things like, obviously, the V.A. and other entities that are designed to make sure that we keep that mutual promise with our servicemembers, but also something that I think goes a little wider than that, which is recognizing that servicemembers who return want not so much to be given things as to be able to continue to give.
And, again, that sense of community, identity, and purpose that we were talking about from the workplace, there's no workplace that gives you that better than the military, in my view.
In South Bend, we've piloted an initiative -- we were one of the first cities to do it -- called Vets Community Connections. And the idea was not another website, not another program, but actually enlisting, so to speak, anybody in the community who wanted to say a little more than just thank you for your service, to help people who are coming off active duty or coming off a deployment navigate their way around a community and really embrace them, even at the most basic things of helping them not only find a job, but, you know, find a trombone lesson for their kid or find their way around these new communities.
Because I believe the way we think about veterans shouldn't be as a problem to be solved, but, frankly, as a class of people to be competed over. I think about the gunny sergeant who was my right-hand man when I was in Afghanistan about to retire at the tender age of 40 or so after active duty.
And when he and Mrs. Gunny and their four kids are looking for a place that will support them and welcome them as he thinks about getting another degree and starting the second part of his career, I want South Bend to be a community of choice. I think the federal policy should be to support communities in doing that and find other ways to enlist ordinary Americans in going above and beyond merely saying thank you for your service.
TAPPER: Thank you. I want to bring in Gretchen Bella. She's a senior at the University of Texas at Austin. Gretchen?
QUESTION: Thank you for having me. Lieutenant, as a veteran of Afghanistan, what's your take on the situation in Venezuela right now? And if you were in office, how would you respond to this crisis?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, the situation in Venezuela is highly disturbing. And I think that the Maduro regime has lost its legitimacy. That's why it's not just the U.S., but 50 countries that have declined to recognize the legitimacy of that regime.
That being said, that doesn't mean we just carelessly threaten the use of military force, which is what it appeared the national security adviser was doing at one point, kind of hinting that troops might be sent to South America. First of all, I don't understand how somebody who was involved in leading us into the Iraq war is allowed that near to the Situation Room to begin with.
But I don't mean to disagree that we need to support democratic outcomes in that country. And so to the extent that sanctions can be targeted and can be focused on trying to bring about new free and fair elections so that there can be self-determination by the Venezuelan people, that puts in a government that I think has that legitimacy, then we should do our part not through force, but through the diplomatic toolkit in order to try to bring that outcome about.
TAPPER: I want to bring in Jordon Brown. He's a journalism PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin. Jordon?
QUESTION: Mayor Buttigieg, thank you so much for being here tonight. So I'm a PhD student. I'm also here with South by Texas State. You're two years older than me, and I know I don't have my stuff together to be president. So what advantages does your age grant you to being the next president? And what limitations does it offer? And how will you overcome those?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, thank you. Maybe I should start with the limitations. So I get that as anybody would walking into that office, I mean, it's an audacious thing for anybody to think they belong in that office. So when you go in there, you have to recognize just how much you don't know, no matter how old you are, no matter where you come from, and surrounding yourself with people and, more importantly, being prepared to listen to them is something that's served me very well in South Bend and that I want to bring back to the White House as president.
But I also think that age can be an advantage here, if only because it allows me to communicate to the country a vision about what our country is going to look like in 2054. That's the year I get to the current age of the current president. And when you take -- when you take...
It's not like an achievement on my part, it's just the math.
But when you take that personally, you know, when that's not just something you're worried about in theory, but you're personally preparing for what the world is going to look like, when God willing I get to that age, then I think it gives you a different sense of urgency.
I mean, we belong to the generation that experienced school shootings as the norm, right? I was in -- in high school when the Columbine shooting happened. I belong to the generation that provided a lot of the troops for the post-9/11 conflicts, the generation that's going to be on the business end of climate change. We don't have the luxury of treating climate change like somebody else's problem. We're going to pay the bill for the unaffordable tax cuts for billionaires that were passed by the last Congress and signed by this president.
