The 2020 Candidates: Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Our first guest is the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. In just two months since announcing his candidacy, his resume and potential will make history--have already established him as a force in the Democratic Party.
Mayor Pete is a Rhodes Scholar, who served six years as a Naval Intelligence Officer.
During his first term as mayor, he deployed with the Navy Reserve on a counterterrorism mission to Afghanistan. And the day before the next presidential inauguration, Pete will celebrate his 39th birthday. If he's the person sworn in on January 20th, he'll be the youngest elected president by more than seven years.
This morning, we are looking forward to an engaging conversation with Mayor Pete and The Washington Post's Robert Costa. They'll discuss the Mayor's background and campaign, and some of today's most pressing policy issues, including, immigration, trade with China, tensions with Iran, and the security of the 2020 election.
Before we begin, I would like to thank our presenting sponsor, Bank of America, and share this message from the bank.
MR. RYAN: Now, please join me in welcoming Mayor Buttigieg and Robert Costa.
MR. COSTA: Good morning. Welcome to Washington Post Live. I'm Bob Costa. Really appreciate you coming here today. We're kicking off our 2020 candidate series. Really appreciate your time, Mayor Buttigieg. It's great to have you here.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Thanks for having me in.
MR. COSTA: Let's just start with the news. Is it time for House Democrats to start an impeachment proceeding?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: So, I've learned--as a young Democrat, I've learned to think cautiously before offering advice to Nancy Pelosi.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: But what I'll say is that it's very clear that the President deserves impeachment and the case for impeachment is being built, each passing day, by the White House. What we have now is a steady process of taking apart any semblance of respect for the rule of law.
And you see it in--we saw it early on, but now you see it in trying to block a private citizen from testifying. You see it in refusing legitimate investigative requests. You even see it if you look at the preface to the decision that came down recently, citing James Buchanan. You see perhaps the first time since James Buchanan that a president has basically tried to assert that Congress doesn't have any investigative authority at all, and all of this is contributing to that case. Now, as to when and how the House goes about launching those procedural steps to get the inquiry up and running, I'm going to leave that to the House, because I know that, regardless of how that process unfolds, we've got a political job to do, as well.
MR. COSTA: So, you support an impeachment proceeding at some point--
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Sure.
MR. COSTA: --you're only concern is about the timing.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, there's obviously a sequence to be followed and the House is not going--the House Democrats are not going to allow them to say that this was a kneejerk action. They're exercising unbelievable discipline, given that we're well past the point of what would ordinarily be tolerated in this republic and still being very methodical.
Look, we should hear from Mueller, we should hear from Barr. There's a lot of procedural things that should be going on in the various investigations happening.
But my part of the puzzle is the political part.
MR. COSTA: Right.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: And at the end of the day, especially when you recognize that impeachment is a fundamentally political, not legal, process, because it comes down to the votes of politicians, that what really will matter most is the conscience of Republican Senators. And even that phrase, "conscience of Republican Senators," I think, is a concept that has come under a certain amount of question, lately. But if anything is going to reunite them with their conscience in the long run, in my view, it is a decisive electoral defeat for Republicans in 2020, which is what I'm of course trying to deliver by running against this president.
MR. COSTA: Just to be clear, you would support an impeachment proceeding being launched at some point--
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Of course.
MR. COSTA: --in order to get witnesses to come testify and to get documents to Capitol Hill?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Yes.
MR. COSTA: Do you see cracks in the GOP side with Representative Amash of Michigan speaking out on impeachment?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: In some ways, he was the exception that proved the rule. It seemed that the rest of the party closed ranks. But you know, there was principled stand there. It is not inconceivable that there will be others.
Again, though, I'm not sure, absent an electoral consequence, to put the fear of God into some of the Republicans who know better and are now clearly acting in bad faith, which means they won't respond to a moral call. They will only respond to a political result. I'm not sure much changes until there's an election to remind them what the political results of continuing to be on board with something that is inimical not only to our values, but to their own, will be.
MR. COSTA: You said you don't want to give advice to Speaker Pelosi, but is she being too cautious, in terms of timing?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Again, I will leave to the House the kind of sequencing question. This is something that gets a new sort of twist every couple of days, if nothing else in terms of a fresh outrage, which is what I mean when I say that the White House itself is kind of the main actor building the case, almost methodically, for impeachment. But I trust the House caucus to find the right sequencing, especially because there's so many overlapping and adjacent investigative processes.
MR. COSTA: But you're a leader in the Democratic Party. What's the breaking point? If you're waiting for the right sequence, what's the breaking point to actually get to that moment?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, again, we've got a lot of outstanding requests for information, for testimony, and either they come in and deliver still more information that helps prosecute the case, or they don't come in and the fact that they're being illegally or wrongfully withheld becomes one more thing to prosecute the case.
But look, I'm a 2020 candidate, the best thing I can do about this is not a procedural issue in the House of Representatives. It's getting the nomination and beating the President.
MR. COSTA: Speaker Pelosi said the President engaged in a cover-up. Do you agree?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. I mean, the cover-up's in plain sight--I don't even know if you can call it a cover-up if it's done in plain sight, because a cover-up is supposed to be not only hiding something, but also, itself, hidden.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: So, but again, I'm not--this is extremely important, but this is also extremely Washington. These are not the questions I get in Iowa or South Carolina most of the time.
The only reason any of this matters, including the whole reason that presidential malfeasance matters is that these things cash out in our everyday lives.
