Return to Transcripts main page

CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Town Hall Meeting with Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-NYC), Presidential Candidate. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired August 25, 2019 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:00]

ANA CABRERA, CNN: Good evening, and welcome back to a CNN Democratic presidential town hall event. I'm Ana Cabrera. You just heard from Montana Governor Steve bullock. Now it's Mayor Bill de Blasio's turn.

De Blasio is the two-term mayor right here in New York City. He is running on his progressive record, saying he's already delivered bold change for New Yorkers. And tonight he'll take questions from Democrats and independents who say they plan to participate in the Democratic primaries and caucuses.

Please give a warm welcome to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

(APPLAUSE)

CABRERA: Mayor, great to have you here. So nice to see you. OK, let's just get the elephant in the room out of the way. You are really tall.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NYC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

We have a height differential.

CABRERA: Just little bit. I think you're more than a foot taller than me officially.

DE BLASIO: But we're all Americans.

CABRERA: And we're going to get through this together.

DE BLASIO: Together.

CABRERA: I will say, though, you know, if you were elected to be the president, you would be the tallest president ever. Abe Lincoln currently holds that title. He was 6'4". You're 6'5", right?

DE BLASIO: That's right.

CABRERA: How is that height advantage working out for you?

DE BLASIO: Remember, the taller candidate has won every general election for president but I think three times only. There's only three exceptions in the history of the republic. So if you want to get rid of Donald Trump, choose the tallest candidate.

(LAUGHTER)

CABRERA: OK, let's get right to our audience questions. We've got a bunch for you tonight. And I want to bring in Jessica Frisco, a specialist at a health care non-profit here in New York. She was a Bernie Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic convention. Jessica?

DE BLASIO: Hey, Jessica.

QUESTION: Hey, Mayor de Blasio. The divide in America is growing particularly between rural and urban communities. The problems and concerns of New Yorkers are vastly different from people in other parts of the country. So as mayor of the biggest city in the country, how would you be a president for all Americans?

DE BLASIO: Jessica, it's such an important question, but I want to tell you, I've had a different experience out there. When I started my campaign, it was in Webster County and Greene County in Iowa, rural counties, talking to farmers, talking to folks who lived in smaller towns, and the things they talked about were literally nearly identical to what I heard from my constituents here in the five boroughs.

Because what's happening right now, if you're a working person in America, doesn't matter if you work a farm, in a factory, in a retail store, working people are hurting in this country. And America is not working for working people. That's just the truth.

And so the things that people need are all about investments in themselves and their communities. When I talk to folks all over the country, it's health care, it's making sure that their jobs pay enough and have good enough benefits. It's making sure there's opportunity for their kids. I really don't see the divide as much as I think it's projected to all of us. I think there's a lot more commonality of feeling and interest.

I actually think Americans over the years have come to have a lot more in common. And so I would argue to you what matters here is being able to speak to the hearts of Americans about their reality. And so, you know, I say we've got to invest in people. Right now, I've talked to folks all over this country, including a lot of folks in rural America. They do not believe their communities are being invested in. They do not believe there's enough economic opportunity.

They see schools consolidating, hospitals closing, mental health clinics clothing. They're losing the things they need. They'd like to see investment. And whenever you talk about investment, we hear plenty of doubting Thomases, plenty of cynics who say there's not enough money, we can't afford that, we can't afford to invest in communities. What I say every time is, there's plenty of money in this world and there's plenty of money in this country, it's just in the wrong hands.

It should be in the hands of working people. And that's what we have to do. And I think that's a message, an idea that would unify rural folks and urban folks alike all over this country.

CABRERA: Let's bring in Xavier Perez. He is a New York City police officer and is active in the Bronx Democratic Party. Xavier says he currently supports Senator Bernie Sanders. Xavier?

DE BLASIO: How are you doing, Xavier?

QUESTION: Good evening. If elected president, you'll become the commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in the world. How can we assure that you will support our troops' mental health and wellbeing when there's an evident lack of support for the men and women of the New York City Police Department, who have a higher than average suicide rate with nine suicides this year?