And statistically, we run the risk of being the first generation in American history to actually be worse off economically than our parents if nothing is done to change the trajectory of this economy. To me, that is not just a concern for our generation. It's a concern that calls on us to build an alliance among generations to try to make sure that the future really is better than the past. And you don't get that by promising to turn back the clock. You get that by finding ways to make change work for us before we're all disrupted out of a good livelihood by it.
TAPPER: Let me introduce you to Tyler Lentz who recently graduated from business school. He works for a community bank in the Austin suburbs. Tyler?
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mayor. When Mitt Romney was asked how he would reduce the size of government, he replied, "So I would at least have some structure that McKinsey put in place." As a former McKinseyite, what's your biggest takeaway from your time at McKinsey?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, my specialty when I was at McKinsey had to do with grocery prices. So there are some ways that that's relevant and some ways that it's not.
What I did learn a lot about was business and the power of business in order to propel prosperity and help grow our economy. And I believe that business, working within the right framework of the rule of law, is the engine of our growth.
I also learned a lot about data. And data is something we've got to pay, frankly, I think a lot more attention to in our policies in this country. When we talk, for example, about what's being done with our data, the personal data that we give to tech companies, often there's very little limitation or regulation about what will happen to that data. We need to establish a nationally harmonized data policy instead of asking states to figure it out one at a time.
And I think I first got my understanding about the power of big data when it was my job to crunch millions of lines of data related to grocery prices, but I also began studying the way data gets used. We need a comprehensive data law that will establish the rights we have over the value that is being extracted from data that is collected about us, including the right to be forgotten and certain rights over understanding how our data is used and who is accessing it.
And that's something that -- I know it's not exactly what you probably had in mind when you were asking about McKinsey, but it's something that's on my mind a lot.
As to what Governor Romney was talking about, look, we do need to work to make government more efficient. One of the things we did when I came in, in South Bend as mayor was -- kind of a banned phrase around the county city building was, "We do it this way because we've always done it this way."
We subjected everything we do to rigorous analysis, because at the city level, I don't get to print money. We legally have to balance the general fund budget. And if I want to do more, we just have to figure out a way to do what we're doing more efficiently or else we'll have to do less of something else. And sometimes that's the right answer, too.
So I think that on the ground knowledge of how to get something done that I maybe began to get in the business community, but really put to work in public service at the local level will be useful at a time when, frankly, in federal budgeting we're being told we can get something for nothing. And things that are completely unaffordable, like the tax cuts for the wealthiest, are being passed off as though they're worth just as much as things that if we ever do deficit spending would be a better use of it, like investing in infrastructure and education and the things that we know have a payback and will pay for themselves in the long run.
TAPPER: Susan Kenyon is a retired attorney from Massachusetts. Susan?
QUESTION: Hi, Mayor Pete. Do you believe that Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump?
BUTTIGIEG: I would like to see this president and the style of politics that he represents sent off through the electoral process, decisively defeated at the ballot box.
Because I just don't think that's what America is. I understand how it happened. Believe me, I come from the industrial Midwest. There are a lot of people who voted for him and also voted for me and also voted for Barack Obama. So these things are complicated.
But part of how it happened was a lot of people felt that the system was letting them down and, frankly, kind of voted to burn the house down. And that's, in some ways, what we got.
I don't think that he put forward a real program for how to turn our country into a better direction, though. And so I think that the best way to defeat and end this is through an election.
Now, having said that, these investigations may return information that Congress just morally can't ignore, and it may well be the case that they're left with no choice, just in the name of justice, then to begin impeachment proceedings. And obviously, they'll have to make that determination probably quite soon.
TAPPER: We'll be right back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential candidate town hall with Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential candidate town hall with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Thanks so much for being here. Let's bring in Megan Menchaca. She's a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin. She's currently interning for the Austin American Statesman. A great newspaper. Please ask your question.
