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Pete Buttigieg on election results, paying for health care and bringing America together

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a Democratic 2020 presidential hopeful, hailed this week’s election results in Virginia and Kentucky, where Democrats won close elections in traditionally Republican areas.

“I’ve always said there’s no such thing as a permanently red state,” he told PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff in an interview Wednesday. He called the “encouraging” results a rejection of President Donald Trump. “What it tells you is that a lot of people, including people in the habit of voting Republican, are fed up with what the Republican Party is doing right now, in particular its embrace of a president who goes against every value, progressive and conservative, that we used to count on from either party,” he said.

Other highlights from the interview:

  • On health care: Buttigieg defended his health care plan, which critics have slammed for not providing universal coverage. ”We don’t need to spend tens of trillions of dollars to solve this problem.” He said his plan, which allows people to buy into Medicare, would be markedly less expensive than Medicare for All” plans. “It has the advantage of trusting Americans to make their own decisions, but it also has the major advantage of costing 1.5 trillion dollars, which of course is still an awful lot of money, but it is fully paid for, it’s fundable without having to go into the more challenging and controversial math that is being used to explain a plan that is 20 or 30 trillion or more, depending on who you ask,” he said.
  • On taxes: Buttigieg said he would be releasing more detailed tax plans in the coming months, but specifically called for a rollback of the corporate rate portion of the Trump tax cuts, “tax cuts that mostly went to line the pockets of those who didn’t need help.”
  • On impeachment: Buttigieg said he does not hear much about the drama in Congress on the campaign trail. “Most of the questions I get are about things like health care. And whether we’re going to be able to grow opportunity. Overcoming racial inequality, serving rural America, making sure prescription drug costs are under control — but it is on people’s minds, as it must be. There’s no escaping it, there’s no ignoring it.”

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Recent polls in early voting states show Pete Buttigieg's popularity surging among Democratic voters, putting the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in the top tier of candidates vying for their party's nomination to challenge President Trump a year from now.

    But with that rising support comes increased scrutiny.

    And Mayor Pete Buttigieg joins us now.

    Mayor Buttigieg, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    It is almost exactly a year away that voters will be deciding who to support in the general election.

    But I want to ask you about what happened yesterday, the so-called off-year elections in several states. Do those tell us anything about 2020?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    Well, I have always said there is no such thing as a permanently red state.

    And when you see the governorship of Kentucky go to a Democratic candidate, when you see the chambers flipping in Virginia and a lot of other encouraging results, what it tells you is that a lot of people, including people in the habit of voting for a Republican, are fed up with what the Republican Party is doing right now, in particular its embrace of a president who goes against every value, progressive and conservative, that we used to count on from either party.

    So I think it is very encouraging. It shows us that, if we do a good job of making sure that we reach out to energize our base and to recruit as many Americans as possible, including people who maybe have thought of themselves as Republicans in the past, offer a message and a vision of the future where they see that they can belong, even as we move to solve these serious issues around health care, climate, the economy and more, we absolutely can win, not just the White House in 2020, but, crucially, win the Congress and win across the states too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, let's talk about some of the issues.

    You mentioned health care. In the last Democratic debate, you were critical of Senator Elizabeth Warren's Medicare for all proposal. And I'm quoting.

    You said: "No plan has been laid out yet to explain how that multitrillion-dollar hole is supposed to get filled in."

    As you know, in the last few days, she's given details for how she says her plan will be paid for.

    So, my question to you is, do we now know how her multitrillion-dollar hole is filled in?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    Well, there is a lot of aggressive math in there about cutting the military, assuming that immigration reform happens, and getting about a trillion out of that, and some other areas that are controversial among the economists.

    The point I'm making is that we don't need to spend tens of trillions of dollars in order to address this problem. The idea of my proposal, Medicare for all who want it, is that we take a version of Medicare and make it available to anybody who wants in on it, without commanding people to adopt it, if they would prefer their private plan.

    It has the advantage of trusting Americans to make their own decisions, but it also has the major advantage of costing $1.5 trillion, which, of course, is still an awful lot of money. But it is fully paid for, it is fundable, without having to go into the more challenging and controversial math being used to explain a plan that is $20 trillion or $30 trillion or more, depending who you ask.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are critics on the left, though, who are saying it sounds all well and good, but what if doesn't do is, it doesn't provide coverage for everybody.

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    It is certainly set up to make sure that everybody has coverage. It is designed so that nobody falls through the cracks.

    And if you are not covered, you — covered at all, you can actually retroactively be added on our plan. What it does mean is that not everybody is on the public plan.

    Look, I think that the Medicare-like public plan we're going to create is going to be the best option for most Americans. And if I am I'm right about that, then most Americans will choose it, until, eventually, it is the single-payer. It will be the glide path to Medicare for all.

    But, crucially, if it is the case that, for some Americans, the private plans they have are better, we're going to be really glad we didn't force them off of those private plans.

