October 23, 2020

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, IN who ran for president, discusses the election, his political future and the COVID vaccine. Buttigieg talks about coming out as mayor and his concerns about Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court.

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Young, charismatic and a breakout star for the Democrats. This week on Firing Line.

CAMPAIGN LAUNCH  4/15/19: My name is Pete Buttigieg. They call me Mayor Pete.

The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana,

38-year-old Pete Buttigieg already has a long list of accomplishments

ELECTION NIGHT 11/3/15 to be given the opportunity to lead your own hometown, it is personal.

Rhodes Scholar, Veteran of the war in Afghanistan

BUTTIGIEG JULY 4, 2014 MESSAGE This is Lt. Pete Buttigieg. I wish I could be there with you tonight to celebrate July 4th. 

A history-making presidential campaign 

IA CAUCUS NIGHT 2/3/20: “Buttigieg! Buttigieg! Buttigieg! Thank you!”

He won the Iowa caucuses…

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you Iowa!” 

becoming the first openly gay candidate to earn primary delegates, and is on Joe Biden’s transition team. With just over a week to go in this high stakes election, what does Mayor Pete Buttigieg say now?

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HOOVER: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, welcome to Firing Line.

BUTTIGIEG: Thanks for having me.

HOOVER: 2020 voting is well underway, as you know, and we have already seen more than 30 million Americans go to the polls or vote in some way, which has far outpaced the 2016 early voting. There’s still more than a week to go. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said she is going to vote early and in person. How are you going to vote?

BUTTIGIEG: So I voted early in person as well. Went right down to the county city building here in South Bend. Was about an hour in line. People were in good spirits, and the poll workers, you could tell the pride they take in the job that they have to do. So it was a good experience. I am concerned about the length of the lines we’re already seeing and a lot of places around the country, but also really, really encouraged by the level of enthusiasm and turnout and people wanting to get out there and vote.

HOOVER: You have just written a book called, “Trust: America’s Best Chance.” Can Americans trust that their vote will be counted?

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, but, we also need to make a lot of improvements to our system. The seams in our democratic system are revealing themselves. There are a lot of problems connected to voting. Most of the documented problems that we’ve seen are not about something nefarious happening to a vote after it’s been cast, but it being harder to make sure people get the chance to cast the vote, whether it’s long lines, not enough polling stations or sometimes ballots being disqualified because of what’s been called disenfranchisement by typo, these exact match requirements. These really are very serious issues. And, you know, we’ve got to get out of this mode where some in politics view it as somehow strategically good for them if fewer people can vote. To me, if you trust in your values and your beliefs and your ability to persuade, then the last thing you would ever want to do is discourage anyone from voting.

HOOVER: Statistically, more mail-in ballots tend to be thrown out. Do you encourage Americans when they can to vote in person?

BUTTIGIEG: So conditions are different in different communities, but where it can be done safely and people have confidence that it will be safe and efficient, then I think voting in-person early can be a great option like it is for me. But we also have to work to make sure that someone who decides to vote by mail, vote from home, which is often the safest or most convenient, convenient option, knows that they’re on perfectly equal footing with people who vote in-person early or people who vote in-person on Election Day.

HOOVER: So in your book, Trust, you have talked about mistrust, particularly of vaccines. And Dr. Fauci told us that we’re likely to have a COVID vaccine very soon. Both the governor of New York and the governor of California have said they will not automatically trust a vaccine that has been approved by the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration. Those governors are saying they will put together their own panels of experts who are going to review the FDA’s findings.  Should they be casting doubt and distrust upon the FDA?

BUTTIGIEG: So I would be the first in line to get a vaccine that’s been approved by the FDA. I think what the governors are doing, though, is expressing concern about what appears to be a pattern of political pressure or political interference on the FDA and other agencies that should have absolutely nothing to do with politics. So if their states have their own rigorous standards they want to apply, I think that could actually fortify trust in the event that we have a safe vaccine that emerges. Hopefully, that helps us beat back what I’m seeing right now, which is an alarming level of concern and distrust when the success of a vaccine depends on a sufficient number of Americans going out and getting it.

HOOVER: Shouldn’t they be expressing, then, confidence in the FDA?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, again, they clearly have concerns about political pressure. But, one great way to make sure that a vaccine is certified as safe is to have it certified by their large and capable state bodies and by the federal government.

