Watch Or Listen: 2020 Candidate Forum With Pete Buttigieg

Dec 6, 2019

Our N.H. 2020 Primary Forum series continues with Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. We sit down with the South Bend, Indiana mayor and Afghanistan war veteran before a live audience to discuss a range of domestic and foreign policy issues and address listener questions submitted before the event.

Buttigieg has proposed "Medicare for all who want it," expanding mental health services, and a more targeted approach to free public college than some of his Democratic opponents.  This NHPR series is in collaboration with NHPBS, which broadcasts the program after the live Exchange interview. 

Original air date: Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.

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This is a computer-generated transcript and may contain errors.

Laura Knoy: 

I'm Laura Knoy. and this is the Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
Today, we continue our series of presidential primary 2020 candidate forums and for this show on Friday, December 6th, we're talking with Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. He's with us before a live audience in NHPR's studio.

Laura Knoy:
We received many questions from our listeners before today and we'll be incorporating those throughout the hour. I want to thank everybody who took the time to write in and NHPR's politics and policy reporter Lauren Chooljian is also with me. We'll be both asking questions of Mayor Buttigieg. And Mary Buttigieg, thank you very much for being here. Well, thanks for having me. So let's start off with your political philosophy, how you sort of see yourself in this overall race. It's a very big Democratic field. You don't need me to tell you that. And that has sparked Mayor Buttigieg, a big debate about the ideological future of your party. I want to talk about some issues where that debate has been playing up. First one is health care. You're in favor what you call Medicare for all who want it. Give us two reasons why you think this is better than Medicare for sure.

Pete Buttigieg:
Reason number one is that it respects people's ability to make their own decisions. So a Medicare for all who want it means is we take a version of Medicare, something like a public alternative. We make it available to everybody. We auto enroll anybody who is uninsured. So there's no such thing as an uninsured American. But I'm going to allow Americans to decide whether they want it one at a time, because I don't think it is the right thing to do to kick people off of their private plans. That's reason number one. Reason number two is it's much easier to pay for. We estimate that the total cost of my plan over the course of the decade would be 1.5 trillion dollars, not exactly a small amount of money. But some of the others that have been proposed are 20, 30 plus. There are disagreements to the tune of 10 trillion dollars just over how much the cost is. So it's more affordable and it's more respectful of people's ability to make their own decisions. There's also a little bit of humility baked into the policy, because what we're saying is if this is really the best plan for everybody, everybody will choose it until it is the single payer in America. If, on the other hand, it is not the best plan for some Americans, then we're gonna be really glad that we didn't kick them off of whatever it is they had.

Laura Knoy:
Well, toward that end, a listener, Charlene, wrote us asking, do you think employers will drop health care coverage for employees knowing that they could get Medicare for all who want it? And Charlene, thank you for writing in and mayor. Buttigieg, how concerned are you that people who like their employer sponsored insurance might lose it because the employer will say, well, you know, to heck with paying it for ourselves. We'll just put them on the Medicare for all who want to plan the public option?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, first of all, we're talking about a quality plan. Secondly, if you look at how we first got into this system we're in today. And I think everybody agrees nobody would design with a blank slate, would design health care. Today, as we know it, in America, it was because employers tried to differentiate themselves. It was a kind of and whistle that they added during the era when wages were controlled and you couldn't always compete on the salary side. And so where we are now is we still have this system that's built around the assumption that you're going to have a long term or perhaps lifelong relationship with a single employer where more and more Americans are shifting jobs, shifting careers or building their income out of multiple employers. It just doesn't make sense for us to assume that everybody's going to have that kind of employer based benefit. Some will continue to have it. I think that's fine, but we shouldn't have that be the bedrock of our health care system.

Laura Knoy:
Couple more quick questions. We spoke to Elizabeth Warren about this when she was on our program and she said we need to recognize how much of our health care dollars have not gone into health care. The system made $23 billion in profits last year, she said. And that's after all the executive salaries, the administrative people, the fancy glass office buildings. Again, those are her words. What's your take, mayor, buddy, judge, on the role of the private sector and the profit motive in health care?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, I think it's true that if you look at the United States spending on health care, more of our health care dollar goes in to administratively compared to patient care than in almost any other developed country. And it shows you a lot of the problems with the system. We do have the elegance, I think, of setting up something like Medicare for all who want it is it creates a system where you don't have that kind of profit motive. You don't have those ways that the dollars leak out of the system, which means that the private plans will have to do one of two things. They'll either have to get better or they'll go away. And I think that's one of the reasons why the private health insurance lobby has been fighting against my plan.

Pete Buttigieg:
But I think they don't want the competition.

Laura Knoy:
What is wrong with the Affordable Care Act, in your opinion? Some candidates, among them, Joe Biden, have said let's just strengthen the Affordable Care Act.

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, the Affordable Care Act was a leap forward in health care in this country. And this is personal for me. There are members of my family who are a matter of fact, and I are figuring out this month, since I'm about to end my time as mayor. How to get our insurance on the exchange. It has extended health insurance to millions of Americans. But we would not be having this debate if the health care issue in this country we've solved. There are still uninsured Americans. There are under-insured Americans and moving beyond the the insurance part. There are also a lot of things we've got to do on the cost side and other deficiencies in our health care system. I don't think most Americans believe that the journey to of health care reform ended with the ACA. The ACA was a good move. We should defend it. The Republican efforts to attack it should be resisted, but it's clearly not been enough. We need to go further.

Laura Knoy:
Speaking of costs, remind me again the number that you said your plan would cost.

Pete Buttigieg:
We scored at 1.5 over the course of the decade.

Laura Knoy:
OK, so where does that money come from?

