Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Iowa Press | Episode
Jan 3, 2020 | 28 min

On this edition of Iowa Press, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend, Indiana) discusses his qualifications for president as he focuses on the finish line in the February 3 Iowa Caucuses.



As of January 1st, he is former Mayor Pete. South Bend, Indiana native Pete Buttigieg is now focused on the finish line in the February 3rd Iowa Caucuses. He's our guest on this edition of Iowa Press.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.


For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating nearly 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, January 3 edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson.


Henderson: Mayor Pete Buttigieg is a former Rhodes Scholar, he is a military veteran, and as of January 1st he is former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He is joining us here at the Iowa Press table to talk about his 2020 presidential bid. Welcome to the Iowa Press table.

Buttigieg: Thank you, great to be with you.

Henderson: Also here at the table, Barbara Rodriguez of the Des Moines Register and Erin Murphy of the Lee Enterprises newspapers in Iowa.

Murphy: Mr. Mayor, you have been leading in some of the recent polls here in Iowa, not doing as well in other states later in the nominating schedule. Do you have to win Iowa to be successful moving forward? If you don't win here what is the case for your campaign moving forward after Iowa?

Buttigieg: Well, we certainly need a strong showing here in Iowa and we are encouraged by the numbers, but know that there is a long way to go. This is a campaign that started with four people in a little office in South Bend, this idea that a different kind of politics and a different idea about how to lead and unite the American people could carry the day. What we have seen is it has succeeded certainly beyond a lot of the expectations as of a year ago. But our job now is to I think connect to a lot of voters who have seen the bewildering range of candidates that jumped in and maybe have been taking their time before evaluating in those last few days before the Caucuses what to do. We're going to aim for a very good result here in Iowa and then believe the momentum from that will carry us going forward into the states that follow.

Murphy: But is there enough time to make that happen? Once you leave Iowa it’s a very compressed schedule. Is there time to make that improvement?

Buttigieg: Absolutely. We're doing the work on the ground right now. But so many voters are going to make their decision in the last five to seven days before an election. And one of the best ways to demonstrate that you can win an election is to win an election or to win a caucus. And so succeeding or doing very well here in Iowa I also think will be a powerful signal for other states that are looking at a bunch of different factors including how you do in some of the places where you have been campaigning the most.

Murphy: Some of your colleagues, some of your competitors in this race, may be tied up in the coming weeks by the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. If that happens, if some of the Senators like Senator Warren, Senator Klobuchar, Senator Sanders, are not in Iowa campaigning because of that, does that give you an advantage? Should expectations for your campaign raise because of that?

Buttigieg: I don't know how all of that plays out. Impeachment is a process of such constitutional importance that I think you can't really think about in terms of politics. And it is also the sort of thing that who knows what exactly will be the effect in the long run other than that our country is going through this very painful moment, a very important process, and yet I think a lot of us are looking at the Senate and feel like because of the Senate republicans' behavior it is a foregone conclusion and it can be very exhausting, almost helpless feeling to watch that part of Washington going through the motions. What is so compelling about 2020 is that no matter what happens on the floor of the Senate it is coming back into our hands, we get to actually do something about it. And I think all of us in our own way are campaigning based on our vision for how to move past this moment and break open this just jammed quality that is going on in Washington. And naturally I think that our approach is the best. But that is what every candidate has to do from wherever we are.

Rodriguez: Mayor, my news outlet is preparing to help host the next democratic debate and I understand that you ran for DNC Chair and I want to get a better sense of whether you're comfortable with some of the rules that have ultimately impacted the number of candidates that have been on the debate stage?

Buttigieg: So, I think that if we were looking at this a year ago the rules were daunting for a campaign like mine. We were thinking, how do we get that minimum number of voters required so that I just might have a shot at being in one of the debates? That was our mentality in January of 2019. What we have learned as the process has played out is that whether the rules are working well for your campaign really depends on how your campaign has been received and in particular how it is received by caucus goers and by voters. I'm troubled by the fact that the historic diversity of this field of candidates is really shrinking as we go forward. I also recognize that I don't get to decide the rules that we compete under. The job of my campaign and my job as a candidate is to do everything that we can do reach as many voters as we can and make sure that we not only get the chance to be on the debate stage, but now as we prepare for the seventh presidential debate that we make the most of that time to continue clarifying for voters where we stand.

