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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Town Hall with Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 24, 2020 - 22:00   ET

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


[22:00:00]

(APPLAUSE)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back to CNN town hall event, everyone. Live from Charleston, South Carolina. I am Don Lemon. And good evening from Memminger Auditorium. We are excited to have you here. In just a few days voters here are going to put their stamp on the 2020 race. But first they're going to get to ask the candidates all the questions they want tonight. We have just heard from Senator Bernie Sanders who is fresh off a dominant win in Nevada.

Now let's welcome the South Bend, Indiana, mayor -- the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor, Pete Buttigieg.

Welcome.

(APPLAUSE)

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), FORMER SOUTH BEND, INDIANA, MAYOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good to see you.

LEMON: Good to see you. How are you doing?

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you. Thank you.

LEMON: Mayor Pete, the crowd loves you, we can see. You were -- they loved you in Indiana. They loved you in Iowa. They loved you in New Hampshire. You ran neck in neck-and-neck with Senator Bernie Sanders there. But he pulled away from you guys in Nevada. And -- where he was a clear front-runner. Tomorrow night on the debate stage you're going to have the chance to stop his momentum. How are you going to do that?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, by making the case for how we will defeat Donald Trump. Look, I believe in a politics that brings as many people in as possible. I believe in calling people into the tent, not calling them names online. And it's going to be more important than ever that we build a coalition that can invite people, not just fellow die-hard Democrats, but independents.

I'm even seeing what I call future former Republicans who are not going to agree on me on everything, but they're disgusted with what's going on in this White House. You don't have to be a liberal Democrat to have trouble looking your kids in the eye and explaining this president to them.

But in order to do any of that, we have to be building a kind of politics that's about that inclusive victory, not about a rigid ideology. And if we have ever had an election that America cannot afford for us to lose, it's this one. So that's the case that I'm going to be making. And at the end of the day, most Democrats are looking for a different answer than what Senator Sanders is offering.

LEMON: OK. I have to be honest. You are being awfully polite. Because you have said that Senator Sanders is polarizing and inflexible. But -- you said that he was toxic, divisive, and polarizing, I should say, excuse. You don't still believe that?

BUTTIGIEG: No, I stand by everything that I have said about this. Look, I respect Senator Sanders. I've enjoyed getting to know him. But the reality is the politics he is offering is one that says, if you don't agree with me 100 percent of the time, you don't even belong at my side. It is about whose help you reject.

And at a moment like this, where we have such terrible division emanating from the White House, I don't think that it makes sense to match it with a different form of division. And we see that in the tone and the tenor of his campaign and its supporters.

LEMON: Chris Cuomo just asked him about that earlier, and he called your critique total nonsense. What do you think about that?

BUTTIGIEG: I'm sure he did. I think he's wrong. Look, there's just two fundamentally different ideas about how we're going to deliver the change that we need and how we're going to beat this president. And mine is about drawing people in, not beating people over the head, telling them, you know, you don't agree with me on everything, you're not ready to go all the way out to this extreme, then you don't even belong in this movement.

That's not how I see politics. It's not how I see defeating Donald Trump.

LEMON: All right. Let's move on now. I'm going to bring in Shannon Eaves now, a history professor at the College of Charleston. She is currently undecided. Shannon?

QUESTION: Good evening, Mayor Buttigieg. As a presidential candidate, why should people of color, women, and especially women of color like myself trust you? What steps have you taken to truly understand the systemic forces that work against these people on a day-to-day basis? And what will you do as president to chip away at systemic racism, sexism, and reduce the impact they have on these groups' interactions with law enforcement and government entities?

(APPLAUSE)

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you, Shannon. So let me begin by acknowledging that asking

[22:05:00] a woman of color for her vote, asking you for your vote is a lot to ask. I mean, it is a lot to ask anyone for their vote, but women of color have been the backbone of this campaign -- of Democratic campaigns, and of this party.

And, you know, this is a vote that has been won within living memory. So it's not just expressing a political preference. It is something that was earned with blood and sweat and tears. I recognize that and I'm humbled by that.

I'm also humbled by the knowledge of the experiences I don't have. When you talk about how to try to get that understanding, I recognize that I will never have the experience of being in an emergency room, for example, as has happened to so many black women, and have my description of being in pain not believed, which is one of the reasons why black women are three times as likely to die from complications related to childbirth as white women.

Just as I won't have the experience that so many black men have, young black men in particular, of being presumed to be dangerous, just feeling eyes on them as you walk down the street or through a mall just because of the color of your skin by people who don't know you. I recognize that I don't have that lived experience.

And so the question becomes, what can I do to try to reach out to those who do and invite them to shape the vision of my campaign, and invite them into shaping the vision of the White House I propose to build.

So, for example, our plan for dealing with systemic racism, we call it the Frederick Douglass Plan. I believe we need to take as much intention as went into the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe and do it right here at home. Dismantling the effects of systemic discrimination in everything from the need for greater economic empowerment for black Americans, to housing, health, criminal justice reform, education, voting itself, all of this is connected.

