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CNN Live Event/Special
CNN's Town Hall with Democratic Presidential Canidadate Pete buttigieg. Aired 9-9:55p ET
Aired February 06, 2020 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Chris Cuomo. Tonight, a CNN town hall event live here at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. Top Democrats making their closing arguments before votes are cast in the all-critical New Hampshire Primary, of course, just a few days away.
You already heard from Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the top finishers in Iowa. Next, we have former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who was unknown a year ago, now taking the stage tonight as the leader in the Iowa Caucuses. Please welcome former Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good to see you.
CUOMO: OK. I have news for everybody in the room, including you, sir, I believe. The Iowa Democratic Party just released the final batch of results from the caucuses,
100 percent of precincts reporting. You are holding a narrow lead of a tenth of a percentage point over Senator Sanders on the state delegate equivalents, which is the metric that we use to determine a winner.
What is your reaction?
BUTTIGIEG: Oh, that's fantastic news, to hear that we won.
First of all, I want to say Senator Sanders clearly had a great night, too, and I congratulate him and his supporters. And for us, this is a campaign that a year ago I think a lot of people were questioning why we were even making the attempt.
And to see over the course of that year, having started with four people on the staff of the committee, we had this little cramped office in South Bend, no national name recognition, no personal fortune, no big e-mail list that you would get from having run for president before. We just had this idea that we could build a different kind of politics, of belonging based on bringing people together. And to see how that led to that win for us in Iowa is fantastic.
But I also know that we're in New Hampshire now. We've got to look ahead. New Hampshire is a state that has never been told what to do.
BUTTIGIEG: And we've got to earn every vote and earn a win on Tuesday night right here.
CUOMO: Correct me if I'm wrong, but as we both know, DNC Chair Tom Perez has demanded a recanvassing. He wants to make sure after what happened there everything is accurate. My guess is, you're not so big on a recanvassing. How do you feel? Do you think they should have a recount in Iowa?
BUTTIGIEG: Whatever they need to do in order to make sure that the information is clear and verified.
CUOMO: Would you request one?
BUTTIGIEG: What's -- I'll leave it to the party to get into that. But, you know, what I'll say is, nothing can take away what happened on Monday, just an extraordinary moment for the movement that we have built, and now we're looking ahead to New Hampshire and beyond.
CUOMO: All right. So a function of what happens in New Hampshire is, of course, how all these good people decide to process what happens between now and Election Day. Big event was the acquittal of the president, OK.
Very angry in the East Room of the White House this afternoon. He said, quote, "We went through hell unfairly, did nothing wrong," slammed past investigation as all B.S. He said the full word, but I don't think Saint Anselm would like it.
What did you make of his remarks about the investigations, the process, and those who relied on their faith in making a determination?
BUTTIGIEG: It was disgraceful, especially to hear the way he attacked Senator Romney for clearly following his own conscience and being more concerned about the -- as Senator Romney clearly was, more concerned about the judgment of history and perhaps about his relationship with God than about party loyalty.
Now, I can't say that we're surprised. This is the kind of behavior and language that we've come to expect from this president. But I think the deeper question is, where do we go from here? Because this president now believes -- and the Senate GOP has given him reason to believe -- that you can get away with anything, that it's OK to lie, it's OK to cheat, it is even OK to involve foreign governments in domestic politics for your own gain.
And my concern is that that creates, I think for us, a sense of exhaustion, just watching this process. It creates this temptation to walk away from it all at the very moment when we have to do the reverse.
And in all of this, the good news, if you can call it that, the silver lining is that this is 2020. This is an election year. And so the Senate may have been the jury yesterday, but we, the people, are the jury now. And the final verdict on the president and on the Senate is going to be up to us this year.
CUOMO: So let's get to you making the case to these people, many of whom have not made their mind up about whom to vote for here in New Hampshire. First up, Kathleen Helie, she's from New Boston, New Hampshire. She works in digital sales, undecided. Welcome. What's your question?
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Mayor.
QUESTION: In your 2000 award-winning "Profile in Courage" essay, you wrote politicians are rushing for the center, careful not to stick their necks out on issues, and describing this stance as perhaps the greatest threat to the continued success of the American political system. Some would argue that your Medicare for all who want it plan takes a center approach. How does your plan show compromise of issues and not of principles?
BUTTIGIEG: What a great question. And let me start by saying this. What I'm proposing with what we call Medicare for all who want it would represent the biggest transformation in American health care coverage since the invention of Medicare itself. We're talking about the most progressive, boldest thing done to health care in a half- century. But, crucially, it's also something I believe we can now gather an American majority around.
