Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Live Event/Special
Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) Presidential Candidate Fields Question at Town Hall. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired April 22, 2019 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
COOPER: Hey, good evening. Welcome back to New Hampshire, the first in the nation primary state, for our CNN special presidential town hall. I'm Anderson Cooper.
For this evening, CNN partnered with the Institute of Politics at Harvard University to dive into the youth vote and with the New Hampshire Institute of Politics here at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. The candidates are taking questions from students and young adults who say they plan to vote in their state's Democratic primary.
You've already heard tonight from four of the top presidential candidates, Senators Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris. Now it is -- excuse me, now it is Mayor Pete Buttigieg's turn. The South Bend mayor who's running on a message of generational change, he's sky-rocketed in recent weeks to the top tier of the Democratic field. I do want to note, Mayor Buttigieg was the student president of the Harvard Institute of Politics while he was an undergraduate.
But he had no role in organizing this event.
Please welcome Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Welcome. How are you? Good to see you.
COOPER: All right, so we'll get right to it?
BUTTIGIEG: Let's do it.
COOPER: All right. First question is from Araoluwa Omotowa. She's a freshman at Harvard from Idaho. Araoluwa? QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Mayor, for taking my question.
BUTTIGIEG: Hi, thanks.
QUESTION: So in a recent comedy piece, Trevor Noah said that you were the exact opposite of Trump in many regards, going so far as to say that you were the anti-Trump. However, similar to Trump, you lack experience in state and federal governance. If elected, how would you use this lack of experience as an advantage?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, in many ways, experience is my answerer to the question of age. I get that my experience is not the most conventional for somebody running for president, but unlike this president, I have experience in government.
As I often point out, I got not only more experience in government than the president, but more executive experience than the vice president, more military experience than anybody who's come into that office since George H.W. Bush.
I also think that, though my life experience is relevant, too, belonging to a generation that is going to be on the business end of so many of the decisions and, frankly, the lack of action that's happened on issues from climate to college affordability to making sure that we do something about the fiscal sustainability of this country.
Look, everyone coming into that office brings the combination of life and professional experiences that they have plus their values. But I would argue that it doesn't get very much more different. It's not possible to be much more different from this president than somebody like me.
And I think we also need a little more of that local perspective. You know, to be honest, when I was a student, when I was hanging around the IOP, I didn't think a lot about local government. If it ever came up, it was usually in the phrase "state and local government." Almost like they were one word, like "state and local" was the same thing.
But what I've -- and all I really thought about was federal government. But what I've found is there's so much purposes, so much meaning, but perhaps most importantly for today, so much actual problem-solving that happens at the local level.
Like, you would never have a city government shut down because of a disagreement over policy. Like, if I got a problem with our legislative body, our Council, it would never lead to the city shutting down, because we deliver water. So it's not possible. You need water to live. And so we simply figure it out. And now I think we need that same attitude to make its way into federal politics, before it starts happening the other way around.
COOPER: I got to follow up on that. Your -- I was just checking it out -- your campaign website, it's got a lot about who you are, what you believe in. It doesn't have anything specific about policy. Like, nothing. There's no policy section on it. At what point do you need to start actually presenting specific policies and a whole policy platform?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think I've been pretty clear where I stand on the major issues. I think I led the field in opening up the debate about policy on structural reform for the Supreme Court, for example.
I'd say I've been more specific than many in offering a pathway to get to a Medicare for all environment versus just saying we can make it happen. And there's a tool coming online shortly, if it's not there now, that will make it possible to just enter a keyword and see, visualize, you know, pull all the video on what I've said about that particular issue.
We'll continue to roll out specific policy proposals, too. But I also think it's important that we not drown people in minutiae before we've vindicated the values that animate our policies. Because as Democrats, this is a habit that we have. We go right to the policy proposals and we expect people to be able to figure out what our values must be from that.
I expect that it will be very easy and clear to tell where I stand on every specific policy challenge of our time, but I'm going to take the time to lay that out, while also talking about values and everyday impacts, rather than competing strictly on the theoretical elegance of the proposals themselves.
COOPER: But it's hard to compare where you stand to, you know, Elizabeth Warren, who was out here, even from your website, it's sort of like comparing -- I mean, you just can't compare the policy positions.
BUTTIGIEG: So if...
COOPER: It's just hard.
BUTTIGIEG: Some of that will come out tonight, and I look forward to that. And I think I've weighed in pretty specifically on a number of policy issues. We're now in the second week of my campaign being official, and we'll continue building our website accordingly, too.
COOPER: Cool, all right. Let's bring in Hannah Schoenbaum.
Hannah Schoenbaum is a sophomore at Boston University, studying journalism from California. Hannah?
QUESTION: Hi, Mayor Buttigieg.
BUTTIGIEG: Hi. QUESTION: You've said in past interviews that you believe large corporations are the biggest challenge facing America. What specifically is your plan for addressing corporate control? If you believed that you'd like to break up these major corporations, what legislative action would you take to do so?