DE BLASIO: Xavier, first of all, thank you for the work you do. And what we've tried to do over these last six years is, in fact, to make this year after year the safest big city in America by supporting our police officers. And the facts, the proof are there because you see what our officers have achieved working with communities.

We created neighborhood policing to bring officers and communities together. We added 2,000 officers to our police force so there would be more ability to back up our officers, get the job done.

But when it comes to the mental health needs of our officers, the point you're raising is so important. We've got to do a lot more for our officers, we've got to do a lot more for those who serve us in the armed forces, because right now in America we are not honest about mental health. That's just a truth.

And my wife, Chirlane, is here, who's led the way in this city trying to destigmatize the issue of mental health, bring out in the human that it's a human reality. One in five adult Americans has a mental health challenge of one kind or another. So this is throughout our whole society.

But first responders and our soldiers face additional stresses and need additional help. The things we're talking right now, we're doing right now, making sure that every police officer has someone they can turn to who's a peer, a fellow officer, someone who works right in their precinct. Making sure that there's free and available therapy. Making sure our health insurance plans do a better job allowing first responders to get the therapy and the mental health services they need.

But this is part of a bigger reality. And I just want to say this election may be the first election in American history where mental health is front and center as an issue. And that's a very good thing. We've got to break that stigma once and for all, because you know how many millions of people have not had the chance to get the care they need because they've been told there's something wrong with them, that somehow it's a character flaw if you have a mental health problem? It's not a character flaw. It's part of human life.

So we need to break down the stigma. And I tell you one other thing: If we're really serious about getting mental health care to folks who need it all over this country, to our first responders, to our soldiers, to folks in rural areas, you're not going to have real mental health care in America without universal health care, without Medicare for all. That is what we need to make sure everyone gets the help they deserve.

(APPLAUSE)

CABRERA: And I want to ask you more about your Medicare for all idea in just a moment. But why don't you take a seat with me for a moment so I can follow up on that last question from Xavier...

DE BLASIO: And now we're the same height.

CABRERA: Exactly. You know, on a serious note, though, you've talked about your personal story, about your father's death by suicide when you were 18. You've talked about how he came back from World War II and had physical and emotional scars and struggled with alcoholism and depression when you were at home growing up. I just wonder how that experience in your family has impacted your view when it comes to mental health in America.

DE BLASIO: Ana, it is very painful. I mean, I can feel like it was yesterday. That is the truth. My dad, I mean, he was a decorated war hero. He fought in the Battle of Okinawa. He volunteered after Pearl Harbor. It was in the whole war and he lost half a leg to a grenade on Okinawa.

And the thing that I saw growing up was the physical pain, the physical challenges were bad enough. The emotional toll was even greater. And then we didn't call it PTSD. People didn't understand it.

But what I remember seeing was this really good, honorable man just falling apart, and he, you know, people -- some people tried to offer help. He didn't know how to accept it. And we didn't have a way of talking about it, which is -- this is why it's so important to just change our whole understanding that if you have a mental health challenge, there's nothing wrong with you, but that's not what people used to assume. So he just declined and declined, and then he took his own life because he didn't feel there was any other choice.

And so to me, I think it's a reminder, first of all, don't judge anybody else. I was very angry as a young person. You can imagine. You know, your male role model, unfortunately, you know, going through so much trouble and falling apart, but now I know that there are so many millions of people facing their own struggle and too many of them facing it alone, and that means it's on all of us to change that.

Yes, it's a subject for this conversation because we have to change our whole approach to health care in America, and we have to give mental health the same importance as physical health, and we have to destigmatize and we have to welcome people -- and especially our veterans, who are still -- there are veterans being told they cannot have a job because they served in combat. That's happening today in America. I want you to know, we passed a law in New York banning discrimination

against any combat veteran because they were presumed to have PTSD. I can't think of anything worse than a combat veteran being turned away because they served their country. And we need that kind of law all over this country.