The difference between my plan and some others, the idea of -- the reason it's Medicare for all who want it is that I don't think that we should order people onto that public plan I believe we ought to create.
I think that it will be the best plan. If we're right, then everybody will want it and everybody will choose it, and eventually it will become the single payer.
But if I'm wrong, or if it's not right for everybody, then we're going to be really glad we didn't kick anybody off of their plan. I believe it's the right policy, in addition to the fact that it represents a bold leap forward from what we've done before.
And that's how I measure the value and the virtue of a policy. It's not where the ideological needle in Washington falls. It's what difference it's going to make in our lives. That's what I think all politics is about. It's about how the decisions that are made in those buildings in Washington find their way into our health care, into our workplaces, into our marriage, even. And I simply think this is the right policy.
CUOMO: Let me take up Kathleen's cause for one moment, if you don't mind.
CUOMO: The idea of the essay, all right, a long time ago, interestingly, you pointed to Bernie Sanders at that time as someone who wasn't clinging to the center. Now you're running against him.
CUOMO: How do you reconcile seeing him as in the right place then with where you are now, which is not the same place where he is ideologically?
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, so, when I wrote that essay -- which I stand by, I wrote it when I was 18 years old and it was part of an essay contest run by the JFK Foundation in the name of the Profiles in Courage award. And what I really admired about Senator Sanders -- and still do -- is his consistency and willingness to say exactly what he believes.
It doesn't mean I agree with him. I didn't agree with him on everything then and don't agree with him on everything now. But I do believe that wherever we fall on some pundit's ideological spectrum, we have a responsibility to talk about what we believe in and to make the case for what we think it's right, when it's popular and when it's not.
I know that some of my views on what we need to do as a country aren't popular. Frankly, I'm showing a level of respect for New Hampshire voters' expectation of my honesty when I share with them a view that might not be popular around here, that I think that the Electoral College has run its course and in the future we ought to pick our presidents in a way that makes sure that the one who got the most votes actually gets to be president.
But I say that because I think it's the right thing to do. And I think everybody, left, right, and center, ought to come into the public square making the case for what we think is right.
CUOMO: All right, let's take another question from the audience. Anne Marie Olsen-Hayward, social worker from Dover, board member of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Association for Social Workers, undecided. Anne Marie?
QUESTION: Good evening.
QUESTION: In June, I lost my daughter, Abigail. Despite working in the field, it was a struggle to access adequate evidence-based treatment. I had to fly her across the country to access services which oftentimes were not provided in an evidence-based way. Having recently lost a child to inadequate mental health and substance abuse services, what strategies do you support to eliminate the disparities between mental health and physical health services?
BUTTIGIEG: First of all, I'm so sorry for the loss of your daughter. And I admire your being prepared to stand up and talk about that loss.
And I think the first thing that has to change before we get to the policy -- I'll come to the policy in a moment -- but the first thing that has to change is a willingness to talk about this, because mental health struggles affect every family. It's one in four or one in five Americans. That means every workplace, every community, every neighborhood is affected.
And yet we still sometimes talk about it like it's a specialty issue, like it only affects a handful of people. And we've got to create a culture where it is as acceptable to talk about struggling with bipolar disorder as it would be to talk about a fight with cancer, where it is as routine to seek an emotional health checkup as it is a physical.
If we make that change in how we talk about and think about serious mental illness and addiction, that makes it so much easier to get the policy right. And I will be a president who will give voice to those struggles.
Now, there are also all the concrete things we've got to do. One of them -- and it sounds like this is something that your family faced -- was the difficulty of accessing a provider. Even when folks have insurance, so often the insurance that might say on paper that there's parity, doesn't do much good if you're not able to see somebody or if the wait lists are so long that you never get in, or if you have to travel, as it sounds like you did, just to get some kind of care.
It's why we need to build up the base of mental health providers in this country. It's why reimbursement needs to be trued up in a way that reflects that we, in fact, value mental health care just as much as we do taking care of any physical, medical condition.
It means making sure that we're supporting in particular areas that are underserved, getting more of those providers that they need, rural areas. It means using technology, not as a replacement for in-person care,
but when we can supplement it with telemedicine and tele-psychiatry, that is something that we have to do to make sure that everybody, regardless of where you live, has access to that kind of care.
And I'm also proposing that we use federal dollars to fund what we call healing and belonging grants to local communities, because often a different area will have a different combination of struggles when it comes to mental health, behavioral health, and addiction. And so I don't think all of the answers have to come from Washington, but more of the money should.