    And, in particular, I have been talking lately to a lot of union members who are happy with the private plans that they negotiated for, fought for, sometimes gave wage concessions in order to gain. Why kick them off of those plans, when we can let people choose?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Taxes.

    You have said that you would return the corporate rate back up to 35 percent. President Trump put it down near 20 percent. You had said you would consider raising the marginal tax rate for high earners. You have said a wealth tax makes sense.

    My question is, do you have numbers you can give us, percentages? The other Democrats running for president have put numbers on this. What are yours?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    So, more numbers will be forthcoming, alongside the numbers of what we're proposing to invest.

    We're not doing taxation for its own sake. I'm proposing changes to the tax code to make sure that my policies are paid for. So, as I put out more policies, you are going to see more adjustments on the tax side.

    But in terms of what we have put out already, for example, that $1.5 trillion I was talking about that is the cost over a decade of my health care plan, it is fully explained in terms of two things. And the math breaks down basically in these pieces.

    About $100 billion of what we need to go toward it will come from allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. The other 1.4 will come from the rollback of the corporate rate portion of the Trump corporate tax cuts, tax cuts that mostly went to line the pockets of those who didn't need help and, I think, in the long run have done nothing to make our long-run sources of domestic business competitiveness any better.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Several other things I want to ask you about, Mayor Buttigieg.

    Iran. You have said you wouldn't have pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, as President Trump did. That has, though, happened many months ago. We now have a very different reality on the ground. Iran is now talking about uranium enrichment. They're talking about firing up centrifuges. It's a different situation now.

    So what would you do if you are elected president?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    Well, unfortunately, things have moved in the direction of Iran building out more of their nuclear plan, the exact thing that the nuclear deal was preventing, which shows just what a foolish move it was of the Trump administration to wreck the deal.

    That, unfortunately, also means there is no going back to the situation that the Obama administration was in when they negotiated that first deal.

    But I still think keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability has to be a major U.S. regional security priority. And that means we're going to have to structure another deal that will have the same effect. And we may only be able to get to it incrementally, because, unfortunately, the deal that was actually doing the job, as the Trump administration itself certified, was destroyed by this administration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mayor Buttigieg, your critics on the left are now saying they think you have been moving to the center from where you started out this year.

    They say you have moved to the center on climate change, on decriminalizing border crossings, raising middle-class taxes and so on. How do you answer that?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    My positions are the same.

    Now, I also think that there is more and more pressure, especially in the kind of pundit sphere, to try to align all of us on the left-right spectrum. I just don't think that that is helpful at a time like this, when we are starting to see some of the ideological categories get more and more scrambled.

    Look, I have led the field in proposals on bold actions for democratic reform. And, again, my positions haven't changed. There are other areas where — like health care, where, I guess, if your top priority is to find the ideologically furthest-out solution, you are probably going to look to a different candidate than me.

    But the proposals I am putting forward would make me the most progressive candidate, the most progressive president in my lifetime.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me finally ask you about impeachment.

    As you know, the House of Representatives announced when they are going to start public hearings. And that's going to be next week. We are going to hear from the people who are going to be testifying about what happened with the president and Ukraine.

    How much do voters on the campaign trail bring up impeachment with you?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    Some. Not a whole lot.

    Most of the questions that I get are about things like health care and whether we are going to be able to grow opportunity, overcoming racial inequality, serving rural America, making sure that prescription drug costs are under control.

    But it is definitely on people's minds, as it must be. This is a process of utmost gravity, a constitutional process to hold the president accountable for misconduct that he has already confessed to in public.

    There is no escaping it. There is no ignoring it. But, also, as much as possible, we have got to keep that process separate from the process of partisan politics.

    And the part that I have a role in as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president is to try to make sure that this president is defeated, if indeed he is the president, in November of next year, or, regardless, that we get a president who can actually lead this country forward, unite it, and deliver on the big problems that need solutions right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you said if he is the president.

    Right now, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, says, if the House votes to impeach, the Senate — there are not the votes in the Senate to convict.

    But my question to you is, if there were — if the president were removed from office, why would you be the best Democrat to go up against your fellow Indianian Mike Pence, who would step up and be the president?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    Well, I know a thing or two about the vice president, a fellow Hoosier is the term we prefer here in Indiana.

    And I have got to say that his far-right, extreme social ideology doesn't reflect this country, and it doesn't even reflect this state. When he tried to push this ideology on our state, it wasn't just Democrats, it was a lot of Republicans of conscience who came together.

    We all stepped up, and we all pushed back on that. And as somebody who has now come on board with a presidency that is an affront, not only to our values, but to his own professed values, I'm certainly prepared for that debate and would look forward to the opportunity to lay out the contrasts and show Americans a different kind of solution coming out of Indiana.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mayor Pete Buttigieg joining us again, thank you very much.

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    Good to be with you.

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