HOOVER: Right. But it does suggest that they distrust the federal government, which I think goes to the core theme of your book of building trust in institutions, not tearing them down.

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. Or they have a distrust in the president who’s in charge of the federal government. So do I. Now, I have utmost confidence in the integrity of the medical professionals who work at places like the FDA, the NIH, the CDC. But we are seeing an unprecedented level of political interference, not just on issues like public health. But you look at things like climate science, where even basic scientific terms have been deleted from government websites, clearly, at the directive of political appointees or the White House itself. And one of the things that we’ve got to get right in the decade ahead is to reset our relationship with our own experts in this country so that we can credibly assess and act on important information that we’re being told about. So much depends on our ability to have confidence in what experts can teach us and tell us about what’s going on and guide us toward in terms of action so that we can protect ourselves, our communities, and in the case of climate, our planet, from the harm that could happen. 

HOOVER: Fifty former senior intelligence official signed a letter outlining their belief that the recent disclosure of emails allegedly belonging to Joe Biden’s son quote, “has all the classic earmarks of Russian information operations.” What should be done to stop disinformation Mayor Pete?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think two things need to happen. One of them is on the side of journalists and social media companies who have a responsibility to report the context of information, and to decide whether to report things, especially when they clearly come, or likely come, in the context of those kinds of foreign information operations. But it can’t only be up to the editorial side, or the social media companies. They need to do the right thing. But we as consumers of information, we as citizens need to become harder targets for this kind of misinformation. One of the things I write about in the book is that, you know, when it came to printed matter, right? If you go back to the 17th century and somebody handed you a pamphlet that was printed on a printing press, at least subconsciously, we probably would have been impressed that they had a printing press and more likely to take what they had to say seriously. And then we developed the saying, don’t believe everything that you read. I’m not sure we have that same kind of built-in awareness when it comes to digital media because they’re so new. We’re going to have to build that up and learn to be tougher customers and really understand the sources and the motivations behind the sources of information coming our way so that we can make good decisions, especially coming into election seasons.

HOOVER: How do you think the social media companies have handled themselves? What should they do?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think they need to take much more responsibility and they’re beginning to show steps toward doing that, although I think many of us feel that it’s coming late in the game. Look, they can’t have it both ways, right? On one hand, they’re claiming free speech protections like journalists. And on the other hand, when they’re being held accountable for the content that is on their site, they’re saying, ‘Hey, we’re just like a utility. We’re just passing this stuff back and forth.’ And at a certain point, we’ve got to recognize that they’re not quite either. And part of why is, remember, their profitability isn’t just based on the amount of information that flows through their, their systems. It’s the kind of information that flows through their systems. And they tend to make more money off things that are more controversial because that gets more attention and allows them to sell more advertising. They need to accept greater responsibility for this. They’re starting to tiptoe in that direction. I think it’s got to speed up.

HOOVER: With that reference to the printing press, I want you to take a look at an earlier version of this program hosted by William F. Buckley in 1996. At that point — the Internet was still new — Buckley debated the head of the ACLU over whether government should be allowed to regulate speech on this new platform. Take a listen here. 

GLASSER: The printing press was first invented in the 15th century, of course. England went a little bit crazy at the time. So Parliament quickly passed censorship laws. Three centuries later in America, we invented the First Amendment to end government censorship and allow Mr. Buckley and I and many others to make our living speaking freely. So now there’s a new printing press. It’s invented with a built in system for distribution. It’s called the Internet. Anyone who can afford a computer now owns a printing press. And like Parliament in the 15th century, Congress has gone a little bit nuts over it. So they’ve now passed a new law to impose censorship on computer communications.