BUTTIGIEG: Great. So there are several problems in our economy's relationship to our democracy right now. The biggest problem that I have with corporate America is the way that concentrations of wealth and corporate power have turned into concentrations of political power. And it's one of the reasons why I think we need to act quickly to establish as a matter of principle that corporations do not equal people and that money does not equal speech.
Some have said that within the framework of the Constitution, you can't draw those boundaries, and that led to a decision that I think has been disastrous for our politics, which is the Citizens United decision. I don't believe that the Constitution says that. But if it does, if that's going to be the direction that our federal judiciary takes going forward, then I think it's necessary to formulate a constitutional amendment to clear this up once and for all.
And I'm under no illusion that it's possible overnight to get that reform. But I think most Americans actually agree that we need to get money out of politics.
Now, as you said, there's also issues with the sheer glomeration of different business interests into single corporations. But part of how we regulate that is according to whether they're behaving in an anticompetitive fashion. Right? This is the basis of antitrust law. Antitrust law as we know it has begun to hit its limits with regulating tech companies.
And part of why that's happened is, it was always based around the idea that the reason you got to stop monopolies from happening is that when they happen, they start to jack up prices. So that framework made a lot of sense for making sure that railroads or fruit companies could get broken up if they were abusing the system.
It's not designed to handle some of these tech companies where there's actually no price at all. The product is made free, or at least it's free on its face. We've learned, in part because of the way our data are used by these companies, that nothing is actually free.
And so we're going to need to empower the FTC to be able to intervene, including blocking or reversing mergers, in cases where there's anticompetitive behavior by tech companies, even if it can't directly be applied to pricing, because you're not seeing it in the form of changes to prices because the product's free.
COOPER: Got a question about immigration. This is Leo Garcia. He was born in Bogota, Colombia. He grew up in Houston. He's a sophomore studying sociology and chemistry at Harvard. Leo?
QUESTION: While currently DACA only protects about 700,000 immigrants, there are about 11 million others that are currently unaddressed. How do you approach a comprehensive immigration reform? And how do you feel about the Dreamer narrative that only addresses these 700,000?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think the reason that the Dreamer story is so powerful is that it reflects the experiences of people who are Americans. They're not U.S. citizens, but in many cases this is the only country they can even remember because they came to this country through no choice of their own. And so I think it's one of the reasons why there's a broad U.S. consensus that we need find a way to protect Dreamers.
But as your question brings out, there are over 10 million people who are undocumented immigrants in this country who don't fall into that category. And the reality is, we can't have comprehensive immigration reform that works unless it addresses the status for those 11-some million undocumented immigrants. So what we need to do is make sure there's a pathway to citizenship for them, too.
The thing that's incredibly frustrating about this to me is that there's actually broadly an American consensus on what we're supposed to do about this. You know, leadership is supposed to be about taking issues that are very divisive and somehow finding a way to unify Americans around that. That's how a good president earns her or his paycheck.
But right now we have an issue where there's actually a pretty broad consensus and it's been used to divide us. It's actually a remarkable feat of whatever the opposite of leadership is.
And you can see it because there have been healthy compromises, bipartisan immigration reforms that have passed in one chamber, the House or the Senate in Washington, only to go die in the others. The last time we actually had a meaningful, full, comprehensive immigration reform was 1984, I think. It was authored by Ron Mazzoli, who I got to know when he was a fellow at the IOP.
And back then, when I was an undergrad, we were talking about, how has it possibly been this long since we've been able to tune this up? Now it's been just as long since then, or almost.
So we know the outlines of a comprehensive immigration reform -- a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people in this country; a level of protection for Dreamers; a set of reforms to clear up the bureaucracy and the backlogs in the lawful immigration system, which is how my father as an immigrant came to the country and became a U.S. citizen; and reasonable measures on border security.
We know what to do. It's just that we don't have the leadership in Washington to do it. And I'm afraid one of the reasons is we've got a White House that has actually computed that it is better off politically if this problem goes unsolved so that Americans can continue to be divided around it for short-term political gain. And that has got to end with a new president.
COOPER: Let me just -- let me just follow up on that. If Indiana allowed it, would you support South Bend being a "sanctuary city"?
BUTTIGIEG: So one of the things I've noticed -- because we were trying to figure out in South Bend what this meant when the Department of Justice was threatening mayors with withdrawing our JAG funds and grant funds for the police department based on whether we were a sanctuary city. They couldn't actually tell us what that means.
I regard us as a welcoming city. Some conservative talk show hosts may say that makes us a sanctuary city. I don't know. Here's what we do in South Bend. We make it very clear that our South Bend Police Department is not responsible for enforcing federal immigration policy. They've got enough to worry about trying to keep neighborhoods safe.
And by the way, it's harder for them to do their job if residents in our community, many of whom are Latino and some of whom are immigrants, and some of whom are undocumented, are afraid to even talk to them, even if they know something that might help them address or prevent a crime, because they've been led to believe that our local law enforcement, whose only responsibility is the safety of our community, are being conscripted somehow into doing the job of federal immigration authorities.