But the other thing I'd say is it's -- it is all of our business as Americans, and this is something, Ana, I think could actually unite us, because I've talked to plenty of Republicans and plenty of independents who feel the same way as Democrats. It's personal. Every family basically is affected by either mental health challenges or substance misuse challenges, pretty much every American family in one way or another.

And if we all participate in bringing it out in the open and helping the people in our lives to get help, we could actually change this country. That's a mission that could actually unify us.

CABRERA: And let me also follow on something Xavier brought up, which is struggle with some of the police officers in the police department. Just this past week or two, we had a major event here in New York City. Everybody was anticipating what would be the outcome of the Eric Garner case. And we saw the police officer was fired, a man who was responsible in the death of Eric Garner. What do you tell people here in New York City, as well as all around the country, who followed that case closely and said why did it take five years for that consequence to be handed down?

DE BLASIO: Yeah, Ana, I want to speak to this, and everybody...

(APPLAUSE)

So the first thing to say is, Eric Garner should not have died. And then the next thing to say is there can never be another Eric Garner in this city or any place else in this country.

(APPLAUSE)

And it can be stopped. These tragedies were common, and they still are. We've all seen those horrible cell phone videos time and time again. It doesn't have to be that way.

What we learned immediately after the tragedy of Eric Garner was we had to do pretty much everything differently. We retrained our entire police force, 36,000 men and women were retrained in de-escalation. A situation literally like that one, people were shown how to step back, wait for reinforcements, slow it down.

Our officers have been trained in implicit bias, because we're all humans, we all have bias, but actually it can be identified and it can help those who serve us to weed it out. That made a huge difference. Every officer now has a body camera, which helps everyone to think about each situation carefully and helps the truth to come out in the end.

So a lot has changed here, and it has to change everywhere, and it actually has to be a federal imperative. A lot of police forces in this country don't have the resources or might feel in some way it's too controversial, but there needs to be federal leadership that says de-escalation training, implicit bias training, body cameras, every police officer in America should have those. Every single one. That's how we end the tragedies.

But to the question of the timing, there's something else we have to do, Ana. Look, the United States Department of Justice in my youth, in my adulthood, was the gold standard for dealing with any case involving civil rights or police and community. The United States Department of Justice failed here miserably, five years without even deciding they were going to act and telling the city of New York not to act.

And I think we need a law in this country, a federal law that says in these dynamics, there has to be a mandate that the Justice Department must act. It could be one year, two years, whatever standard we set, they must make a decision, they must act. And in the meantime, those of us in cities and states around the country, if the Justice Department is not going to act, we're going to act without them. And I'm sorry to say it, but we're going to act without them.

QUESTION: What about Lieutenant Bannon? What about (OFF-MIKE)

(APPLAUSE)

CABRERA: Please.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CABRERA: Please be respectful. Please be respectful. We have more audience questions to get to.

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CABRERA: Please be respectful in the audience so we can get to all the questions that we have among those people who are here. I want to bring in our next questionnaire here with Stephen De Jesus. He is a student at Columbia University and currently supports Beto O'Rourke. Stephen, what is your question?

QUESTION: Thank you for being here, Mayor. I went to high school just about 45 minutes away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. And in the days following the shooting, I could sense the fear in my peers and my teachers that such a thing could happen at our school. And so if you were president, how would you plan on implementing meaningful gun violence prevention policies to ensure that no student and no educator has to fear for their life when they're going to school?

DE BLASIO: Yeah. So you understand that those students at Parkland changed the entire way this country thinks. We have been told time and time again we could not defeat the NRA. It became an article of faith that they had a stranglehold on Washington and every state legislature, and if there was any place where that was supposed to be true, it was Florida.

Those Parkland students, I wish they never experienced that tragedy, but they took that tragedy and they turned it into action, and they shamed those legislators in Florida and actually achieved real change in a state where it wasn't supposed to be possible.

How about we do the same thing in Washington now? How about we, the American people, say enough with the NRA's dominance of the Congress because a clear majority of Americans want more extensive background checks. They want to close the gun show loophole. They want waiting periods. They want a ban on assault weapons. These things can actually happen.