And one of the many areas in which most Americans agree with us on is our agenda to get more people a raise, to protect people's health care, to make sure that we actually get somewhere on paid family leave. And I hope we are able to chew gum and walk at the same time as we do this, because our agenda is a winning one. And the more we're talking about him, the less I feel like we're talking about voters.
MR. COSTA: Mayor Buttigieg, you served this country in uniform. There are many reports that President Trump is considering pardons for former soldiers who committed war crimes, U.S. soldiers. What's your view on that? Do they deserve them?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: My view is it's disgusting.
Look, when you serve, when you take that oath, the oath is to the Constitution. And if you are convicted by a jury of your military peers of having committed a war crime, the idea that the President is going to overrule that is an affront to the basic idea of good order and discipline and to the idea of law, the very thing that we believe we're putting our lives on the line to defend.
Remember, we're talking about people who would be convicted by an American military justice system. The whole idea of the Uniform Code of Military Justice is that it is applied to everyone in uniform--and by the way, to contractors, under certain circumstances.
And you know, another thing that makes this so dangerous and so insulting to people who served is, you know, we finally live in a time when Americans have figured out how to separate the way they feel about a policy from the way they treat troops. This was not the case for everybody who came back from Vietnam.
You talk--you know, even now, we do a welcome home day for Vietnam veterans in South Bend, and you talk to veterans, many of whom were just drafted. They did what they were legally required to do, and they've got tears in their eyes talking about the way it felt when they came home, because people couldn't distinguish between how they felt about the war and how they felt about the troops.
In my generation, thankfully, as somebody who served in the Afghanistan War, would have served in the Iraq War, if called to do so--was also strongly against the Iraq War, from the beginning--I'm so thankful that we live in a moment that we can honor the troops separately from policy.
Even then, there are some people, I see it every now and then in my social media feed, who think anybody who served is a war criminal, right? That's a radical fringe, but they--sometimes they talk about us that way, about veterans and troops that way.
And our firewall against that is the fact that American law, American military law, is abundantly clear on what you do and do not do in uniform. And if you do something wrong in uniform, you will be prosecuted and you will be held accountable. If the President blows a hole in that, he is blowing in the integrity of the military, and he is putting troops' lives at risk.
MR. COSTA: How so?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Because there's a lot--
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: When I was deployed, I could feel a full spectrum of American power keeping me safe. And yes, that was the armor on my vehicle; yes, it was the armor on my body; but it was also the armor of some level of American moral authority. As complex as it is, as much as it's had its ups and downs, the basic idea that most people believed that the--including our enemies, believed that the flag on my shoulder represented a country that kept its word.
If we lose that, then we lose the fact that, as I was driving my vehicle through the City of Kabul and looking through the windshield trying to spot the people who might present a threat to my life and that of the people in my vehicle, knowing that for every person I could see through the windshield who really would kill us if he had the chance, there were a lot more people who had respect for our country. If we lose that, nothing will keep us safe.
MR. COSTA: You come here from the campaign trail--I was just on the trail in South Carolina, many voters, older Democrats, some younger Democrats, they say Vice President Biden, who's leading in the polls, has earned the nomination because of his experience, his work with President Obama. Has he earned the nomination?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I think you earn the nomination by winning it. Nobody's earned the nomination in 2019. The way you earn the nomination is to present a vision for where the party needs to go and where the country needs to go.
And I think for the Democratic Party today, the other way you earn the nomination is demonstrating that you're the one who can beat this President and win.
I worry that even now sometimes--because there are some parts of the country where the very concept of a Trump voter is treated as exotic--I think that the likelihood or at least chance that this President wins a second term is being underestimated in our party. We need to make sure that we nominate somebody who has the right vision, the right ideas, the right direction for this country, and can win.
MR. COSTA: What about the right experience?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Absolutely. Experience is one of the best things I've got going for me. I know I'm the youngest person in the race, but the experience of guiding a city of any size, the experience that you get as a mayor, handling everything from an economic development puzzle to a racially sensitive officer-involved shooting, literally getting the 3:00 a.m. call to deal with natural disasters, understanding that the job is not just implementing policy, not just managing an administration, but a moral element where you have got to figure out a way to call people to their highest values and bring them together, especially at moments of strain.
The exact function of the President we are most grievously missing, even though the management and the policy have been terrible, too, that's--to the extent anything can prepare you for the Oval Office, not to mention I think the kinds of experiences you get when you realize what the presidency means, because it ordered you into a combat zone. I think those experiences are as good as any experience you can accumulate you here in Washington to get you ready for the presidency.
MR. COSTA: But some voters may look at your experience compared to his and they say, "He also appeals to the industrial Midwest." He has national experience. You're talking about city experience in Indiana. What differentiates your appeal to voters who are looking for someone to win over those Trump voters, to win over those states?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, part of it is the willingness to talk about--not just nibbling around the edges, but really fixing our system.
A presidency like the one we've got isn't even possible under ordinary circumstances. I know there is a lot of focus on the various things on the margins that tipped the election into this President's hands, but a person like the person in the White House today doesn't get within cheating distance of the Oval Office unless people, especially people in the industrial Midwest, where I'm from, are completely fed up with this system, to the point that they will vote for somebody they dislike just to send a message that they want to burn the house down.
And if we are perceived as replicating a system that let people down, economically and politically, then we could very well lose again. And I'm not--
MR. COSTA: Do you think Vice President Biden is a replication of that system?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I'm not talking about any one of my competitors.
