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Pete Buttigieg, Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana, recently announced he has formed an exploratory committee to consider a run for the presidency in 2020. Only 37 years old and with no federal government experience, Buttigieg might seem an unlikely candidate. He sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss tax policy, his new book and why he believes his generation's voices aren't being heard.
The race for the White House in 2020 is in full swing, and 10 Democrats so far have declared their candidacy for the party's nomination.
With just four months to go before the first Democratic presidential debate in June, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, recently announced that he formed an exploratory committee.
If he wins his party's nomination, he will be the first openly gay candidate of a major party to run for the White House.
Mayor Buttigieg joins us now to discuss his book, "The Shortest Way Home," and why he could be a good president.
Mayor Buttigieg, thank you very much for being with us.
Thanks for having me.
So, first obvious question, why would a 37-year-old mayor of a small city in the Midwestern part of the U.S. be running for president?
Well, I believe we're in a moment that calls for something completely new.
And, among other things, I think it calls for voices from the Industrial Midwest, a place that, in particular my party, to its detriment, largely ignored in past election cycles.
I think it also calls for somebody from a newer generation. You know, as a millennial — I'm just old enough or young enough to qualify as an older millennial — I'm from the generation that, for one thing, grew up experiencing school shootings as the norm. I was in high school when Columbine happened.
We are the generation that's going to be on the business end of climate change, that's going to have to pick up the pieces of the fiscal mess that will be made by current tax policy.
And, economically, we could be the first generation in American history to make less than our parents if nothing is done. So I think that those kinds of voices have been missing from the debate, and it's time to step forward.
I get that it's a nontraditional path, compared to, let's say, being in the Congress. But, as an executive, with on-the-ground experience in government, I would also argue that the more Congress starts looking or Washington starts looking like our best-run cities and towns, instead of the other way around, the better off we will be.
You mentioned tax policy. That's one of the issues that we're already hearing these early announced candidates talk about.
Where do you put yourself on the spectrum of the people who have expressed an interest in the Democrat nomination? There is Kamala Harris. There's everybody — Elizabeth Warren. Bernie Sanders may get in.
Start with tax policy. Where would you put yourself when it comes to taxing the wealthy?
Well, I think it's pretty clear that there are plenty of people in America
Well, I think it's pretty clear that there are people in America right now who are not paying their fair share. The concentration of wealth has increased to a level that is almost incompatible with democracy, especially at a time when it feels like dollars can sometimes outvote people.
I think that we need to look at ways to tax wealth more than work. We need to consider a financial transactions tax. And we need to ask whether the top marginal tax rates are really appropriate, given that the effective tax rates paid by the wealthy are often actually lower than those paid by the rest of us.
Well, let's talk about something that's been before the Congress just in the last few days.
Yesterday, the Congress, Democrats and Republicans, came together in support of this spending proposal, including language about border security.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, was for it, but the newly elected Congresswoman from New York Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was against it.
What would you have done?
I don't have a problem with enhanced border security, perhaps to include fencing.
I think the mistake is believing that border security is as simple as just putting up a wall from sea to shining sea. And, by the way, I also think it's a mistake to believe that security in general in the 21st century is as simple as military and border security matters.
At a moment like this, when 21st century threats, from cyber-security to climate security are demanding action, many, especially the majority party in the Senate, don't seem to show any interest in tackling that at all.
So, in connection with that, the president looked at that and said, it's still not enough money.
As you know, today, he's declared a national emergency, so that he can get more money from — taken from other places in the government to go toward a border wall.
Should he have done that? And whether you agree or not, if you were president — for example, you have said you think the climate — climate change is a national emergency — could you see yourself declaring an emergency over that?
I may be the youngest person in the 2020 conversation, but I'm old enough to remember when conservatives and liberals alike were skeptical of presidential power grabs.
And the idea that he can assert an additional power based on an emergency that's not a true emergency — to the extent that there is a humanitarian crisis, it's one of his own making because of the cruel policies being implemented at the border.
And, in the meantime, something like climate, something that has the destructive power of perhaps a depression or a world war, that is a much more real emergency, is demanding our attention.
Now, does that mean that a future Democratic president ought to take a page out of President Trump's book and declare an emergency? I would rather see this resolved through the regular legislative process in which Congress funds national priorities largely as set by the president.
It's just that it doesn't seem to be a priority for those in leadership who seem to regard climate and so many other future issues as somebody else's problem.
And just quickly, on health care, you have said you are for some kind of single-payer system. There's a lot of conversation about Medicare for all.
Where are you on that spectrum?
I think most Americans understand that we deserve to have universal health care, as enjoyed by most citizens in most developed countries.
Now, there are some legitimate questions about the pathway to Medicare for all. The flavor that I prefer is what I would Medicare for all who want it. In other words, take a version of Medicare or something like it, make it available as a public option on the exchange.
And then if people like me are right, that this will over time become the most efficient and preferred means, then this will be a very natural glide path to a single-payer environment.
Different subject, but, as we have said, you would be, if you ran on the Democratic ticket, the first openly gay person to seek the presidency in a major party.
Do you think that would end up — in 2020, would that be an asset for you, or could it be a liability?
Maybe it'll be both. It's very hard to say.
I'm certainly conscious of the historic nature of a candidacy of the first out elected official ever to seek this office. At the same time, when I think about my own life, my marriage is probably the most normal thing in my life. It holds me down to earth.
I have a husband who wants to know if I did the chores, as well as how I did on television. And it helps me relate to other people, most of whom happen to be straight, who are also married.
Do you think the time is coming when we're not going to be asking that question?
I hope we will get to a day when it is not newsworthy, when — I thought about this a lot when I was getting ready to come out. And I thought about the fact that straight people don't have to come out.
So, someday, I would like for somebody in the position I was in, in a reelection year, when I realized it was personally time to get ready to come out, and agonized over how to do it, that I would just show up at some social function, and my date would be of the same sex, and people would have a look at that, shrug, and go about their business.
But the reality is, we're not in that world yet. As a matter of fact, the reality is, in many parts of the U.S., people can still be fired for being gay. And we know that there's basically an assault on the rights and dignity of trans people in this country, too.
So the journey is — is still very much in progress. But I also believe, especially somebody who came out while Mike Pence was governor of Indiana and got reelected with 80 percent of the vote, I believe that progress is accelerating.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
The book is "Shortest Way Home."
Thank you for stopping by.
Glad to be here.
Watch the Full Episode
Judy Woodruff is a senior correspondent and the former anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. She has covered politics and other news for five decades at NBC, CNN and PBS.
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