Now this plan is the most comprehensive put forward by any presidential campaign as an agenda for black America. And I'm proud of it. I think it's brilliant. But it's not like I sat in a room and wrote it up. The reason that it's so good is that it was shaped by black voices, and in particular dealing with the intersection of sexism and racism. These ideas were shaped by those who lived that. And that is what we need to do in the White House as well.

This is not going to get better on its own. And you can't just cross out a racist policy and replace it with a neutral policy and expect things to get better. If we want to get that wealth gap that has been talked about addressed, you can't just expect it to get fixed on its own. It's why we need to proactively co-invest in black-owned businesses.

And when I talk to owners of, in particular, businesses owned by black women, disproportionately they say they weren't able to get bank financing. When -- I always ask it when I see a small business led by the black women who have the best track record of creating opportunities for others. And I ask them, how did you get up and running? They almost always say cash because of these problems in our credit market that systematically make it harder for black entrepreneurs to make it.

We could change that. And we have to change that. It's same with criminal justice. This is a systemic problem that I have been humbled by. The ways in which we have a long way to go in my own city where I was mayor for two terms are well known. And they have demonstrated to me that nothing will get better without a systemic approach.

And it can't just be one person. To me, the biggest lie this president ever told was when he took that stage at the inauguration and he said, I alone can fix it. I think nobody this side of paradise can fix anything alone. And that will be at the heart of my determination to include the voices of those whose experience I cannot understand from my own life, like the black women who are so systemically harmed by the inequities in this country.

LEMON: But let me follow up on that, because, you know, we are in South Carolina. And in 2016, 60 percent of the Democratic voters were African-Americans. You don't have long, you have got five days here to show African-Americans and to get their support. Why you? What do you want African-Americans in this state, Democratic voters to know about you to win them over? What do you want them to know?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, it's not just what's in my plan. Again, I believe my plans are the most comprehensive for dealing with the effects of systemic racism. But it is my determination to make sure that we actually win so that we can deliver on those plans.

I know that nobody is feeling the pain of living under the presidency of Donald Trump more than Americans of color. And so many voters I talk to are laser-focused on making sure we defeat this president. And this is our only shot. I have the campaign best positioned to do that if, of course, we earn that support and earn that vote. And that's what I'm determined to do.

[22:10:00]

And I want every -- in particular, black voters who, again, have been through so much to secure the vote and who have felt their vote taken for granted so often, I want you to know, I understand that I am not entitled to it. And as somebody who has the benefit neither of -- decades of experience so you can see good, bad, and indifferent, what I've been like for decades, nor the benefit of billions of dollars to get my message out, I understand that all I can do is stand before you in all humility and share what's on my heart as well as what's in my plans.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: All right. Rikki Davenport is standing right there. Rikki is a middle school social studies teacher. She is currently undecided but she's leaning towards you. Rikki?

QUESTION: Good evening. How does being the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, prepare you to be the leader of the entirety of the United States of America? And how will you compensate for your lack of experience in some of the key issues facing America?

BUTTIGIEG: Yes. So, it is a leap for anybody to pursue the American presidency. And yet every single person who has done it has been immortal, with a certain amount of experience. Many have been senators. And I don't think I'd get that question, of course, if I were a senator.

And yet, you can be a senior senator in our country and have never in your life managed more than 50 people, depending what you were doing before. I believe that while there's no job like president, there's also no job like mayor. When you're a mayor, you are in an arena where you don't just get to talk about issues, you don't just have to try to make sure you vote correctly on them, you are accountable for results for everything, good, bad, and ugly that goes on in your community.

And what we were able to do in my community was take a city that was being described as dying just a decade ago and guide it out of the legacy of the factory closures that had defined the life of our city and into a brighter future. We took action on racial inequities. We cut black unemployment and black poverty faster than what was happening at the national average.

We took action on preparing our city for a better future. And there's one other thing I would say about the relevance of being mayor, which is, when you're a mayor, you're a walking symbol of the unity of your city. You never forget that it is your responsibility to call together everybody who is part of the community even those, especially those, who didn't support you politically.

That is also the part of the presidency whose absence is costing us so much under Donald Trump. I believe we need the instincts of a mayor to start getting Washington to work a little more like our best-run cities and towns before the reverse starts happening.

And I also recognize that, again, nobody does anything alone. One of the first things you learn as a mayor when you are building your administration is that you need to surround yourself with people who have the relevant experience. I never want to be the smartest person in the room on any subject. And I will always want people who are smarter than me at whatever it is I'm asking them to take charge of.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: Standing to your right, right there, is Austen Williams. She is a Charleston native. She won the title of Mrs. America back in 2014. She is now the president and executive director of an anti- human trafficking non-profit. She is currently undecided. So you have the chance to win her over. Austen?

BUTTIGIEG: All right.

