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Tom Steyer, Democratic Presidential Candidate, Speaks at a Town Hall. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired November 10, 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]

KEILAR: Good evening from Iowa, and welcome to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with businessman Tom Steyer. I'm Brianna Keilar. And there are now only 85 days until the Iowa caucuses, and we are live here at Grinnell College as candidates go all-in to win this critical first state.

Tonight we're here with a candidate who's been calling for President Trump's impeachment for more than two years. Tom Steyer is a billionaire who made his fortune in finance and has spent millions pursuing impeachment and advocating for causes like combatting the climate crisis. Mr. Steyer will take questions from Democrats and independent Iowans who say they plan to participate in the Democratic caucuses.

Please welcome Tom Steyer.

(APPLAUSE)

STEYER: Hey, Brianna.

KEILAR: Welcome. So great to have you here in Iowa.

STEYER: Nice to see you. Nice to see you.

KEILAR: All right, shall we get to the questions?

STEYER: Let's go.

KEILAR: All right. Let's begin with David Isgrig. He is a retired school superintendent from Pleasantville, Iowa. David, what would you like to ask Mr. Steyer?

QUESTION: If the ultimate and ideal outcome in 2020 is to defeat Donald Trump at the ballot box, why should not all money, time, and energy go toward that end from now until the election, rather than toward impeachment proceedings that will leave him in office?

STEYER: Well, David, I started the Need to Impeach movement over two years ago to try and raise the voice of the American people. I thought we had the most corrupt president in history. I thought it was important as a matter of right and wrong that he be held to the same law that everyone else is held to. I've been pushing for the American people, and 8 million people signed our petition, to get to hear what he's done on televised hearings so we can decide right from wrong.

I really look at this as -- it is late, but I still believe that the proper thing here is for Washington, D.C., to hold him to account in the way that Americans have dragged the people in Washington to do the right thing and to see this as a matter of right and wrong in our democracy, not a matter of partisan politics, but a pure matter of patriotism.

And as you may know, my father was in the Navy, and he ended up prosecuting Nazis at the end of the war. And he told me, if there's something really wrong in the center of your society, you should fight it early and you should never give up fighting it, because it's important to protect the society from corruption and from cover-ups. And that's what I've been trying to do.

(APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: And as you know, Mr. Steyer, David's concern is shared by one of the two Democrats in the House who voted against the impeachment inquiry. He said, quote, "It will fail in the Senate. We are going to have the same president who will be able to say that he was exonerated, so I don't know how much we really gain from that." Are you concerned that the president may be able to use this impeachment effort to his political advantage?

STEYER: Well, let me say this. To me, what counts here, the court that counts is the court of public opinion, the American people. If we get a chance to see the corruption on TV, if we decide that he has to go across party lines -- Republicans, Democrats, and independents -- then I believe the elected officials, including the Republican senators in Washington, will have to bow to the will of the American people.

(APPLAUSE)

But let me -- let me say this. I agree. I'm running for president. I'm not running for president to impeach Donald Trump. I think it's time as president that we look forward and talk about what Democrats are going to do for Americans, the changes that have to come to look to the future and for the changes that we're going to bring to make this a better country and to stand up for working Americans across the land.

(APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: Our next question is from Winnifred Commers. She is a sophomore here at Grinnell College. Winnifred?

QUESTION: Mr. Steyer, your released tax returns reveal that you paid the same tax rate as a two-income family making $80,000 to $170,000 a year. If elected, how would you work to adjust the tax bracket so that billionaires like yourself pay their fair share of taxes? STEYER: So, Winnifred, over the past 40 years, under Republican

domination, there has been a rollback of taxes for the richest Americans and for the biggest corporations, and it's absolutely wrong.

[19:05:00]

And I would undo all of those tax cuts and, in fact, ask the richest Americans to pay their share.

In addition, over a year ago, long before I was running for president, I said there has to be a wealth tax, because not only is the income so unjust, so undemocratic, and so unfair, the distribution of incomes, the distribution of wealth across society is an absolute scandal. And I proposed a wealth tax as one way of both raising revenues to support the kind of programs that Americans need in terms of health care and education, but also to redress some of that incredible inequity.