MR. COSTA: It was a reference to a Biden question.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: When it comes to the other 23 competitors, or however many it is this week, I'm not sure any of--I am sure that none of them have quite the same account I do of where the country is headed and how we're going to change it.
So, the bottom line is we've got to demonstrate--look, the core falsehood of the Trump message is the word "again," right, the idea that we can fish greatness out of the American past, when actually the one thing we most want to emulate from those who came before us is the very fact that they were focused on the future.
And if we want to respond to that, it can't be an equal and opposite response. It has to be something completely different. And more than anybody else in this field, I would argue, I represent something completely different.
MR. COSTA: Now, you say you have the experience. You detailed some of your experience. You did not mention your time at McKinsey. How did that experience prepare you for the presidency?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, I learned a lot about how the private sector works. I learned a lot about data. That was a big part of my job. And I think it's useful at a moment like this to understand the productive power of capitalism, but also the abuses that can happen in the business world.
And so, having swum in those waters for some amount of time, I think, does gives you a certain perspective that you don't have if you've never been in the business community.
MR. COSTA: You've released tax returns for ten years. Will you be willing in the coming weeks or months to release your tax returns from 2007, 2008, when you were at McKinsey?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I think what we released would cover at least some of my time, there.
MR. COSTA: Some. It stopped in '09, when you left.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, I think I was an employee through '09. But anyway, I'd be open to that. Look, I mean, you don't have to go back too far to find me being a graduate student. There's not much there, but--
MR. COSTA: But in 2007 and 2008 you were at McKinsey.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, I think you can catch at least one year of my McKenzie time.
MR. COSTA: you can.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: But yeah, I'd be open to go further back.
MR. COSTA: Open to it or you agree to it?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I don't usually make decisions like that on stages, but I don't see why not. I believe in being as transparent, or more, as any of my competitors.
MR. COSTA: You've run a very agreeable campaign in terms of going after your competitors. As we just saw, you don't want to directly target any of them in an explicit way.
You're going to be on a debate stage next month. How are you going to set yourself apart?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: So, I think the way you cut through and the way you set yourself apart today is not by waving your arms and trying to be the loudest.
I think some of it will be in the idea space. I think I've talked more about structural reforms than most, perhaps any, of my competitors.
Then again, I think most of us actually agree, to the tune of probably about 80 percent, on what the big issues are and how to handle them.
So, I think what people will be looking for as they scan that debate stage is, of course, who can I see as president, but also who can I see really changing--changing the channel from the show that we have right now in Washington.
There has to be a sense that we can generate something that will speak to people who have either completely tuned out or who are so disgusted with everything that they see that, even though they were under no illusions that this president is a good guy, they would rather have that just to disrupt the system and see what happens, see if it might, by some chance, make them better off.
MR. COSTA: People's records will be under scrutiny at the debate. When you look at Vice President Biden's record, is the 1994 crime bill--for example, was that a mistake?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I can't help but get the impression that there's more interest in one of my competitors than any of the others, today.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Look, I wasn't there for the crime bill debate--I mean, I was there, but I was 12, and it was not a priority for me.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I think overall--overall, at least from a South Bend perspective, the bad outweighs the good. And I say that because this is a bill that I think there is a broad sense--maybe not a total consensus, but a broad sense that that bill contributed to mass incarceration in a country that is the most grievously incarcerated in the world.
And what we're seeing now, a generation later, is I'm dealing with the things that happen--if somebody gets shot in a neighborhood in South Bend today, statistically, it is almost always a young man of color, and so, statistically often is the shooter--who was born after the year 2000, or somewhere between 1994 and 2000. And when you look at the circumstances that lead to violence and other harms, you look at the kinds of adverse childhood experiences that can set somebody back in life. Exposure to violence is one. Exposure to drug abuse is one. Incarceration of a parent is one.
So, the mass incarceration that may have felt in a kneejerk way as a way to be tough on crime in the '90s is now, one generation later, being visited upon communities today through the absence of parents.
Some of the very same people who were lamenting the breakdown of the family were breaking up families by incarcerating people for nonviolent drug offences. And to the extent that a lot of the money out of the crime bill went toward building prisons, I think that has made us worse off.
Now, of course, there are certain things in that package, the gun reform, sending money to communities to enhance their access to certain law enforcement resources that we'd be happy to have. But on balance, I think the incarceration did so much harm that I would think that even those who were behind the '94 crime bill, at least many of them, would do it differently if they had a chance to do it again.
MR. COSTA: But should they be held to account?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, that's what elections are for. And I think that, you know, if nothing else, we've begun to realize how we can be a little smarter about things like nonviolent drug offences.
Now, that's playing out in a way that's kind of uneven right now. So, you take opioids, really tough issue in New Hampshire, certainly Claremont, where I was a few days ago; tough issue at home in South Bend. People I know, people I care about, have been lost to this epidemic. And America has finally realized that this is a medical, not moral, issue, that we need to treat addiction not as something to be criminalized but as something to be treated.
Now, as we have this conversation about how to deal with opioids, there's a lot of people, especially people in the black community back home who say to me, "You know, Mayor, it's great that you're really enlightened and forward-thinking now about drugs. Where were you during the crack epidemic?"