QUESTION: Hi, Mayor Pete. Welcome to Charleston.

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.

QUESTION: This town hall is in the heart of downtown Charleston. But this is not the downtown Charleston I grew up in just about seven blocks away from here. Charleston is filled with working class families, many whom are being pushed out and priced out. displaced as gentrification spreads in our area.

This happens all over the country, especially in brown and black neighborhoods. And I'm wondering, what will you do in order to protect families from being displaced and priced out of their homes?

BUTTIGIEG: Well -- thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

BUTTIGIEG: This is an example of one of those issues that I was talking about of racial justice that won't get better without intention and resources. This isn't just going it happen. And by the way, we should remember that a lot of the racial segregation of American neighborhoods happened because of federal policy. The racial discrimination in access to subsidies for housing, for example.

So there is an obligation to proactively do something about this. And yet what we have under this administration, under President Trump is the reverse. They actually gutted things like the rule that the Obama administration set up on ensuring that communities affirmatively furthered fair housing.

We would reinstate that and I am proposing a 21st Century Homestead Act as part of the Douglass Plan. Unlike the original Homestead Act that largely led to the dispossession of Native Americans, this would be about addressing the situation where you have got families, mostly black and brown families that got red-lined into certain neighborhoods, only to face being gentrified right back out of them once the prices go up.

And that is why I believe we need federal dollars to allow families who are from historically excluded communities to take title of properties in those communities and hold those neighborhoods in their original character. Again, this is something we have seen in our own community where public safety, in my view, depends as much as on making sure that the neighbors who have been in those homes and in those neighborhoods have a chance to stay there as anything that a police department can do.

[22:15:00]

It's why we directed home repair dollars to disproportionately black neighborhoods in the city of South Bend, knowing that it could make a difference for the stability and character of the neighborhoods. We've got to have a higher than ever level of intention -- and, again, real dollars -- in order to address this federally, too.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: I want to bring in Paige Bressler, an assistant accounting professor at the College of Charleston. She's originally from Parkland, Florida. She moved to Charleston two years ago, and she is leaning toward supporting you or Vice President Biden but hasn't decided.

Paige?

BUTTIGIEG: Hi.

QUESTION: My son Jack is currently a senior at Stoneman Douglas High School. It was just two years ago I received the kind of news no parent ever wants to hear. Seventeen people were killed as a result of a mass shooter.

If you're elected as president, what steps are you going to take to assure me and other parents that our children are safe when they attend school?

And how do your plans differ from those of the other candidates?

(APPLAUSE)

BUTTIGIEG: Well, thanks for your question. And no parent should ever go through getting a phone call like that. And no student should be worrying about this, the way that so many students across America are.

I got a letter from a 14-year-old saying that she's already written out a basic will. Because she's just that afraid that her next day at school might be her last.

It's hard enough to be in high school without worrying about those kinds of things. And I think everybody old enough to vote or hold a position of responsibility should be handling and taking care of those things so that -- so that students don't have to even begin to worry about them.

I mean, this is basic.

(APPLAUSE)

So what does that look like? Well, first of all, let's look at background checks. This is something that the vast majority of not just Democrats by independents, Republicans, gun owners, think we ought to do. Because it's common sense. And when we do it, we should do it with an attention to the kind of loopholes, like the Charleston loophole, that allowed the shooter to get a firearm in the horrible killing at Mother Emanuel Church, where, if the background check doesn't come back quickly enough, they just give you the firearm.

We have to act on that. And the fact that we haven't shows how broken our politics is and is one of many reasons we need to get rid of the filibuster. That's one of the things that I believe that's different from some of my competitors.

I believe that we need red flag laws that can help us deal not only with gun violence in the form of mass shootings and killings but also suicide, which so many gun suicides are preventable. But we need to empower families who have a concern about somebody to

temporarily disarm them through a court order.

And when it comes to assault weapon, anything remotely resembling the kind of weaponry I trained on in order to go serve in Afghanistan has no business being sold for profit anywhere near an American school or church or neighborhood.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: Laura Lee Worrell is a project manager at the College of Charleston and is currently undecided.

Laura Lee?

QUESTION: Good evening. What can you say to diehard Trump supporters to try to convince them that you are better for this country and for them instead of Trump?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I guess it depends how diehard they are.

(LAUGHTER)

We're -- look, we're not going to win over everybody. But I also think there's an opportunity to bring a lot of people back into the Democratic Party. Again, this is where I view things differently from Senator Sanders.

I believe that we can be true to our progressive values and be inviting to a lot of people who feel politically without a home right now. And part of what I would point to is that this president got elected pretending to care about the forgotten people.

Remember that whole thing about the forgotten men and women, trying to make himself a champion of the working class?

And the only economic promise he's kept was cutting taxes on corporations, benefiting the extremely wealthy. He's saying that the economy is perfect because the Dow Jones is looking good, although we're seeing that that's, maybe, not going to last with this global outbreak.