So you can call it whatever you like. That's our policy. We're a welcoming city. And I guess the president thinks America is full. We're not. I would be delighted to have more people. We have a population growth strategy in our city. Our city was built for 130,000 people, but we only have 100,000 because so many people left after the auto factories collapsed in the '60s. We got plenty of room for more residents and taxpayers who want to help fund the snow plowing and the firefighters that I got to have for 130,000 people's worth of city with only 100,000 people to pay for it.
And let us not forget that in many respects, from property taxes to sales taxes, undocumented immigrants are taxpayers. And the truth is, in many respects, because they are not eligible for a lot of benefits, they are subsidizing the rest of us. Which is just one more reason we got to get this sorted out.
COOPER: All right, we got another question. This is Christian Abney, a freshman at Harvard from your home state of Indiana. Christian?
BUTTIGIEG: All right. Where you from?
QUESTION: I'm from Kokomo, actually.
BUTTIGIEG: Nice, welcome.
QUESTION: So pretty close to South Bend. So I'm from a city very similar to yours, a small Midwestern town that's obviously been very affected by the post-industrial situation of the United States. In a 2017 interview with David Axelrod, you noted that NAFTA resulted in irreplaceable job losses across the Midwest. How would your administration negotiate trade and bring success to American industry?
BUTTIGIEG: Thanks for such a great question. As you know, this is close to my heart, because it's close to my hometown. And during the Chrysler partial shutdown and all the layoffs, Kokomo -- what was happening in and around Howard County and Kokomo was an example of just how vulnerable our communities are in the industrial Midwest to policies and markets when it comes to manufacturing.
So we need to find a way to make sure that trade actually works for us. There's no building a wall around the status quo. You can't put the horse back into the barn. It doesn't work that way. But what we do need to make sure of is that there are enough measures, including adjustment assistance, including making sure that we make whole in some way the people who were made worse off, that we're actually keeping the promise of trade.
The promise that was made when I was growing up was that if we did these things, the rising tide would lift all boats, right, and we'd all be better off. And it turns out it didn't work that way. The rising tide rose. That part happened. It's just that a lot of the boats turned out to be anchored to the ocean floor.
But we can make trade work for our communities. One of my favorite examples, actually, is a Union Autoworkers -- UAW facility in St. Joseph County, where I live, that is making electric vehicles for a start-up based in Silicon Valley where the funds and a lot of the investment came from China.
And before that, there was a three-year contract where that facility was working for Mercedes and they were making vehicles that are sold in the Asian market. So you got American union autoworkers making German cars going to Chinese customers, and we're sending our products, not our jobs, to Asia. That's how I want it to work.
Now, just one other thing I want to mention. As much legitimate concern as there is about trade and making sure we have fair trade that works for us in communities like where you and I come from, we got to be honest about the fact that for every job and manufacturing that has been lost as a consequence of trade, there are several more that have been lost as a result of technology and automation.
And that's not going to change. That facility I was telling you about making electric vehicles, even though they're planning to make something on the order of 30,000 to 50,000 cars, does it with hundreds of workers, not thousands or tens of thousands the way it used to work in the Studebaker days when South Bend was an automotive center. That part's not going to change.
So manufacturing can continue to grow stronger in this country, but it's going to be less and less labor intensive, less and less human beings on the floor per dollar of output. And that's why we need policies that can get ahead of the economic shifts to come and recognize that our generation's not going to be able to count as our parents' generation often did on the idea of a single relationship with a single employer or a couple employers across the course of your entire career.
COOPER: Got another question. This is from Kelsey Scott. She's a sophomore studying political science at the University of New Hampshire. Kelsey?
QUESTION: Hi, Mayor.
QUESTION: The school I attend, the University of New Hampshire, has one of the highest in-state tuition rates for public schools in the whole country. How would you work to ensure that these rates don't rise and make it so future students won't have to deal with such a financial burden?
BUTTIGIEG: Thank you. This is kind of a personal issue for us because Chasten and I live with six-figure student debt. And so I know what you're up against. And in particular, in speaking with students and policymakers here in New Hampshire, I've learned about the extent to which in-state tuition here is actually higher than it would be for you to go out of state to a lot of other states, which of course defeats so much of the purpose of having higher education institutions that are supposed to build up the life of our state, right? It's almost like a big sign saying get out. It makes it that much harder if you're committed to being part of the community or the state that produced you.
So there are several things that we've got to do. One of them that I think is kind of most at stake in the question that you raised is we've got -- through a combination of carrots and sticks, we've got to induce states to carry more of the burden, instead of continuing to pass it on to students. Students are getting squeezed because states are less and less willing to appropriate the funds to make sure that in-state public college tuition is truly affordable.
Now, on the back end, we've also got to work on student loan debt. If I can refinance the -- when interest rates change, I can refinance the debt on our house, then it stands to reason that you should be able to do with student debt, too.