And we will empower local health departments, local communities, and local organizations seeking to deliver those solutions and make sure that they get funding to help them as they do.
But to end where I began, you know, for you to honor Abigail by speaking up is part of what we need to do to elevate these issues and bring them out of the shadows. And I promise to be a partner in making sure that that happens nationally.
CUOMO: Let's take one more step down this road, because, you know, you understand New Hampshire is especially hard hit by this combination of mental health and how it finds its way into addiction. And there are so many families like Anne Marie's. That's why I'm sure she takes the step of saying something that is so hard for her to talk about because she knows how many families are similarly affected in this state.
And what happens is, federal dollars, great idea. They have no leverage, these families, against the providers. Not to demonize them, but they can't find access. And then the provider, the company, can slow-walk people like Anne Marie. So she has to put the money out to get her kid where the policy won't pick up, and they slow-walk paying her back, and they wait, and the family is struggling and the family is stretched and they're dealing with the problem and the company knows it. And they know time is on the company's side.
How do you get control back from the companies so that they don't come first, they don't have all the leverage against these families, especially in a state like this, that the families come first, the families have the leverage? What can you do to control cost and cost control in terms of that process? Can the federal government have a role?
BUTTIGIEG: Of course. This is part of why we have government, is to make sure that it stands up for people. When people are disempowered by the behavior of a private actor, whether we're talking about an insurance company, whether we're talking about a provider, or whether we're talking about a pharmaceutical company.
And we should not be afraid to put boundaries on what these companies can do in order to make sure that patients come first and families come first. That's part of why we have laws to begin with. The laws are too loose, and their enforcement is too lax. That will change when I'm president.
CUOMO: All right. Mr. Mayor, thank you very much.
All right, next question. Sue Ellen Hannan, middle school teacher from Derry. Not decided who she's going to vote for yet, but she has a question for you.
QUESTION: Good evening.
QUESTION: As president, what can you do and what will you do to protect the integrity of the American elections from foreign interference? And how will you ensure that protections put in place are permanent and cannot be changed in the future?
BUTTIGIEG: Such an important question. First of all, thank you for being a middle school teacher. I married a middle schoolteacher, and I know just how much courage and forbearance and creativity goes into that job.
And what you're raising is an example of the kinds of 21st century threats that our country faces. You know, not only do we have to deal with conventional military and security issues and terrorism issues, like what I worked on when I was in uniform, but the next president is going to be confronted with information security challenges, election security risks, cyber security issues, that were not understood or even thought of just a few years ago.
And we are in great danger right now, because our president's idea of a security strategy is a big wall and a moat full of alligators. It's a 17th century security technology while we are facing these 21st century security challenges.
And that is why, first of all, we need to make sure there is legislation to protect our elections so it doesn't matter as presidents come and go. And, unfortunately, this is an example of the kinds of initiatives that have faced resistance in Mitch McConnell's Senate.
We also need to make sure that our system overall is secure. It's why we need paper trails on election technology. And we also need to face the fact that not only are our elections threatened by interference from abroad, but, frankly, there is a lot of homegrown election interference.
I would argue that gerrymandering is election interference, because when politicians can pick out their voters before the first vote is cast, it changes how an election will happen.
The kind of racial voter suppression that we saw, especially, but not only in the South, I think has changed election outcomes and it's part of why we need a 21st Century Voting Rights Act. There were steps taken right here in New Hampshire to make it harder for
students to exercise their right to vote. I view that as a form of interference too. And so we need to make sure, when we're looking at both foreign and domestic anti-democratic activities, that we shore up our systems and reform our processes.
CUOMO: Mr. Mayor, we have a lot more questions for you. Let's take a quick break. When we come back, the people of New Hampshire will test one of the choices for the big primary here just days away. Stay with CNN. (APPLAUSE)
CUOMO: All right. Welcome back. We're live in New Hampshire for a Democratic presidential town hall. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg on the stage.
Mr. Mayor, it's good to have you again. Question, as you know, at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning, it seemed pretty clear that President Trump was mocking the idea that some people could be using faith to guide their politics. He said about
Mitt Romney, "he used his faith as a crutch." Response?
BUTTIGIEG: Where do we begin?
BUTTIGIEG: I mean, especially for a president who tries to cloak himself in religion, and tell believers that they somehow have to vote for him, have to vote Republican, I mean, I guess he just has a very different take on faith than I do, because I'm pretty sure that there's a whole lot of scripture about the dangers of pride and arrogance, and the importance of humility.