But here's the thing. For most Americans, including a lot of working class Americans who voted for this president, it doesn't do any good to have the stock market going up if you're not seeing it in your paycheck, or your paycheck going up is not nearly as fast as the cost of health and prescription drugs and saving for retirement and college and housing.

This is not an economy that's working for most of us. And when I'm president, we're going to take the measure of a good economy, and it's not going to be the stock market. It's not even going to be the GDP. It's going to be the income growth of the 90 percent.

These are the issues that I think are going to affect...

(APPLAUSE)

... the everyday lives of people who may have been taken in by this president once but don't have to do that again.

[22:20:00]

And the other thing I would say to anybody who voted that way is this president does not respect you. This president thinks you're a sucker.

(APPLAUSE)

He thinks that you will support him while he and his friends are laughing all the way to the bank.

(APPLAUSE)

Let's do something different, and let's do it together.

LEMON: Wow. All right.

(LAUGHTER)

And we're going to be right back with more from former Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: All right. We are live from Charleston, South Carolina, with former Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Mayor, I have to ask you about this. Senator Sanders has been criticized for remarks tjhat he made praising a literacy program during Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba. He stood by those comments last hour.

Here's what he said. He said, "You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing."

Do you think that's a fair assessment?

BUTTIGIEG: So this is part of what I'm getting at, when I say that, in our one shot to defeat Donald Trump,

[22:25:00]

we should think carefully about the consequences of nominating Senator Sanders.

I don't want -- as a Democrat, I don't want to be explaining why our nominee is encouraging people to look on the bright side of the Castro regime, when we're going into the election of our lives.

We need to stand unequivocally... (APPLAUSE)

... against dictatorships everywhere in the world.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: And so you don't think that's a good excuse? He says he thinks he's a dictator, but literacy is a good thing. There's no nuance to that?

BUTTIGIEG: Why are we -- of course literacy is a good thing, but why are we spotlighting the literacy programs of a brutal dictator instead of being unambiguous in our condemnation about the way he has treated his own people?

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: So, Mayor, you have been making the case that you're the strongest alternative to Senator Sanders. The former vice president, Joe Biden, has been doing the same thing. Senator Amy Klobuchar has been doing the same thing. Former Mayor Bloomberg has been doing the same thing as well.

The voters have yet to coalesce around you and the top challenger -- as a top challenger to Sanders. Have you spoken with any of your rivals about uniting around a single non-Sanders alternative?

BUTTIGIEG: No.

(LAUGHTER)

But I'll tell you why I'm the best...

LEMON: I was going to say, do you want to elaborate on that?

(LAUGHTER)

BUTTIGIEG: I'm the best alternative to Senator Sanders because I'm the only one who's beat him this year -- anywhere.

(APPLAUSE)

We have put together a campaign that has a different way of approaching politics, that has drawn together people across ideological spectra and in different kinds of communities and stand the best chance not only of defeating Senator Sanders but -- if we can unify as a party -- but of defeating President Trump in the fall.

LEMON: But -- but if you're concerned about that -- honestly, if you're concerned about that, you're -- we're coming up on Super Tuesday. You're coming up on South Carolina. If -- he's going to be hard to defeat if he continues to gather the number of delegates and there are still people who are in there and you are somehow -- you know, you're all fighting for that moderate lane. He's going to continue to gather those delegates. BUTTIGIEG: Look, of course I think it would be beneficial if

everybody else were to drop out and support, say, my campaign. But I'm -- I'm not stupid. I mean, that's not going to happen. We are competing. And our job is to make sure that we run strongest of all.

LEMON: All right. Thank you for that.

I want to bring in Jah'Juan Bess. He's a student at Claflin University in Orangeburg. He is currently undecided but leaning towards supporting you.

Jah'Juan?

QUESTION: Good evening, Mayor Pete.

BUTTIGIEG: Hi.

QUESTION: Time and time again, we have seen politicians bail out large corporations. Do you support other candidates' plans to help out the middle class and wipe out the debt of the millions of middle- class Americans drowning in student loan debt?

And what is your plan to make college more affordable?

BUTTIGIEG: Great question. And...

(APPLAUSE)

And thanks for that. Because this is personal for us. You know, I don't know if you saw -- they did a Forbes magazine ranking of all the candidates ranked by personal wealth. I'm the least -- married to a teacher, and we have a lot of student debts. So this is personal.

Here's what I think we can do about it. First of all, on the front end, we should make college more affordable. Now, my plan would make it free at public colleges for the first 80 percent of Americans, and expand Pell Grants.

I just think that -- and then there would be, kind of, a sliding scale. I do think, if you're in that top income bracket, you should be paying your own tuition. And that's one area where I'm different from Senator Sanders.

(APPLAUSE)

Because we can use those dollars for other things.

I also believe that, on the back end, for those who have debt, we should expand the program for loan forgiveness for those who go into public service.