There's a whole other suite of things that we need to do relevant to community colleges and for-profit colleges, but I think those two steps, coupled with a significant increase in Pell Grants, would make a big difference for college accessibility. And by the way, this time when we're increasing Pell Grants, let's actually peg it automatically to inflation so we don't have to ask Congress to do that again and again.
COOPER: I want to follow up. Elizabeth Warren today released a plan that would give loan relief to households making less than $250,000 with $50,000 in loan cancellation for families earning less than $100,000.
Is that something you would support? The funding of it, she says, would come from a 2 percent tax above $50 million for 75,000 Americans.
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, I still want to do some math around it. I find it pretty appealing. I'm not as certain that I'm comfortable with people of that high an income participating until we have completed the transition to a more progressive tax code, because I think if you're north of $200,000, maybe you're at the point where we could ask you to take care of that on yourself. But the theory of it I think makes a lot of sense.
COOPER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to have more with Mayor Pete Buttigieg. CNN's special Democratic presidential town hall event, stay right with us.
COOPER: We're back live in Manchester, New Hampshire, for the special CNN Democratic presidential town hall event. We're here with Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Before we go on, I should point out, we just checked, the policy portal is online showing the videos.
BUTTIGIEG: Oh, the searchable thing, good. I thought it was online, but I wanted to make sure I wasn't saying so on television without checking, so I'm glad it's...
COOPER: We've got a lot more questions. I do want to ask you about something you said this weekend -- and I'm paraphrasing -- that anger and dissatisfaction among voters who were stuck economically can lead them to turn against the system and vote to blow up the system, which then could lead them to someone like Bernie Sanders or President Trump. There were a lot of headlines after that, as I'm sure you know, saying that you were comparing Senator Sanders to President Trump. Is that what you were doing?
BUTTIGIEG: Oh, just so there's no confusion about this, I regard Senator Sanders and President Trump as stupendously different in very, very many respects. But I do think it's worth noting that there was so much antiestablishment energy and that can find its way in a number of very different political directions.
But when you think about the number of voters, certainly where I come from, who basically narrowed down their choices in the last election either to Bernie Sanders or to Donald Trump, it tells you that some of the most important things on voters' minds aren't just are you close to me on a left-right political spectrum, but are you really going to profoundly change the system that we're living in?
And I think the president, even though it was all -- I don't know what I can say on cable -- it was all untrue...
COOPER: You can say pretty much anything on cable.
BUTTIGIEG: OK, great, well, it was bull, right?
But there was this sense that I'm going to blow up the system. And I think this is really important to understand, because we need to make sure we don't -- that strategically as a party that we don't come to be viewed as the defenders of a system that is letting people down. And we wouldn't be here if the economic and political system hadn't failed people.
The reality is -- and this is not just in the United States, but in general -- people are more susceptible to messages that revolve around hate, people are more susceptible to xenophobia and to racism when they feel out of touch with the political environment that they're in overall. And we'd better pay attention to that, because as somebody who studied counter-radicalization abroad, I think we need to apply some of those messages at a moment when some of the supporters of this president are adopting more and more extreme positions, and as even mainstream Republicans start looking for some way out.
If you're still on board with that now, it gives you almost nowhere else to go. And we've got to follow this and figure out a way, if somebody's voted Democratic again and again and again right up until 2016, and then voted for Trump, I want to make sure that voter starts voting Democratic again.
COOPER: Are you saying the system doesn't need to be blown up?
BUTTIGIEG: No, the system needs to be changed profoundly. I guess that's my point. We can't just nibble around the edges and expect people to be happy with us. Now, I've got a slightly different account than my competitors do about how best to do it, but the fundamental lesson is that our economic and political system has been letting people down I would say for my entire lifetime.
And one of the reasons I believe that we're at this kind of tectonic moment, this once in an every half-century or so moment that really is a hinge point between eras in American history -- I mean, as big as the moment when the New Deal came about or the moment that I would argue we've been living through ever since when Reaganism kind of became ascendant in this country, that that's come to an end. We're at the dawn of something new. And it could be really enlightened and really fantastic. And it could also be really ugly. And a lot of that's going to depend on what happens now, which is why I believe as much as I care about replacing this president and winning this election, I think what's at stake right now is how to win not just an election, but an era.
COOPER: Just before we go to the audience, one more question. Senator Sanders earlier this evening said he's in favor of felons being able to vote even while serving their prison terms. He was asked specifically about people like the Boston Marathon bomber, people convicted of sexual assault, rape, and other things, pedophiles. He said the right to vote is inherent to our democracy, yes, even for terrible people. Senator Kamala Harris just said we should have that conversation. She didn't really answer one way or another.
What do you think? Should people convicted of sexual assault, the Boston Marathon bomber, should they be able to vote?
BUTTIGIEG: While incarcerated?
BUTTIGIEG: No, I don't think so.
I do believe that when you are out, when you have served your sentence, then part of being restored to society is that you're part of the political life of this nation again. And one of the things that needs to be restored is your right to vote.
