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Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro has tried to set himself apart from the crowded 2020 field with an early immigration proposal and appeals to the House of Representatives to move forward with impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Castro talked with Amna Nawaz in Iowa about his plan to compete in the crowded primary field and how Democrats can beat Trump in 2020.
One of the things you mentioned in there was, you ended your remarks by telling people, the person I am in the book is the person you see before you, the person who is running for president. How much of this, spending all the days you are in Iowa is introducing yourself to people, sort of making sure they get to know who you are?
A lot of it is. A lot of it is. You know, this is the first time that anybody has heard anything that I have to say. A lot of people don't know anything about me. They don't know anything about my background, what I stand for or what I'd like to do if I'm president. And so it's a great opportunity every time I get in front of an audience here in Iowa or one of the other states to let them know where I'm coming from and what I want to do for them and for their family. And sometimes I tell people that it's almost analogous to being a standup comedian except a standup politician because basically you're going and you're pitching your ideas for the future of this country and you can tell what people respond to and sometimes when it makes them think or sometimes push back a little bit. But one of the most enjoyable things for me is that running for office gives you this license to enter the world of somebody else and to hear about the dreams that they have for themselves, for their family, for the country. That's what kind of makes it worth doing when you're scrapping around, you know, driving a lot of miles and flying a lot and getting up like we did this morning for a 5:45 a.m. flight. I keep going because that part of it is enjoyable because I know that if I'm elected that I'm actually going to get to go and do it and help make their dreams come true.
It is early days, right? We're still nine months from the Iowa caucuses. But you've been polling towards the back of the pack. Why do you think you are where you are right now?
Well I was starting from scratch. I didn't have the name I.D. of somebody that had run for president before or who had run for Senate, wasn't in Washington, D.C., recently. So I'm having to build up this campaign from scratch, everything from our email list because so much of fundraising is digital e-mail fundraising and on social media, to just generally name I.D. So what I'm trying to do is to build up a campaign that will steadily but surely get stronger and stronger. We have 40 weeks until the Iowa caucus on February 3rd. So I'm not that phased that I'm not the front runner right now. I believe that I've developed and delivering a compelling, articulate message about the kind of country that we can become in the years ahead. People are responding to that when I get in front of them. In the candidate forums that we have had so far in Houston and Las Vegas, I've gotten great reviews compared to other candidates. And so I believe that when we get into the debates, and then after that, that I'm going to be able to stand out and that I will be the frontrunner by the time that we get to the spring of 2020.
Do you have a timeline in your head at this point in the race? How do you kind of look forward? Do have points of re-evaluation along the way — say, "I'll see how I do after the debate," "We'll see where we are by the caucuses?" Where are you in a timeline?
Well we're trying to set metrics all along the way for goals for fundraising, goals for, we're working right now on goals for number of contacts with potential caucus goers and voters in other states. And of course I'm going to evaluate, you know, what are we doing right on the on the stump and what are we not doing well when we get to the debates. How do we have to make adjustments in this campaign based on that. All of that is part of campaigning and fundamentally about speaking to the American people in a powerful way about what kind of country we can become.
You don't have a set timeline in your head if I'm not polling in double digits, if I'm not towards the front of the pack by this date, maybe it's time to bow out?
Not at all. Not at all. And I'm going to run and I'll be here on February 3rd, 2020 when Iowa caucuses.
One of the things we've heard from the voters we've talked to here in Iowa is that they want someone who will beat Donald Trump. That's like top of their list. But they also want to see civility in this contest in the Democratic contest right now. How do you view that tension? How do you kind of see where that balance is?
We're not going to beat Donald Trump by trying to be Donald Trump. You're never going to outgutter Donald Trump. He's been in the political gutter for decades when he was in New York up through today. What we need to do is offer a compelling, strong vision for the future that connects with families. That's why I've articulated this vision of being the smartest, the healthiest, the fairest and most prosperous nation on earth and talked about how I've lived in my own life many of the struggles that people are dealing with, that they're grappling with, and that I can understand their aspirations for their own future and what I would do from investing in things like universal health care to universal pre-K to reforming our justice system to raising the minimum wage. Those things are going to make sure that everybody can prosper in our country.
At the same time, it's fair to say you've been among the most aggressive in the Democratic field in terms of the Trump administration. You were the first to call for Attorney General [William] Barr to resign. You were the first to publicly support impeachment proceedings beginning against the president. Is that going to be a central theme to your campaign? Should we hear more of that from you moving forward?
Absolutely. Because I believe that nobody is above the law. And I think that voters out there believe that the president should be held to the same standard that they would be held to or a family member would be held to if they were accused of a crime. And that's why I've said I believe that Congress should move forward with impeachment of this president — that it's a mistake not to, because Mueller pointed out 10 different instances where the President obstructed or tried to obstruct justice.
Did you read the entire Muller report?
I haven't read the entire report, no. But I've read …
Do you plan to?
I will at some point yeah, yeah well in my free time.
On this idea of civility because we've heard it so much I wonder if there's any kind of informal pledge, if you've made any kind of commitment to yourself to not go negative against your fellow Democratic candidates, to not attack them. Is that a consideration?
Well yeah, I'm focused on my own campaign and what I'm offering to the voters and my vision for the future of the country. I haven't focused much on other people's campaigns and I have complimented other people who are running in the race when I thought that they put forward good ideas — whether it was Senator Warren's childcare policy or Senator Harris' call for greater investment in teacher pay. You have great ideas that have been put forward by different candidates.
We've heard from a couple of the other candidates that they're in it to win it, they're in it for the distance, they're going to do all they can to get the nomination. But at the end of the day the most important thing is to beat the man in the White House and that they will throw their full support behind whoever the nominee is. So is it more important to you to get the nomination or to beat President Trump?
Well of course we want to make sure that we change leadership in 2021. It's important for me to get the nomination. I believe that I would be the best person to lead the country in the next term. However, of course, we need a leadership change. And so if I'm not the nominee I will do everything that I can to support the nominee to become the next president of the United States.
You were taking time out of your day to talk to us after a very long day and it's your mother's birthday. What did you tell your mother when you called her today?
I told her "Happy Birthday." And you know I just wish her well and told her I was sorry that I couldn't be there today. She's turning 72. And I know that I wouldn't be where I'm at if it hadn't been for my mom who raised my brother and me as a single parent. And just like a lot of children of parents we feel like, you know, that I feel like my mom was the best mom in the world and I'm sorry that I can't be there today. But I'm going to get to see you, probably tomorrow.
A day late. No problem. Thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.
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Amna Nawaz joined PBS NewsHour in April 2018 and serves as the program's chief correspondent and primary substitute anchor.
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