It's on the books now. Maybe some of you have tried to take advantage of that public service loan forgiveness program. It's a great idea...

(APPLAUSE) ... almost impossible to actually take advantage of. You've got to go 10 years before you get any benefit at all. A lot of loan types don't even count. We could change that. We could make it more user- friendly. We could make it easier to qualify.

And I would expand what counts as public service. Because if you're, for example, providing mental health services in an under-served area, I think of that as public service, whether you're technically working in the public sector or not.

Those are some of the steps that we can take to get student debt under control and to make sure that this is a country that can actually deliver opportunity and where cost is never a barrier to somebody who seeks to go to college.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: Ian Braddock is a Marine Corps veteran and a current student at the College of Charleston. He is an intern for South Carolina Congressman Joe Cunningham and he is a supporter of yours.

There he is right there. Ian?

(APPLAUSE)

BUTTIGIEG: Hi.

QUESTION: Mr. Mayor, good evening.

Mr. Mayor, I'm a Marine Corps veteran who left the service in 2018. When I was on active duty and since I was honorably discharged, I've had fellow Marines commit suicide and know of other countless servicemembers who have taken their own lives, sometimes in V.A. parking lots.

[22:30:00]

What specifically will you do if elected president to help prevent this pandemic from continuing and continuing to save the lives of fellow servicemembers like you and me?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, thank you for serving. And you're right, it is unacceptable that fellow servicemembers, people you and I served with, made it home from a deadly conflict but didn't survive here at home. And to lose somebody after they have returned home is such a failure on the part of America to keep its promise to our veterans.

And this is -- you know, the services we provide veterans, this is not doing anybody a favor. This keeping a promise. Because when you put your right hand up and make your oath, that is a blank check you're writing to the United States of America. In return the United States of America agrees that it will support you, not just while you're on active duty, but for the rest of your life.

Now, we've got a lot of work to do to deal with the shortage of professionals in the V.A. when it comes to mental health and to speed up the ability to hire people. We've got to true up the clinical pay, because it's not always competitive with what you can get outside of V.A. And we need to make the hiring process a lot simpler.

We got to do a much better job of linking the medical records that you and I had on the active duty side to the V.A. side. They're two systems that are barely talking to each other. And that's why I believe that the position for coordinating that information flow ought to sit in the White House, because then you know they're going to get their calls returned.

And we also have to build up a culture broadly for veterans, yes, but for the country as a whole, where it's OK to talk about mental health struggles before they become deadly. It has got to become as normal and as acceptable to talk about a struggle with depression or bipolar disorder or addiction as it to talk about fighting cancer or having a knee surgery coming up. That's a cultural shift that the president can lead.

(APPLAUSE)

And the president's got to lead that in particular when it comes to the culture of our military, because as you know, there's rightly a culture around physical fitness. Right? So much attention is paid on the shape you're in from the neck down. Now we got to make sure that we're looking after our servicemembers up here, as well.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: Mayor, you served. What did you witness personally about this?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, suicide has, unfortunately, impacted units that I've served in. And, again, it's -- for the rest of somebody's life, they could be at risk, often for service-connected issues.

And, by the way, there are also some, especially from a prior generation before we really understood what we do now, about things like post-traumatic stress, it's always been there, but it didn't always have that name. Who got discharged with bad paper -- in other words, dishonorable discharges -- is because of issues that are actually directly related to their service. It's why we've got to go back and take care of those bad paper discharges, too.

LEMON: But on the personal level, about the stress of service.

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, I mean, look, I had the easiest possible situation to come back to, in the sense that I had a job waiting for me and I had a community that was incredibly supportive. And even for me, it was tough.

Part of it is, of course, coming to terms with the danger you were exposed to. And just to be clear, it's not like I was a Navy SEAL, but there were a lot of moments when I felt my life was in danger, when the rocket alarm went off on our base. And it's also just this shift from this environment where it's so

intense and you have this sense of community and identity and purpose, and then it just changes so abruptly. And it's hard for anybody. And it took months for me to realize that I was personally very much affected by that disruption and to come to terms with it. And so many go through that. And we have to support them as they do.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: John Kraska is a president of an investment banking firm. He supports you. John?

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question.

BUTTIGIEG: Hi.

QUESTION: You spoke earlier about how your mayor experience would prepare you for the presidency. My question is, how does your experience at McKinsey prepare you for your role as president?

(APPLAUSE)

BUTTIGIEG: Well, so part of my goal in working for -- this is a consulting company that I worked for, for two or three years after I came back from school. And I wanted to learn everything I could about how the business world worked.

And I learned a lot. I learned a lot of things that stay with me to this day in terms of how to manage budgets and understanding how finance works and how teams in the private sector operate.

But I also learned some things that confirm my sense that life in the private sector was not for me, that often client service firms don't really weigh the morality of the things that they're involved with. And McKinsey, my former employer, has been criticized rightly for many cases where they wound up doing a body of work that maybe would have made sense from a business perspective,

[22:35:00]

but if you just stopped and thought about the consequences, not so much.