QUESTION: Hi. As a graduate of Harvard, you were one of the first people to be introduced to Facebook. Since then, it has grown to be used by millions of Americans, but it's also been involved in a lot of controversies involving privacy and the spread of misinformation. Do you believe Congress or the president should be doing anything to regulate companies increasingly large technology companies like Facebook?
BUTTIGIEG: I do. And there are two ways to think about this. The first, and the one that's getting a lot of press these last couple days, has to do with monopoly policy. It's important for the FTC and other agencies to be empowered to make sure that when a company gets so large that it can use its dominance of one market in order to get an unfair advantage in another that they can take action on that.
But I think the real reason most of us are concerned about some of these companies is that question about data. It's that question of what happens to the information that we often freely give. There's kind of a bargain going on, right? The reason that so many of these products are free for us is that the companies are able to get revenue from the data. It's not even clear exactly how much in dollar terms is being generated from the data that's being collected on us. But what is clear is that it's an awful lot.
I think we've all had that experience, right, where maybe you do a Google search on something one day -- or you don't even remember searching it, you just remember mentioning that you were out of dog food and the next day you go check the Weather Channel and it's all dog food. Right?
And to some extent, it might seem harmless, but we know that there are other applications of that data that have really raised questions about privacy, and they can even be a problem for our democracy if that data is used in order to undermine our democratic processes.
Again, the U.S. lacks a national data policy that clarifies these things. We've got to fix that. The Europeans have a model, which I think we should learn from. It may not work to do the exact same thing here, but at least it's a beginning.
TAPPER: Let me just turn to the first part of your answer, because this week, one of your competitors, Senator Elizabeth Warren, introduced a proposal aimed at breaking up some of the biggest tech companies, such as Amazon, Facebook. For example, the regulations would force Facebook to roll back deals for businesses when, you know, they purchased Instagram, WhatsApp. Do you agree that these businesses are too big and need to be broken up?
BUTTIGIEG: Potentially. Again, to me, it's about fairness and competition. So if they're using dominance of one market to dominate another one, then that's a problem. But the size itself isn't the biggest problem, in my view. It's not how big they are; it's how they act. And that's the thing I think we need to be regulating and targeting most.
TAPPER: Let me bring in Delaney Harness. She's a PhD student at the University of Texas, Austin. Delaney?
QUESTION: Hi, Mayor Buttigieg.
QUESTION: So my question is about the Electoral College. So you've been very vocal about the decay of the Electoral College. From your perspective, what needs to be done to fix the democratic process in America?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, thanks. It's such an important question. And at risk of sounding a little simplistic, one thing I believe is that in an American presidential election, the person who gets the most votes ought to be the person who wins.
This is our democracy. And I get that we're a representative republic and not a direct democracy and all -- I can see my Twitter mentions blowing up right now, people reminder me, "We're not a direct democracy." I know.
(LAUGHTER) But if we're not a democratic society, what are we? And if we can't come together with everybody having an equal vote over who the leader of our country is going to be, how can we say that we're a democratic society? We ought to make sure that everybody has the same voice.
In Indiana, where I live, because our state's very conservative, most years we have no voice at all in the presidential process. The same is true for some big states and some small states, some because they're liberal, some because they're conservative, all of them disfranchised and without a voice in the presidential process.
Now, your question was a little broader than that. It was about our democratic society and the condition of our democracy. I think it's hugely important. And I worry that it's in decay.
You know, the general trajectory of America has been that it became more democratic over time. We extended the vote to more people. We did things like making it possible for individuals to vote on their senators instead of state legislators. You know, that change, actually, in the grand scheme of things is not that old.
And we yet stand now to be a generation that sees democracy in retreat. Even the international rankings by Freedom House of how free and democratic different countries are, we're slipping in the rankings. It's incredibly troubling, because barriers are being put up to the ability to vote, because, let's face it, there are some in politics who think that if more people vote, they're going to lose. I would say that if more people voting means you're going to lose, the problem is with your policies and you should look to fixing that first.