Pete Buttigieg:
So there are two parts of my tax plan that between them would cover that cost. And then some one of them is that we've got to reverse the corporate rate cut in the Trump tax cuts. That move alone would raise 1.4 trillion dollars over the next decade. A second thing is that we will gain hundreds of billions of dollars. Part of which I would use to fill that gap between 1.4 and 1.5 simply by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with companies selling prescription drugs. There are several moves we can make that will lead to savings to the Treasury just by having these common sense reforms in the way we handle health care in the country. One of the things I'm making sure to do is whenever I propose an investment and from health care to other things I'm saying we ought to do. There is a price tag that we're also going to be candid about revenue. We don't have to go back to Eisenhower era levels of taxation to pay for these initiatives, but we are going to have to raise more revenue from corporations and the wealthy, which we should because the share of tax revenue and the tax burden that has fallen on corporations and wealthy has gone down over the years. And I think that's directly related to the increase in income inequality in our country.

Laura Knoy:
How concerned are you that if you increase the corporate tax rate again, and I know this has gone back and forth in recent years, that American companies will say, you know what, we think we'll just settle in Ireland instead or some other country.

Pete Buttigieg:
So here's the thing. We've had lower we have had robust economic growth under periods where we did have fairer taxation, higher taxation of the wealthy and corporations.

Pete Buttigieg:
Yes. We also need to undertake improvements to our tax system and by the way, our tax enforcement system so that there is not the incentive to offshore profits. There are ways we could do that and making sure that we just plain enforced better and close loopholes. The idea that that a company like Amazon that profits billions of dollars a year pays less in federal income tax than anybody in this room. Specifically, zero shows you that the system is broken and we have got to take actions to address that in order to fund the things that we need from health care to investments in roads and bridges, education and so on.

Laura Knoy:
I want to ask you about one more issue where you've had some differences with fellow Democrats, Mayor Buttigieg and that's paying for college has been a lot about this in the news this week. As you know, some candidates are proposing free tuition for public universities for everyone. Your plan, from what I understand, would make public tuition free for all families earning up to a hundred thousand and provide substantial subsidies for students from families earning up to one hundred and fifty thousand.

Pete Buttigieg:
That's right.

Laura Knoy:
Kind of the same question, all told again, how much might all this cost and where does the money come from?

Pete Buttigieg:
So again, we can fund all of that. It is hundreds of billions of dollars.

Laura Knoy:
It's a lot of students and a lot of college. It is a lot of professors you got to pay.

Pete Buttigieg:
And and it's worth it because we need to make sure that cost is never a barrier to somebody who wants to go to college. Where I differ with Senator Sanders and Senator Warren is when you do get north of that 150, when you're in that top 10 percent, that's where I think it's OK to ask people to pay their own tuition. And I would rather use those dollars in other areas, like some of the plans I put forward around supporting the trades and apprenticeships and workforce development and education for folks who won't get a four year college degree. But again, we can pay for these things with some commonsense changes. Look, we've got to reform capital gains, taxation in this country with mark-to-market and taxing those profits in a way that's consistent with how we tax income. Otherwise, we're going to continue to be in this world where, as Warren Buffett has famously commented, the United States taxes him at a lower rate than his secretary. And it doesn't make any sense. Most Americans get that. It doesn't make any. Since we're gonna fix it.

Laura Knoy:
What incentive would colleges have to keep their own costs down if most students, and I think you've said about 80 percent would be covered, if most students were getting their educations paid for, what incentive would colleges have to not just, you know, charge exorbitantly high prices?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, this is an important part of the policy design, which has to center around a state and federal partnership where the federal funding is available to states at a level high enough that you would not see them passing it up, but with enough strings attached to make sure that this doesn't just turn into more costs being pushed through the system. We've got to control the underlying costs, too. With guardrails and measures to do that. But a well-designed federal grant program, as we've seen time and time again, can do that with the states.

Laura Knoy:
We heard from a voter at one of your events yesterday. Mayor Buttigieg who said she worries her family's income wouldn't quite qualify for aid under your plan, but she said her family still struggled to afford college. And as you know, a hundred thousand dollars in some states is a very comfortable income and other high cost states like New York or California, one hundred thousand dollars isn't so comfortable. So how much should this be taken into account, do you think?

Pete Buttigieg:
So I do think that as part of the policy design, we should look at regional differences. It's also worth mentioning that there are a lot of things we can do to make college more affordable. On the front and the back end. So for those who are taking on loans, we could have a more generous program for forgiving loans for those who go into public service, for example. And we're going to continue with income based debt repayment so that if your income is not enough, you can have payments according to that and eventually have them waived after a certain number of years. All of that stays in place. This is about making college dramatically more affordable than it is today.

Laura Knoy:
One quick point that's been made, mayor Buttigieg and I know you've heard this is that, hey, we offer public schools K through 12 to everyone regardless of income. So some are asking why not expand that concept to public universities, make it free for everyone. Rich kids can attend public schools. They should be able to attend tuition free public college. What do you think?

Pete Buttigieg:
I just think it's more progressive to reserve those benefits for those who would benefit the most from it. Look, we have a lot of federal programs and spending the earned income tax credit, for example, that are targeted. And certainly K-through-12 education should be free, especially because we expect every single American, we hope to at least finish 12th grade. What's not true is that every single American wants to go to college if you do. We should make sure cost isn't a barrier. But if you don't, we should make sure that you prosper. Look, we've had a lot of conversation rightly about making it more affordable to go to college in our country where I come from, three out of four people don't have a college degree and we should be just as intentional about making it affordable to not go to college in this country. And that's why we've got a lot of work to do, not just around apprenticeships, trade, education, career and technical education, but also just the cost of living a higher minimum wage and empowering workers in unions so that you can prosper in this country. You can afford to to be generous and live well whether you have a college degree or not.