As you know, some states and communities do it. Some don't. I think we'd be a better country if everybody did it. And frankly, I think the motivations for preventing that kind of re-enfranchisement in some cases have to do with one side of the aisle noticing that they politically benefit from that, and that's got some racial layers, too.
So that's one of many reasons that I believe that re-enfranchisement upon release is important. But part of the punishment when you're convicted of a crime and you're incarcerated is you lose certain rights. [23:30:00]
You lose your freedom. And I think during that period, it does not make sense to have an exception for the right to vote.
COOPER: We have a question from...
We have a question from Emily Brother. Emily is a senior at Harvard, studying music, from Oregon. Emily?
QUESTION: Good evening, Mayor. Thank you for taking my question. In your autobiography, "Shortest Way Home," you were proud of setting and achieving the goal of 1,000 vacant and abandoned houses bulldozed or repaired within 1,000 days, which had severe consequences for the communities of African Americans and Latinos in South Bend. Can you offer some insight into what you've since learned from the ramifications and criticisms of this project and how this would inform you in crafting national legislation?
BUTTIGIEG: Sure. So, first of all, let me explain how we got to that point. So South Bend, as I mentioned, lost about 30,000 people between the 1960s and the time that I was running for mayor. And when I was knocking on doors, especially when I was knocking on doors in minority and low-income neighborhoods, I didn't just say, "Hey, I'm Pete, you should vote for me, here's why I'm great." I also asked a lot of questions about what was going on. What was on voters' minds? What is it the biggest thing you wished the city was doing for you?
And the number-one answer I heard citywide, but also an answer I heard in particular from people living in minority and low-income neighborhoods, was do something about the vacant, boarded up, and collapsing houses around me. Because if you're a homeowner -- and there were so many homeowners, especially in areas that have, frankly, been victimized by redlining over the years and were chronically low- income, and were now seeing these collapsing houses around them, it destroyed the value of those homeowners, too, and it was eroding one of the sources of wealth that many of these low-income families had.
And if you're not a homeowner, if you're a renter, then you're living in a neighborhood where often an abandoned house could be used as a headquarters for drug operations or other things that made you less safe.
And so as I soon as I took office, I asked the team, all right, how many vacant and abandoned houses do we have to deal with? And nobody could even tell us. There were so many, we couldn't figure out how many there were.
And so that's when we started about a year-long process of really assessing what was going on, trying to map the issue, trying to figure out the difference between a house that was just an isolated case in a relatively well-off neighborhood, where we knew there was going to be a lot of value in that house, which meant it was the case that the best approach was probably just aggressive code enforcement, because chances are the owner had the means to do something about it and just hadn't got around to it, to areas where sometimes you'd have a whole block with more than 50 percent of the homes on it vacant. And there we needed to take action ourselves, especially because one of the things we were finding was that a lot of the landowners or the landlords had walked away from the houses years ago, or even cleverly figured out ways to disguise who owned the house.
So, like, 123 Elm Street, we'd look up who owned it, so we could hold them accountable. And it would be 123 Elm Street, LLC, whose address was 123 Elm Street. In other words, there's no way to have accountability.
And I just thought these neighborhoods are never going to be as safe as we want them to be unless we do something and act fast. So that's why we set aside funding to reinvest it in these mostly low-income and minority neighborhoods in the form of repairs on houses we could save, demolishing houses that we couldn't, and enforcement for irresponsible landlords that were allowing these homes to deteriorate.
Now, you asked what we learned. No policy is perfect, and we learned some things the hard way on this one. In particular, what we found is that our policy tools didn't do a great job at first of being able to tell the difference between a sort of big, bad, out of town landlord who just thought of these houses as lines on a spreadsheet and never even visited South Bend, and somebody who maybe had three or four properties in town as investments, or one area where we had a lot of issues was somebody would buy a house believing they could fix it up, and not even know that it was on the vacant and abandoned list and that we were coming in to demolish it.
So over time, we learned to be more in dialogue with homeowners, at least when we could figure out who they were, and had a bit of a lighter touch or at least a more accommodating conversation between the enforcement side and the homeownership side.
So I guess the thing we learned most is just the value of communication, quantity, time. And there are some people, it's still an effort that some people had frustrations with. But I got to tell you, the number-one complaint that we heard, especially from low- income and minority homeowners in the neighborhoods that we addressed, was what took you so long.
COOPER: Got another question from London Vallery. But first, I need to give you some background. Back in 2012, it was discovered that the police chief of South Bend, who is African American, had been taping phone conversations of senior police officers who were allegedly using racist language, and particularly racist language about him. You demoted the police chief.
No action was taken against the officers in question. London Valerie wants to ask about this. She's a freshman at Harvard from San Antonio. London?
QUESTION: Mayor, my question is straightforward. What are on the secret tapes regarding the demotions of South Bend's black police chief Darryl Boykins?
BUTTIGIEG: So the answer is, I don't know. And the reason I don't know is that these tape recordings were made in a way that may have violated the Federal Wiretap Act. That's the federal law that controls when you can and can't record people.