Rodriguez: You ran for chair though. I'm curious how you would have done things differently to not get to the point where you had a nearly all white debate stage?

Buttigieg: Well, again, I don't think anybody when these rules were set up could have guessed who they would have benefited. As a matter of fact, I'm sure as of a year ago there were a lot of U.S. Senators who would have figured that the rules would have been better for them and worse for somebody like me. When I was running for DNC Chair I wasn't really focused on debate qualification numbers. I was mostly thinking about how to make sure that our party became one that was speaking to the middle of the country, that was as in touch as possible with those same voters that I think we have always stood up for, whose economic interests are shared but have been wedged off against each other by republican strategies. I was concerned with how to engage a new generation and make sure that we were using the power of digital communications and other strategies in organizing at the grassroots level that weren't possible a few years ago to really grow our party. And while I did not become the chair of the DNC, I am continuing to work on those kinds of strategies as part of my campaign.

Rodriguez: Let me follow up on that point about engagement though. There has been a lot of conversation about the future of caucuses within the DNC. And I'm curious what you think about that given the part of the debate over the caucus setup is that it might not be as inclusive for people with working shifts, with young families. Do you think that we should move away from caucuses moving forward?

Buttigieg: I think that there are a lot of issues around inclusion in the caucus structure and I have welcomed the efforts that are being made to create different strategies whether it's through technology or updates to the process that change that. I also though see a lot of value in the kind of in-person campaigning that the Iowa Caucus structure has forced a lot of us to do. I think that it would be, we would be worse for it if all that mattered in presidential politics was being on national TV all of the time. I think it would be even easier for money to influence outcomes and I think it would take away the kind of personal quality that really is at the heart of campaigning at its best. So I'll leave the debating over debating to when the debates are done and look at what can be done for 2024. But right now we're competing based on the rules that we all knew coming in and have the opportunity to make sure that we each get our message out.

Rodriguez: Speaking of 2024, should Iowa be first in 2024?

Buttigieg: Again, I'll leave the debating over these process issues for the next campaign to when this campaign has run its course.

Murphy: So let's move on from process issues and talk a little bit about your resume, Mr. Mayor. Barbara mentioned the run for the DNC Chair, you also ran for statewide office and was unsuccessful. You're Mayor of South Bend, which for folks in Iowa, is almost the exact same size as the city of Davenport, so a relatively small town. Given that experience wouldn't a jump to President, wouldn't electing you President be similar to the Indianapolis Colts hiring a high school football coach to be their head coach?

Buttigieg: I guess it depends on the football coach. Look, I get that I don't have the Washington establishment resume that some people are used to seeing. Then again I think it is a sense of frustration with business as usual that has helped bring us to this point. There is no job like the presidency, there is no job that is even close. But, among the jobs you can have in government I would say being a mayor of a city of any size is about as relevant as it gets, being responsible for the future of a population, being responsible for running a government and building an administration, in addition to all of the policy issues that you work on whether you're a mayor or whether you're e legislator. In American you can be a very senior Senator and depending on what you did before you may have never in your life managed more than 50 or 100 people. It's different when you're an executive and I think that experience in addition to my experience in the military, not at a senior level, as a lieutenant, but knowing what it is to be sent to war on the orders of a President gives me a sense of the gravity of the decisions that are made in that office. And I think the fact that I come from an industrial community in the Midwest actually it's part of the point. It's not the biggest city in the U.S., but it's the kind of community where even while they are telling us by the numbers on a page that we should all be happy with today's economy, we're seeing a lot of people, whole neighborhoods, families and whole communities left behind. My party must and should speak for those kinds of communities. After all, my party has got the best answers, we're the ones trying to get you a raise, we're the ones trying to get resources into communities that have been overlooked, we're the ones who recognize that you cannot separate racial and economic inequalities and injustices and having a voice from a place like South Bend, knowing just how many South Bend's and how many Davenport's are out there across the United States, I think that is the kind of voice that we need right now to get Washington to start looking a little more like our best run cities and towns rather than the other way around.