And to see the way he conducted himself at a function whose purpose is to call us to our highest values is just a radically different way of dealing with faith than most believers that I know.
And by the way, I'm very committed to the idea that this country, the Constitution, the presidency, belong to people of every religion and of no religion equally. That is a core principle in our country. But I also think this is a time for those who are guided by faith to think about the choice that they have.
And if you belong to a faith tradition that tells you that so much depends on how we make ourselves useful to those who are marginalized and oppressed, that so much depends on how we work to comfort the afflicted, and that so much depends on seeking leaders who walk in the way of humility and decency, I just can't imagine that that requires of you that you be anywhere near this president or what the Republican Party has become.
CUOMO: All right. Back to the people who are going to make the decision here in New Hampshire. Mark Johnson, small business owner from Concord, he says he's leaning towards supporting you.
MARK JOHNSON, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: A relative of mine, a Navy vet, was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in his lungs and bones and struggled with immense pain and loss of dignity for many months. Left without a viable alternative, he committed suicide at home. One topic that I have not heard addressed by any candidate is their thoughts on death with dignity laws. Where do you balance your religious beliefs with a patient's end-of-life wishes?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, I'm sorry to hear this story. And it makes me think of the last days of my father's struggle with cancer. And he was able to -- we were able to make him comfortable in those last days. But often, families face and individuals face excruciating choices. And this is a good example of where I don't believe that my interpretation of my religion ought to be imposed on anybody. That's a personal approach.
I believe that we need to look at the laws of this country and examine how we can best support people confronting these decisions. There's no easy answers. And it will be a tough conversation to have. But I believe nationally we need to assess whether knowing what we now know about pain, about the management of the end-of-life, whether we've got it right or whether there are more steps we can take to make sure that as people are in their last days that they are able to pass away in dignity and in as little pain as possible.
CUOMO: All right. Next question we're going to have is from Yvonne Lucas, student here at Saint Anselm who says she is undecided.
Yvonne, what's your question?
YVONNE LUCAS, STUDENT AT SAINT ANSELM COLLEGE: Thank you, Mayor. What changes in the Veterans Administration, if any, would you propose?
BUTTIGIEG: A whole bunch.
BUTTIGIEG: So it begins with the idea that the relationship that this country has with veterans, the things that we do in the V.A. and beyond the V.A. to support veterans, it's not about doing anybody a favor, it's about keeping a promise. When somebody puts up their right hand and writes a blank check to the United States of America, they are making an open-ended promise to our country. The country in return makes a promise that's supposed to last not just throughout their time in uniform but for the rest of your life.
And we are falling down on that promise in far too many ways. Part of the problem is the bureaucracy of the V.A. There are wonderful public servants taking care of veterans in the V.A. but there are not enough of them. The process is so bureaucratic and the pay is not always competitive such that there are thousands of vacancies for critically- needed positions, both in the clinical side and in the running of these facilities.
We also need to make sure more people get access and enrolled in the V.A. It is shocking how many people have earned V.A. care but have not actually been brought onto the system. We've got to fix mental health in the V.A. and make sure that we are
better supporting veterans in mental health struggles, including some who are ineligible for care because they were discharged, because of an issue that we would now know is service-connected, related to something like post-traumatic stress that just didn't have a name for previous generations of veterans.
We have got to do a better job on all of these fronts. And part of what I will do in the White House is make sure that we're doing a better job of coordinating between the Pentagon and the V.A. when it comes to medical information, because a lot of those systems don't even talk to to each other. And so the way to fix that, I think, is for the person in charge of that coordination to be seated in the White House, because that's a great way to get your calls returned when you're dealing with any federal agency. And we've got to break those silos down.
CUOMO: What is another idea in terms of things that people have heard about commonly with the V.A. that you think needs to be addressed in a way that hasn't been done to date?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, again, part of it is on the technology side. Part of it is on the care side. Part of it is realizing that actually a lot of veterans get their care outside of the V.A. And it's one of the many reasons why we need to make sure that we deliver Medicare- for-All-who-want-it so that everyone has a quality coverage option.
And we have got to support veterans not only in terms of the care they receive, but empowering them to contribute more. I think it's frustrating for a lot of veterans to feel like being talked about sometimes as a problem to be taken care of instead of as an incredible resource to be competed over, because of how much veterans can bring to our communities but aren't always seen that way when they come off of active duty.