HOOVER: All right, so back then, the debate was about protecting children. But, you know, today there’s a new twist, right? Lies and disinformation, as you point out in your book, spread so quickly there’s a real question about whether there’s a role for the government to regulate. Where do you fall on that debate?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, anytime you’re talking about the government regulating speech, you’re entering into very problematic territory with the First Amendment. And yet we know that something is off or wrong in the way that misinformation and disinformation spreads online. Now, we also know that we have other means of handling this besides government dicta about what you can or can’t say. One of them is the legal responsibility that you have over what you do say. As a general rule, we don’t have what’s called prior restraint in the US. In other words, the government can’t stop you in advance from publishing something. But if it is harmful, if it is illegal in the sense of classified information, say, or if it’s slanderous, you face consequences for that. And you bear that. I think that helps create some of the guideposts toward how we can responsibly regulate what’s going on online in a way that’s consistent with our commitments to free speech, especially, again, when this is not just individuals out there saying what they believe, but companies monetizing controversy and sometimes state actors deliberately using these tools in order to misinform us. Some of those comments sound prophetic, but it’s also worth remembering that it was important in the early days of the Internet when we didn’t even quite know what it was or what it would become to give it a lot of room to grow. Now we’re in a different place. I don’t think anyone views the Internet or major Internet companies as a frail flower that must be allowed to grow so that we can see what will happen. It’s now a giant that threatens to devour us unless we make sure that it works for us, rather than the other way around. 

HOOVER: I want to show you a little smattering of your recent cable news appearances and ask you a question. Take a look at these.

BUTTIGIEG CLIPS ON FOX: There’s a classic parlor game of trying to find a little bit of daylight between running mates and if people want to play that game, we could look into why a an evangelical Christian like Mike Pence wants to be on a ticket with a president caught with a porn star. I don’t know why you would want to be in a room with other people if you were contagious with a deadly disease and you care about other people.MBut maybe the president doesn’t care about other people. Years later, we’re gonna look back on this moment and see that you could either be a John McCain Republican or a Donald Trump Republican. But you’ve got to choose. Think about which you’d rather be.

HOOVER: Look, many of these appearances have gone viral. You have been clear that while you distrust Fox News Channel that you don’t know distrust the viewers of Fox News Channel, that many of them come sincerely and earnestly with open minds and that it’s your responsibility to try to help inform them in a way that you think is consistent with building trust. What has the reaction by Fox News viewers been to you?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, you know, you’re not going to win everybody over. But time and time again, I encounter somebody who says, you know, I usually vote Republican or I’ve always voted Republican, but I support you or I support what you’re trying to say. And I think it’s an indication, as I experienced just on the ground in normal human interactions around here in Indiana, that, you know, you can reach people if you start with some level of good faith and then get into the political differences. The problem with a lot of online encounters is literally the only thing you know about somebody when they’re jumping in your Twitter mentions is the fact that they disagree with you. That’s why I think it’s important to be on Fox. And what you’ll notice is, the kinds of things I say on Fox News are not that different from the kinds of things I’d say on MSNBC or PBS. There’s just more tension on the string when you’re on a highly ideological network like that. And I think it’s because some of these ideas might actually be something that viewers haven’t heard before if that’s their main or only source of information. All the more reason someone like me has a responsibility to present that viewpoint. Otherwise, I can’t be mad at viewers for not responding to it when they literally wouldn’t have even heard it.

HOOVER: Listen, I know a little bit about being on Fox News, and I know that when somebody has an effective presentation there, often they’re not invited back. Have you been invited back?

BUTTIGIEG: You know, I think we got some more appearances on the works, but, yeah, we’ll see if I’m as welcome now as I was before.

HOOVER: I want to ask you about Amy Coney Barrett, because you’ve had a lot to say about her nomination and what her nomination will mean for Americans, particularly LGBT Americans. You have said that you think the freedom to marry could be under threat if she joins the court. Why are you so sure that this would be the outcome of her joining the court?

BUTTIGIEG: When the existence of your marriage has been called into question, it’s not why you’re sure it’s in trouble. It’s how can you move forward in life when you’re not sure that it’s safe? I don’t know what they’re going to do to marriage equality. I know the justices like Alito and– Justice Alito, Justice Thomas, have already written skeptically about it in a way that seems to open the door. I know that that would be Judge Barrett — would be Justice Barrett — is viewed as somebody who is not supportive of these rights. And so, of course, I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but that’s exactly the point. When you’re married, you should be reasonably confident that no decision by a government official would end your marriage. The simple fact that we don’t have that certainty is itself a major concern.