Henderson: Barbara has another question about your resume.

Rodriguez: I do want to ask a little bit about experience here. We've talked a lot about your time at McKinsey, the consulting firm McKinsey and Company. And when you ran for state treasurer in Indiana and also then later as Mayor you talked about your experience at McKinsey and you talked about it in such a way that you described it as working on billion dollar decisions. Now on the campaign trail you talk about McKinsey as this period of time that really is just first job out of college. I want to get a sense from you whether you regret how you have described ever your experience at McKinsey?

Buttigieg: No, of course when it was the most recent job I had it loomed larger in terms of how I thought about the world. And especially when I was competing for a job like state treasurer it was very important for me to communicate the experience that I had in business and economics. That experience is still part of my story. But I think a very big part of my story now is my experience in public service, which has been the majority of my career, it's the majority of my career now. But every experience that you have helps shape the way that you understand the world and how it works. I do think that if you're proposing to run the largest economy in the world it's good to have at least a little bit of professional experience with things like balance sheets and income statements. But it's also the case that the bulk of my career, the bulk of my time in the working world has been in leadership, it has been in government, it has been in service both in terms of service to my community and service to my country.

Henderson: So did you work on billion dollar global deals?

Buttigieg: Yeah, I mean obviously I was not the CEO or in charge of these decisions when I was doing my first job out of school but I was also in the middle of really interesting and important work from the work that we did on climate change which has been published as a report that can be read now to being involved in analysis on massive decisions that were of great importance to the clients that we served.

Henderson: So listing the clients, which you were able to do through an agreement with McKinsey, what is the global perspective there? Best Buy? Or the U.S. government agencies for which you did consulting?

Buttigieg: Well, of course the work that I was doing helping war torn economies recover and create jobs had a global quality. I spent some time overseas, a lot of time in Washington, managing that kind of thinking that needs to go into what it takes to get an economy that was not only torn apart by war but by decades of management on functionally a socialist system in Iraq which really needed to convert to meet the needs of a modern global economy. And then in Afghanistan where they actually saw a lot of business savvy but very little of the kind of resources that are needed to build a modern economy, an issue that continues to be a problem today. So it certainly opened my eyes to the challenges of global economic development that I think are very important for us to bear in mind right now is the U.S. is shrinking from a leadership role, at the very moment when I think we need to play more of a role. Don't get me wrong, I believe we need to lean less on the military as the way that we involve ourselves in the rest of the world, but should be more active than ever in economic development, in global climate diplomacy and other activities where big problems around the world won't get solved without U.S. leadership.

Murphy: Mr. Mayor, you said earlier that a lot of voters are looking for something other than the status quo. But one of the issues that some of your challengers have brought up in regards to you is your fundraisers and accepting donations from major corporations and high dollar fundraisers. Can you be a candidate, how can you convince democratic voters that you can be a candidate who can bring about those structural changes if you continue to fundraise and accept money from the same powerful interests that candidates always have?

Buttigieg: Well, first of all, I don't accept corporate PAC donations. But if individuals want to support this campaign then whether they can give $5 or $2800 which is the legal maximum we want that help. We're going up against a President and his allies who will stop at nothing. Last time I checked they raised about $300 million to keep Donald Trump in power and they're just getting started. And we've got to go into that with everything that we've got. Now, when I'm talking to voters the biggest thing I hear from a campaign strategy question is how are you going to beat Donald Trump? But most of what I hear isn't about campaign strategy at all, it's about everyday life and how life is impacted by the policy decisions that are made in Washington. My own life, my own community has been impacted in so many ways by those choices and the reason that I went into elected office, the reason I walked away from a comfortable and good paying job in order to serve my, seek to serve my state, then my community as well as serve my country, is to make sure that those decisions happened with regard to our lives and a lot has got to change.