And it's not only because they're majority positions. It's also because something else is happening, and I also happen to run the nation's largest school system, 1.1 million kids. When I started six years ago, we were not talking about active shooter drills in our schools. I'd be at town hall meetings like this in neighborhoods in New York, people were not raising their hand and saying I'm concerned about active shooter situations. But I guarantee you right now in this city and all over this country, parents are sending their kids to school worried for the first time that an active shooter could show up in their child's classroom.

You know, when some of us were growing up, we used to worry about if there was going to be a nuclear attack from Russia. That's not what kids today worry about. They worry about someone from their own community walking in with an assault rifle. And that's not acceptable in this country. And the parents in this country don't find it acceptable, and their voices are going to change things.

So I guarantee you if ever there's been a moment for change, it's this. One ingredient is missing. It's why we're having this whole conversation. Presidential leadership. Not only should there be a president who honestly wants gun safety legislation in this country to conform with the will of the American majority and protect our kids, but I would be a president who goes to every state where there's one of those recalcitrant senators. How about having a rally right in their backyard? Our current president loves his rallies for his own ego needs. How about a rally to actually protect our children in one of those districts, one of those states where a senator says I'm going to ignore the will of the majority and I won't pass gun safety legislation? We have those rallies, we organize people, we organize parents all over this country, and we can actually win this battle for gun safety legislation.

CABRERA: Thank you, Mayor. We'll be right back with much more from CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Mayor Bill de Blasio. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Let's get right back out to our audience. I want to bring in Ratasha Smith, a communications professional from New Haven, Connecticut. She is an active member of the Connecticut Young Democrats. Ratasha?

QUESTION: Hello, Mayor de Blasio. How are you?

DE BLASIO: How are you doing?

QUESTION: So, as a patriarch of a beautiful mixed-race family, your lived experience allows you to bring a unique perspective to government. As president, how will you improve race relations in America?

DE BLASIO: All right. I think about this all the time. So here's what I feel first of all as a human being, as an American. We don't know each other enough. We still don't know each other enough. And when I met Chirlane -- it's almost 28 years ago now -- and I like to tell the story, very quickly, that when I saw Chirlane for the very first time, the angels sang, I heard violins, literally, I experienced something like love at first sight, and Chirlane McCray experienced absolutely nothing.

(LAUGHTER)

And it took weeks and weeks for her even to know my name. But here we are. So it worked out well. But I also learned along the way that we have a long way to go as a country to actually know each other, spend time with each other, understand each other's history, and I think it can be done.

I have one personal example of going on a journey and every single year feeling more sense of understanding and empathy, and I think it was both ways.

So one of the things I think we need from a president -- this sounds really basic, but I think it's true -- is to send a message of unity, to talk about how we are one nation, and we -- yes, we have different traditions and different histories and different pains, but we actually can understand each other and have common cause.

And I'll tell you, representing and leading the most diverse place on Earth, I'm actually hopeful, because when I came into office, there were some very deep tensions that we had to address and they mirror some of the realities that we're facing all over this country right now. There were real tensions between police and some communities. There were tensions with our Muslim community. There were so many things that had to be addressed with a different message and a different approach, and I'm not saying it's perfect here by any stretch, but I can tell you, the social fabric is stronger, partly by sending a message of respect and inclusion and that we're all in this together.

And by doing things that make a difference, we recognize, for example, in our Muslim community their religious holidays as school holidays, just like we do Christian and Jewish holidays. That made a huge difference in that community. We listened to parents and grandparents who told us that policies, policing policies like stop and frisk were divisive and corrosive. And I want everyone to understand this, parents and grandparents who have spent their lives bringing up children to be good, strong young people, to have self-esteem, to have hope, and then it got torn down little by little by a very negative, invasive policing strategy that was absolutely unnecessary. We got rid of that. And healing began and communication began between our police and community, and that relationship is a lot stronger now.

So presidential leadership or mayoral leadership, a voice that says we actually need to get this right and figure out how to address the pain, and slowly but surely work our way through it, I actually think it works wonders. Actually people -- you know, I'm sure you've heard this all over this country, wherever I go, people don't like this pain we're in right now. They don't like the division. They don't like the anger. This wasn't what we all signed up for.