And the allegation was that the police chief was using these recordings to try to figure out what was going on with internal rivalries with other police officers, and allegedly broke the Federal Wiretap Act when he did that.
That's a law that's punishable by a term in prison. And so I'm not going to violate it, even though I want to know what's on those tapes like everybody else does.
Right now, this is going through an incredibly long, frustrating, and expensive legal process that in the end will allow a judge to say whether or not the content of these recordings can be released so we can figure out whether it's true or whether it's not true that there's something on there that we need to be concerned about.
The reason I demoted the chief was that I found out that he was the subject of a criminal investigation, not from him, but from the FBI, and it made it very hard for me to trust him as one of my own appointees.
It was frustrating and painful, too, though. He was the first African-American chief in our city's history. And one of the reasons I had asked him to serve in the first place in my administration was a great track record in community policing, which is a huge priority for us, because we're a racially diverse community.
And speaking of things you learn along the way, and in particular lessons I learned the hard way as a mayor, one of the things I realized was that while I was absorbed in just making sure that we weren't tripping on any landmines related to laws about what you can and can't record, I was, frankly, a little bit slow to understand just how much anguish underlay the community's response to this.
Because for people in the community, it wasn't just about whether we were right or wrong to be concerned about the Federal Wiretap Act. It was about whether communities of color could trust that police departments had their best interests at heart.
And the more I learned about that, the more I realized that lifting the veil of mistrust between communities of color and our police department had to be one of my top priorities as mayor. It's why we instituted civil rights training and implicit bias training. It's why we implemented body-worn cameras for all of our officers. It's why we directed officers to make more foot patrols and get to know people in these neighborhoods, especially neighborhoods experiencing a lot of crime, not in an enforcement environment, but in a trust-building environment.
And a number of other measures, including stepping up our efforts to recruit more minority recruits onto the department itself, something I'm still not satisfied with what we've been able to do so far, so that there's more of that trust.
COOPER: Right now, I think it's -- the police force, the last statistic I saw in 2018, was 5 percent African American, whereas the population is 26 percent African American.
BUTTIGIEG: Exactly, yeah.
COOPER: And the two police chiefs you hired subsequently, which some people in the community criticized you for, were both white.
BUTTIGIEG: One of the things we did also as a response to learning about how much concern there was in the community was making sure there was a community-oriented process to bring us input on the selection of the next police chief. And I believe that we would not have been able to make those improvements without having very qualified, good people come on board.
But these are the challenges, whether it's the relationship of communities of color to police departments, or homelessness, housing, poverty. These are some of the toughest challenges in our country right now. And frankly, they're not problems that you solve overnight.
But I believe they're problems that people with goodwill and a listening heart are able to make progress on. And I don't think I would have been able to be reelected, including winning minority districts in our city, if it weren't for the very hard work that we did in the years since that incident really threatened to tear our city apart to try to heal.
And I don't claim that we got every step perfect. But I will tell you that I did everything based on my best judgment and a desire to do what was right for the community. And I think we need that kind of spirit, that kind of attention, and frankly, that kind of willingness to listen and to adjust. We need a lot more of that in Washington right now, especially in the White House.
COOPER: One of the things -- if you've been watching at home, you know we have a lot of folks from Harvard here and Saint Anselm. We've been working with the Harvard Institute of Politics. They have a youth poll out. According to it, human rights is the top foreign policy issue for young voters. On that topic, Trevor VanNiel is a junior at New England College from Vermont. Trevor?
QUESTION: Hello. Welcome back to New Hampshire.
BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.
QUESTION: My question is, how would you cooperate with countries that view homosexuality as a sin and a crime that is punishable by death?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think it's wrong to harm or punish people because they're part of the LGBTQ community. I get that not every country is there. In some dramatically milder respects, but still very bothersome ones, our own country is not there.
I believe that this is an example of why the world needs an America that is strong, that's credible, and that people believe keeps its word. Because, frankly, our ability, the ability of the next president and of the U.S. in general to lead on this issue -- I mean, to really try to guide countries toward doing the right thing, largely depends on whether we have any moral authority at all. Does anybody think right now that the U.S. has an awful lot of moral authority in the world? It has plummeted.
And whether it's LGBTQ rights or, frankly, any kind of human rights or democracy promotion that we want to advance, either because we think it makes sense from an American perspective or just because we believe it's consistent with the universal aspiration for a better life, it's really important for the U.S. to be a credible messenger. I still believe in the American model, for all its flaws. When I look on the world stage, I think the American way of doing things, our commitment to freedom, our efforts, however imperfect, to establish a democratic society are the right way to go.
And frankly, there's a lot of other models that are being held up now as credible alternatives. The Chinese model, authoritarianism in sheep's clothing, is being held up against the chaos and division of America right now. It's being held up as an alternative.
The Russian model is throwing its weight around in nefarious ways that have harmed our country. Don't even get me started on the Saudi model. Right? There are a lot of other ways that countries can operate.