And I've said, if Mike Bloomberg wants to run for president and wants to be the Democratic nominee, he has to embrace a wealth tax, because this inequity in our society is a critical problem. It's something that every Democrat has got to address and redress. And unless Mr. Bloomberg is willing to accept a wealth tax, I don't believe he can be an appropriate nominee for the Democratic Party, because going after this kind of inequity seems to me to be at the heart and soul of breaking the corporate stranglehold that exists in our democracy.

(APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: You mentioned Mayor Michael Bloomberg prepping for a run, a fellow billionaire. And he's received criticism from Senator Warren and Senator Sanders who have said he's trying to buy the election. This is criticism that you have faced from some of your fellow competitors. What do you say to the charge that you have essentially bought your position on the debate stage by spending $60 million in advertising?

STEYER: Look, I'd say a couple of things. First of all, I think the only thing that matters in this race for anybody is, do you have anything important to say that's different from other people and that resonates with Democratic primary voters? And are you then a trusted person to act on that going forward?

You know, I've spent 10 years fighting -- putting together coalitions of ordinary American citizens to fight this unchecked corporate power. But in addition, if you look at my history, when I went after climate, when I pushed to fight corporations, whether it's oil companies or utilities, or I was trying to block pipelines or new fossil fuel plants, I'd put in all my time, all my energy, my heart and soul, and my money. So if the worst thing that can be said about me is I put everything I had -- I put my money where my mouth was, when there was a real problem in America, I went after it with everything I had, that's not the worst thing you can say about me.

(APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: Bridget Toomey has the next question for you, Mr. Steyer. STEYER: Excuse me, what's...

KEILAR: Bridget Toomey.

STEYER: Bridget, nice to meet you.

KEILAR: She's the project manager for University of Iowa Health Care and she's also an advocate for cancer research. Bridget?

QUESTION: Hi. Politicians talk about the cost of health care by the way of insurance. However, changing the insurance model alone will not solve all of our issues. Many public hospitals and clinics are only able to keep their doors open because of the payments that commercial insurance companies make. Medicare and Medicaid alone will not keep our doors open at the current rates. What can you say to these hospitals and clinics to assure us that we'll be able to keep our doors open?

STEYER: So, Bridget, let's take a step back. I think everybody who's running for the Democratic nomination wants to do two things in terms of health care: They want to make sure that health care, affordable health care is a right for every American, and they want to drive down the cost of health care by going -- by using the power of the American government, the buying power, to drive down drug costs, drive down insurance costs, and drive down the cost of monopoly hospitals.

It's broken down -- this discussion in the Democratic primary has broken down into this question of, do you want Medicare for all, where we would scrap the existing -- the existing private insurance that people get specifically through their employers and go for everybody now has to get their insurance through the government? Or do you want to actually build on the system that's here, the Affordable Care Act, and provide a public option so that everybody has access to health care, but for the people who are getting private health care that you're referring to, they can continue to do that if they choose that.

I happen to be one of the people who believes in a public option, giving people the option basically of joining Medicare, but allowing 160 million people to make the decision for themselves. A lot of those are union workers who've worked and negotiated to get their health care through their employers.

[19:10:00]

And I don't think it's right for the government to tell them that we're going to scrap a 75-year-old system.

If you like it, keep doing it. If the public option is cheaper and better for you, then you can go to your employer and say pay me the money you're spending on my health care, I'll buy the public option. I think if we build on the system that we have now, the problem that you're talking about, in terms of being able to keep open clinics across the country, is going to be much easier to take care of, and it will be a much more gradual thing. We won't be taking the risk for 160 million Americans of changing everything about their health care and telling them do it our way or you're breaking the law. (APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: You're watching CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Tom Steyer. We will be back with more live from Iowa right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Tom Steyer. We are live from Grinnell College here in Iowa.