Lauren Chooljian:
We received a lot of questions about your resumé. And one thing that came up was your time at McKinsey and Company. Obviously, that's a very newsy topic. Well, you never talk about it, really. You hardly talk about on the campaign trail. I saw you yesterday. It didn't come up. Can you explain why that is?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, I talked about it. I wrote about it in my book. And it's very true of my experience.

Pete Buttigieg:
But look, the bulk of my experience has been in public service. So I worked at a consulting company, McKinsey, for about two and a half years after I finished school, learned a lot there, but walked away from that, knowing that my call, what really fired me up was public service. And that's what I chose to do for our city as mayor and and in military service as well. So what I would say is that it's it's certainly a part of my background that is useful in understanding the business world. But the bulk of my adult life has been in serving my city and serving my country.

Lauren Chooljian:
Well, what did you learn while you were there that you think that could be helpful in government? I mean, there's been stories lately about some contracts or some work that McKinsey has done with the government that some have found to be very controversial, this story. But ICE that came out this week. So I'm wondering, you know, what did you learn in that experience that would be helpful?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, I did math for a living, so I learned a lot about math.

Pete Buttigieg:
We were talking about some of the issues on taxation, for example, and what we have to do in order to make sure that when we go out and make a promise and try to set a policy that is going to be to the benefit of working Americans and middle class Americans, as well as making sure that we alleviate poverty, that we do the math right so that we ensure that the taxation is falling appropriately on the wealthiest Americans and corporations. I learned a lot about how to organize teams to to get work. Based on the teams that I was on. And I also frankly learned a lot about the amoral turn of mind that increasingly dominates corporate America, and we see it there at least four times I can think of. In the decades since I left that company that I've opened up the newspaper and seen an infuriating story about something that they did with one of their clients, where it's clear that they didn't seem to feel any moral weight to the decisions they were making. This is true in the case of ICE. I mean, the reports are disgusting about basically viewing cost cutting as something that should extend to cutting basic needs for for people who are being detained. And I think it's a reminder that no matter how nice the people are in in business or in corporate America, it's up to us as a democracy to set the rules.

Pete Buttigieg:
The left and right boundaries, the guardrails for them to operate in, because the profit motive is not going to lead to ethical actions that don't lead to profit unless we establish as a matter of policy what companies can and can't do. And the drift away from regulating business, from regulating corporations, which has been going on really my entire lifetime. I mean, this began with the Reagan era is directly related, in my view, to the mounting economic and political inequality that we're seeing in the country that is driving us close to a breaking point.

Lauren Chooljian:
The last thing I want to ask about this is there have been calls from other candidates that you're not being transparent because you're not talking about the clients that you work with. I mean, do you understand why that would be the case, especially when we're in a situation where the president gets criticized all the time for not releasing information about himself? Do you feel like that's a fair criticism?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, I strongly believe in transparency.

Pete Buttigieg:
It's one of the reasons why I have released tax returns from when I got back from school. And not all of my competitors have been willing to do that. And I also believe that McKinsey should release the client list of the clients that I said something they can do. It's something they can do. Yeah. I mean, they know I made a promise. I keep my word. You know, when you come, you you promise to keep your client information confidential. But right now, I am calling on McKinsey to release that information. Maybe they're not used to doing that, but they're not used to having somebody who used to work there being seriously considered for the American presidency. This information should come out and I'm happy to speak to it when it does.

Lauren Chooljian:
So I want to talk also about your time in South Bend. Obviously, this is a big part of your life, as you said, and we have quite a lot of questions from people. One from Mary that said, Mayor, the president is a big jump. Another person asked, why would being mayor make you such a good candidate for president? What's your response to that concern? You heard this yesterday.

Pete Buttigieg:
Look, going from any job to president is a big jump, right? Turns out we're talking about the presidency.

Pete Buttigieg:
And yet I think I might not be getting that question if I were a senator, because we're just more used to people with Washington experience running for president. And yet if you think about it in our country, you could be a very senior U.S. senator and have never in your life managed more than 100 people, depending what you're doing before. Leading a city of any size is one of being responsible not only for policy like legislators are, but management running an administration, and not only management like many people in various offices, but guiding a population and the moral weight of an office where you were responsible for calling a community to its highest values. That might actually be the part of president, the presidency whose absence is costing us the most as a country today.

Laura Knoy:
And we'll follow up on that after a short break. Coming up, more with Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Stay with us.

Laura Knoy:
This is the exchange. I'm Laura Knoy.. Today, it's the latest in our Presidential Primary 2020 Candidate Forum series. And this hour we're talking with Democrat Pete Buttigieg and NHPR's Lauren Chooljian is also with me. And Lauren, I'll bring it back to you.

Lauren Chooljian:
So maybe just before the break, we're talking about your time in South Bend, of course. And so you've received a lot of credit for the turnaround in South Bend. A lot of growth has happened there, but the benefits, as you well know, have not been felt equally by white and black residents. And that in your city. Right. The details that came out of a report that you had commissioned say that economic inequality between African-American and white households is worse than it is nationwide. So what should you have done differently?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, that's not a problem that began when I became mayor. But it is a problem that we attacked from the moment I became mayor. As you mentioned, those numbers from an audit that I ordered up this problem began in the 1960s. Well, of course, racial inequality began long before that. But many of the economic struggles of our city were set off by the collapse of Studebaker in 1963. That was our biggest. We were a company town for an auto company. And believe it or not, some 50 years later, that was still the defining experience of our city. We lost population. We lost jobs. And as across the country, there has been particular economic pain and exclusion for African-American residents in our city. So we were very intentional about acting on that. Making sure that we directed resources and dollars to neighborhoods, including neighborhoods that people had been redlined into and making sure that they saw the benefit of spending on improvement. We acted to make sure that we were creating jobs and investment in the city. And that's one of the reasons why you saw unemployment rates and poverty rates in particular for the African-American community, but across the city, falling on my watch at a pace that I don't think we've seen before. There's no question that there is work to do in our city and in every community in America to further act to close those wealth gaps and those wealth and income gaps we've got to recognize aren't going to go away on their own,even when you replace a racist policy with a neutral one in the same way that accumulated wealth compounds these inequalities will compound if we are not intentional on doing something about it. We've done it in our way with the resources we've had as a city. But I'm also determined and this is a feature of the Frederick Douglass plan we've put forward in the campaign to use the powers of the presidency to ensure that this whole country is mending what was broken.