MR. COSTA: It was not just opioids that's affecting a lot of these communities you're talking about. It's post-recession in 2008. Credit card companies, should they be reformed?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, absolutely. When you have these arbitration clauses that say you can't sue them even if they get caught ripping you off, that is something that--to me, it's a great example of how Democrats ought to get back in the business of talking about freedom. Because philosophically, we've been living--really, ever since Reagan became president, we've been living with this unargued and incorrect assumption that the only thing that can you make you unfree is government.
But you're not free if some kind of arbitration clause prevents you from holding a banker or a credit card company accountable when they're caught ripping you off.
So, a richer, thicker, truer sense of freedom is one where consumers are empowered. And that needs to be part of our legal framework today.
MR. COSTA: One last thing on this: Many credit card companies are based in Delaware. Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of your rivals, said Vice President Biden was, quote, "On the wrong side of the credit card companies."
Is she right?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I have a difference of opinion with anybody who favors credit card companies over consumers.
MR. COSTA: We'll leave it there.
When I'm asking a lot of voters about you, they say you're going to be on stage with President Trump--not just on these primary debate stages, but on stage in a general election. He's going to be tough. He's going to take punches at you, rhetorically.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Mm-hmm.
MR. COSTA: Are you ready for that?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. I mean, look, what he's going to do--and I got a fair amount of familiarity with bullies--I'm gay, I'm from Indiana, I get it--is he's going to try to get your attention and he's going to try to get under your skin. He's going to try to distract us. And the challenge in confronting Trump is that there's certain things that he does that you have to respond to, just morally. When he lies, you got to correct the lie, which will keep you busy, because he does it so often.
When he does something wrong, you've got to point to it. But it can't be about him. Any energy that goes his way, including energy that goes his way in the form of criticism turns into a kind of food. He just devours it and gets bigger.
And what we've got to learn is how to kind of stiff-arm him. So, it's almost like a sort of crazy uncle management. Like, he's there, you're not going to disrespect his humanity, but he thinks what he thinks, there's not much you can do about it. You're going to correct the outrages. And then, we're going to return the focus right back to the fact that we're the ones trying to get you a wage and they're the ones trying to block an increase in wages. We're the ones trying to get you health care and they're trying to take it away. We're the ones trying to make sure you actually get paid family leave. All these issue--and now, a woman's right to choose, all these issues that Americans agree with us on. I mean, it's actually getting harder and harder to find a policy of this administration that most Americans don't disagree with. Which is exactly, of course, why they need it not to be about policy and that's where a lot of the strategy and silly insults and the rest of that comes with.
So, look, I don't have a problem standing up to somebody who was, you know, working on Season 7 of Celebrity Apprentice when I was packing my bags for Afghanistan. But at the end of the day, it's not about him.
MR. COSTA: Do you have a question--do you think he should have served in Vietnam?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, I have a pretty dim view of his decision to use his privileged status to fake a disability in order to avoid serving in Vietnam.
MR. COSTA: You believe he faked a disability? Do you believe he has a disability?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, at least not that one--
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: No, I don't mean--this is actually really important because I don't mean to trivialize disability, but I think that's exactly what he did. When you think about the way somebody can exploit the system and needless to say the way he has treated and mocked disabled people is just one more example of the many affronts to just basic decency that this president has inflicted on this country, but manipulating the ability to get a diagnosis. I mean, if he were a conscientious objector, I'd admire that.
But this is somebody who, I think it's fairly obvious to most of us, took advantage of the fact that he was a child of a multimillionaire in order to pretend to be disabled so that somebody could go to war in his place. And I know that that drudges up old wounds from a complicated time during a complicated war, but I'm also old enough to remember when conservatives talked about character as something that mattered in the presidency.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: And so I think it deserves to be talked about.
MR. COSTA: Many rising Democrats are self-described "democratic socialists." You're not one, correct?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I think of myself as a democratic capitalist, although I think the word "socialism" loses its meaning every time that it is used to describe literally any policy left of far right by the current Republicans.
Think about the ACA. The ACA was the most conservative thing you could do to health care other than leave it alone, invented by conservatives, piloted by a Republican governor. And the moment a Democratic president tried to do it, suddenly that was characterized as socialism. So there's a vocabulary game going on here that we shouldn't get sucked in to.
But I believe in American capitalism as being an incredibly productive force in this country, but it has to be democratic. And I think for a previous generation, democratic and capitalist meant the same thing, because America viewed itself as being both democratic and capitalist. And by the way, socialist and communist meant the same thing. But I think today what we're seeing is there's actually a lot of tension between democracy and capitalism. And when capitalism without democracy emerges, as you have in many countries--Russia, as many who have pointed out, being probably the biggest example--it turns into a kind of crony capitalism, which turns into a kind of oligarchy.
MR. COSTA: Let's pause there. What should President Putin expect from you if you were elected president of the United States?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: He should first of all expect a very serious response if there is an attack on our democracy. And--
MR. COSTA: What would that entail?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, we have a lot of tools--not just military. We have diplomatic, economic and cyber tools at our disposal. And I think that some combination of diplomatic, economic and cyber action, some combination of overt and covert, probably, would create the right kind of deterrence framework so that someone like Putin would not be motivated to do that again.
He can also expect a credible counterpart in the U.S. that would be willing, to the extent that Russia is prepared to be a constructive partner in global affairs, or even just prepared to take constructive steps in a European security framework, like a renegotiated INF when it comes to intermediate-range nuclear forces, that we would actually have confidence in their compliance and they would actually have confidence in our stability. He can expect that, too.