And when I think about the people I served with, you know, I'm thinking about my right-hand man in Afghanistan, a Gunny Sergeant, about to retire at the ripe old age of 40 or so. And he and Mrs. Gunny and their four kids are going to be deciding what to do next and where to set up in a community somewhere.
I want to support communities welcoming military families, those retiring, those coming off active duty, and let them know how they can integrate in the community. And anybody is an expert on that and can volunteer to help connect people up. That's why we piloted in South Bend an effort that's called Veterans Community Connections, to try to create ways beyond just the system, the brochures, the websites, the benefits, to just make sure our communities do a better job of finding a way to go beyond "thank you for your service" and truly extend that hand to a lot of people who are disoriented by leaving the sense of community and identity and purpose that you have when you're on active duty, and making sure that we better integrate them into the civilian world. CUOMO: You know, I remember how quick you were when the president
referred to traumatic brain injuries as "headaches," to correct that because it was obviously personal for you that you knew people who had gone through that type of injury because of your service.
What do you think your time in the service gives you that you just don't have if you haven't been there, as many of your other competitors?
BUTTIGIEG: It's that the gravity of the decision to ask somebody to go into a war zone isn't theoretical, it's personal. And I think a lot about -- I shared this story in the debate, of a friend of mine who I was training with who as we walked away on the day we shipped out, after saying goodbye to family, was looking ahead as we walked toward the barracks, knowing, sensing, he and I could both sense it, that his one-and-a-half-year-old was toddling after him, not understanding why his father was walking away until his mother could scoop him up.
Moments like that happen by the thousands when there is a deployment. And our troops will do whatever is required of them. I had a chance encounter a few weeks ago, somebody I served with, who I hadn't seen since she was injured in an insider attack when we were both deployed, and ran into her just by chance at the airport and asked her how she was doing.
And she was wearing a Wounded Warrior Project T-shirt that said "some assembly required." And when I asked her how she was, she lifted up her knee and tapped on her leg, the prosthetic, the part where they couldn't save her leg. And she said, the Navy fixed me up just fine. And then she talked about how she's looking forward to an upcoming deployment.
People who put on the uniform will do whatever this country requires of them. And when you have seen what people give, then you never think of those decisions the same way that are made in the Oval Office and in the decision room. And our troops and their families deserve somebody who understands what is at stake when those decisions are made.
CUOMO: You know, when you enlisted, you had such a host of choices. You were mayor at the time, a ridiculous resume, you decide to go into the service. Why?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, there was a family tradition, for one thing. And I had always kind of thought about serving. And actually the experience that put me over the top was when I was a campaign volunteer, I took a few days off work to go knock on doors for Barack Obama, in the Iowa -- in the days leading up to the Iowa Caucuses.
And I was sent to some of the lowest-income counties in Iowa, and noticed the remarkably high proportion of those communities,
the people I met right and left, felt like their whole young generation was getting ready to serve. And I could count on one hand the number of people I knew at Harvard who had gone into the uniform. And I began to wonder if maybe, by not having served, I was part of a problem, because the original tradition of the military was that it was a place where people of every different background met and interacted. And it seemed like that was fading away. And I realized that I had to make myself useful, too.
And in doing that, part of what I gained was the opportunity to serve with and under people who were so different from me. And when somebody got in my vehicle, when we had to go outside the wire for -- for a job in Afghanistan, they did not care if I was a Democrat or Republican. They did not care if I was going home to a girlfriend or a boyfriend. They did not care what country my dad immigrated from. They just care if I knew how to do my job, and it was the same both ways.
And learning how to trust your life to people who are radically different from you, in terms of their background, racially, regionally, definitely politically, is an experience that I think more of us need.
I'm not saying military service is for everybody. But one of the reasons I believe we ought to create a million paid voluntary national service opportunities a year is that we, just in general, as a country, need more shared experiences that give us that touchstone, that break us out of those -- those silos that we're in, those bubbles that we can get into as Americans, and remind us of how to learn to trust and get to know one another.
CUOMO: All right. Let's get a question here. We have Sarah Maitz (ph), a middle school teacher from Candia. She's currently undecided.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you.
Welcome, Mayor. How are you going to help an educator such as myself, who has to spend my own money to buy supplies for my classroom and beg for them on crowdfunding sites since my district doesn't have the money to supply what I need?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, again, thank you for your commitment to your classroom. And you should have a little more support -- in fact, a lot more support. I would argue that, if we could honor our teachers a little more like we do our soldiers and pay our teachers a little more like we do our doctors, this entire country would be a better place.