Laura Knoy:
So speaking of experience, I want to ask about your military experience. You've been very careful to call yourself a veteran, not a combat veteran. You spent about seven months in Afghanistan. What did you do there...

Pete Buttigieg:
So I worked for was called the Afghanistan Threat Finance Cell. Basically, my job had to do with blocking the flow of funding into the insurgency, largely coming from narcotics activities. Now, in practice, probably the most important responsibility I had was driving a vehicle. I was one of a couple of people in Kabul with my unit who is qualified with with a long gun with them for. And in order for the my commander to go anywhere, there had to be at least two in a vehicle. And so we joked that I was military Uber. So by night, I'd be doing a lot of work with message traffic or analysis, because that was my training as an intelligence person. But by day, a lot of the time, over 100 times, my job was to just get somebody outside of the wire and back in from point to point, either around the city of Kabul or occasionally traveling between Kabul and Bagram on the open road.

Laura Knoy:
Some presidential candidates have said if elected, they'd pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan within the first year. They've set up timetables. Others have said no timetables depends on what's happening on the ground. I'm really interested in your answer on this question because you did spend some time in Afghanistan. Which camp do you kind of put yourself in?

Pete Buttigieg:
We're leaving. We've got to leave. And the one thing I think that Republicans, Democrats, the Afghans and international community can all agree on is that it's the U.S. needs to move on. The question is, do we do it well or do we do it poorly? Look, we need to leave sooner rather than later, because I thought I was one of the last guys turning out the lights when I left, and that was years ago. Now we also have to do it in a responsible fashion. What does that mean? Well, I don't think that we can accept responsibility for Afghanistan becoming a thriving Western style democracy anytime soon. But we do have a responsibility to make sure first of all that it can never again be used as a place for an attack on the American homeland. And secondly, that there is not an immediate collapse of the gains that have been made.

Laura Knoy:
So what does that mean?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, what it means is a negotiated settlement that involves the Taliban, but also crucially, that involves the elected Afghan government, which is sometimes being left on the sidelines of this conversation. It means drawing down our large scale presence. But honestly, it is likely going to mean for some time a minimal, highly capable presence of special operations and intelligence personnel to ensure that there is not an attack on the homeland. And by the way, what we had in Syria. What the president removed. But what we had in northern Syria demonstrates the ability of a tiny number of highly specialized personnel to prevent bad outcomes. That is probably the medium term destination in order to end our large scale ground troop presence on the ground in Afghanistan, which we must do quickly.

Laura Knoy:
So since we're going into foreign policy, let's talk a little bit more about that. Lots of threats and challenges out there, as I'm sure you know. What would you say may be to judge America's greatest foreign policy challenge is right now recognizing that there are many?

Pete Buttigieg:
Yes. I mean, we can go down the list to the China challenge, stateless terrorism, cyber security, global climate change, which I consider to be a global security threat. Let me say this. The top job of the next president will be to restore U.S. credibility when it comes to foreign policy. The top job will be to restore U.S. credibility around the world. And that is not going to be an easy thing to do given what's happened. The spectacle of seeing not just at a cocktail party, but in the General Assembly, the American president being laughed at, not only hurts my gut as an American, but it hurts American national security.

Laura Knoy:
So how do You do it?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, first of all, you've got to make sure that the U.S. is actually leading with our values. The strategic advantage of the United States has always been not only the capabilities of our military and the strength of our economy, but the fact that when we are at our best, we are living out and promoting values that are felt around the world, the desire for human rights and support for democracy. That's why it matters, for example, that when people in Hong Kong are speaking up, standing up for their democratic rights, that they hear some at least some kind of moral support from the president of the United States.

Pete Buttigieg:
And when you don't have that kind of moral leadership, when we're not leading with our values, what we see is not only a lot of misbehavior and throwing weight around by our strategic competitors like Russia or China, but also among our allies like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, behavior that would not be happening if we were leading in a way that recognized the inseparable ability of American interests and American values. Another thing, a lot of this is what you don't do. Right. So we also just need a president who will not undermine our most closely held allies and who will be seen to be leading on the biggest challenges that the world faces. Climate is a good example. Climate is an issue that the U.S. cannot solve alone because only a fifth of the emissions. It's also an issue that the world cannot solve without U.S. leadership. Because we're the biggest economy.

Laura Knoy:
And I've got a whole bunch of questions on climate.

Pete Buttigieg:
Okay good. But for now, all I'll say is that if we are seen to be authentically and effectively leading on that issue, it's one of the best chances we have in the 21st century to also reclaim our moral and global leadership authority as a country.