But the bottom line is, we need every country to be able to expect America to keep its word, allies and adversaries, or our entire position in the global scene collapses.
MR. COSTA: We've solicited a couple questions from Twitter, Mayor. One here is from Mia [phonetic] from Queens, New York. She asks: "As a veteran, how did you feel when NFL players knelt during the national anthem in protest to police brutality?"
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I felt that I was watching Americans exercise a right that I had put my life on the line to defend.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: The point of defending free speech is not that you expect to be perfectly aligned with every speech act that is protected. It's that that's a fundamental American freedom. It's a huge part of what makes America, America. And when that flag--that same flag was on my shoulder, I didn't think of the flag as something that itself as an image was sacred. I thought of it as something that was sacred because of what it represented, and one of the very things it represented is the freedom of speech. And that's one of the reasons I served.
MR. COSTA: Staying with the race issues for a second, you're going to speak at the Democrats dinner in Virginia next month. Do you believe that Governor Northam should resign over the blackface scandal?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I've called on him to do that. I'm extremely concerned about the way that these kinds of moments that reach out from our past reverberate into the present. And I think one of the reasons it's so urgent is the way that people are being treated today, that we still talk about racism sometimes like it's some historical artifact when right now two people with identical resumes could put them in and if your resume says your name is Dakwon [phonetic] or Tashiana [phonetic], it's way less likely to get a call back than if your resume says your name is Brendan [phonetic] or Meghan [phonetic]. And there is a connection between everything that's happened in the past and where we're going for the future. And it didn't help the way that the governor handled it, because it left people even more confused. I don't know all the ins and outs of Virginia politics, but from where I'm sitting, it seems extremely problematic that our party has someone in that position who has taken those actions.
MR. COSTA: If it's extremely problematic, why help the state party in Virginia while he's in office?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Because I believe in Democratic values. I mean--
MR. COSTA: He runs the party in Virginia. You want him to resign, but you're still going to support the Virginia Democratic Party.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: You don't support the state party as a favor to one politician. Maybe sometimes you feel like that's what you're supposed to be doing, but we're Democrats because of what we believe in. We're Democrats because we know what happens when Democrats take power versus when Republicans take power, especially now. And I'm not going to take it out on the Democratic activists and voters and candidates all up and down the ballot in Virginia because of the way I feel about one elected official in that state.
And it's also a really important thing I think for Democratic 2020 candidates to do because we've got to support--we've got to stop treating the presidency like it's the only office that matters. I think that got a hold of a lot of Democrats' imagination in the last decade, and we were so excited about the presidency that we didn't understand how much it was going to hurt, that hundreds and hundreds of state legislative seats were lost. And there's so much power in the states.
MR. COSTA: Does President Obama hold any responsibility for that?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I think that it was a larger party issue and I think the party needed to mobilize in a way that really would endure through various presidencies.
MR. COSTA: But who's responsible? You said the Democratic Party was eroded at the state and local level in the Obama era. Who's responsible?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I think I'm responsible for helping fix it. Look, conservatives did this patiently and cleverly over 30 or 40 years. I mean, they started by trying to take over school boards in the 70s and 80s and worked their way through building various majorities. And what I see now is an opportunity--precisely because there's so much attention on the presidency because of what's going on in the White House--that those of us running for president--and since there's so many of us, there are lots of opportunities to model this--can use the visibility we have to lift up state parties trying to get people elected to those local and state efforts. And of course, because of the time of Virginia and because of what they have in 2019, it's one of the best examples we'll have to walk the walk of supporting others.
MR. COSTA: Is President Trump a racist?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I think so. If you do racist things and say racist things, the question of whether that makes you a racist is almost academic. The problem with the president is that he does and says racist things and gives cover to other racists. It's not an accident that hate crimes rose disproportionately in places that his campaign visited--which by the way, is another reminder of why it is the conduct of our campaigns, not just their outcome, that can affect what happens in this country. And without having to examine his heart, there's no question that we have to respond to the racism that is emanating from this White House.
MR. COSTA: I was just in a historically black church in South Carolina. They barely know you down there, in South Carolina. How are you going to fix that with African American voters?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, we've got to get known. Part of it's just the groundwork that you've got to do.
MR. COSTA: Is there a policy you can offer them and say this is my way in?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, that's the other part. But I think the substance, again, is an area where I would hope most Democrats are aligned. The way I talk about an agenda for black America is to look at all of the different ways in which we have inequity and to be ready to tackle them head on. That is home ownership, that is entrepreneurship, that is health, that is education, and of course that is criminal justice reform.
And for all of those to get better, we also need to be paying attention to democracy, because when I talk about tuning up and even structurally reforming our democracy, part of what I'm talking about is systematic things that are happening, like voter suppression, that of course are targeted mostly at black and brown communities. And until we have a more equal voice, we're going to have more problems getting these outcomes. So we have an agenda for black America that I think is going to be compelling for voters, but tactically we've got a lot of work to do just to get known.
You know, in South Bend, the black voters who know me best contributed to a very big reelection number for me. But we've had years to build that relationship. And the challenge for a candidate in 2020 is we've got to do it in a matter of months, and that's why you'll be seeing a lot of me in South Carolina.
MR. COSTA: You've detailed some policy. In politics at times, personnel can be policy. Senator Booker, Senator Harris, Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader in Georgia, could you commit to having a person of color on the ticket if you were the Democratic nominee?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I believe it's inappropriate to say something that would rule someone in or rule somebody out right now.