HOOVER: Well, let me let me sort of suggest to you. I mean, there are leading LGBTQ advocates, take Shannon Minter, for example, from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who tweeted after that scathing statement you reference from Justice Alito and Justice Thomas, quote, “The freedom to marry is firmly ensconced and we are not about to go back.” The concern from the LGBT community, that I think is a serious concern, is a question about whether those judges and potentially an additional Amy Coney Barrett as a justice, would rule in favor of religious freedom in a way that undermined the rights and freedoms of LGBT Americans. And I think that’s a valid concern. But I wonder if by using the rhetoric of all marriage going away, it undermines what the real sort of battle lines could be in the context of her nomination to the Supreme Court.

BUTTIGIEG: To me, it’s a way to clarify the stakes. If they say, ‘Oh, no, you’re still married’—

HOOVER: But it Is it honest? Because it feels, it feels… 

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, yeah because… 

HOOVER: … that marriage isn’t really on the table if leading advocates are saying it’s not on the table.

BUTTIGIEG: But this is exactly my point. Right? If they say, ‘Oh, no, you’re still married, don’t worry. It’s just that these things that other married couples enjoy no longer apply to you.’ Death by a thousand cuts, exceptions, loopholes, variations. To me, that’s the same thing. They may not come out guns blazing and say, you who were married are now unmarried. But they could have the exact same effect by allowing people, — by the way, not just on marriage, but on employment, housing, or who knows what else — allowing people to be discriminated against so long as the person doing the discriminating remembers to mention religion as their excuse. And to me, that is in many ways more insidious and more dangerous than just openly, nakedly undertaking the reversals that they may very well— 

HOOVER: You get my point, though, there is a nuance, right? There’s a nuance. That it’s not nullifying marriage. It’s certainly undermining the freedom of LGBT Americans, but it is, to your point, perhaps more insidious.

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. I mean, who knows whether they will take a bludgeon to our rights or just pinprick them to death? What I know is that our rights just got a little less safe with this kind of talk from the justices, and likely further with the confirmation of a new justice. 

HOOVER: So even before the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, you had supported expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court. If Democrats are in a position to be able to do this, do you worry about the precedent this sets and whether it further erodes trust?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, the whole idea is to improve trust. And what I believe in is some form of reform that would depoliticize the courts. And as I’ve discussed, this is one version that would have that effect. Bottom line is, I don’t think we can go on as a country where every time there’s a vacancy, there’s this ideological death match in the Senate. I don’t think it’s good for the courts, I don’t think it’s good for the country, and I don’t think it’s really consistent with the intent of the Constitution. Now, the Constitution also set up ways for Congress to manage the bench, the courts — their size, their makeup, a lot of things about them. And I think it’s time to consider those constitutional powers in order to make this less ideological, less partisan, less political. Because I think that’ll lead to a stronger bench and greater trust.

HOOVER: So why are you so confident that adding seats to the court under a, you know, if there were a Democratic majority, would actually depolarize the process of nominating Supreme Court justices and rebuild trust?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, again, it’s not about the number. It’s about the makeup, the structure. Ideas like a balanced bench proposal that requires that there be more balance in who makes it to the bench. Even smaller bore ideas like term limits might make a difference. But, you know, I think we’re also trying to make sure that these structural considerations, that I consider to be fascinating and important, don’t overtake something much more immediate, which is that right now there’s a vacancy being debated. Most Americans think it should be filled by the winner of the presidential election. I stand with that American majority that believes this to be the right thing to do. And I’m also deeply concerned about the implications on immediate issues and immediate concerns like health care, like the Affordable Care Act, that could be at stake in a case to be heard at that court in a matter of days.

HOOVER: I want you to take a look at this video from the rapper Ice Cube. Here he’s explaining why he’s not going to endorse either Joe Biden or Donald Trump, suggesting that he’s willing to work with whoever it is that wins. Take a look at this.

ICE CUBE: I don’t trust none of them. No president has done right by us. So I don’t trust none of them. I just know one of them is gonna win and I don’t know if it can really matter to us. We’ve gotta just push whoever’s in there, because ain’t nobody really solved our problems. People say we can’t take another four years of this. Black people, we could take anything. 

HOOVER: Can you make the case Mayor Pete to Ice Cube for why he should vote for Joe Biden.