And it's been unleashed. And it's not just Donald Trump. But it was aided and abetted and unleashed by Donald Trump. We had white supremacy before, but it's been put on a pedestal by Donald Trump, and the vast majority of Americans don't want that. They actually want a country for everyone again. So with the right leader, we can really take steps to get back there. And I have faith that we can get there. I really do.

CABRERA: All right. Let me bring in now Judith Cutchin. She is a registered nurse, has been doing this for 29 years, and is an active member of the New York State Nurses Association. Judith, what's your question?

QUESTION: Hi, Mayor de Blasio. The nurses of the New York City public hospitals are very proud of the quality of care we give every single patient and for the fact that no one is turned away.

DE BLASIO: Yes.

QUESTION: We are really an example of Medicare for all. Under President Trump, we have been under constant threat of funding cuts. What efforts are you taking to ensure funding so that this great public system can exist and grow for the more than 1 million New Yorkers who count on it?

DE BLASIO: Judith, I really want to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you for what you do. It's such important work. It's really tough work. Can we just say thank you to Judith and all the nurses out there?

(APPLAUSE)

And our public hospital system was struggling for a long time. It really was. And I've got to tell you, with some support, with some investment, with some good new leadership, you're now part of a public health care system that has turned around, that is strong and solvent and moving forward and modernizing. And you and your colleagues have done an outstanding job bringing it forward every single day.

And one of the things we're doing now that's the exact opposite, you know, Donald Trump has spent his last three years trying to take away health care from millions and millions of Americans. I went in the opposite direction. I said until Washington finally acts, until we finally have a universal health care policy in this country that's worthy of the American people, we're going to do it ourselves, and you and your colleagues are in the vanguard because right now we are guaranteeing health care for any New Yorker who does not have health insurance. Guaranteeing it.

(APPLAUSE)

We're saying very simply, because we have these wonderful public hospitals and clinics, we are saying there should not be such a thing as a family that can't go to the doctor. We're giving people a health care card, we're saying we're going to assign you a primary care doctor, a family doctor in one of our public hospitals or clinics so you actually have some someplace to turn from the very beginning and get the care you need.

And you know what? That's going to finally end a phenomenon that's true in every city and town in America. It's one of the great open secrets in this country. Millions and millions of Americans only have one doctor, and that's the emergency room. That is the worst place and the last place people should ever have to go for health care, and it's one of the most expensive places. And guess who pays for it? Every single one of us.

So we're doing something very different. We're going to make sure people get health care from the beginning. It's actually going to save us a lot of money with folks not ending up in the emergency room, not ending up hospitalized because they got care when they needed it. And it's a beginning of showing this country that that's the way of our future.

There should not be such a thing as an American who doesn't have insurance or doesn't have health care. That should be a thing of the past. And, Ana, we talked earlier about Medicare for all. I just have to say something upfront. This idea that even in a lot of the Democratic Party debates, we're sort of arguing over, you know, well, we could get a little better here or a little better there. That's not what we should be talking about as Americans. We should talk about how every American gets quality health care, physical health care, mental health care, quality health care when they need it. That should be the goal of this country.

(APPLAUSE)

CABRERA: You still have to pay for it, though.

DE BLASIO: You do.

CABRERA: How will you pay for it?

DE BLASIO: OK. So, first, what we should do to pay for our federal government in general is repeal the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations.

(APPLAUSE)

And I guarantee you a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate, and that's gone, and we also put back something we should have never lost, which is tax deductibility for state and local taxes, which was here for 100 years. We need that back, as well. That's good for so many people in this audience and all over this country.

Now, another thing we do is recognize that our current health care system hemorrhages money to private insurance companies. This conversation, again, Ana, we've heard this, should we eliminate private insurance? I'm someone who believes private insurance has actually not helped us to get to universal coverage and has not helped people get a whole range of things.