MR. COSTA: Why is that inappropriate?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Because it's the first presidential decision you make even though you're not president yet, and so I don't think you make it in a political process a year in advance. I mean, you're making a decision that in the event that you get elected is a decision about American history. And the main criterion is who would be best able to become president in the event that you're killed or incapacitated.
Now having said all that, and believing that there are many people in my party who meet that test, I think it is appropriate for me to say that, as you said, personnel is policy, that it is important, especially in these times, that the next administration be the most gender-balanced and racially diverse ever, and that you would see that reflected in all of my decisions, including the selection of a running mate.
MR. COSTA: Some voters may wonder, whether it is a person of color, a woman, they are looking for that, if you're the nominee. Can you give them any kind of clue if you would lean in that direction? Maybe you can offer them that.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I'll certainly lean in that direction. I'm just not going to make a declaration in May of 2019 that would rule any individual in or rule them out.
MR. COSTA: Pausing on race for one more question here, you've talked a lot about the firing of the first African American police chief in South Bend. There are a lot of complicated details about this case. As a reporter, the one thing I keep coming back to is this question. You come in in early 2012 to be mayor of South Bend. Federal investigators come to you and they say, Mayor Buttigieg, we have an investigation of the police chief. A couple months later, you ask for his resignation.
What I don't understand is, why didn't you just let the investigation play out? Why did you feel as a mayor you had to ask for his resignation? It wasn't your responsibility--was it?--to step in at that time. Couldn't you have just let the U.S. attorneys deal with it?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, without getting too much into the guts of a case that's being litigated even now, we got a pretty strong signal from federal law enforcement authorities that either we could take care of it or they would take care of it.
MR. COSTA: Why not let them take care of it?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Because I thought it would tear our community apart. And even then, early, with a lot to learn, green, new in that office, I knew that my most important responsibility was to keep that community together. And what I saw was it was going to be divided one way or it was going to be divided another way. But if I owned the decision and didn't have a faceless law enforcement authority do it, but I owned the decision about where we were going to go as a community, I believed that it might destroy my career, but it was the right thing to do for the city.
Now, having done that and having said that, there are all kinds of moments as we went through that sequence that I learned a lot of things the hard way, especially about just how much pain there is and how much is behind it, in the relationship between communities of color and a police department, especially in a city like ours that's racially diverse, but our police department is not as racially diverse as the city. And--
MR. COSTA: Do you resent, though, that the federal investigators put you in that position as a young mayor, that you come in and they quietly say you have to deal with this? It's totally outside of your realm of duty as mayor for the most part.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Part of being mayor--and again, this is something I learned the hard way--is managing things that you don't control and controlling things that you don't own and learning to own things that you don't actually have any official power over. That's where you earn your paycheck.
The management stuff, you could hire somebody to do. Where you earn your paycheck is when there is no answer that isn't damaging in some way, when you're choosing between one package of right and wrongs and another and there's no formula and there's no handbook and there's no consensus. And you just--that hits your desk and to the best of your judgement, in good conscience you have to figure out what to do. Now did I resent being in that situation? I certainly didn't appreciate being in that situation. But that's why we have human beings in elected office.
MR. COSTA: Turning to faith, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday, talking to Hugh Hewitt, it was quote "slanderous" of you to call Vice President Pence homophobic for his position on gay marriage and other issues related to that. What's your response, and do you stand by calling the Vice President "fanatical"?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I think that if you believe any number of things that the Vice President believes, it's fanatical. And I think we've covered that ground a lot. I'm not interested in [unclear]--
MR. COSTA: What is the most alarming out of that list, to you?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, the latest thing that's alarming out of the administration is that same-sex couples are being told that they are from a different nationality than their own children when there's an adoption process abroad. It's just the latest policy that is a step backwards in this country. And I would like to know what the secretary of state has to say about that since he's presiding over the department that changed the rules.
I think it's pretty shocking that the Equality Act that sailed through the House of Representatives isn't sailing its way to the desk of a president who claims to be forward-looking on these issues. I would love to know whether the Vice President has changed his mind about whether it ought to be lawful to discriminate against people in this country, because I think most Americans think it shouldn't, and he's on the wrong side of that.
Now, look, this at the end of the day is a policy disagreement. I have some personal misgivings too, mostly about the way that the sheen of evangelical Christianity is being used to justify the conduct of a president whose personal style and behavior and choices, at least on my reading of the Bible, are not exactly Biblical.
But the conversation about LGBT equality is one about policy--policies that hurt people and policies that need to change.
MR. COSTA: What do you mean evangelical sheen? Many evangelical conservatives, some even Democrats in the South, they support this president on a lot of these issues. They feel like he's nominating the judges they want. He's affecting the--instituting the rules they want in the federal government.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: If you make a cold political calculus that a president who does not embody your values personally is still going to do the things you want politically, then I don't agree with it, I don't like it, but at least I get it.
MR. COSTA: How do you unravel that cold political calculus? Because it's certainly out there.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think in the case of some of the people in this administration, you ask at what point do you say this far but no further.
MR. COSTA: They've accepted a lot.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Exactly. And I don't think they should have. And that's why I think this was worthy of criticism from the beginning.