[19:15:00]

And Mr. Steyer, I want to bring in Dave Van Compernolle. He is an assistant attorney general for the state of Iowa. Dave, what is your question?

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Steyer, for coming to town. In your commercials, you credit your mom and dad for developing in you

a desire for public service. Can you explain more about when that manifested itself in you?

STEYER: Dave, in those commercials, I talk about the fact that my mom was a teacher. She taught -- she was from Minnesota, but she moved to New York and she taught in the New York public schools, and then she taught remedial reading in the Brooklyn House of Detention.

And my dad was from a family -- he was the first person, first generation in his family to go to college, and he became a lawyer, and then he quit the law to go into the Navy in World War II, which was something I think a lot of people did because they felt like the country was at risk. But because he was a lawyer, he ended up prosecuting Nazis at Nuremberg.

And their point was, they felt so lucky to be Americans that they felt if you're going to be a good American, you're going to give as much back to the country as they felt they'd gotten the great fortune, even as Depression and World War II babies, of having been born here and everything they got from the country.

So my feeling from the time I started was, I'm going to have to earn enough money to have a family. And we have four kids, who are now 31, 29, 27, and 25. And I'm going to feel responsible as a dad to make sure they're taken care of. And then I'm going to feel like I want to have a meaningful life. I'm somebody who believes in God and would like to feel as if my time on this planet has meaning and that it actually is about helping other people and preserving God's planet for the next generation and forever.

And so I got involved, really, starting when George W. Bush was president, and I realized, oh, my gosh, you know, this isn't going to turn out well. And so I worked really hard to make sure that he didn't get re-elected, and obviously that didn't work out.

(LAUGHTER) But then I realized there was a path and I started to get more and more involved. And then I took the Giving Pledge, to give more than half my money while I'm alive to good causes, and I walked away from my business and really started full time organizing of Americans to stand up for our rights against what I thought was unchecked corporate power.

So I feel as if it really was a continuum, Dave, or I always felt it, and then over time I realized it was possible and that it was necessary. And that's why I walked away from my business and did it full time because I felt like if I'm going to -- if there's a reason for me to be walking on the planet, I want to be part of a positive force in this country and a positive force on this planet.

(APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: Let's have a seat. You mentioned your parents, and I want to talk to you a little bit more about that. You've spoken obviously very proudly tonight about your father's work prosecuting Nazis at Nuremberg after World War II. In recent years, we've seen a resurgence in anti-Semitism. So given your family history, what is your reaction to this trend? And what would you do about it as president?

STEYER: Look, I don't think there's any question but that how a president acts is a guide for everybody in society. So when you look at what's happened since Mr. Trump has become president, there's been a spike in hate crimes. There's been a spike specifically in anti- Semitism. But there's been a spike across the board, for members of the LGBTQ community, against immigrants, and we've actually seen politically inspired violence, most recently in El Paso.

So I think that it's a question of both using the Justice Department to oversee it, and that's an easy thing to say, but I think that the way that you behave and the way that you treat people and the symbols that you give are incredibly important. And if there's one thing I know about the United States, look, this is country that set out to lead the world morally, and we started with gross injustice in that Constitution that was unfair to the majority of Americans.

And the actual triumph of America has been accepting more and more people as full human beings with protected rights against discrimination.

[19:20:00]

And that is something that we should be -- that progress is something we should be incredibly proud of and that we should want to continue at every step.

(APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: And you mentioned your mother, a teacher, and she was a formative figure in your life. She taught felons to read in a Brooklyn detention center, and she also used to wash your mouth out with soap. What is the most important thing that you learned from your mom?

STEYER: So my -- look, I'm sure everybody loves their mom. I mean, everybody loved my mom, including me. And what I loved about her the most was she was as brave as a lion and she loved the underdog. So she never -- when I asked her when she went to teach in prison, I said, Mom, are you scared of the prisoners? And she said, no, these are the exact same young men I've been teaching in the public schools for years. I love the prisoners, and they love me.