Forget about physical health care. It's hard enough to get the physical health care coverage you need with a lot of private insurance. Mental health care is almost impossible to get. And then if you really want to talk about something wild and crazy, imagine if dental care were available in America? OK, I said it. I know it's radical.

But come no. Our health insurance system based on private insurance continually makes people ration. I'm not just talking low-income folks. I'm talking working-class folks and middle-class folks, too. Union members, non-union members. Everyone's rationed. And everyone's told no a lot of the time.

So I look forward to a day where we actually have a system that facilitates customer on a regular basis. I think if you say to the American people on how you pay for it, we'll have a system where you lose the premiums, no more premiums, no more deductibles. Who's been hit by a deductibles like a ton of bricks, right? Deductibles come out of nowhere, hidden payment. Co-pays. Out of pocket expenses. This is the American reality. It's a huge amount of money. And then you still don't get the health care you need.

You take away all of that in a universal system. Even if you ask people to pay toward it, they end up paying less than what they're paying right now. What they're paying now is way too much, and they're not even getting the care they need. That's how we can move forward and say, let's have a system that's universal. We'll ask something of everyone, but we'll especially ask of the wealthy, because the wealthy in this country for 40 years, the rich have gotten richer and paid less and less in taxes. It's time. And I have the most aggressive tax plan of any Democrat...

CABRERA: You want to go 50 percent, 60 percent, even 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans.

DE BLASIO: I do. And I'll tell you...

(APPLAUSE)

I'll tell you something, because wealth people -- I don't begrudge them. I just know a lot of them got wealthier and wealthier and wealthier because the federal government helped them every step of the way. That's the reality.

(APPLAUSE)

And that's been going on for 40 years. So it's time we even things up. The tax level I talk about in my tax plan, by the way, please go to billdeblasio.com and you'll see the tax plan. If you like it, chip in to help me get my message out going forward. That tax plan suggests we go back to the time of that radical socialist President Dwight D. Eisenhower who had a 70 percent tax rate on the wealthiest Americans. In my plan, it's $2 million and up, 70 percent.

And that was also the time in our history where we were investing the most in our people, investing the most in our public schools, investing the most in higher education, in science, in research, in infrastructure. The only reason this country's even working today was because those investments in the '50s and '60s got us this far. But they're all running out.

And the only way we're able to afford the kinds of things that will make this country work for people is if we ask the wealthy to finally pay their fair share in taxes.

By the way, a lot of independents agree with that, and even a lot of everyday Republicans agree with that. You'd find it to be much more popular than you might imagine if the Democrat was the one saying, oh, no, it's time for the wealthy to pay their fair share. That's a message that can actually win an election.

CABRERA: OK. We got to squeeze in another break. When we come back, more from CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Mayor Bill de Blasio. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Now, of course, immigration is a top issue in this campaign. So let's bring in Joy Yang, a student at New York University. Joy, what is your question?

QUESTION: Hi, Mayor.

DE BLASIO: Hey, Joy.

QUESTION: So wouldn't guaranteed right to health care, including for undocumented immigrants, only incentivize more undocumented immigrants to come to the United States?

DE BLASIO: Joy, I'm really glad you asked the question because a lot of people have it on their minds. So I want to start by describing what I think is our actual reality in this country that I think really honestly answers the question.

You know, the president likes to talk about a quote, unquote, "invasion." It's fear mongering and it stirs people up, and it is one of those things that reminds you, there never has been an invasion, there is no invasion today. What there is, is an American reality, 11 million, 12 million human beings who are here in this country who are part of our communities, part of our economy, if you remove those 11 million or 12 million people, our economy would ground to a halt.

And it didn't happen yesterday and it didn't happen five years ago. It's been going on for decades. So I think that this election might be the time to finally talk in an open, honest way about what's happening in America.

So once you say, OK, there's 11 million or 12 million people, they are not going to be deported. They should not be deported, in my view. I think that's wrong. I think that's inhumane. I think everyone should have to go through a process to become a citizen. I believe there should be comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. And I also believe there are some people, and they're very small in number, who have committed offenses and been convicted of crimes that delegitimize their ability to be in the United States.