And I think now is a time when we have got to make sure that the guardrails that are put on the business community, the regulations that we as a democratic society decide to impose on the business activities that can have such social impacts or environmental impacts, are set so that we don't just expect companies out of the goodness of their hearts, perhaps at a -- you know, competitive disadvantage to do the right thing, but we establish a floor of the standard of social and environmental benefit that we expect the private sector to create, in addition to doing what they do, generating the jobs and the value that they're supposed to.

(APPLAUSE) LEMON: Megan O'Gara is an administrative assistant at the College of Charleston, and she's leaning towards supporting Senator Warren. Megan?

QUESTION: Good evening. As an LGBTQ American, it's quite remarkable to be speaking to you on stage right now, so thank you. Our governor was recently granted a waiver for faith-based foster and adoption programs that accept federal funding allowing these programs to reject prospective parents if their sexual orientation or gender identity doesn't align with the group's religious values. This ultimately harms the children in their care and discriminates against the LGBTQ community.

BUTTIGIEG: That's right.

QUESTION: If elected, how do you intend to protect and uphold the separation of church and state and work for these children?

(APPLAUSE)

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you. It's very simple. I believe that federal funding should never be used to discriminate. It is a basic principle.

(APPLAUSE)

And here's how I think about religious freedom more broadly. And I think -- I feel this way both as a citizen and as a person of faith. Of course it is so important to the fabric of this country that people of every religion and of no religion can practice their faith to the best of their conscience.

But like any other freedom, that freedom ends where it -- you begin to invoke it to harm other people, just as the freedom of speech, right, or any other freedom is constrained by that.

(APPLAUSE)

We all treasure our freedom of speech, but nobody here has the freedom to yell "fire" in this crowded space. It is the same way with religious liberty. We respect -- and I will fiercely defend -- religious liberty, but not past the point where it is being invoked as an excuse to harm other people through this kind of discrimination.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: Mayor, just to be clear, do you believe that other religious and non-profit institutions, like colleges and homeless charities, should lose their federal funding if they refuse to hire or serve LGBTQ people?

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, if they are discriminating, then they should not be doing it with federal dollars.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: OK. Barbara Robertson, who is an author and is currently undecided, she has a question for you. Barbara?

QUESTION: Hi, Mayor Pete. I saw a very moving moment when you had your event in Colorado, when a very brave 9-year-old boy told you and the world that he was gay. And I was wondering if there had been other moments like this that hadn't been caught on camera. And so far, what is the most hopeful message you have found during your campaign experience?

BUTTIGIEG: What a great question. Yeah, so this -- if you didn't happen to see it, a couple of days ago, we did an event in Colorado. We had thousands of people there. And I always try to take questions, even at big events.

And this -- I couldn't believe it. This 9-year-old asked for advice on how to be brave in telling others that he's gay. If you're a 9- year-old asking that question publicly around thousands of people, you don't need any lessons from me on bravery. And that's more or less what I told him, although I gave him the best advice that I could for the future, which is mainly just to let him know that even if it's not always easy, that I was going to be rooting for him and a lot of other people were, too.

And there have been so many moments like that, whether it's a young person who is wondering where they fit, and this campaign sends a signal to them that they belong, or people I meet sometimes who are my parents' age who come up to me, sometimes with tears in their eyes, just to let me know they never thought this day would come, that this would even be possible.

And that whole thing makes me hopeful. Look, I'm under no illusions about the struggle toward equality in this country for anyone, and including LGBTQ Americans, where marriage equality was a huge leap forward, but it's not like that was the end. It's why we need an Equality Act. That's why we need an act to end the war on transgender Americans that's going on right now.

(APPLAUSE)

But what gives me hope is that it really is possible to see those prejudices overcome

[22:40:00]

and to do it in a way that brings more and more people along. Again, I recognize that marriage equality in particular is a change that came so fast that a lot of people were disoriented by it, especially if they grew up learning a certain way of looking at the world.

But if we can bring more and more Americans along on an issue like that, it gives me great hope for all of the other areas of American life, where we have got to come together, we've got to look to the future, and we've got to make sure that compassion wins out over prejudice every time.

(APPLAUSE) LEMON: What was it like? Could you see yourself in that 9-year-old boy? Were you holding back tears? Because I'm always surprised when people come up to me as a gay man and say, "You know, you inspire me." And I'm always taken aback by it. What was that like for you?

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, it was really emotional, and also extraordinary, because, you know, I meet people who have such a sense of who they are, so much earlier in life than I did. I was wrestling with this -- I mean, well into my 20s. If you could -- if there was a pill, if there was a pill that I could take and not be gay anymore, I would have jumped on it.

And thank God I didn't, because then I would not have the amazing marriage that I have now to Chasten. And when I think about the effect that this campaign may be having on people -- look, I'm not running to be the gay president of the United States or the president of the gay United States. I'm out here to serve everybody.