And again, being married to a teacher, I have seen just how much teachers put in and invest in not just having to pick up supplies for your classroom but emotionally invest in the well-being of kids, conversations with parents long after hours, late nights grading papers.
And yet look at what you're up against, not being compensated the way most professions that require that much education and skill are, often having the profession almost feel like it's being automated by an over over-reliance on standardized testing, expecting teachers to handle mental health issues without being given the resources to support students who have that -- those challenges.
And now, with school safety an issue, there are some who expect teachers to suddenly convert into a highly trained armed guard if there's a threat to the school. We are asking way too much of teachers and not supporting you enough.
And so what we've got to do is make sure, yes, first of all, that more resources are going into public education. It means making sure that we massively expand the funding for Title I because, in particular, I'm concerned about those districts and schools where the students are most in need. And a lot of that needs to go to the compensation of teachers. Because for the first time, I think ever, a majority of teachers say that they would hesitate to recommend to their own kids to follow them into the profession.
And I'm not just talking about classroom teachers but supporting everyone in the profession, paraprofessionals and others who are educating our kids. What could be more important than making sure that we support the next generation?
And this is not just about making sure we prepare kids for an economy that's changing quickly, which is part of why we need such robust investment in public education. But we're not just educating future workers. We're educating future citizens. And that's why things like civics education and arts and humanities education are not a luxury. They are a necessity.
The time has come for us to stand up and support public education in this country. And, yes, that begins with having a secretary of education who believes in public education and supports the profession.
CUOMO: You can tell how important education is here in New Hampshire, in this primary, because there are a lot of teachers in the questions. And we know they've got tough days ahead of them tomorrow.
Here's another one, Kathy Eicher (ph), a public high school teacher from Nashua, undecided.
QUESTION: Good evening.
QUESTION: As a candidate you have talked about many of your topics and your -- your plans, what you plan to do, what you intend to do on many different topics.
But I would like to know, if you were only permitted to accomplish one thing when president, what specifically would -- would it be?
BUTTIGIEG: Just one?
QUESTION: Just one.
BUTTIGIEG: Wow. Well, let me say this. It's not a sizzling, glamorous issue, but the shape of our democracy is the issue that affects every other issue. So in order for us to get better outcomes on funding public education, on dealing with gun violence -- I mean, think about this. Ninety percent of Americans, the vast majority of Republicans, of gun owners, think we ought to at least be doing universal background checks, and it still doesn't happen.
So my point is, there are so many issues and areas, from climate to gun violence to economics, where Americans want something and Washington cannot deliver, that if you've got to pick one thing to fix, it's politics; it's Washington. And there are concrete things we can do about it: getting money out of politics. I know you said one thing, but I'm going to take the -- the liberty, since we're in a hypothetical.
CUOMO: Now, I don't know. Because I've disappointed a lot of high school teachers in my life, and I know the look on her face right now.
She said one thing.
BUTTIGIEG: All right. One bill, along the lines of H.R. 1 -- see, the House already passed a pro-democracy, anti-corruption bill, one of many very good pieces of legislation to die in Mitch McConnell's Senate. If we could have that kind of legislation and more to make sure that voting rights are secure, that districts are fair, that money is out of politics, and bundle that up into a democracy package, then everything else gets a little better, gets a little easier in our politics.
CUOMO: Hold on.
BUTTIGIEG: Are you going to have her grade me?
CUOMO: I'm just getting a read.
No, I'm just saying, as somebody who's...
You've never gotten bad grades. As somebody who has, I'm just saying, look...
... if Mitch McConnell -- let me share my experience here. If Mitch McConnell is still there...
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. CUOMO: ... if you are given the opportunity to lead but you do not have leadership on your side in the Senate, then how can you change and make this one thing happen?
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. So here's what we have going for us right now, is that there is a historic American majority insisting that we make these changes -- even more than the majority that was available to President Obama a decade ago.
On the things that I'm proposing, even though they are bold, big moves forward, for a better democracy, to climate action, to gun violence, to higher wages and family leave, all the things we believe in, there is a powerful enough majority even in conservative states that, if you can't have a good-faith interaction with a GOP Senate, you can have a good interaction with the voters who sent them there.
And so, to me, the best use of that big blue and white airplane that comes with the Oval Office that the president uses mostly for the purpose of traveling among golf courses with his name on them...
I don't even golf, so that's not going to be how I use that airplane.