TAPPER: Let me just ask you a follow-up, if I can.
TAPPER: Because eliminating or whatever you want to do with the Electoral College, it's not the only radical change you're proposing, because you've also suggested that the U.S. Supreme Court go from nine justices to 15 to, quote, "take the politics out of it a little."
TAPPER: But how would a liberal president adding six justices to a conservative court take the politics out of it a little?
BUTTIGIEG: Sure. So what we need to do is stop the Supreme Court from sliding toward being viewed as a nakedly political institution. And I'm for us contemplating whatever policy options will allow that to be possible.
One of them involves having 15 instead of 9 justices, but I'm not just talking about -- suppose I get elected as president, putting on six justices I think agree with me and then daring the next president who might be conservative to throw on a couple more. I mean, that's the last thing we want to do.
What we need to do is stop every vacancy from becoming this apocalyptic ideological battle that harms the court and the country. The proposal that I've mentioned that I think is one of many we should probably consider, it does expand the court to 15, but it changes the structure a little bit. Only 10 of them are politically appointed by Democratic or Republican presidents. The other five can only be seated by unanimous consent of the remaining 10.
So the idea is that those five by necessity will be those who command the respect of the other 10 across the ideological spectrum and can be counted on to think for themselves.
Again, I don't know that that's necessarily the right option. There are others that have been floated that would involve, for example, a rotation of people up from the appellate bench. And by the way, I know you used the word radical in the question, but there are some legal scholars who think this could be done just by statute, not with a change to the U.S. Constitution.
So I think that, you know, whichever particular mechanism is best, the point is we need to begin the debate on what it will take to make sure our Supreme Court is less political. And I don't think there's anything about this approach that's any more radical than the shattering of norms that Senate Republicans have gone through in order to get the court to where it is today.
TAPPER: So let me bring in Michelle Cardenas (ph). Oh, I'm sorry, let me go on to -- Joe Silver. Sorry, Joe Silver is from New York. He works with clean energy startups. Joe?
QUESTION: Good evening, Mayor.
BUTTIGIEG: Good evening, Joe.
QUESTION: I know and most Americans know that climate change is an existential crisis facing this planet. How will you move the debate and conversation forward in D.C., in Washington, to focus on realistically dealing with this challenge and implementing solutions to prevent catastrophic future impacts to climate change and mitigating the current impacts that we're dealing with today?
BUTTIGIEG: Thank you. So we've got to do two things, one, change the way we talk about the problem and then, two, change our level of commitment when it comes to the solution.
The way we talk about the problem, I think even now, is often in theoretical terms. If you close your eyes and think of the cable news-- forgive me -- but the cable news B-roll that usually comes up when there's a story on climate change, it's probably going to be some hunk of ice breaking off the Antarctic, right? But the imagery that plays in my mind when the question of climate change comes up is a family on Frederickson Street in South Bend, because I found myself there the day before school started trying to help a family figure out what they were going to do having been run out of their house by a catastrophic flood.
We've had two floods in the city of South Bend, one called a -- I believe it was a 1,000-year rainfall and the other was a 500-year flood. They were 18 months apart. So the time has ended for us to debate whether it's happening and to take it seriously, but not as something that's happening somewhere in the Arctic or even just on the coasts. It is happening in our communities, in the heart of America today, not to mention parts of California catching on fire.
And my fellow mayors, when I meet them from Florida, worried about sea level rise that's happening right now. We've got to treat this like the emergency that it is and we've also got to treat it as a security issue, because we need our expectations of 21st century security to include the concept of climate security.
Now, you would think that it would just be table stakes to acknowledge that it's a problem, but we're in a place where you got to do that. Now, what are we going to do about it? It's not like it's going to be easy.
To some extent, we're already in adaptation mode no matter what because of the warming that's already occurred and will be unstoppable. But we've got to make sure that we are reducing carbon levels at least to the kinds of commitments that were in the Paris Accord, which we should rejoin immediately when the new president takes office.