Lauren Chooljian:
Yeah, sticking with that. I mean, I want to talk about military spending. How as president, would you determine the adequate level of military spending? And do you think we need to increase or decrease the current Department of Defense budget?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, I think it has to be suited to our security needs. So it's not just how much in a blanket way, it's where's the spending going. Right now, there's a lot of evidence that China's being a lot more intentional and putting more resources, for example, into artificial intelligence than we are. If they get ahead of us on artificial intelligence, then some of the most expensive bases and ships that we're building are going to just be bigger targets. So a lot of this is making sure that our spending decisions are driven by our security priorities in the 21st century. Now, the president's idea of security priorities is mostly 17th century, right. He's talking about a moat full of alligators. He's talking about building a big wall. These are the security technologies of the Middle Ages. And it shows we also need to make sure that it's rational based on what we need to do across the board as a country to be competitive and to be successful and to be secure. Education, public education, funding, public education is a national security imperative. You don't get to meet Manhattan Project without having a superior level of education in the United States, even with the folks that we recruited to help from other countries. And it's a reminder of what could happen if we fall behind in that regard. So it requires being prioritized. There's no easy or across the board answer, but I will say that there's a lot of evidence and you see this when you're in uniform that spending is not aligned around top priorities. And when it comes to contracting and the interface with the military, what the President Eisenhower called the military industrial complex. It's also clear that there need to be stronger mechanisms to make sure there's actual value for taxpayer dollars.

Lauren Chooljian:
I understand prioritizing, but you're looking at the budgets that both parties are presenting right now. And the spending that could be on defense is could be reportedly more than any point since World War Two. What's the ceiling, I guess?

Pete Buttigieg:
So, again, I don't think you can set arbitrary numerical targets on this. I do think we need to review every area of U.S. military posture and ask whether it's really serving American interests. And we should be able to find real savings when we realign it around what to do. Although in order for that to happen, we also need to go through some political reforms as a country that has allowed Washington to be captured by a number of corporate interests. And you certainly see that in the defense industry.

Lauren Chooljian:
Last military related thing I wanted to ask you. Yesterday you got a question when we were in Henniker. You got a question from a veteran who is drafted and he had asked you about service and you brought up this plan that you have to have more paid service jobs. And one question I have for you that we didn't really hear was, is there ever a point in which you think that we do need mandatory service in this country? And could you say specifically the kinds of jobs that you would pay for under this service plan?

Pete Buttigieg:
Yeah, I think it's better if it's voluntary, but if we get it right, then it could become such a norm that everybody does it. And that's the idea of creating a million paid voluntary service opportunities a year. Now, the reason it matters that they be paid is that we also can have service be a luxury that if you can afford to, you can go off and for a year have an unpaid internship or volunteer experience. I want every American to have a shot at that. And what we know from the acceptance rates in AmeriCorps, in the military, in the Peace Corps, which are often less than a quarter, is there are way more Americans ready to serve than those who get the chance. If we create and fund service opportunities that every person, for example, when they come of age could do a year in service, then what would happen is when you're applying for your first job or college, whatever is next for you, the first question you get is where did you serve? What did you learn? And the virtue of that is in creating a shared experience among Americans. What does the actual work look like? Well, I'm proposing that we create a climate corps because there are a lot of projects. I just swore in some AmeriCorps and Vista volunteers in South Bend, we are working on things like weatherizing the homes of low income seniors. That helps with climate. And in a lot of other areas, there should be an intergenerational corps that is about preparing for the aging of our population and unlocking what older Americans have to contribute. There should be a community health corps which can help with issues of mental health addiction and help cultivate young people's interests in that field, because we're headed for even more of a care worker and provider shortage than we have right now. But some of the specific projects should be developed by the communities. Not only answers have to come out of Washington. I just think more the funding should come from Washington.

Lauren Chooljian:
So these are not you know, I'm going to help AmeriCorps. I'm going to see a church that already has a fellowship program for service. These are creating brand new positions.

Pete Buttigieg:
No, this can absolutely and should interface with expansions in programs that we have like AmeriCorps, like Peace Corps. The point is to make sure that we have as many different avenues as possible, but that we fund people's ability to be in them.

Lauren Chooljian:
Gotcha. Let's make a big switch over to gun violence. I want to talk about this, because this is something that your city has been grappling with in a very serious way. 2019 could be potentially the most violent year in South Bend's recent history. Public safety is a huge part of being mayor. How do you explain that? Do you feel this is a failing of your leadership?

Pete Buttigieg:
So rates of homicide are lower than they were when I was growing up in South Bend. But we have seen ups and downs and to me, they're not numbers. These are stories that impact families that I know. Often I know the names of the family members who were affected.

Pete Buttigieg:
The worst part of being mayor is when you are dealing with violent death. And I can walk you through the steps that we've taken that I think help explain why it has remained lower than it was a generation ago through these ups and downs. But the reality is, yes, we're doing a number of initiatives that I am proud of in terms of especially dealing with gang and group related gun violence and working with some of the people who were most at risk for being involved in violent crime. And when you see someone who used to be involved in a violent gang standing up taller because we have connected them with an opportunity to get training and get a job and walk out of that life, it is one of the most hopeful things I've seen. But that's no consolation to somebody who loses a young person to gun violence. What I've found is that mayors like me and around the country are fighting this issue with a hand tied behind our back because what we're not able to do is anything about the guns themselves and the state laws and national laws are preventing us from facing up to the very simple fact that we're the only country, the only country in the developed world, that has not only such routine mass shootings, but also the level of day to day gun violence that doesn't grab the headlines but that causes such heartbreak in communities like mine. And it's why we need common sense gun reform.

Pete Buttigieg:
And by the way, most Americans support this. Most Republicans, most gun owners believe we ought to at least be doing universal background checks. Believe in red flag laws, ways to disarm domestic abusers and identify when somebody is a danger and help deal with the crisis of gun suicide, which gets less attention than than other forms of gun violence. But is a big part of the problem and can be addressed.