She was never scared. And when she -- when she died, you know, she had a pretty big funeral because people really loved her. And one of the people who gave a eulogy was a guy who'd been in the Navy with my dad and he'd been my dad's law partner probably for 30 or 40 years, and he was a conservative Republican. And my mom was, you know -- she was a pretty radical person. And he got up and he said, "You know, I never agreed with Marnie Steyer one time on anything, and I always loved her." That's my mom.

(APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: I want to bring in Kiran Loewenstein. She is a sophomore here at Grinnell College. She's a member of Iowa Students Action, which is a progressive advocacy group. Kieren, what's your question for Mr. Steyer?

QUESTION: In Iowa, higher education is in crisis. The Iowa Board of Regents hikes tuition year after year, shifting the burden of funding public universities onto students' backs. This model is being repeated at almost every public university system across the country, and it ain't right. How does your vision for free college ensure that states can't take educational rights away from students, especially formerly incarcerated and undocumented students?

STEYER: So, Kiran, I'm watching this -- I've been traveling around the United States -- I mean, as a presidential candidate just for the last four months, but as an activist and a grassroots organizer I've been traveling around this country full time for seven years. And what I've seen is exactly what you're talking about, and it is -- it sounds like an idea, but it's actual cruelty.

And I want to just put in words the way I'm seeing what you're experiencing, and that's this. The Republicans have a playbook. And the playbook starts with cutting taxes for the richest Americans and the biggest corporations. But the next step is always cutting education. It's cutting education and health care, because they say we don't have the money. And there isn't enough money because they just cut taxes, Kiran.

And so it sounds bloodless when they do it, but what you really see is people who don't have health care and therefore are going to be sick or die. And you have young people who can't afford to go to school or who are stuck with gigantic student debts. And so what you're seeing is, when you get around and talk to people the way we're talking right now, you see actual cruelty, willingness to hurt people for money.

And yet, if you think about what we're going to do as a society, how are we going to thrive, how are we going to be prosperous, how are we going to succeed in the 21st century, unless we're investing in people like you, investing in young people so you can reach your full potential?

I see quality public education from pre-K through college as a right, a fundamental...

(APPLAUSE)

... a fundamental constitutional right. Look, I'm talking about breaking a corporate stranglehold on our government. We are rich enough to afford that. We're rich enough to afford health care as a right, affordable health care as a right for every American.

There's something that's gone wrong in this society, and the government's broken. It's broken. Corporations have taken it over, and they're running it for themselves perfectly. And their taxes are lower, and that means all the burden on your education is going to fall on you, and that's not right.

And so we're going to have to break that corporate stranglehold. That's why I keep talking about term limits.

[19:25:00]

It's like, we're going to have to cut the cord between corporations and writing the laws and controlling the government. And when we do that, we're going to have quality public education as a right for every American, and it's going to be the best investment we can make, and it's going to make us more prosperous, and we're going to thrive in the 21st century as a result.

(APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: We will be back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer here in Iowa right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Tom Steyer, live from Grinnell College here in Iowa. And our next question is from Maddi Shinall. She is a freshman at Grinnell, and she currently supports Senator Elizabeth Warren. Mattie?

QUESTION: Climate change is an existential threat to us and our planet. Scientists warn that we need to take immediate action. If elected, what specific policies would your administration implement to help combat climate change?

[19:30:00]

STEYER: Maddie, I've said that climate is going to be my number-one priority.

(APPLAUSE) And -- and I think -- I think I'm the only person running for the Democratic nomination who will say that clearly. And in my opinion, if it's not number one, it's not going to get done. I've said I'd declare a state of emergency on climate on the first day and I'd use the emergency powers of the presidency to make changes immediately.

Because I agree with you. It's not just that it's a threat. It's a threat right now. It's getting worse. And we absolutely have to address it.

So I would -- the emergency powers of the presidency would enable me to determine how energy gets generated, how it gets used, how transportation is. I would ask Congress to pass some version of the Green New Deal in the first hundred days.