But I do think about the fact that this very thing that I thought might mean that I would never get to make a difference, never get to serve in uniform or in office, talk about God having a sense of humor, that this is one of the things that's actually helping me make a difference before we even know the outcome of the campaign.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: Former Mayor Buttigieg, he'll be answering more questions from our audience right here after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:45:00]

LEMON: All right. Welcome back, everyone, live to our CNN presidential town hall with the former Mayor Pete Buttigieg here in Charleston, South Carolina.

I want to talk about the coronavirus. You know, you mentioned it a little bit earlier, the spread of the coronavirus outside of China has rattled the stock market. You talked about it earlier in the town hall, with the Dow plunging more than 1,000 points today, as other indexes also fell sharply. If you were president, how would you respond?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, we've got to meet 21st century security threats with a forward-looking security policy. This president's idea of how to keep us safe is a big wall. That is a 17th century security solution.

(APPLAUSE)

And, you know, everything from global pandemics to cyber security threats remind us that it's more a little more complicated than that to keep the United States safe. You know, there actually was an office in the National Security Council, part of the White House, that was designed to help deal with these kinds of global health security threats, and President Trump dismantled it. We need to do the reverse.

I would be making sure that we have the coordination across the federal government for something that is a health issue, an economic issue, a security issue, and needs to have an integrated approach.

But it's not enough to integrate within the United States. We've got to integrate internationally. The virus does not care what country it is in. And in order to deal with an issue like that, you need international partnerships and global relationships of the very kind that this president is tearing to shreds on an almost daily basis. This is why we need first and foremost for our safety, as well as our prestige, to restore the credibility of the United States among the nations of the world.

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: Robby Maynor is the assistant director of student engagement at the College of Charleston Honors College. He is currently undecided. Robert -- Robby?

QUESTION: In Charleston, we're experiencing the effects of climate change perhaps as acutely as any city in the country, in terms of flooding and frequent major tropical storms. Some studies suggest Charleston may be gone, underwater in my lifetime. As president, what types of initiatives to combat climate change, both national and global, would you prioritize?

(APPLAUSE)

BUTTIGIEG: Such an important question. And we cannot let that happen. It's going to come down to these next few years. You know, the scientists tell us we've got until about 2030 to make a series of major changes to avoid catastrophe. But if 2030 is the scientific deadline, that means 2020 is the real deadline, because if we don't have a president who believes in climate science taking office next year, we're never going to make it.

And communities from the low country of South Carolina to my own river city in Indiana are already feeling the effects of this. And the effects of this have been disproportionately harming communities of color and low-income communities, which is why we need to have environmental justice at the heart of our approach.

Now, I believe it's not too late to mobilize the American people in a national project to make sure every part of our economy and society is geared toward facing the climate challenge. As a matter of fact, if we get it right, we will create more than 3 million new jobs.

And if we lead the world in doing something about it, which we have to, because a lot of the emissions are coming from around the world -- like the coronavirus, it's another example of a global security threat that requires global coordination -- well, maybe seeing the United States actually lead on these issues is part of how we can restore that dangerously harmed credibility of our country.

So we will rejoin the Paris climate accords on day one. And that will be just the beginning of our global climate diplomacy.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: I want to bring in Zachary Eagle, a cofounder of a local behavior analysis practice that helps treat adults and children with autism and other challenges. He is a supporter of Senator Sanders. Zachary?

QUESTION: Mayor Buttigieg, your recent fellow candidate, Andrew Yang, proposed a basic income of $1,000 a month to every adult citizen with no other eligibility requirement.

[22:50:00]

As a response to past and future job loss to technology and overseas outsourcing and an acknowledgment that job replacement cannot keep pace, do you support basic income as a solution to ever increasing numbers of Americans having their jobs displaced? If not, how do you propose to overcome future job loss, as well as restore communities that have already been suffering for decades?

BUTTIGIEG: So I think that basic income is interesting and deserves to be taken seriously. There are some pilot programs going on right now in places like Stockton, California, and I'd like to see what we learn from them.

But I'm also worried that it's a little bit too easy of a fix to a different kind of problem. Don't get me wrong, technology, automation are definitely changing what it means to be a worker. But I think the biggest inequities that we're dealing with right now in our economy are happening for a different reason.

For example, earlier today, I had the opportunity to stand with fast food workers who were mobilizing to demand a $15 minimum wage and the chance to join a union. I was with Taiwana (ph), who was a worker I had met last summer and was reunited with today, who is trying to take care of a sick child on an income of less than $9 an hour.

The problem there is not automation or globalization or outsourcing. She has a job. She's good at it, and she works hard. The problem is she's not getting paid enough.

This is a matter of a policy decision. And we need a different policy decision to raise wages for those who are working and give them the opportunity to bargain for better working conditions. And that's true as we look to a future where we're actually going to need a lot of workers, but maybe in different areas.