Murphy: And I think that is the point that people, that your opponents would make. How do you ensure voters that those policy decisions will be purely with people in mind and not with the donors with access to a candidate because of the fundraising that they do?

Buttigieg: Well, roughly 700,000 people have donated to our campaign so far and I don't know most of them and I'm sure they don't agree with me on everything or with each other on everything. But what I promise to anybody whether it is somebody that goes to and sends in $5 or somebody who comes to a house party, is exactly one promise, and it's that we're going to take that contribution, we're going to use it to defeat Donald Trump and bring about a better era. I remember when these same criticisms were being leveled against President Obama. We're following basically the same fundraising guidelines that he did. Some of his contributions came from people who worked in finance. He turned around and set up the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, put none other than Elizabeth Warren in charge of it, and implemented some of the toughest restrictions on banking in a generation. I'm doing this in order to serve our country and make life better. That is why you actually turn your life upside down and go out to make yourself useful in politics. And that has always been what guides me in public service.

Rodriguez: There is a historic nature to your candidacy as a gay man and I want to make sure that I ask very directly whether you think that America is ready for a gay President?

Buttigieg: Absolutely. I think about my experience back home. When I made the personal decision to come out it was in the middle of a re-election campaign, it was 2015, Mike Pence was the Governor of Indiana and there was no way to know what effect that would have on my future as somebody living in a state that had never had an out mayor, very few out politicians at all. And it was just a leap of faith. I just had to trust the voters of my community to judge me based on my performance, based on the job that we did for them. And in the end I got 80% of the vote. If that can happen in Mike Pence's Indiana, then it can happen anywhere in America. And what I'm finding as I talk to voters is most of the questions aren't about me, they're about them. They are about whether we can get more health care certainty to families that even when they have insurance are finding that out of pocket costs are frustratingly high or the premiums are too high. It's about dealing with the fact that rural communities are losing their medical providers. It's about literally just getting people paid more at a time when the minimum wage is worth less than it used to be and fewer and fewer people are able to join unions and organize for better pay and working conditions. If we have the right answers to those questions, as I believe my campaign does, then I believe the other things fade away very quickly. And again, we've seen that people are capable of that.

Henderson: Mr. Mayor, we have a follow up question from Barbara on the Medicare issue.

Rodriguez: Just the point that you have made Medicare for all who want it sort of a central point to your candidacy and it's about focusing on a public option versus competing shifting to a government run Medicare for all plan. How do you ensure though that the public option is an attractive option and people don't just stick with their private insurance if the ultimate goal is for a glide path to Medicare for all?

Buttigieg: Well, it's part of what we have laid out in the qualities that the public plan has to have. For example, it has got to be affordable and we have set it up so that no matter where you are income wise it can never be more than 8.5% of your income going into premiums. We set it up so there's an out of pocket cap, a monthly out of pocket cap, which is important because I think a lot of folks find that your cap is yearly and you're delaying medical procedures sometimes to make sure it's in the right month based on your cap. That is not how we experience the economy is yearly, it's monthly. And so we have that feature and a number of other features that make this a plan that I think will be the best one. But fundamentally it's not about making sure that the government is your health insurer, it's about making sure that you get excellent insurance no matter what. And so if private plans respond to this competition by coming up with something better than they have done up until now that's okay. I'm not dogmatic about this. I think my plan is the best one, I think that if that's true for most families or for all Americans they'll opt into it, it will become the only payer. But the beauty of Medicare for all who want it, the point of Medicare for all who want it, is that instead of assuming that it's going to be right for everybody, we create that baseline that we think will be the best plan and if folks can outdo it so much the better. If they can't, then it becomes the one insurer for all Americans.