I'm going to use that airplane to go directly into the backyard of senators who are not just defying my White House but defying their own voters, their own constituents, and require them to explain to the people who sent them to Washington why they refuse to enact the basic legislation that meets the expectation of their own voters.
CUOMO: You will go to state constituencies when you have an issue situation and campaign for it right there where they're from?
BUTTIGIEG: Absolutely. This isn't just about campaigning for...
CUOMO: During the term?
BUTTIGIEG: ... candidates. This is about campaigning for issues.
CUOMO: All right. Let's take a break on that, Mr. Mayor.
We'll have more with our town hall with Mayor Pete Buttigieg, right after this.
CUOMO: All right. Welcome back. We're live at St. Anselm College here in New Hampshire with former Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Personal question: Now, you've said in the past that you once feared
that being gay could be a career death sentence. Now we see where you are, at the top of the Iowa caucuses.
And you've described that as a moment of validation for the LGBTQ community. I want to know, what did it mean to you personally?
And I want you to tell the audience and the member of the LGBTQ community who is out there watching right now what you want it to mean for them.
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. I mean, everyone's story is different. But the thing I want people to hear is that -- that it gets better. And this really was something that I -- I would have done anything -- at a certain time in my life, I would have done anything to not be gay, and believed that, as that reality became inescapable, that it might cost the chance to serve, in uniform or in office.
And here I am now finding that that very same fact that I thought might prevent me from having an impact in the world, at least a certain kind of impact in a certain kind of way, is actually very much part of the impact I get to have now.
I mean, I'm not running to be the gay president of the United States; I'm running to be a president for everybody. But talk about God having a sense of humor.
And so my hope is that -- because I know right now there are so many, especially young people, who question whether they fit in their own family, in their community, as they come to terms with who they are. And we got a long way to go when it comes to LGBTQ equality right now.
But I think the fact that I'm standing here, the fact that my husband is in the audience watching right now, is just an amazing example of that belief that, yes, yes, you belong. And this country has a place for you.
CUOMO: The -- when you were speaking that night, you came out, thanked your mom.
CUOMO: You honored the memory of your father, and then you talked about Chasten and you looked at him. And the look on your face was different.
Now, I'm trying to knock you down here emotionally in terms of what it was, but what did it mean to you to look over at the person you love in that kind of moment and recognize that you actually were where you were?
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. Well, I mean... CUOMO: Because he's always known it. Anybody who knows your husband, he's surprised by none of your success. But for you, what was it like?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, it's just an extraordinary -- I don't even have words for it. Especially because I wouldn't be here without him. You know, when I was first -- when I was a bachelor mayor in South Bend...
... and honestly, kind of avoiding love, because I wasn't ready for the consequences, I never understood how -- you know, I would go to events with my fellow mayors and elected officials, and I didn't understand how anybody could possibly hold office and also have a family or a spouse. I just couldn't imagine how you'd have room for both.
And it's funny, because now I absolutely cannot possibly imagine that without Chasten cheering me on and also offering brutally honest feedback when I need it, and...
... and reminding me of who I am -- you know, when we had that conversation, before deciding to do this, he let me know that he supported me and he said that he's all in for this, but a couple of things. We would always be true to who we are and our values. And we have to find some joy along the way. And he's been a partner in this whole thing. And I, quite simply, couldn't do it without him. So...
CUOMO: I'm very interested to see how he liked that answer. We'll see...
BUTTIGIEG: We'll find out soon.
CUOMO: We'll get -- all right. Let's get back to the audience. Mary Rioux, an administrative assistant from Manchester. She says she is undecided. Mary?
QUESTION: Hi there. Welcome back to Saint Anselm College.
BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.
BUTTIGIEG: Here's my question. How do we create a world where we return to caring for our fellow humans? We have kids in cages, separated from their families, as they flee violence and unspeakable horrors in their homelands. Kids in cages. Seriously, it absolutely blows my mind. If we all can't recognize and correct such obvious wrongdoing, how do we find ways to come together and compromise on issues that aren't so blatantly black and white?
BUTTIGIEG: You're right. It's a moral stain on the country, some of the things that are going on. And kids in cages is just one example, one of the most excruciating examples to think about. And, again, for a president to thump his chest at a prayer breakfast
when he's responsible for that going on, I got to ask myself the question, what does God think of that? I imagine God thinks that's pretty messed up.
And we all have to recognize that political choices are moral choices, too, that no one can defend harming children, which, as a matter of policy, is -- this should go without saying, but I'd better make sure that I've said it -- there will not be family separation, there will not be this treatment of children, and when I'm president, there will be no such thing as a for-profit detention facility for children.