We're going to need more direct care workers than we have right now, by the millions, in order to deal with supporting an aging population. We're going to need more than ever people to take jobs as teachers and jobs that can't be done by a machine, because they involve dealing with surprises or dealing with exceptions or dealing with other human beings.

And basic income is not going to fix that. It's not going to fix the economic decisions, the anti-labor decisions that have been made helping to drive poverty over the last 30, 40 years, and drive income inequality.

And the other thing we got to recognize is that even when we're looking at those jobs that are lost as a consequence of technology, it's not just what we've got to do about making sure people have income. We've got to also make sure that we recognize that a job is your identity. If you lose that, you lose a part of who we are.

And that's why it's so important that we create richer sources of identity in American life, making sure that we connect people up to opportunities for service, like the voluntary national service program that I'm proposing, to be connected in their communities, and find meaning from other sources.

Otherwise, that void will be filled by some very ugly things, from substance use, to things like white nationalism, where people are preying on those who feel like they've been displaced. So, yes, I'm interested in universal basic income, but there's a lot more to fixing these problems than that.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: Derek Rucker is the grants and evaluation director for a children's advocacy, domestic violence, and rape crisis center in Beaufort. He is deciding between you and Senator Warren. Derek?

QUESTION: Hello, Mayor Pete. Can you tell me and us three things about you that the American people don't already know?

BUTTIGIEG: Wow. That's a hard one, just because I feel like when you run for president, somebody once called it an MRI of the soul. By the end of it -- or, frankly, by the middle of it, you feel like people have -- have gotten to know just about everything about you.

I'll mention one. People keep asking me why I'm not more outwardly emotional, and one of the things I think people don't know about me is how passionate I am. It's probably why I've learned to deal with things in a way that tries to be as calm as possible, because I feel so passionate about things I see going on around the world and things I see happening right around me.

What else don't people know about me? They probably don't know as much about the things I'm bad at, because you don't advertise those, although I think people are beginning to learn that I can't dance. It's just -- I just can't. Exactly. Somebody saw me doing the -- I won't even do it, the raise the roof thing.

(LAUGHTER)

And, gosh, I'm looking at -- I'm looking at Chasten now to think of anything else that people don't already know about me.

QUESTION: You play the piano?

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, but people know that, right? I don't know... LEMON: Your favorite food?

BUTTIGIEG: Beef jerky.

LEMON: Are you a foodie?

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Did you say beef jerky? Is that -- all right.

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. That's for the question.

LEMON: Do you eat in the middle of the night? Are you -- no?

BUTTIGIEG: No, I'm pretty well behaved.

LEMON: All right. Beer, I don't know. Tequila? Let's bring in Pam Ireland, a retired corporate attorney. She is currently undecided, but is leaning towards voting for you. Pam?

[22:55:00]

QUESTION: Welcome to Charleston.

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.

QUESTION: One thing I think is important in a leader is the ability to listen and to admit when you may not be right. Can you give a couple of examples of recent situations in which you've listened to advice of others and maybe adjusted your approach as a result of that?

BUTTIGIEG: Sure. Give you one. In terms of campaign strategy, we invite reporters to come to fundraising events. And hesitated to do it for a long time, I guess just out of habit, that there was just something that was done not.

I wish we'd done that sooner, because what happened was reporters started coming, they realized that I say the exact same thing at a fundraiser in somebody's backyard as I say in a town hall, and got bored and sometimes they don't come anymore. I should have done that a long time earlier, but people encouraging me to do it made me realize that that was a good idea.

At a more profound level, listening to the experiences of those whose lives are different from mine, especially in my own hometown of South Bend, was a very important part of how I learned to do a better job as mayor.

You know, I arrived with a head full of ideas about the things that we could do, and many of those ideas played out. I mean, again, I'm so proud of what our city did to pull itself out from the shadows of the past of losing the factories and losing so many people.

But when, for example, I was so focused on making sure that we dealt with vacant and abandoned houses, that we wound up moving very quickly and some people got caught up in an enforcement-heavy approach that we needed to change, people stopped me, people from the community.

Gladys Muhammad is here from South Bend, who's a strong supporter, but always lets me know when I'm getting something wrong. And it's hard when you are so focused on your approach that you think is the right one to take on that input. But hearing about the effects from the ground level of policies that we believed in, but that needed to be adjusted or shifted, when it came to understanding the story behind the story on the mistrust and fear between the police department and black residents in our city, when I was so focused on the narrow legalities of making sure we ran the department the right way, I would not have been able to make the changes that we've made without listening, without growing. And that's part of the job.

LEMON: Mayor, when I walk up, I'm like the music at the Oscars. I'm playing you off right now. Thank you.

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.

LEMON: We appreciate it. Thank you, Mayor.

Up next, we're going to hear from businessman Tom Steyer for another live presidential town hall from Charleston, South Carolina. Thanks, everybody.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)