But let's be clear: Congress is 0 for 28 years in terms of climate legislation. So if we're counting on it happening in the first hundred days, I think it's unrealistic. When I say corporations have bought the government, it's not more clear any place but in terms of the lack of climate legislation. That's why I said, state of emergency, emergency powers of the presidency.

Let me say, I've spent over a decade working on this. I've spent over a decade fighting oil companies and beating them at the ballot box. I've led the charge for clean energy across the country at the ballot box. I've worked to stop pipelines. I've worked to stop fossil fuel plants. If you -- I mean, we're talking about the future, but you can look at my history and know that this is something that is an absolutely top priority for me.

But I want to say something else about climate. Yeah, we have to do it. Let me say something else. I've spent more than a decade -- I know that we can do it. I know when the American people choose to do something, nothing can stop us. We can definitely do this.

(APPLAUSE)

But I want to say the third thing. People are always asking me, how are we going to come together as a country? We're so divided. You know, we're so partisan. There's so much bad blood and vitriol. We have no choice in this but to lead the world to save the world. This country was built for this moment. We are literally going to have to save the world.

But you know what? It's going to be great, because it's going to give us a chance to create millions of jobs across this country, everywhere, well-paid union jobs. That's one thing. We're going to go into the communities where there is bad water, unsafe drinking water, unsafe air, and we're going to clean them up as part of this. A lot of those communities are low-income communities, black and brown communities, and we're going to go there and make sure that we redress that injustice.

(APPLAUSE)

But literally, Maddi -- literally, we're going to have to save the world. We're going to have to lead the world. This can't be done within the borders of the United States. Can't happen. So we're going to have a purpose again as a country. We are going to be a value-driven, moral leader of the world and undo everything that Mr. Trump has done to our reputation.

We're going to do what this country was designed to do, which is do the most, lead the world morally, and create a better future. We're going to be able to do it, and it's going to pull us together, because we're all going to have to do it.

And let me say one last thing. I don't fly private. I hope nobody else running for the Democratic nomination will choose to fly private. We're going to have to walk the walk all the way along the way, and we're going to have a much better future together, and we're going to create something that we're going to be proud of for the rest of our lives.

(APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: Mr. Steyer, this is Randall Renstrom. He's a professor of political and social psychology at Central College. Randall?

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Steyer, you propose using more national referendums in our politics here in the United States. However, we see in the United Kingdom that a national referendum on Brexit has thrown their nation into political chaos. Indeed, many times national referendums can produce results that are hard to reconcile with other national policies, initiatives, and priorities. So my question for you, wouldn't national referendums in the United States lead to similar problems as we see over in the United Kingdom?

STEYER: Randall, let me take a step back and just explain to people exactly a referendum is, because I'm that -- I mean, you're a professor of political psychology, so I'm sure you know really well, but I'm not sure everybody listening knows what a referendum is.

[19:35:00]

A referendum is basically a chance, if you get a certain number of signatures or meet some other hurdle, to put a law on the ballot, then have a vote, and if enough people vote for it, it passes and becomes law. It takes away the monopoly that the Congress has on passing federal legislation in the United States.

And so the question is, we have a broken government. You know, we have a government that literally cannot do the basics. We don't have comprehensive immigration reform. We have 11 million to 13 million people living undocumented in this country. We don't have comprehensive immigration reform. They don't have any legal status. They have no path to citizenship. They've been an average of 15 years. We aren't doing anything about gun violence, and we've all seen these horrible mass shootings for years or decades.

So the question is, if we have a broken government, and we're going to have to have structural change to get back the government that will serve the people, the question we're going to have to ask ourselves is, who do you trust? Do you trust the American people to solve it or somehow do you trust the politicians to somehow act differently than they have for the last couple of decades?

And so my answer on this is, I do think that it has to be done carefully. I do think the rules are important. But I trust the American people. I've traveled around this country. I've talked to people. I believe Americans are decent, brave, and compassionate.

And if we're going to break this stranglehold that these corporations have on our government, to me the answer is going to be more democracy, giving power directly to the people, the kinds of things -- breaking up structurally, including getting rid of the idea that corporations are people.

