ON “CBS THIS MORNING”: PETE BUTTIGIEG SAYS, AS A NEWCOMER TO POLITICAL SCENE, HE’S “GOT A LOT MORE WORK TO DO TO EARN” THE TRUST OF BLACK VOTERS
Thursday is the final day for Democratic presidential candidates to qualify for the next debate, which is one week from today in Los Angeles. So far only seven candidates have done so, including Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is surging in recent polling. In Iowa, he’s in a tight race with the top candidates, and a poll in New Hampshire has him leading. Buttigieg joined CBS THIS MORNING to discuss the impeachment hearings, what his record shows in helping minority communities, and how he plans to tackle the student debt crisis.
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Photo Credit: Michele Crowe/CBS
- On resonating with black voters: “What I’m finding is a lot of voters – in particular, black voters – I talk to feel like they’ve not only been often abused by the Republican party but sometimes taken for granted by the Democratic party. And that means when you show up and you’re new on the scene, as opposed to having had years or even decades in Washington, you got a lot more work to do to earn that trust.”
- On what it takes to beat Donald Trump: “Here’s what it’s going to take to beat Donald Trump. First of all, it would be a good idea to have somebody who’s actually from the industrial Midwest, the kinds of communities that this president appealed to. Secondly, I think it might be a good idea to have somebody who’s actually from the middle class.”
- On the current presidential field: “I may be the only person on that debate stage who’s not a millionaire. And I think it’s really important right now to have somebody who is a little more in touch with the day-to-day lives and concerns of Americans.”
- On what he has done to help black Americans: “What I point to are the things that we have done in our community that line up with the things that I’m proposing we do as a country.” https://bit.ly/38vNkth
- On why he is accepting big dollar donations: “We are getting ready for the fight of our lives.” https://bit.ly/2LOoiM4
- On if he would forgive all student debt like some of his rivals: “No, I’m not going to promise that we can just wave away all student debt.” https://bit.ly/35j3cNy
ANTHONY MASON: This is the final day for Democratic presidential candidates to qualify for their next debate, one week from today in Los Angeles. So far, only seven candidates have done so, including South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He is surging in recent polling in Iowa. He’s in a tight race with the top candidates. And a new poll in New Hampshire has him leading the field. They are of course the first two states that will hold contests to pick a nominee. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is with us at the table this morning. Mayor, welcome. Thanks for being here.
PETE BUTTIGIEG: Good to be with you.
MASON: As we mentioned, the House is set to vote on impeachment of the president, but the president’s expected to be acquitted in the Senate. So how do you think this impeachment process – is it helping or hurting the Democratic race for president?
BUTTIGIEG: I think it’s a process of such importance that you can’t think about it in terms of the politics. Sometimes there’s a situation so grave, constitutionally, that you just have to let it play out and then let the chips fall where they may politically. Now, when I’m on the ground – talking to voters in places like Iowa, South Carolina and in between – I’m mostly hearing voters ask this basic question of their presidential candidates: “How is my life going to be different if you’re president versus one of the others?” And our message is about preparing for an America after Trump. Because by definition, we’re running not only to be the nominee capable of defeating Donald Trump, but also to be ready to lead the era that is coming next. And we’re going to have huge challenges as a country both in terms of policy – making sure that we have health care and an economy that works for all of us – and just in terms of unifying a country that will be even more divided on that day than it is today.
GAYLE KING: Well, in order to do that, first you have to get the nomination so –
BUTTIGIEG: That’s right.
KING: – you can get in office and make the changes you would like to make. And one of the sticking points that people always say about you, is a difficulty in attracting black voters, you know? And no candidate in recent history has won without the support of black voters. Why do you think you’re doing so poorly with the black voters? And what are you doing to change that?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, we’re reaching out to African American voters – in particular in the South – where what we’re seeing is there’s no more negative view of me, but a lot more folks say they don’t know me to begin with. And –
KING: But how do you think you got in this position to begin with, Mayor Pete?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, what I’m finding is a lot of voters, in particular black voters I talk to, feel like they’ve not only been often abused by the Republican party but sometimes taken for granted by the Democratic party. And that means when you show up and you’re new on the scene, as opposed to having had years or even decades in Washington, you got a lot more work to do to earn that trust. When you talk, in particular, to African American women, who have been the backbone of the party in so many ways, they really propelled a lot of our most important victories –
KING: Yeah, a bloating – a key voting bloc—
BUTTIGIEG: Critical. And there’s a lot of skepticism of the new person –
BUTTIGIEG: – showing up. But I welcome that challenge because it’s critically important not only to win but to deserve to win.