Lauren Chooljian:
But those gun policy positions that you just brought up. I mean, these things have been kicked around for years and years. Your city struggles with gun violence. Ownership of that problem is part of this. And also, you know, how are you going to solve this problem in a way that nobody else has been able solve it before?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, what we know is that even compared to a decade ago, we have a strong American majority. Even among Republicans and among gun owners to take steps that would save thousands of lives. The question is, how do we engage and galvanize, not blow up that majority? And the things that I think are turning the tide right now are, first of all, the moral authority of young people. I mean, when I go to an event and someone not old enough to vote asks a question at least half the time, I know it's going to be about gun violence. And when a child is asking you, what are you doing to keep me safe? It arouses a voice in the back of your head, I think for any adult that says, Don't let this kid down. And I see now a generational alliance of Moms Demand Action and folks my parents age and kids not yet old enough to vote taking to the streets. That is changing the power dynamic on this issue in America. And I am convinced that a good use of a president's time is to go into the home state of a senator, say, like Mitch McConnell, who is blocking common sense gun safety measures that are popular even in conservative areas and demand they explain to their voters why they're standing in the way. I am convinced we can have a breakthrough on this issue in this decade.

Laura Knoy:
What feels too far? Many Democrats are proposing some of the ideas that you just put out there. Are there ideas that you've heard on the campaign trail that feel too far in terms of gun restrictions?

Pete Buttigieg:
I think we know that that we need universal background checks. We know that red flag laws can make a huge difference. We know that we need to do something about the sale of assault weapons and the kinds of weaponry that I trained on in the military that nobody can explain why they would belong anywhere near a school in peacetime. Getting at that is challenging because you've got to draw a line somewhere.

Laura Knoy:
So where is the line, are there proposals that feel - that could be an infringement on Second Amendment to you?

Pete Buttigieg:
Right now I'm focused on the things we can do because we are so far from,there's a line somewhere, we are nowhere near that line right now in the debate or in the laws of this country. If we're getting close, we can we can debate it. But, you know, there are some people who say there's no line at all. They say that any restriction on guns violates the wording of shall not be infringed in the Second Amendment.

Pete Buttigieg:
But we know that that argument doesn't hold water for the simple reason that we've already decided as a country. Everybody can have a slingshot. Nobody can have a nuclear weapon. Right. We know there's a line somewhere. We can quibble over some of the details on that line, but it must be drawn tighter than it is today.

Laura Knoy:
Coming up, more of our conversation with Mayor Pete Buttigieg. We'll talk about climate and a whole bunch of other issues. So stay with us. This is the Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Laura Knoy:
This is the exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today, our series of primary 2020 candidate forums continues with Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. NHPR's Lauren Chooljian is with me as well. We're both asking questions of Mayor Buttigieg and Mayor Buttigieg, you mentioned earlier, climate change. And I'd like to ask you a couple of questions about the environment and climate. The environment first, water contamination. This is a big concern, as I'm sure you know, four New Hampshire communities whose water was polluted with toxic chemicals known as pee fast. I'm guessing this is a problem in your area of the country, too. We all remember the headlines from Flint, Michigan, lead in the water. How would you approach this problem, Mayor Buttigieg of the need for clean, safe drinking water. It seems to me this is a rising concern.

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, when you're a mayor, you are in the clean, safe drinking water business. And it's something that you're not supposed to even have to think about. It's something that people should be able to take for granted. The moment you can't take it for granted, it's a crisis, as we've seen in the disaster in Flint, which is a moral disaster. It's a disaster of economic and racial justice. And it's an example of why we've got to take care of the basics in this country. When we talk about infrastructure people, we usually talk about the sexy stuff, the roads, bridges, bullet trains, that kind of thing. A lot of our most important infrastructure in this country is underground. And so first, we have to make sure that we have excellent infrastructure for dealing with things we need to live, like water. Secondly is dealing with pollution. And it begins with the awareness that personnel is policy, that we need somebody in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency who believes in protecting the environment rather than a coal company lobbyist. And some of this stuff is abundantly simple. We need the EPA to be empowered to enforce. We need to make sure that I mean, right now you see the Trump administration rolling back protections on clean air, on clean water, when we know that these pollutants are harmful in so many ways. So we need to tighten the standards. But just as importantly, we need enforcement mechanisms that focus on outcomes in terms of water quality.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and I know asking a mayor about water pipes and all that, that's golden for you. I came across something in the South Bend Tribune, Mayor Buttigieg, that said your city has been trying to reduce pollution in the St. Joseph River. That there was a court settlement over this resulted in a $700 million plan to improve the infrastructure that you talked about. Now, though, according to the paper, that plan's been scaled back to about 200 million. Can you get the same result, Mayor Buttigieg, spending 500 million dollars less?

Pete Buttigieg:
This is one of the things I'm proud of. I promise I won't take up the whole show with this. I'm very proud of this. And it's an example of what I'm talking about by do we measure success by the outcome or do we measure it by how much how much money goes into it?

Pete Buttigieg:
So under my plan...

Laura Knoy:
That's the McKinsey consultant talking again.

Pete Buttigieg:
Okay, fine. But what are we actually getting done? So my predecessor signed off on a an agreement with the EPA. This is happening in tons of cities around, especially the Midwest, about how to separate our sewers. I won't take you into the finer points of wastewater management, but the point is you have to make changes to like 100 year old sewer systems or else untreated water goes into the river sometimes, which is unacceptable. Question is, how do you do it? And the original plan was going to cost, we realized, a billion dollars.

Pete Buttigieg:
Now our city, the per capita personal income is roughly $20,000 per person and a billion dollars means ten thousand dollars for every man, woman and child in the city. And the only way to get that funding since there there's no federal funding to do this work is from rates that are assessed on low income people. So we knew that we had to find a way to get the same result with less pain for ratepayers.