I still believe that America can spread values related to freedom and democracy that'll benefit, among other things, various minorities living in their home countries, but not if we're not credible, not if we're not viewed as a country that keeps its word. And we've got to do better on that. And the next president probably will make all the difference in this incredibly sensitive time in world affairs on whether we get into the rest of the 21st century with American leadership continuing to be at the front of the pack or increasingly something people just scratch their heads over.
COOPER: I want to ask you just -- just a personal question, if I can. In 2015, at 33, is when you came out publicly. How do you think your life would be different if you had come out before that?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, frankly, I came out because I wanted to date.
And if dating had been available to me in my 20s, I'm not sure I would have gotten nearly as much done.
You know, honestly I don't know exactly. But, you know, what I do know is that at first I convinced myself I didn't need much else in my life, because I had a really demanding job, especially once I became mayor. I was mayor most of the time, and then I was also a member of the Reserve. That was more than enough to keep me busy. And the city was a jealous bride. And I was fine with that up to a point.
It was when I came back from my deployment, having taken time to serve in Afghanistan while mayor, and I came back from that leave of absence that I started really thinking about how you only get to live one life. And I came out. And I started dating. And I found Chasten. And even though in the past, I was mystified by the idea of how anybody, any of my fellow mayors or elected officials ever managed to do that job and also be in relationships and be married, I don't know how I'd do this without him.
So I guess another way to answer your question is: I would not be running for president today if I hadn't come out. I have no idea what would have happened if I had found a way to come out earlier in my life than I did.
COOPER: I want to bring in...
Actually, we're going to take a short break. We'll have more questions with the audience and bring back the South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg. Join us for CNN's special Democratic presidential town hall right after this.
COOPER: Hey, welcome back to our special Democratic presidential town hall event. We are live in New Hampshire with Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
All right, we're in the homestretch. Just very quickly, if you were in the House or the Senate, would you vote to impeach President Trump? Do you think the House should move for impeachment?
BUTTIGIEG: I think he's made it pretty clear that he deserves impeachment. I'll leave it to the...
But I'm also going to leave it to the House and Senate to figure that out, because my role in the process is trying to relegate Trumpism to the dust bin of history, and I think there's no more decisive way to do that, especially to get Republicans to abandon this kind of deal with the devil they made, than to have just an absolute thumping at the ballot box for what that represents.
COOPER: Do you worry if Democrats focus on this, though, it's going to take away time from tabletop issues that...
BUTTIGIEG: Well, again, the Congress is going to have to figure out how to do several things at once. But while we're making sure there is oversight and accountability, which there's got to be, we've also got to make sure we're talking about the things that most affect people in an immediate and concrete sense.
Again, these are some of the reasons why a lot of voters where I come from are disaffected with the system entirely. And we can't -- the more we're talking about him, if we're only talking about him, then folks at home feel like nobody's talking about them. And that's why -- I mean, it's hard to look away from a horror show. That's just how it is. It's mesmerizing. But we have got to figure out a way to change the channel.
COOPER: Sean Quirk is with us. He's a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School and a student at Harvard Law School. Yikes.
(LAUGHTER) Man. I'm a total schlub. Oh, great, he also served as a surface
warfare officer in the U.S. Navy.
BUTTIGIEG: Ah, all right.
COOPER: You've done everything.
Sean has a question about your time in the Navy Reserves from 2009 to 2017. And Sean, thank you for your service and for being here.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Cooper. Mayor Buttigieg -- did I pronounce it right?
BUTTIGIEG: You did, well done.
QUESTION: OK, awesome.
BUTTIGIEG: It's that SWO training kicking in. Well done.
QUESTION: So as a Navy veteran and reservist myself, I'm wondering how you reconcile your criticism of President Trump with your allegiance to our commander-in-chief. Have you ever had to temper what you say about the president because of your affiliation with the Navy Reserve?
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, well, first of all, thanks for your service.
QUESTION: Thank you.
BUTTIGIEG: And I thought about this a lot when I was serving. During the time that I was in the Reserve -- I separated a couple years ago -- I always tried in particular when I was in uniform, when I was at drill or when I was deployed, to keep my politics out of it, because I think all of us arrive with political views.
Now, that said, the very thing or one of the things I believe that I was serving to defend with my life was the fact that we're a country where you get to be critical of your political leaders. I swore an oath to the Constitution, not to the president. And that's where our ultimate loyalty has to lie.
But the other thing that happened while I was serving abroad was that I learned to trust my life to people who had totally different political views than I did. I mean, that was the amazing thing, as you know, when you serve. I mean, it was an institution that drew people from all parts of the country. It was the most racially integrated organization I've ever been part of. And there were people getting into my vehicle who we couldn't agree on a single thing politically, some people that the only thing we had in common was the fact of being American, and yet knowing that we had a job to do, we learned to trust each other with our lives. Now, I believe you shouldn't have to go to war in order to have that kind of experience, which is why I believe America needs to create more opportunities for national service, in particular service year opportunities for people after they finish high school, so that in addition to the military, we build up things like City Year, things like AmeriCorps, other ways to be part of that fashioning of a common character at this moment when social media and our different bubbles have us increasingly just floating in our own little parts of this country, when for prior generations, it was military service that gave people with radically different backgrounds almost as a matter of course, back when it was -- for example, pretty much assumed if you graduated from an Ivy League institution that you would go into the military, not an exotic thing, right?