Look, when I read the Bible, there is an awful lot about hypocrites in there. Frankly, neither priests nor government officials come off very good in the New Testament. But in particular, there's a lot about hypocrisy. And again, I'm old enough to remember when it was conservatives who said this, but I'm going to say it: The presidency is not just a policy position; it is a moral position. And you've got to ask how somebody, whether it's the VP or anybody else, who has repeatedly professed fidelity to biblical values, even to the point of being able to impose it on other people in a way I think is harmful--then says it's absolutely fine for somebody who is caught boasting about abusing women, or caught sending a hush money check in a way that's probably illegal to somebody he had an affair with, ought to be the moral and not just political leader of the greatest country on earth.
MR. COSTA: They may agree with you, Mayor, on those points. But on the issue of reproductive rights, they're not with you. That's what's holding them with President Trump in many respects. What's your argument to them on reproductive rights if that's their issue and that's why they're sticking with them?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: My argument is to ask them to join the majority of Americans who believe that this decision ought to be made by the woman concerned. Look, there are--and I say this as somebody who is a Democrat in office in Indiana, so a lot of people I know, a lot of people I love and even some people who support me politically, don't view this issue the way I do. But for those who have a strong view about some of these almost unknowable questions around life, the best answer I can give is that because we will never be able to settle those questions in a consensus fashion--
MR. COSTA: So you think the issue of life is an unknowable question?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: It's certainly unknowable in the way that scientific questions are answered. It's a moral question. And so the question--it's not how do we politically decide where the line ought to be drawn. The question is who gets to draw the line, who gets to decide.
MR. COSTA: Should there be any line?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: That's part of the framework of Roe vs. Wade, right? Early in pregnancy, very few restrictions. Late in pregnancy, very few exceptions. And for all its complexity and imperfection and controversy, Roe vs. Wade is widely popular in this country because it has allowed us to negotiate that. And now the drive to overturn Roe vs. Wade is something that flies in the face of what Americans want. And by the way, it's a decision not to end abortion, but to end safe legal abortion, and it is precisely the memory of just how many harms that caused that made it the case that back in the 70s and 80s a great number of Republicans, a greater number than today were pro-choice, too.
MR. COSTA: Let's have a lightning round to finish this up in our final few minutes. Let's start with one from Twitter. Bob from Albany, Oregon, asks what would you do on day one to address the climate crisis?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, indicate that we're going to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords. Also lay the groundwork for new structures in federal policy to cope with climate. And one thing you could do right away through executive action is start restoring the EPA rule on carbon. So that's just the beginning. There's a ton of work that needs to be done, but those are some of the things that you could do right away.
MR. COSTA: President Trump has Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump on his staff in the White House. Is there any potential role for Chasten on the White House staff?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: He'd make an amazing first gentleman, as he has in South Bend.
MR. COSTA: But on the actual West Wing staff, not just on the East Wing side.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I've never hired a family member.
MR. COSTA: So you're ruling it out.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: What's that?
MR. COSTA: You're ruling out hiring a family member for the West Wing?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I guess I've never thought about it that way because I'm concentrating on winning office.
MR. COSTA: Well, Jared Kushner's there, Ivanka Trump's there. He's changed the norm.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, I don't have that kind of family situation.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: But what I will say is that in South Bend, and even on the campaign trail, Chasten has done an amazing of in my view actually modeling what a first spouse can be like.
MR. COSTA: Would he help you govern the way Secretary Clinton helped President Clinton?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: He helps me govern right now. He helps remind me what's at stake in the issues that come up in our community. He helps connect me to my conscience. He asked me really tough questions. And when you have especially all the noise that happens in the political space, marriage is one of the things that keeps you in touch with who you are, who you always were, and I think makes you better at the job.
MR. COSTA: If you come into office, would you remove the tariffs on China or not?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Yes, the tariffs are counterproductive. Now, we might launch a new conversation with China and what we do on tariffs might be in that context. But I would not have put up these tariffs in the first place. First of all, tariffs are taxes on Americans, and we talk as though that's not the case and we forget that Americans are paying them.
Look, I actually think that we do need, in a way that maybe not everyone in my party agrees with, that we need to be more in the front foot standing up to China.
MR. COSTA: But not with tariffs.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Look, tariffs aren't going to get China to change the fundamentals of their economic model, nor are they going to get China to change their regional security strategy. If we really want to be serious about competing with China, we've got to invest in American domestic competitiveness. We've got to figure out how we can have a more orderly disentanglement of things like 5G technology where they're establishing technological superiority. And we have to build a global framework where we're competing with China on our terms instead of theirs.
MR. COSTA: Many Democrats feel that the border wall, part of it that's been constructed, the barriers down at the border by President Trump, that's a moral issue. If you were elected president, would you tear down any of the barriers that have been built by President Trump?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: No, building them was a waste of money, tearing down them would be another waste of money. Look, we need comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform, and border security can be part of that. But we need--the reason that it's morally abhorrent is, first of all, the way wall language is being used as a symbol for keeping another group out, and secondly the fact that it's a waste of money. But I'm not going to throw good money after bad.
MR. COSTA: Would the U.S. rejoin the Iran nuclear deal?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Yes.