TONY DOKOUPIL: So when you talk to those black voters – and I think you’re at 2% right now in South Carolina. So when you have those conversations to get that 2% up to 20% and beyond, what can you say in your record? What can you point to, to say, “Look, I’ve helped the lives of black Americans”?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, what I point to is the things that we’ve done in our community that line up with the things I’m proposing we do as a country. So, for example, we’ve got a lot of challenges around housing right now as a country. We’ve got families that have been redlined generationally into certain neighborhoods. Once those neighborhoods become desirable, they get gentrified right back out of them. In South Bend, I directed resources to low-income and mainly minority neighborhoods to improve the quality of life there. When we look at the national picture for African Americans, we see a wealth gap and an income gap. We need economic empowerment. At home, we worked to make sure that we reduced unemployment, reduced poverty and had a lot to show for it. So part of it is about my record. Part of it’s about my plans. But what I’m finding a lot of when I’m speaking to voters is, before they want to hear anything about your plans, they want to know what’s in your heart. And – so the biggest thing I have to convey is how my makeup, my being, my faith teaches me that my responsibility is to make sure that I’m lifting up those who have so often been excluded in our society and our politics.
MASON: Many of your Democratic rivals are not taking big-dollar donations. Why have you not adopted the same policy?
BUTTIGIEG: We are getting ready for the fight of our lives. We’re going up against Donald Trump and his allies, who I believe raised $125 million just in the last quarter in order to stay in power. If somebody wants to contribute to my campaign – to support us in taking on Donald Trump, then we’re going to need to bring everything we’ve got to that fight. I have 700,000 donors. I believe the average donation to my campaign is $32. And I’m proud of it –
KING: You said you’re going to release the name of your big bundlers. When do you intend to do that?
BUTTIGIEG: So we’ve already done it, I think – for – the first and second quarter. They’re putting together the information for the third quarter. And, remember, every single contribution to my campaign – is made public. The person who made it, and what they do for a living. And this is about making sure that we are ready to compete. But I only – I make exactly one promise to anybody who makes a donation to the campaign, whether they come to an event to see me speak, or whether they go to PeteForAmerica.com and send in five bucks. And the promise is this: I’m going to take that contribution and use it to defeat Donald Trump.
KING: Well, I know you heard Mayor Bloomberg, who’s gotten in the race, who told us all the other day that all the candidates who are running so far, Donald Trump would eat them up. (LAUGHTER) That includes you, Mayor Pete.
BUTTIGIEG: So –
KING: What’s your response to that?
BUTTIGIEG: Here’s what it’s going to take to beat Donald Trump. First of all, it would be a good idea to have somebody who’s actually from the industrial Midwest, the kinds of communities that this president appealed to. Secondly, I think it might be a good idea to have somebody who’s actually from the middle class. I may be the only person on that debate stage who’s not a millionaire. And I think it’s really important right now to have somebody who is a little more in touch with the day-to-day lives and concerns of Americans. And I’m also welcoming the opportunity to challenge this president’s military chest thumping. This president, thinking that it’s somehow pro-military to overthrow military justice in order to benefit a war criminal. I’m happy to talk about and debate the fact that I was packing my bags for Afghanistan while he was working on season seven of “Celebrity Apprentice.”
DOKOUPIL: You have talked about a new generation of leadership. And if you became president, you would be the youngest president in history. And yet you don’t have a majority of young voters in this country, according to polls. Is there a way in which you’re out of touch with your own generation?
BUTTIGIEG: No, but it is certainly –
TONY DOKOUPIL: No?