We need to get to that without believing that the military is for everybody. And I think a good national service program could help us do just that.
COOPER: Our next question comes from Camille Caldera. She's a freshman at Harvard from Maryland. Camille?
QUESTION: Mayor Buttigieg, you've talked openly about your strong Christian faith as well as your identity as a happily married gay man. I myself am a bisexual Christian woman. How will you challenge the right's moral monopoly on Christianist to unite conservative, moderate, and liberal Christians alike behind you and your platform?
BUTTIGIEG: So, as you know, it can be challenging to be a person of faith who's also part of the LGBTQ community, and yet to me the core of faith is regard for one another. And part of how God's love is experienced, according to my faith's tradition, is in the way that we support one another and in particular support the least among us.
Again, let me preface this by saying I believe strongly in the separation of church and state and I think anybody who steps into the public sphere needs to make it clear that they're here to support people of any religion and people of no religion.
But I also think we ought to be honest about where we're coming from. And part of where I'm coming from is a faith tradition that counsels me to be as humble as possible, that counsels me to look after those who need defending.
And frankly, it couldn't be more radically different than what I see certainly in this White House, where there's a lot of chest-thumping and self-aggrandizing, not to mention abusive behavior, but also a political agenda that seems to always be revolving around the idea that somehow it's too easy for poor people in this country. It's just so different than what I get when I read scripture.
And I get that one of the things about scripture is different people see different things in it. But at the very least, we should be able to establish that God does not have a political party.
COOPER: Just to follow up on that, you've gotten into kind of a back- and-forth -- public back-and-forth between Vice President Pence and yourself over the issue of discrimination against LGBTQ people and faith. The current ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, who's also gay, he weighed in on this, saying that you have been, quote, "pushing this hate hoax along the lines of Jussie Smollett for a very long time now, several weeks." How do you respond to that?
BUTTIGIEG: I'm not a master fisherman, but I know bait when I see it, and I'm not going to take it.
COOPER: All right. Our next question comes from...
Our next question comes from PaHua Cha. She's a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School and a fellow at the Harvard Center for Public Leadership from Oregon. PaHua?
QUESTION: Good evening. My question is that many people accuse our generation -- I'm 31 -- and younger generations of being fake woke, or of the age of Instagram. As the youngest candidate, what do you think sets you apart from the other candidates? And what do you think has been unfair criticism?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think, you know, in the same way that a candidate needs to be there for people of every religion or no religion, you've got to be there for people of every generation. I also think the longer you're planning to be here, by definition, the more you have at stake in the decisions that are going to be made, especially when climate change is largely going to dictate the economic opportunities and even physical safety of people our age and younger in particular, at a time when we're going to be asked to foot the bill for unaffordable tax cuts on billionaires passed by the last Congress and signed by this administration.
And so while I think anybody of any age can speak to these issues, I think having a personal stake in what the world's going to look like in 2054 -- that's the year I get to the current age of the current president -- I think having a personal stake in that helps you have standing to speak to some of these issues and concerns.
I do think that sometimes people look at our generation and raise an eyebrow. And I think part of it is out of a sense that we're not as politically engaged. When I was a student, actually, that was just around the time the IOP started doing an annual poll, a body of research around young people's involvement in politics, and the hypothesis they were testing was -- at the time was do young people just not care as much? Because you saw patterns of voting and volunteerism were low. And what we found was that while voting and volunteerism on campaigns
was low, volunteerism in communities was really high. So the question wasn't what's wrong with young people that they don't care about the world around them. The question was, what's wrong with our system that young people who clearly do care about the world around them don't necessarily believe that politics has anything to offer them. And that's something we've got to change.
While I passionately believe that every young person ought to be involved, ought to vote, ought to be engaged, ought to hold candidates accountable, I also recognize why a lot of young people question whether their votes matter. I believe that that's one reason why we need very straightforward reforms, like an Electoral College reform that would switch it to just electing our president based on the person who gets the most votes, to...
... to making sure we do something about money and politics and redistricting. And all these things we've talked about for years, they've always been important, but they've never been seen as urgent. And I think that that critique of young people of thinking twice before we get involved in politics, in the short term, I hope to defeat that by getting more young people involved in politics. But in the long term, I hope to make our politics more inclusive so that young people never have to ask that question, does my voice matter?
COOPER: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.
COOPER: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, good luck. A huge thank you to our audience tonight. They've been with us here for the last five hours. Incredible night. We've never really done anything like this. So thank you all. We also want to thank the Institute of Politics, Harvard University, and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics here at Saint Anselm College for such an exciting night. Up next, my colleague, Erica Hill, is going to pick up our coverage of the special town hall event live from New York. Be right back.