But the vast, vast majority are people who are just working to make a living like generation after generation before them. What we should do is make sense of this American reality. Rather than try to curse the darkness, let's light a single candle.

And I say not only do we need that comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, we also need a guest worker program to recognize that huge swaths of America did not have enough people to do work that's needed for our economy, and we could make sense of that with a guest worker program, and we could have an open and honest conversation.

But to actually get to the heart of Joy's question, we have to acknowledge the really horrible politics underlying this, that for decades there's been an effort to demonize immigrants. It's been all about color. Remember, Donald Trump literally first day of his campaign attacked Mexican-Americans and described them as criminals, as an entire population.

So this has always been about race, and it should not be, but it has been. If we recognize that there's many, many people in this country who happen to be American citizens, many of them happen to be white, who they, themselves, are legitimately struggling, their American dream's not working out, they're economically challenged, the next generation is not doing as well as they hoped, they have a lot of debt, there's a lot of problems in their lives, they're frustrated. I don't blame them for being frustrated. But they've been told for years and years the immigrants did it to them.

And I want to be blunt about it. The immigrants didn't do that to you. Wall Street did that to you. The big corporations did that to you.

(APPLAUSE)

The guy in the kitchen or the guy in the fields didn't have the power to do that to you. Only those who had the power and the wealth could create an economy so unfair to working people and middle-class people.

So once we unmask that truth, and I think we should all speak that truth with energy, then we can answer the rest of the equation. Why do I think it's important to give health care to human beings who are part of our communities? Because they're human beings.

(APPLAUSE)

If you don't give them health care, they'll get sick, everyone else gets sick, and then they will seek health care, where, what we talked about before, in the emergency room, and guess who's going to pay for it, anyway? All of us. Why don't we stop the fiction and help our fellow human beings who are part of our American reality?

(APPLAUSE)

CABRERA: OK, Mayor. We have to take another break, but I want to get more questions in when we come back. You are watching CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Mayor Bill de Blasio. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

So this weekend, Mayor, you know President Trump is at the G7 summit in France. Russia's been excluded again this year. You have said Russia is, quote, "our number-one geopolitical threat." What is your plan to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

DE BLASIO: Thank you, Ana. I said that it was our number-one geopolitical threat for a very simple reason. Russia is trying to undermine our democracy. It's trying to derail the American system of government and literally trying to turn us against each other.

I mean, you know, if you think back to the bad old days of the Soviet Union, this was the kind of thing they would have loved, to get Americans at each other's throats, divided by region, or race, or ideology, so America would start to crumble. That's what they're doing, aided and abetted by the president of the United States. You couldn't make this up.

There is, however, in our arsenal of tools, Ana, we have a lot of power in this equation. Russia desperately wants to be recognized in the world as a global power. We have the ability to cut them off from all those forms of recognition they crave, like being in the G7. We have the ability to put economic sanctions on them that can truly undermine their economy, which is still very vulnerable. It's never built up the way it could have, and it's very vulnerable.

We have the ability to use our alliances to -- well, let me say it again -- restore our alliances, particularly the European Union, to cut off a lot of Russia's markets. The simple threat of cutting off their markets has tremendous power. And to do things where we have to more aggressively, like providing

arms to the Ukrainian government to help them defend themselves against the encroachment of Russia. There are many, many tools that we have.

Putin has succeeded in charming or creating an alliance with Trump, but he has not succeeded in developing a healthy country and a strong economy, and it's fragile in so many ways, but we need the United States of America to say to Russia, stop your interference not only in the United States, stop your interference in the democracies of Western Europe, or we will use every tool, the most powerful being the economic tools, the ones they fear the most, to stop them from ever being the successful economy they want to be.

CABRERA: And let's get back to the audience. I want to bring in Michael Akavan, a lawyer here in New York. Michael?

DE BLASIO: Hey, Michael.

QUESTION: Mr. Mayor, you governed as the mayor with a City Council from the same political party as you. If elected president, how are you going to get all of this key legislation like health care and other things you've talked about through a Senate that will likely be controlled by Mitch McConnell and Republicans, who don't necessarily agree they want those things passed?