(APPLAUSE)

Look, we're going to have to make some changes. And as Randall points out, there's some risk to any change. But what we have right now is so broken that we're going to have to do something differently. And I'm going to trust the American people. And we're going to design it in a way to try and make it as careful as possible, but they're going to have to make structural changes.

KEILAR: And we'll be right back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Tom Steyer, live from Iowa. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:41:23]

KEILAR: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Tom Steyer. We are live on the campus of Grinnell College in Iowa.

I want to ask you about your campaign, because it has recently sparked some controversy with two episodes involving your staff, as you are well aware. An advisor to your South Carolina campaign resigned after accessing volunteer data that was collected by Senator Kamala Harris' campaign, and then another aide here in Iowa also resigned after a report that he offered money in exchange for endorsements. What is your message to voters who might be concerned that your -- about how your campaign operation is being run?

STEYER: Look, Brianna, I've started organizations, business organizations, grassroots organizations, and now this campaign. And unauthorized things happen. And the question is, what are you going to do about them? And in both those cases, we did exactly what I think is appropriate. We went in, we figured out what happened, we took action. No laws were broken. Nothing actually happened. But improper things occurred. And so as a result, people resigned.

That's exactly what you look for in an organization, that you have rules that are enforced by the organization, and when something that's not proper occurs, you deal with it with the highest possible integrity. You have -- you actually walk the walk of doing the right thing, and then you move on. And that's exactly what happened here. Things will happen you don't expect. And the question is, how do you deal with them? My rule is you deal with them with the utmost integrity.

(APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: This is Jessica Dillon. She is a financial adviser. Jessica?

QUESTION: Hello.

STEYER: Hi.

QUESTION: Social Security benefits have become increasingly important to American workers as traditional pensions have disappeared and as many Americans haven't saved enough for retirement. What are your plans to ensure Social Security benefits for future generations? And how do you plan to get the bipartisan support needed to pass the legislation?

STEYER: So, Jessica, what you're saying is a really important point, because I know that three-quarters of all seniors look to Social Security as their major source of support. And Social Security is a promise that America has made to our seniors that we're going to support them with payback from the money that they've put into the system over decades.

Great countries don't break their major promises to their citizens. So as far as I'm concerned, under all circumstances, we're going to live up to that promise. I think the way that we're going to end up doing it is by raising the limit at which people are paying into the system so that there's more money, so that we'd avoid the default.

But let me say, this system would not be in default if, in fact, the surpluses that existed for decades had been saved and invested. So, in fact, I don't think there is any question but that we absolutely have to live up to our word to seniors. There's a way to do it that I think is fair that involves raising the limit, which I think now is $132,000 a year at which people pay into the system.

But I think there's no question here that it can't be allowed to fail, that Americans rely on it. We've given our word as a country, and our word has to be good.

(APPLAUSE)

[19:45:00]

KEILAR: This is Tommy Hexter. He is a junior here at Grinnell, and he's also the cofounder of Grinnell College Farmhouse. Tommy?

QUESTION: Thanks for the shout-out.

(LAUGHTER)

Good evening, Tom. Right now, one in seven children in the United States lives with hunger. Meanwhile, right here in Iowa, the proclaimed breadbasket of America, the federal government subsidizes the production of corn and soy, crops that primarily feed cars, cattle, and the wallets of seed company executives, not humans. Our current food system is clearly unsustainable, and yet no candidates are really talking about it.

How you will encourage a transition from corporate profit maximizing, environmentally degrading agribusiness to true, sustainable, community-based agriculture that takes food from farm to school cafeterias?

(APPLAUSE)

STEYER: So, Tommy, I don't know if you know this, but in California, which is the state where I'm from, Kat Taylor and I have worked at something called California Food for California Kids, which is exactly what you're talking about. It's farm to table in the public schools. It's cutting out the middlemen and delivering healthy food to public schoolkids, specifically public schoolkids who have free and reduced lunches.