More investments in renewables are going to be needed. We're going to have to contemplate a carbon tax. And, by the way, there are ways to do it that most Americans would be better off fiscally, because we could return it right back to the American people, but in so doing would help capture the true cost of things that are happening right now, because it's in your and my lifetime that that cost is going to be paid one way or the other.
TAPPER: Thanks for your question. We'll be right now with more from CNN's Democratic presidential candidate town hall with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential candidate town hall with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. We're here at the South by Southwest festival. Let me bring in Jeffrey Meier. He's a marketing executive and artist from New York City. Jeffrey?
QUESTION: Hello, and thank you, Mayor. Which former president do you most admire and why? BUTTIGIEG: Got to go with Lincoln. There are a lot of former
presidents I admire, but, you know, we're in this moment of tectonic and deep and difficult change. But whenever I worry about our country, I remember that at one time part of our country broke off and declared war against the other part. And President Lincoln led us through that, brought us together, and did so with a spirit, I think, of service and empathy that I certainly aspire to emulate in my public life.
TAPPER: Let me ask you, in 2000, you first became famous, or at least of note, when you won an essay contest.
BUTTIGIEG: I'm not even sure if I'm famous now, but thank you.
TAPPER: We gave you a town hall. You won an essay contest from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. You wrote an essay about another political figure, Senator Bernie Sanders, now one of your rivals. In your essay, you wrote that Senator Sanders, quote, "energy, candor, conviction, and ability to bring people together stand against the current of opportunism, moral compromise, and partisanship which runs rampant on the American political scene." Do you still feel that way?
BUTTIGIEG: In many ways, yes. You know, I really admired -- when I was -- in 2000, he was an obscure member of Congress. And I was looking for people as I was tasked with writing this essay on political courage who just said what they were for. It felt like people had found this way to just outgrow their convictions and say whatever was safe. And he was different, and I respected that. And I still do.
Now, it's also the case that I represent a somewhat different message and very different messenger. But I admire a lot of the other people in this 2020 conversation. And I think the more voices there are in this debate, the better.
TAPPER: Let me bring in our last audience question, Allie Runas, a senior at the University of Texas, Austin.
QUESTION: Hi, Mayor Pete.
QUESTION: I want to ask, what do you wish you knew before going into politics and running your first race?
BUTTIGIEG: Wow. Well, I wish I knew just how challenging the dimension of money in politics can be. It's not just a public policy concern. It's something that affects the way that people in politics have to spend their time.
And by the way, I wouldn't be doing my job well if I didn't mention that since we're not taking corporate PAC money, people who like what they hear tonight should go to PeteforAmerica.com and... (APPLAUSE)
Because in order to get invited to the debate stage, we've got to show that we've had at least 65,000 people donating at any level, which I actually think is great, because it's not just about how many zillions you can raise, but how many people you can get to believe in the idea you should be there.
I'm not sure what I would have done with that knowledge other than it would have been probably even more intimidating. But I guess the other side of the coin is, you know, the thing I've learned through the process -- and I wish I could say to myself when I was in my 20s trying to figure out if somebody like me had a place in public life -- is that it turns out that everybody, including the most impressive people that you will encounter, deal with, negotiate with, or even compete with in public life, they're just people. We're all just people. And that's what politics is really about.
It's why I'm trying to take the way we talk about our politics off of the kind of the Washington show and back to the level of everyday life, because that's why the political process matters. And the more we can keep our focus on that, the better I think our country will be for it.
TAPPER: Our thanks to Mayor Pete Buttigieg and also to you, our audience. Thank you so much. And thanks to ACL Live and South by Southwest. Please join me next Monday, a week from tomorrow, from Jackson, Mississippi, where I will moderate a CNN Democratic presidential candidate town hall with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
The CNN original series "The Bush Years" starts right now.