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. I mean, first of all, I respect the place of frustration and pain that he’s speaking for and coming from. At the same time, there is a profound difference between what will happen in this country if there are four more years of this president, or if Joe Biden becomes president. We have a president right now who can’t bring himself to utter the words Black Lives Matter, who has no problem at all using racism to divide us and someone who is almost militantly indifferent to the largest issues that the black community has been speaking to. This will not change. He’s not going to suddenly change going into a second term. And Joe Biden is building what will be an extraordinarily diverse, I think, administration, just as he has an extraordinarily diverse coalition, one where black voices are taken seriously and are in roles of power and decision making. It’s not going to fix things overnight. We know, for many the reasons he was expressing, how much disappointment has come at the hands of both parties to black Americans and to so many who have been let down or taken for granted or rejected. And yet what we know is that this system will only change if we take steps to change it. And the moment of maximum power to do any of that is the moment you go in and fill in the ballot.

HOOVER: What have you learned, Mayor Pete, about winning the confidence of African-American voters?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, that you need to meet people where they are, people who are coming from a place of pain and frustration, and recognize that, you know, the experience has been so profoundly different for black Americans who have also, by the way, shown an amazing amount of fidelity to the American project, given how it has often met them in bad faith. One of things I write about in the book is that marchers like John Lewis, who I saw on the very last day of my campaign when we were in Selma commemorating that march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, had such faith in the justice of their cause and in each other, and above all, in the capability of the system to improve when it is confronted with a demand, that that faith allowed them to make America more democratic than it had been. And that is such a powerful thing. And it’s an important moment, I think, to listen to his words, John Lewis’s words, as he shared on that day about the ability to use the vote as a nonviolent instrument or tool to redeem the soul of this country.

HOOVER: You write also in your book, Trust, about coming out when you were the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and during the time that you were mayor for the years preceding when you came out there had been anti LGBT activists organizing in your state to pass an amendment to the state constitution that would define marriage solely as between a man and a woman. They ultimately lost that battle, but won in the form of a super REFRA, a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that was signed by then Governor Pence, now vice president, which was refuted widely by a large campaign of mayors and state legislatures and businesses and sports organizations, and ultimately they were forced to fix that law. Just a few months after that issue was settled is when you came out in Indiana, and I wonder what it was like for you, Mayor Pete, during those months prior to your coming out when your state was embroiled in those fights?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, it was painful for for me and for our state to know, even as I was going through a very personal process of preparing to come out for personal reasons, which was that I’d just reached that point in my life when I was ready, to realize that my state, my home, was getting a reputation as one of the most anti LGBT places in the country, thanks to the actions of our governor. But what I also saw was an extraordinary—

HOOVER: Did it inform your decision to come out in that timing?

BUTTIGIEG: I was already on the path to do that. Really, the biggest thing that had made me decide it was time was the experience of my deployment to Afghanistan, which had happened the year before, and just the awareness that you only get to live one life. And it was a very simple, personal thing, which is that I wanted to start dating. And that wasn’t really, I didn’t see a way that was possible as a mayor unless I was out. So, you know, it was the most personal of reasons, but there was the most public of circumstances going on around us. But what I loved was that the coalition of people who came together, straight and gay across the spectrum, Democrat and Republican, business community activists. So many people stood together saying this is not us, this is not where we want to go as a state. And I loved that I could be part of that coalition even as I was still preparing to come out personally. 

HOOVER: It’s been reported that Biden staffers are actually looking, in the transition process, at the backgrounds of some Republicans who could potentially hold cabinet level positions. Would having a cabinet that includes members of both political parties help to rebuild the trust in government?

BUTTIGIEG: I think it could. You know, there’s got to be some broad unity of vision, but I think in many ways that that’s possible, at least sometimes and in some areas across traditional party lines. 

HOOVER: Take a line from Hamilton, Treasury or State Mayor Pete, for you?

BUTTIGIEG: That is literally above my pay grade. I’m doing everything in my power to make sure that there is a Biden Harris administration. And I’ll do everything I can to support it, whether I’m part of it or whether I’m on the outside.

HOOVER: Vice President Biden has said it is important to bring the Mayor Petes of the world into the administration, so, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, thank you for joining me on Firing Line. 

BUTTIGIEG: Good to be with you. Thank you. 

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