We do it -- California provides a billion meals a year in the public school system, and we're in schools that provide over 300 million meals a year. The idea that in a country this rich we could not be providing adequate, healthy food to our young people is absolutely wrong.

And I can tell you, I know it exists, Tommy, and I can tell you a story. A year ago, I was in North Carolina organizing right before the election last year in 2018. We did -- the organization I started, NextGen, did the largest youth voter mobilization in American history last year.

(APPLAUSE)

But I was in a meeting with just a roundtable with maybe 10 of our young student organizers, and there was a 20-year-old young woman, African-American, sitting on my left, and I said, what are the big issues? And I know the big issues. The big issues are health care, cost of college, climate, and racial justice. Her answer was food insecurity.

And I said, does that mean a food desert? She said, no, we're hungry. And I checked it out at the food bank: 18 percent of the people in a 32-county area around UNC Greensboro are hungry. That's not OK.

When we look -- that's what I was trying to say earlier. It's not OK in the richest country in the history of the world that young people are going hungry. This is -- the government has to address this. I don't think people understand their food banks and the colleges, young people are going hungry, and it's leading to terrible outcomes, including health. That's exactly why we did California Food for California Kids. And that's what I believe in: delivering healthy food so kids can perform and so they can be healthy long term.

(APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: And stay right there. We'll be right back with more from Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, live from Iowa. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:52:37]

KEILAR: Welcome back. We are live in Iowa for a CNN Democratic presidential town hall with Tom Steyer, who is here with us.

You mentioned earlier that you wanted to have purpose in your life. So that brings me to a question now about your faith. As you neared 40, you became more involved in your local Episcopalian church and you had what you've actually described as a revelation. Tell us about that and tell us how it changed how you live your life.

STEYER: Well, it's a funny, because my father was Jewish and my mother was a really religious Episcopalian. And so I grew up kind of understanding about both, learning about both, but being uncommitted. And I think that it was having kids and then having a good friend who was an Episcopal priest that got me going to church every Sunday. And then it really changed everything about how I thought about life, you know, what I was doing every day. And so it really reordered how I thought -- what I was going to do during the week, what had meaning for me, what I cared about, what brought me great joy.

And so I don't believe everyone has to be religious. I don't -- but I do think that everybody should be trying to have a meaningful life and to hook into what I think of as the positive life force, however you choose to do it. You know, I have a friend who says, GOD, "Great Out Doors." When my Mom was dying, I said, Mom, you know, how do you feel about this? And she said, I find more of God in music than I do in church. And she's someone who'd been to church every Sunday and was on the vestry.

So, really to me the question is, it's a place for me to find my values, to try and understand in a broad sense the purpose of being on this planet, and it brings me great joy.

(APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: I want to bring in Lynn Cavanaugh. I want to get in this question from here. She's a retired elementary schoolteacher. Lynn?

QUESTION: Mr. Steyer, thanks again for agreeing to come to Grinnell College in our small town of Grinnell. We appreciate hearing your ideas. I just have a short question for you. What political figure is your role model? And tell us why.

STEYER: Well, let me say this.

[19:55:00]

What I believe is the biggest thing that anybody in politics can do is to re-explain the world when a country is lost. And whoever -- and I'm going to answer your question, but every -- whoever you're thinking in your head, it isn't the best executive, it's not the person necessarily who is the best talker. It's the person who can explain the world in a new way so it makes sense again. So, you know, whether I look at it and say, Abe Lincoln, he re-

explained what it was to be an American, Churchill, he re-explained the role of England in the world. So to me, I look at Nelson Mandela. He re-explained what it was to be a human being on the planet.

(APPLAUSE)

And do I have time to say one more thing?

KEILAR: Unfortunately, no. But thank you so much, Mr. Steyer. We really appreciate you being here. We also want to thank our audience here at Grinnell College.

You can tune in tomorrow for another CNN Democratic presidential town hall with former Vice President Joe Biden here at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Don Lemon hosts a special look at the impeachment inquiry after this break.