Pete Buttigieg:
And we took two steps. One was to make sure that we had relief for low income ratepayers. But the other was to actually find better ways to solve the problem through technology. And what we learned is that we can use, and again, I should give credit to my predecessor who did the first round of technology deployment on this, and then we've developed it on my watch. But we partnered with the university in our backyard to develop technology that gave us the most intelligent wastewater system in the world. And what it's allowed us to do is better manage the flow. It's like traffic down there. You got to make sure that stuff flows in the right way. And when you do, you're less likely to get an overflow. And that means less pollution.

Laura Knoy:
So I've heard about smart electrical grids. This is smart kind of sewer grids.

Pete Buttigieg:
Yeah.

Pete Buttigieg:
And I know I sound like a geek getting into this.

Laura Knoy:
No and I know mayors love to talk about that's stuff...

Pete Buttigieg:
It's part of what government's all about, right?

Pete Buttigieg:
Some of it's the big glamorous controversies. Some of it's just putting your head down. Finding a better way, solving the problem. And right now, we're in talks with the EPA about proving that this will be better environmentally and creating relief for low income ratepayers in South Bend.

Laura Knoy:
Well, let's talk about climate change. And again, your plan, I looked at it the other day, emphasizes a lot of approaches that Democrats are talking about, carbon tax, big investments in clean energy, energy efficiency. But you, Mayor Buttigieg, also talk a lot about carbon capture technology. This has been called promising but unproven. Why do you think this is a good idea?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, because we need all of the above. We need to do everything we can to mitigate carbon, to get to be a carbon neutral society by 2050. So where this conversation gets risky, is there are some people, especially in the so-called clean coal conversation, let's be clear, there's no such thing, who say, oh, well, don't worry, we can keep putting it in because we'll just figure out a way to take it back out. wE cannot let ourselves off the hook, especially because that technology is unproven. But we know there are things that we can do right now that we are doing right now that take carbon out of the atmosphere. A good example is the original carbon capture technology, which is plants. And this is one of the reasons why it's so important to include rural America and agriculture as part of the solution because what you can do with cover crops, soil management and other techniques can, there are some estimates that would suggest we can take as much carbon out of the atmosphere just using soil as the entire global transportation sector puts it. And so as we move to make sure less carbon is going in, we should also pursue every strategy we can think of to get it out. Because there while there are some things we can act on very quickly, we can double clean energy on the grid by 2025. We can move very quickly toward electric vehicles.

Pete Buttigieg:
There are some things, some industrial processes and ships and planes that are still going to exist 10, 20, 30 years from now that we're going to have to figure out ways to offset what they do.

Laura Knoy:
Does carbon capture, this emphasis, Mayor Buttigieg, get Americans off the hook for decreasing their fossil fuel consumption? Individuals, companies, oil producers, you know, we can all say, hey, we're just going to bury it or suck it up. So let's just keep spewing it out right now.

Pete Buttigieg:
It's too late. Maybe 50 years ago, somebody could have said, I'm sure technology will catch up. We are in crisis mode right now. And so this cannot be an excuse to let up one bit on preventing emissions from going into the atmosphere, both through newer technologies that are less polluting and through regulation and taxation of what we have. That's why we can't solve this problem without a carbon tax.

Laura Knoy:
Last very quick question on this. The role of nuclear power, Mayor Buttigieg, in your ideal energy future. Again, given climate concerns.

Pete Buttigieg:
I view it as a medium term part of the energy mix. We should not be turning our back on any carbon free source of power, but we know the problems associated with nuclear, especially waste storage and removal. And so I do not think that adding new nuclear is is an attractive solution.

Laura Knoy:
Because we've talked to a lot of environmentalists who say nuclear is the only way out of this.

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, certainly we've got to prioritize carbon because that's the crisis that that's most at hand. But I don't think that's the only answer. Look at what we can do with distributed energy, with solar, with wind, with what's sometimes called the fifth fuel, which is energy efficiency. And what we do to use less energy in the first place, let's find solutions that don't create their own problems. And that's the issue with nuclear. So we shouldn't be dogmatic about it. It's definitely going to be in the mix into the medium term, but I don't think it's the way out.

Lauren Chooljian:
I won't ask you about the role of the first in the nation New Hampshire primary. There's been criticism from other candidates, as you well know, that this problem that we have that we don't look like the rest of the country means that we shouldn't have such an outsized power in our election process. This has always been a criticism from other states. Now it's coming from other candidates, you've said that there are four states and they provide some balance, but I specifically want to hear from you. Do you think that having such a big thumb on the scale is a problem?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, I do think that it's important to have diverse voices from different kinds of states in this early process. And that's why the role of South Carolina, of Nevada, as well as the role of Iowa and of New Hampshire..

Lauren Chooljian:
But first is a major you know, you can get some serious momentum out of here. I'm sure you've looked closely and hope for that yourself. So I just wonder if those two states having that power but being not as racially diverse throughout the country is a concern.

Pete Buttigieg:
I think that's why it's so important that other states have a role, too. And, you know, the reality is that you cannot get the nomination of our party if you do not build a diverse coalition of supporters. And that's gonna be our focus throughout.

Lauren Chooljian:
And as you know, building a diverse coalition of supporters has been problematic for you lately. You've been in South Carolina recently. You've been making overtures to African-American voters there. Why do you think this has been a struggle for you?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, I talked to a lot of voters who have felt both abused by the Republican Party and sometimes taken for granted by the Democratic Party. And so when reaching out to black voters, as somebody who's very much new on the scene, there's a lot of work to do to establish not just what's in my plans. And the Frederick Douglass plan has been praised as the most comprehensive plan and strategy for dealing with systemic racial inequality yet put forward by a presidential candidate.

Pete Buttigieg:
It's not just what's in your plans. It's who are you? What makes you tick? What's inside you. And I think that my job in this campaign is to make sure that we're reaching out to folks who have no opinion at all or don't feel like they've gotten to know me yet and ensure that we can answer those questions as well as the policy questions about where we're going to do.