Murphy: Mr. Mayor, you talked a little bit about foreign policy earlier. We wanted to ask you about your experience and what that means as a candidate and to voters looking for someone with that kind of experience. Obviously you served our country but there are other candidates in this race with that kind of experience and more. Joe Biden, in addition to being a two-term Vice President, sat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Why do you have the kind of experience that voters should consider in your campaign?

Buttigieg: Well, I certainly respect the Vice President, but this is an example of why years in Washington is not always the same thing as judgment. He supported the worst foreign policy decision made by the United States in my lifetime which was the decision to invade Iraq. One of the reasons I'm so proud to have the support of Vote Vets, the largest progressive veterans organization in the country, is that I think there is a growing understanding among my generation of post-911 veterans about what a future engagement in the world has to look like, making sure that we bring an end to endless wars, which is how the conflict in Afghanistan has come to feel, and making sure that we have a vision of America's role in the future that keeps us out of these kinds of conflicts for the future and at the same time also represents continued American leadership. What I envision is an American role in the world that rests on our values. And the fact that American values actually align very well with global values but only if we're living up to them at home, In other words, we can't be a champion of things like democracy and freedom of the press around the world if our own U.S. President refers to unfavorable coverage as the world of the so-called enemy of the people, echoing the language of dictators. We can't be leading the world in democracy when voter suppression is going on right here in the United States. And what we're seeing right now is a so-called America First strategy that has really become America Alone. It is reducing America to just being one more country out there scrapping for advantage instead of the leader that the world needs right now. The world will not solve climate change without American leadership. Democracy will retreat around the world without American leadership. We have to live up to that responsibility.

Henderson: We've got a couple more questions and Barbara is going to ask the first one.

Rodriguez: Just real quick, it ties back to this point about foreign policy, but on the campaign trail you talk a lot about unity and the importance of coming together after the presidency of Donald Trump. Why are you uniquely positioned with not just foreign policy but talking about unity to deliver those messages when there are so many other candidates on the trail that are making those same points about their experience and their ability to do these things?

Buttigieg: Well, I think part of why we have been able to gather so much support in Iowa is that my explanation of how to build that unity is resonating. It's not just saying unity and hoping it will happen. It's about the values that we share, a commitment to freedom, a belief in democracy, values that can in the right hands, with the right presidential leadership, unite the American people. But it's not going to just happen on its own. And I think the instinct toward unity comes naturally for a mayor where you don't succeed by scoring points in political warfare on Capitol Hill, you succeed by getting results and time after time, in order to get anything done for the people of my city I have had to work across the aisle. I have worked with three republican Governors and found ways to team up with each despite our major disagreements in order to deliver good outcomes for our residents and have found ways to make sure that there is a sense of inclusion for people in our community whether they supported me politically or not. The presidency has to be something that belongs to everybody, not that everybody is going to agree with the President or the President's party, that's not the idea. The idea is to look at the White House as a reminder of what we all have in common. And in addition to all of the specific policies that I'm calling for from economic policies to make sure that we have more in our pockets and things like paid family leave to long-term care policies to help handle the cost of retirement to what I think we ought to do about health care, climate, gun violence and so on, in addition to all of the policy work we've got to do, we have to set a tone that establishes that the presidency and therefore the country belongs to every American. It's a core value of our campaign and it's one of the reasons why we're seeing progressives as well as moderates and an awful lot of what I call future/former republicans feeling welcome in the movement that we're building. If we can create that sense of welcome in the campaign before the first vote has even been cast, imagine what we can do with the presidency.

Henderson: Mr. Mayor, eliminate Daylight Savings Time or keep it?

Buttigieg: Oof, I believe we were going along just fine without it in my home state of Indiana, but now that we are on it, which is a decision that was made about a decade ago, I don't see much to be gained by making a new change.

Henderson: Well, we are out of time for our discussion here at the Iowa Press table. Join us again next week at our regular times at 7:30 on Friday night and Noon on Sunday. On behalf of everyone here at Iowa PBS, thanks for watching.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.