DE BLASIO: Thank you, Michael. It's a very important question for me and for a lot of Democrats. So I will tell you one of the things I'm proudest of is pre-K for all the children in New York City, and that achievement happened because I was able to get the Republican State Senate then in our state capital to approve it, as well, not because they intended to, not because they liked me, because we built so much momentum, so much public demand that our children get a high-quality early childhood education that even Republican state senators were not able to say no to their constituents.

Now, I think there's a little lesson there that's true on a whole host of issues. We talked about gun safety legislation earlier, mental health. There's a host of issues where there are American majorities for change and Republican senators who are siding with Mitch McConnell are actually going against their own constituents.

What's missing in this equation? The leader of our country building those majorities up even stronger. As president, I would go, as I said, to these key states to fight for gun safety legislation. I'd go to those key states to fight for health care reform. I'd go to those key states to fight for early childhood education for all our children.

And these are things the American people want. So I think using the bully pulpit of the presidency, organizing on the ground, which has never been done by a recent American president, but was done brilliantly if you go back to the age of Franklin Roosevelt and others, they thought that was one of the key roles of a president. I think it can be done. I think there's a lot of these Republican senators there right on top of a very slim majority. And they're going to have to give, if they have to hear the voices of people energized and mobilized. And the president of the United States should lead the way.

CABRERA: OK, Mayor, thank you. We'll be right back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Mayor Bill de Blasio. Please, don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Welcome back. We are live from New York City for a CNN Democratic presidential town hall with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. And we have one final question of this evening from Matthew Peterson, a law student at New York University. Matthew, take it away.

QUESTION: Hi, Mayor.

DE BLASIO: Hey, Matthew.

QUESTION: I hope to have a Democratic nominee who has the strength and humbleness to understand that no one has a perfect political record and more importantly have the ability to publicly acknowledge a prior political shortcoming or evolution in opinion. Can you speak to a moment in your political career when you came to realize that the policy or political plan you were pushing was wrong and how you came to realize you needed to change your position? Thank you.

DE BLASIO: Thank you, Matthew. I think you're right. We all better be humble about who we are. And I just want to say, Ana, thank you and thank you to everyone here tonight for this great conversation and ask everyone, in you believe in the kinds of things I'm talking about, please go to my website, billdeblasio.com. Learn more and help me out so I can keep these messages on there.

But to your question, Matthew, it's on the issue of homelessness. It's a challenge all over this country. It's been a challenge here for decades. But when I started as mayor, I put policies in place I thought would work. And I've been very open about this. Some of them went in the right direction. Some really didn't see -- you know, we didn't see the reality well enough. And I had to acknowledge that.

And a couple of years ago, I came up with a brand new plan, entirely different approach, which is finally starting to bring down our shelter population, bring down our population of street homeless. This is a challenge all over this country.

But every one of us who are leaders, we have to know when we miss something. And one of the most important things -- I've done 65 town halls in New York City with the people of New York City, who I like to say are 8.6 million highly opinionated people. And some of who are here tonight.

You got to listen. And literally, every time I'm out with the people of my city, I hear something that I didn't think of or an idea or a critique. And as president of the United States, I would want to do the same exact thing, be able to say when there was something I tried that didn't work, but also remember to do the thing that often presidents forget to do: Keep going out to the people. Not for big, splashy rallies. For gatherings like this, to hear the voice of the people.

You know what? The American people are good. And they want to be unified again. And they want to move our country forward together. Listening to their voices is often the way to see the wisdom that we need to move forward.

Thank you, everyone.

CABRERA: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

DE BLASIO: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: Thank you so much for coming into this conversation. Thank you to our studio audience for all the questions tonight. Please tune in on Wednesday, September 4th, for an unprecedented event on the climate crisis. CNN will hold back to back town halls with 10 Democratic presidential candidates.

That does it for me. I'm Ana Cabrera. Thank you. The news continues next here on CNN.

[20:00:00]