Lauren Chooljian:
So you think it's because you're you're new on the scene? That's a big part of it.

Pete Buttigieg:
For example, a majority of black voters in South Carolina have said that they have no opinion of me. Obviously, that means I got a lot of work to do to make sure that I've explained who I am as well as what I plan to do.

Lauren Chooljian:
We got a listener question from a woman named Jennifer who said, I'm questioning whether I want another highly privileged Caucasian male representing us. How will you ensure a balanced perspective in the White House?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well balanced is incredibly important to building any team. It was a focus of my administration in South Bend. It's one of the reasons I'm proud that my campaign consists of a majority of women and over 40 percent people of color, last time I checked. And I will build a cabinet that reflects the diversity of experience in our country, that includes racial diversity, professional diversity, regional diversity, not only because it's the right thing to do from a justice perspective, but because we will make better decisions and it will serve the country better. Everyone brings their own experiences and their own advantages and disadvantages to this effort. I think that there is something to be said for being not only somebody who'd be the first LGBT president, but the first elected official ever to make the attempt,someone who was told at the beginning of the outset of my time in elected office that I should never even dream of national office. And while I'm mindful of the privileges that go with never having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, while I am mindful of the role of sexism in our politics today, I also hope that the historic qualities that so many of the candidates in the race today can bring are not overlooked.

Laura Knoy:
A very quick question for you on New Hampshire's role and how it influences the national discussion, because we do have this, you know, like it or not, we do have this privileged position. New Hampshire voters four years ago managed to put the opioid crisis on the forefront for presidential candidates. We could talk for half an hour about this, Mayor Buttigieg. But I did want to ask you what your approach would be towards this drug addiction crisis that we're seeing here in New Hampshire. And I know Indiana has been hard hit as well. How would your approach be different? The federal government already has committed a fair bit of money toward combating opioid and drug addiction. So what would you do specifically differently?

Pete Buttigieg:
Well, one of the things we need to know we need do is increase the emphasis on medication assisted treatment. MAT. The remarkable thing about something like opioid addiction is that we know medically the means to diminish that kind of addiction through treatment. But not enough providers are qualified or allowed to prescribe it. Or there are these caps on how many prescriptions someone can write for things like Suboxone. So we need to expand that. We need a harm reduction mentality that I think is starting to filter through, but is not all the way there.

Laura Knoy:
Like needle exchange and so forth...

Pete Buttigieg:
Yes, they save lives. And there's this idea that you can't have federal funding going to needles, but it's just not consistent with what we know about what it takes to reduce the harms associated with injection drug use.

Pete Buttigieg:
I think there's also something deeper behind all of this in addition to all the medical and clinical and addiction interventions we need to undertake. And it's asking what is leading people to self-medicate? There is a crisis of belonging. I think in our country right now and we have to account for the fact that the number of deaths from despair is on the rise right now. It's a matter of fact, if we can cut it in half, we will save one million lives over the next decade.

Laura Knoy:
I'd like to ask you about that, because you just said depths of despair, and I've heard you talk about that. And if we can cut those by half and that's certainly a laudable goal, but how does a federal government, a White House and administration do anything about despair that's kind of profound. Can federal money actually help reduce despair? Can federal policy get at that?

Pete Buttigieg:
I would think of it in terms of two levels. There is a more concrete, easier to describe policy level, still not easy, but actionable.

Pete Buttigieg:
It's why I've proposed that we invest billions of dollars in what we're calling healing and belonging grants that go into communities, partly to deal with clinical and community based interventions to, for example, help with peer counseling, to help somebody on that journey between when they recover from an overdose and the first time somebody can see them clinically. Sometimes that's weeks and their lives depend on surviving that period.

Pete Buttigieg:
Things like that, that they're very clear and very concrete, but also anything that a community can do that builds up a sense of belonging. Different forms of community engagement and experience that federal dollars can help with. But there's a different level that is admittedly a little harder to put it put down in black and white. It's about the tone that comes from the White House. It's about the message that comes from the presidency and the message coming from the White House right now for so many Americans in different ways is you don't belong. You're not a real American. America is not for you. And society already creates all these ways of challenging people's sense of belonging over economic status, certainly over race, gender and sexuality, over disability. There's so many patterns of exclusion and going back to what we said earlier about being mayor, I learned that often I would earn my paycheck as mayor, not in the budget or the management decisions I made or the legislation that I signed, but in moments when I could call our community to an awareness of itself.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and you talked about the president and the tone that he sets. And I know Lauren has one last quick question...

Lauren Chooljian:
Yeah, obviously, yesterday's big news that the House is going to go forward drafting articles and impeachment. Do you think they're moving too quickly? They're trying to get this vote by December. And I'd also be curious to know if you think that this impeachment trial has further divided the country.

Pete Buttigieg:
I think that most people, for better, for worse, have made up their mind about this already. It is a painful process. But the president has left Congress with no choice but to go through this painful process, even if the outcome is likely predetermined in the Senate. You still have to do it because this is a statement that will reverberate through history. This is a statement to future presidents about whether or not Congress and America care about abuses of power.

Pete Buttigieg:
But I do believe that at the back end of the impeachment process and the end of the election, no matter how we envision the election playing out, we're gonna be even more torn up than we are now as a country. And that will be a big part of the task of the next president.

Pete Buttigieg:
It's a big part of what I am seeking to address is a country that needs to be unified, not in the sense that we'll agree on everything, we never will, but that there's an understanding, even among those who disagree over party or politics, that this country belongs to all of us and that it's a better country when all of us know that we belong.

Laura Knoy:
Mayor Buttigieg, we have run out of time. I really appreciate you being with us today. Thank you very much. This is the Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.