MR. COSTA: Do you think we're saber-rattling at all with Iran and would you support any kind of troops?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I'm extremely troubled by the saber-rattling around Iran. Right now you've got people getting ready to take an oath of enlistment who weren't even alive on 9/11. And if we learned anything from the last decade and a half of endless war, it's that you do not casually threaten military involvement. And it is mystifying to me that John Bolton, one of the architects of the Iraq War, probably the greatest American policy disaster of my lifetime, is allowed anywhere near the Situation Room, especially by a president who says, falsely, of course, but says that he was against the Iraq War all along. It is unbelievable. And to see the same people taking some of the same steps. I mean, they appear to be prosecuting a case, as though we hadn't seen this movie before. Possibly and terrifyingly, for domestic political purposes--it makes me think about my time in service and wanting to believe that everybody above me in the chain of command knew what they were doing or at least never came by a decision lightly. It makes me think of the high school students I was just with in South Bend who we celebrated because they're getting ready to go to the academies or to enlist. And just thinking that for all the political noise here, we are talking about life and death. This is not a show. This is not a game, and this has to stop.
MR. COSTA: Should Facebook be a utility?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, in some ways Facebook is a utility.
MR. COSTA: Yeah, but should it be a utility, federally regulated like a utility?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, it's very clear that Facebook and other companies are having to make--I mean, they are making decisions as a company that amount to public policy decisions, and the reason they are is that the policy world has failed. We've had the spectacle of legislators making it abundantly clear that they don't even understand what they're regulating. And we can't expect anything different as long as we don't create the boundaries in the policy space for how these tech companies are supposed to behave.
MR. COSTA: So manage it like a utility.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I'm not sure I understand exactly what that means [unclear 00:51:44].
MR. COSTA: Well, we regulate it like a telecom company.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Well, the main thing you do with a regulated utility is control the prices. And you definitely pay a price for using Facebook, but the price is in terms of your attention, your data, and your privacy, not in terms of paying to use the service. And so we do have to regulate it, but in a smart way. Like what does it mean to regulate how much of your attention or how much of your data? A company--I like the metaphor of a utility, but I think the question is a lot deeper than just do we slap the same kinds of controls that we would for--and I run a regulated utility, because we do wastewater and water. I think it's similar in some ways, but it's different in some ways. The fundamental issue is, first of all, monopolistic behavior, which means the FTC needs to be empowered to block or even perhaps reverse consolidation; and separate but related, what we do with data security and privacy, whether you're a giant company like Facebook or a small one, I still want you to be protecting my data.
MR. COSTA: I asked you about President Putin. What should Prime Minister Netanyahu expect if you were President of the United States? Should he expect the same level of support and alliance that he sees with President Trump?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: He should expect America to be a friend and ally to Israel.
MR. COSTA: What about to him?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: But on that expects--but one that is loyal to the terms of our alliance and concerned about Israeli security interests, but also not loyal to him or anyone--look, being supportive of Israel, in the same way that being patriotic and pro-American doesn't have to mean you are pro-Trump. Being supportive of Israel does not have to mean that you are on board with the agenda of the Israeli political right wing. I am not. I believe that this move to walk away from peace will harm Israeli interests, will of course continue to contribute to the immiseration of the Palestinian people, and is not good for the U.S. either. And so what Israel can expect from the U.S., as any friend ought to be able to expect from an honest friend, is that when they take a step that is harmful, you put your arm around your friend and you try to guide them somewhere else.
MR. COSTA: When you think about global human rights, would you have any kind of test for visiting foreign leaders to try to advocate for gay rights abroad? Would you Bolsonaro or not meet with Bolsonaro from Brazil, for example? Would you make gay rights at the front of your foreign policy?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: I mean, it's certainly got to be a part of a serious account of human rights. Is it the only thing or is it a kill switch on any given conversation? No, because these things are always complex. But progress on LGBTQ rights is important, as are women's rights and racial justice and economic justice and political speech and all the things we care about when we are promoting values abroad that we believe are not just American but universal. And by way, we have more moral authority and therefore more soft power as a country when we are convincingly advancing those rights. But it only works if we actually have our own house in order. And so from human rights to democracy promotion to LGBT issues to climate, we had better be walking the walk before we go out on the world stage and push other countries to do the same.
MR. COSTA: Final question. If you win the election in 2020, President Trump will still be around. He could be facing investigations. You will be trying to move the country in a different direction, a fresh direction. There will be a lot of perhaps scrutiny of President Trump still. Would you consider pardoning President Trump to help the country move on?
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: It's one thing to pardon let's say someone who had a ridiculously harsh and long sentence for a nonviolent drug offense in order to send a message about sentencing inequalities in this country. It is another to look the other way on an assault on the rule of law in the highest levels. Now, we're talking hypothetically about a situation where the American justice system has rendered a decision. Overruling that decision--
MR. COSTA: Or even if they haven't. If there are ongoing investigations, in New York.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: That's even easier. No, no, no. Look, the rule of law matters. And in the same way that preemptively pardoning troops who are being brought up on war crimes charges could create generational harm to the integrity of the military, preemptively pardoning a public official who is corrupt will have an unbelievably corrosive effect on our democracy.
MR. COSTA: President Ford did it in that same ballpark.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, and I wasn't around for that. But what I know is that--look, and we've had situations where somebody prominent maybe is up for, I don't know, some kind of enforcement action [unclear 00:56:56] and not that it's exactly the same, but the principle is the same, which is you treat everybody no better and no worse because of their political profile. Nobody should be targeted because of their political profile and nobody should be excused because of their political profile. Our fidelity is to the law, the oath is to the Constitution, and that's what you can expect from my presidency.
MR. COSTA: Mayor Buttigieg, thank you for your time.