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Candidate One-on-One: Pete Buttigieg

KCRG-TV9 sat down with Pete Buttigieg for an extended interview on Jan. 21, 2020, in Cedar...
KCRG-TV9 sat down with Pete Buttigieg for an extended interview on Jan. 21, 2020, in Cedar Rapids. (REBECCA VARILEK/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Jan. 22, 2020 at 2:41 AM CST
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KCRG-TV9's Mary Green sat down with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg before a town hall in Cedar Rapids on Jan. 21 for an extended interview about various issues in the lead up to the 2020 Iowa caucuses.

The following is a transcript of the full interview.

Mary Green: “Mayor Buttigieg, thank you so much for joining us here this evening.”

Pete Buttigieg: “Great to be with you.”

MG: “We’ll start off looking at the state of the race. A couple months ago, you were alone at the top or tied for the lead in just about every Iowa poll in November and December. You’ve lost that lead in the polls we’ve seen here in January. What do you need to do with two weeks until the caucuses to regain that momentum here?”

PB: “Well, we’re seeing a lot of ups and downs, day by day and week by week. But what I know is that we are in that top group that voters and caucus-goer are considering, and just as importantly, we’ve got the ground organization capable of delivering a win. So we’re going to be focused on both of those things: me, making the case, demonstrating why I’m the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump and why I’m the only candidate fully focused on what comes next. But also making sure that we’ve got the groundwork as a campaign to have our volunteers out, to recruit more precinct leaders and to make sure precinct by precinct, neighborhood by neighborhood, we’re ready to deliver a win on caucus night.”

MG: “You’ve been criticized for your lack of experience at the federal level compared to your opponents’, with some people pointing particularly and saying that it could be a weakness when it comes to foreign policy. Taking a looking a current events as an example, at what point do you believe an administration should act to eliminate a threat like Qassem Soleimani?”

PB: “Well, look, there are certainly cases where we need to act, and I would never hesitate to do what is necessary to protect the homeland. But when you look at something like the Soleimani strike, what you see is very little evidence that the president went through the process of reviewing intelligence, consulting with allies, involving members of Congress of both parties, and thinking through the consequences that you have to in order to make sure this was a good decision. There’s no evidence that this has made the United States or the Middle East safer. In fact, a lot of evidence that this is making the Middle East a more dangerous and volatile place. It’s not that Qassem Soleimani was a good guy. He was not. It’s about the wisdom of undertaking an act like this, and whenever I contemplate any foreign policy or national security decision, the perspective that I’ll bring is not only someone thinking about the policy level, but thinking about the effect that it has on the people in uniform who are going to be asked to carry out that policy. I think about it as somebody who was myself sent into a war zone by a decision made in the White House, and I know what’s at stake and will carry that perspective into the situation room.”

MG: “You’ve called the Electoral College ‘undemocratic,’ and you’ve said that it should be replaced by a national popular vote. This has become a huge point of criticism of you and of other Democrats with similar views by Republican leaders. Here in Iowa, the chair of the state Republican Party [Jeff Kaufmann] said doing this ‘would take away Iowans’ voices in favor of far-left coastal states like California.’ Why do you believe this is the best move for all Americans, including Iowans?”

PB: “Well, I just think that everyone’s vote should count the same in a general election. In every other race that we run in this country, from school board to Congress to governor to Senate, we give it to the person who got the most votes, and not giving it to the person who got the most votes seems odd. It’s also false that it benefits one side or the aisle or the other more. After all, very conservative states like Texas, very liberal states like California that are very big, small states like Rhode Island or Wyoming, and actually in the general election, Iowa will often get less attention because campaigns are focusing on a handful of states that are considered to be important that year for the Electoral College. Why not just be fair about this and let everybody’s vote count the same? Why distort it?”

MG: “What do you say to Republicans who believe it’s just sour grapes for what happened in 2016?”

PB: “Look, we don’t even know which parties will benefit in the long run. That’s kind of the point. But what I know is, twice in my life, the American people have chosen one president, and the Electoral College has chosen another one, and because of those differences, we went to war in Iraq when we probably would not have otherwise. We saw attempts to privatize Social Security, where we probably would not have otherwise, and we have a president, Donald Trump, who has been as offensive to many Republican values as progressive values, where we would not have otherwise. This is what happens when you distort the process. Why not just let everybody’s vote count the same?”

MG: “Moving on to some of your own policies you’d like to institute, specifically with Medicare for All Who Want It and free college, but only up to a certain income threshold. Some Democrats have said that these policies are not progressive enough. They said that they’re concerned that by not being automatically universal to all Americans, they could be more vulnerable to being the targets of political dismantling down the road, like what we’re seeing right now with food stamps. Why do you believe that these are the best policies for everyone?”