BUTTIGIEG: –the case that often younger candidates –
DOKOUPIL: Then why don’t you –
BUTTIGIEG: – tend to attract more support from older voters. But we are building a coalition that’s going to draw voters from every part of this country. Now, it’s certainly –
DOKOUPIL: You’re at 3% and 4% among people under the age of 44 in South Carolina. It’s almost as bad as minority voters. What explains that gap?
BUTTIGIEG: Look – there’s going to be a continued process to earn support across the coalition. But it’s certainly the case that many of the younger voters are more attracted to – for example – you know, the Sanders campaign definitely has more young voters. I was a big fan of Bernie Sanders when I was 18 years old. It’s also the case that we are pulling together a coalition to talk about issues like climate, to act on issues like climate, and guns, and the economy, that the longer you’re planning to be here, the more you have at stake. And young voters have to mobilize in a way that hasn’t happened before if we’re going to be able to defeat this president.
MASON: Would you forgive all student debt like some of your rivals?
BUTTIGIEG: No, I’m not going to promise that we can just wave away all student debt. Now, what I will say – and, again – this is personal for me because one of the reasons why I am literally the least wealthy candidate running for president right now, is that I’m married to a teacher. As a household, we’ve got six-figure student debt right now. So I get it. But that doesn’t mean I can just say we’re going to make it all go away and it’s all free now. What we should do is expand programs for debt relief through public service. We should contemplate removing the student debt of those for-profit shady colleges that would never have stood up to scrutiny in the department of education to begin with and make college more affordable on the front end. So what I’m proposing, is that we make college tuition free, public college, for the first 80% of Americans. If you’re between that 80 and 90%, over $100,000, it will be a sliding scale. If you’re fortunate enough to be in that top 10%, I still wish you well, but I think you ought to pay your own tuition. And that’s just a difference I have with some of the other candidates –
KING: If –
BUTTIGIEG: – who think that even the child of a billionaire should have their college tuition debt paid, or their college tuition paid completely by taxpayers –
DOKOUPIL: You got –
KING: Let’s talk about your other candidates, because I know they’re saying we have to go. If you couldn’t vote for yourself, who would you vote for?
BUTTIGIEG: You know, I’m not going to name-check any of my competitors. I will (LAUGHTER) say that –
KING: Oh, go ahead. Go ahead, Mayor Pete. Give us a name check.
BUTTIGIEG: I will say that I’m proud to be part of –
MASON: You can write in, by the way.
BUTTIGIEG: I am proud to be –
KING: You’re proud of –
BUTTIGIEG: – part of this field though. This is an extraordinary field. Talented, diverse. We’ve been at it for – almost a year now.
KING: When you look at a VP candidate, are you looking for someone that has – that’s maybe a little older and has more experience? Or does that not factor into your thinking at this time?
BUTTIGIEG: The #1 criterion for a VP candidate is – I mean this is a very grave decision.
DOKOUPIL: You need someone old to get the young vote.
BUTTIGIEG: I mean, look, before you even get to the voting, I mean – kidding apart – you know, this is somebody who would have to take over the country –
BUTTIGIEG: – in the event that I’m killed or unable to serve. And – it’s the one decision you make as a candidate that’s really a presidential decision ‘cause the whole country has to live with it. Having said that – whether it’s the VP or the Cabinet – I also believe that balance is very important. Diversity is extremely important. It’s one of the reasons I’ve committed to having a Cabinet that’s at least 50% women. Not only because it’s the right thing to do but because we’ll make better decisions. And I think that balance is crucial whenever you’re building out a team.
KING: It does seem women make everything better, I have to say. (LAUGHTER) Who’s your favorite Republican, Mayor Pete, before you go?
BUTTIGIEG: Well – you know, we recently lost—
KING: Just one name.
BUTTIGIEG: – Dick Lugar, senator from Indiana.
KING: All right.
BUTTIGIEG: Wonderful person.
MASON: Good choice.
BUTTIGIEG: I wish we had more like him in the party –
DOKOUPIL: Mayor, thank you very much for being here. We appreciate it –
KING: Thanks, sir.
DOKOUPIL: And for playing in the green room with Lizzo.
BUTTIGIEG: Thanks very much.
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