TRANSCRIPT: Pete Buttigieg evening press gaggle 5/17/2019

Hi friends,

Buttigieg made news on Iran (!) and gun control. I also asked about Kamala Harris’ AR-15 proposal but he didn’t take the bait. This transcript is relatively short, and well worth reading the whole thing.

The following is a transcript of Pete Buttigieg’s press gaggle held in the late evening on 5/17/2019.

— Marcus


Q: Mayor Pete, Kamala Harris announced that she would ban AR-15s by executive order if Congress failed to act, what’s your response to that, is that something you’d be able to commit to?

A: I would certainly explore executive action, but we need legislation because it's going to be more robust. And, you know, Americans broadly support strong action on gun safety. So I think that can be achieved in Congress with the right kind of presidential pressure. And while I certainly wouldn't rule out executive action, I want to make sure we do something that is going to be durable, no matter who is President to keep American lives safe.

Q: I'm curious. You -- you -- I think in both events, you mentioned that this is about you, to voters, and I hear I've heard from other candidates on the campaign trail of a message about -- I can beat Donald Trump and I'm curious, what is the right what you think the right message, that -- at least Iowans -- want to hear?

A: I guess the paradox is, the only way we can beat Donald Trump is if it's not only about Donald Trump.

He has a way of taking any attention that is directed his way, including in the form of criticism, and turning it into a kind of food and growing from it. One of the reasons I think a lot of people who disliked him voted for him anyway in the last election was they felt the nobody was speaking to their needs.

And it was a vote effectively to burn the house down by people who felt like the economy and the government were leaving them behind. I think we have a chance to do something completely different. So of course, we're going to call out the wrongdoing when there is a lie, we're going to say it's a lie. And we're going to replace it with the truth.

But the end of the day, think elections are about how much we can make a difference for the voters. And we got to talk about how everything we care about from climate to gun safety, to higher wages cashes out in everyday life. I think that's the way to win. And it's going to take enormous discipline to keep our focus on that. But it is precisely to remove our focus from that that he escalates outrageous behaviors, from tweets to -- to comments, for his own advantage.

Q: Mayor, in the past two election cycles there has been a major issue where Democrats have disagreed with pro- or anti-war in Iraq. It seems a lot of the candidates have some similar positions on whether it's healthcare, federal rates or whatever. How do you differentiate yourself, in a field of 22?

So each of us will have slightly different takes on the issues here today. But I don't think it's by some particular refinement or detail in our respective policy proposals, that voters are going to size up the differences between us. I think tone and messenger are going to matter a lot this time. And people aren't just selecting a platform, they're selecting a leader. I think it's actually a good sign that the the broad strokes of policies among the two dozen some of us in this race are converging.

Of course, there'll be some differences on the margins. Those are healthy differences. And they deserved to be debated and explored.

But I do think that there's a pretty consistent unification among Democrats. And luckily, we are broadly on most of these issues, agree not only with each other, but with the American people, which is one more reason why when we're keeping a focus on what we're actually going to do in office, we have an edge, compared to when it's just about the kind of show in Washington.

Q: Mayor Steve Mnuchin and and the Treasury Department are defying a subpoena now from the House Ways and Means Committee to basically get some of President Trump's tax returns. What should Congressman [inaudible] and Speaker Pelosi now do?

Well, when it comes to tactics, I will leave that to Congress. What I will say is that presidents ought to release their tax returns anyway, so should candidates. We released ours, not that there was much to see there. But I put it out there, because I think that that's a norm that we should all follow.

And if there's a legitimate investigative purpose for seeing them, then so much more reason for them to come out. But the best thing I can do about the President's refusal to respect rules, norms, and laws, is to defeat him. And that's what our focus is for 2020.

Q: You said you wanted to pass legislation on guns, and how are you going to be able to do that when President Obama couldn’t after Newtown?

Well, one thing that's happened, I think, is that the NRA’s power is diminished, and Americans have reached more and more of a consensus on common sense gun reform.

Remember, something on the order of 90% of Americans, probably 80% of Republicans believe, for example, that we ought to have universal background checks. So if Congress can't deliver that, that reflects a political failure across our system.

Partly, it's the result of things like gerrymandering, and money and politics that help explain how you could have so much daylight between the Congress and the American people.

Part of it also, I think, represents an opportunity, I think one of the best uses of Air Force One is to fly in the district of somebody who's doing the wrong thing, at odds not only with my view, but with his or her own district, and remind voters of that.

And I think even compared to 10 years ago, there's a real opportunity here for common sense reform, on so many issues. The trick is we need to actually be talking about the issues and what they mean to people, instead of just about the ups and downs of what's happening inside the beltway.

Q: You spoke a little bit inside about the language that's going on with Iran right now the language used by the administration, how worried are you that we are headed to war with the country?

A: Well, on one hand, we have a president who seems to be attempting to signal that this is not the direction he wants to go in. On the other hand, you have some questions of who's really in charge of foreign policy in this country right now, to the extent that we even have a foreign policy.

And as long as some of the architects of the Iraq War, some of the most hawkish foreign policy leaders of our time, are deep inside this administration too, I have low confidence that this administration has what it takes to deal with pressures to escalate, especially when you see whether it's there, or in Asia, or in Latin America, more and more of this kind of escalating language.

And sometimes an escalation can get away from you. It's not enough just to have a president who's not enthusiastic about going to war. We also have to have a White House that understands how to manage pressures that could lead to an escalation, whether it's their policy to get into a conflict or not. I have low confidence that this administration is capable of doing that. It's one more reason we need a different kind of President. Ideally, one who knows personally, what it means to be sent off to war.

Thanks, everyone.