PB: “Well, when it comes to college, I believe that we should act to make sure that cost is never a barrier. But if you’re in that top income group, I still wish you well. I just think that you should pay your own tuition so that we can save those scarce taxpayer dollars for where they’ll make the biggest difference. My plan is still very generous. As a matter of fact, the first 80% of Americans would have public college be tuition-free, but I don’t think that we need to be subsidizing the tuition even of the child of a millionaire or a billionaire.

“When it comes to healthcare, we can solve the problem of uninsured and underinsured Americans by creating an excellent plan. It’s what I call ‘Medicare for All Who Want It.’ But I don’t believe in forcing Americans onto the public plan I’m going to create if they’d rather be on some other plan. My objective is not to make sure that the government is providing your health insurance. My objective is to make sure that you’ve got insurance one way or the other. Under my plan, there would be no such thing as an uninsured American, but we preserve people’s freedom to choose for themselves, and in addition to that, my plan, we can actually explain how to pay for it without there being a multitrillion-dollar margin of error between the different estimates of what some of the other plans will even take to set up.”

MG: “When you say the tax dollars that will be saved and put toward other programs, where would you imagine it would go?”

PB: “Well, I’m thinking about infrastructure. I’m thinking about healthcare. I’m thinking about education. And let’s make sure that we’re investing not just in college. It’s important to invest in college, but also, this should be a country you can prosper in, whether you went to college or not, and when I see the message sometimes going out that almost makes it sound like we’re becoming a country where you need a college degree in order to make it. That just doesn’t add up, not for a community like mine, where three out of four residents don’t have a degree. We’ve got to make sure that we’re supporting technical and professional education and apprenticeships and just plain getting people paid more so that you can prosper in America, whether you went to college or not.”

MG: “OK. Going back to healthcare and looking more specifically at rural healthcare. It’s a problem across the entire country of these rural hospitals closing. We haven’t seen any closing recently here in Iowa, but a problem that is here in the state and, once again, across the country, is the closing of obstetrics units. In the last 20 years, more than 30 of them have closed in Iowa. In your rural health plan, you promise to address this by ‘reforming payments to providers of maternal care.’ How?”

PB: “Well, it’s really important that we act to reverse things like the loss of birthing units and facilities that used to be spread across Iowa and across rural America, and now, you cannot sometimes be able to get medical care for birth and maternal care within many miles of where you live. So what do we do about it? Well, first of all, we can make sure that reimbursement rates reward those who choose to be providers in rural areas. We can create new designations that help support clinics and hospitals and facilities that are in those areas that are underserved. We can expand things like loan forgiveness for graduates who choose to be in those areas that aren’t getting enough service because they don’t have enough providers, and take other steps to make sure that we recognize that in this country, you should be able to thrive wherever you live. You know, when I was born, there was basically no difference in life expectancy between rural residents and people living in cities. That’s no longer true. In fact, the gap is the biggest that it’s been in years. We’ve got to act because how long you live should not depend on where you live.”

MG: “Right now, your message isn’t resonating as well as some of your opponents’ messages with young voters and with nonwhite voters. These are two groups that you’d need not just to win the nomination, but to win the White House. How do you plan to change that?”

PB: “Well, here’s what we’ve found. In areas where people know me best, from my hometown to the Midwest, that’s where we get the most support among nonwhite voters. A lot of this is about making sure that people get to know you, and there are a lot of very skeptical voters — in particular, I’m thinking about the Black experience of having felt taken for granted by a lot of politicians in both parties, and often, that’s a criticism that’s directed against my party, even as the other party has taken steps that have harmed communities of color so severely. So the newer you are on the scene, when you don’t have years or perhaps decades in order to introduce yourself, you have to work harder and do more to make sure that you’ve gotten your message out. But we also find, the more people understand what we’re proposing to do, the better it is received, and we’ll continue doing that and following an approach that’s designed to build the biggest possible coalition — multigenerational, multiracial, and drawing in not just fellow Democrats, but Independents and some Republicans who are as frustrated as the rest of us by what’s happening in this White House.”

MG: “Do you think that all can be accomplished by, say, Super Tuesday?”

PB: “Well, what I know is, we started this campaign a year ago with four people, barely any name recognition, no money, no personal wealth either, and we have now advanced to be among the few who will go to the mat and have support across the country and across this state. We’ve got to continue working that plan and sharing that message all the way until the voting begins and beyond, and that’s what our campaign’s focus will be.”