But I think what you're asking about is something bigger. What you're asking about is how we treat one another and whether we are prepared to see one another as human beings.
I think all of the most evil things that happen in the world come from moments where a human being considers another human being and sees something other than humanity. And that's part of what the highest office in the land is responsible for shaping, is the way we look at and treat each other, especially those who are different -- racially different, ethnically different, different in -- politically different, for that matter, and see in one another the humanity that requires of us some level of compassion, not about having to agree, but about having to see that humanity.
And that is in short supply right now in our politics. And that can change. We don't have to take that sitting down. We don't have to accept that.
We can deliver a different and better kind of politics.
And part of why my campaign is calling out not only to fellow Democrats, who are most likely to agree with me on specific policy concerns, but independents, and an awful lot of what I like to call future former Republicans, who -- who won't agree with me on every issue, but can agree on this, that there's no way we can look children in the eye right now and explain what is going on in this country morally, and that we have to do better.
CUOMO: Let's take a different take on this issue, because you're at Saint Anselm, and, you know, this is the home of Catholic catechism and the understanding of one of the greatest theologians that we've ever had about faith is understanding and understanding the collective responsibility.
So let's say you're not here, and you're out there on the hustings and somebody says, "But they broke the law, and we don't have room," because the president isn't just interested in illegal immigration, he's interested in reducing legal immigration. Whether the administration wants to own that or not, it's clear from their policies. BUTTIGIEG: That's right.
CUOMO: And they say, but there are too many and my own family is suffering, and they came illegally, and you have to uphold the law. How do you speak to those people about this?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, this has to be a country that manages things like immigration in a way that aligns with our values and our laws. Part of it is that we need to update our laws, which haven't been changed since the 1980s and have made it impossible for us to manage immigration in a commonsense way.
But part of it also is recognizing that immigration is part of the lifeblood of this country. And when I think about the city that I served as mayor for two terms, we're not full. We lost tens of thousands of people after the factories closed. We need more people. And there are so many communities that I go to, especially in rural areas, that don't just have a job growth challenge, they have a population growth challenge.
It's why part of what I've proposed is what we call community renewal visas, as part of my vision for how we increase the economic prospects of rural areas, is that if an area that's hurting for population wants to welcome more -- and many do, even in more conservative areas -- that they can apply for an allotment of community renewal visas that fast-track folks who are new to America and will commit to living in those communities.
We need to lift up the role of immigration as an engine for our economy, for the development of our communities, and not just pay lip service to legal immigration, which is what this administration is doing, even as they make it harder for people to go through the lawful process, not to mention the cruelty toward those who are undocumented. We need to actually fix it.
And here's one more example of an issue where most Americans can agree. Most Americans agree on a pathway to citizenship, protecting Dreamers, simplifying our lawful immigration policy. And if most Americans can agree on that, the time has come for presidential leadership to make sure that a majority of the American people is finally reflected by a majority on the floor of the American Congress.
CUOMO: We have a question from Mikaela Noreng, who teaches at Saint Anselm. She's currently undecided. Professor?
QUESTION: Good evening, Mayor Pete.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question on behalf of my children and future grandchildren. What would you like America to look like in 2050? And what will you do to accomplish this and get us there?
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. So by 2050, we will be -- we must be a carbon- neutral economy, so that your children don't have to worry about whether climate destruction is going to ruin their prospects. We will be a less unequal country, one where you have the opportunity
to succeed no matter where you're from, a country where your race has no bearing on your health or your wealth or your access to educational opportunities, or your relationship with law enforcement. We have to take steps today to deliver that reality.
It should be a country where it is possible for us in the public square to have, as we always will, ferocious and vigorous debates where we differ, but to never question one another's belonging in the American project. And it will be a country where I hope, if all goes well, to be having conversations with my kids and grandkids in the year 2050.
QUESTION: That would be wonderful.
BUTTIGIEG: And I would love to be able to say to them, you know, watching the television, and the president comes on, to confidently be able to say to them, you know, OK, the president is from a different party than mine and we disagree on a lot of things, but I have no question that she's a good person and
doing the right thing by her own lights, and we can have those kinds of disagreements without it tearing this country apart.
CUOMO: Mr. Mayor, thank you very much for being here with us tonight.
CUOMO: Thank you.
All right. Coming up next, Senator Amy Klobuchar has her turn on the town hall stage. My colleague, D. Lemon, will host, right after the break.