MG: “Shifting gears a little bit here. Cedar Rapids experienced massive flooding in 2008 and 2016, including in this building where we are right now. The western part of the state experienced something similar last year, and South Bend did, too, while you were mayor.”

PB: “That’s right.”

MG: “You were the first candidate to come out with a plan specifically devoted to disaster preparedness. How will it help communities like Cedar Rapids?”

PB: “That’s right. I proposed a disaster preparedness plan because no matter how hard we work on climate, and I have a very aggressive plan on climate change, we can expect that these issues will continue, and they will become more frequent and more severe, especially in our Midwestern, river communities. It’s why I’m proposing a disaster preparedness commission to align resources to take a lot of the red tape out of getting federal disaster relief and to support resiliency plans so that communities can be proactive, not just reactive, knowing that there are going to be more of these issues in the future. This is going to be a tough challenge, but I’ve seen in places like Cedar Rapids how the community has come together, both to make sure that there is a response to what’s happened and to begin preparing for the road ahead. Now we need more federal support so that communities across the country facing challenges like what we’ve seen right here in Cedar Rapids know that they can get the help they need.”

MG: “You said knowing that there will be more events like these in the future. It’s something that a lot of scientists — most scientists — would agree with. That being said, how to you get on board people who don’t believe in climate change?”

PB: “I think the biggest thing is for everybody to see where they fit in the future. You know, I think a lot of folks who have been resistant to climate science, it’s not because of evaluating the science and finding the flaw in it. It’s because of feeling like accepting climate science would be a personal defeat. We need to make sure we’re reaching out to some of the very people who have been told they’re part of the problem, from industrial workers to farmers across the country, and make very clear how we need them. We need to enlist them to be part of the solution. I think farming is part of the future of how we defeat climate change. We’re going to need the skills of skilled trades and industrial workers more than ever in order to defeat the climate challenge. Now, we’re definitely going to be asking people to think and work in new ways, but we’re also going to reward that. My plan will envision 3 million net new jobs created in the course of mobilizing as a nation to deal with climate change before it’s too late. So it’s about not just the policy and the science of it, but making sure that Americans from every walk of life and both parties can stand up and take pride in what we as a country are doing to lead the world in getting ahead of climate change before it’s too late.”

MG: “Shifting gears another time here. Possibly more than any other candidate, you bring up religion on the trail and your own personal faith. Why do you do this?”

PB: “Well, I think it’s important for voters of faith to know that they have a choice, and my own faith, rooted in the Christian tradition of taking care of the oppressed, loving your neighbor, looking after the least of these, is something that, in my view, lines up a lot more with the policies we’re talking about today than the behavior of this current president, and I’m not afraid to talk about the idea of, ‘I was hungry, and you fed me. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.’ I’m not out to impose my religion on anyone. Our constitution belongs to people of every religion and of no religion equally. But it is important for me that people hear that vocabulary from my side of the aisle, too, because I think, at the end of the day, God does not belong to a political party.”

MG: “Last thing — over the last couple of months, the debate has been reignited of, should Iowa go first in this process? What do you think?”

PB: “Let me tell you why I value Iowa’s part in the process so much. It’s that it cuts the presidential election down to size. You can’t just buy an election around here with billions of dollars on television. You have to look people in the eye, hear about their concerns, visit communities often, and it makes sure that us candidates, that we’re tested at a human level, not just what can go out over the Internet and the airwaves, but really engaging with people in terms of what’s most important to them. So I think that the role of early states — Iowa’s role, as well as New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — are crucial in making sure that the full vetting of the people who are proposing to become president, asking Americans to trust us, that that can happen in a way that can’t be bought, and it’s up close and personal.”

MG: “So is that a yes or a no?”

PB: “What’s that?”

MG: “Is that a yes or a no?”

PB: “To what question?”

MG: “To should Iowa go first?”

PB: “I support Iowa’s role in the process for sure.”

MG: “Last thing, we’d invite you’d like to look right at the camera and make a direct appeal to Iowans on why they should caucus for you on February 3.”

PB: “Sure. Well, I’m asking you to caucus for me on February 3 because I am the candidate who can not only defeat this president, coming from the industrial Midwest, having served in uniform, and knowing how to keep the focus on our everyday lives, but also that I’m ready to turn the page. I don’t think we can beat this president or govern in the era that comes after him by following the same, conventional, Washington approach of political warfare that brought us to this moment. It’s time for something different, and that’s what I’m offering voters and caucus-goers today.”