Editor's note: Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the race on March 1, 2020.
We asked presidential candidates questions about a variety of issues facing the country. This is what Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg had to say about climate change, gun control, health care and other issues.
Do you believe the earth’s climate is changing? If yes, do you believe it is caused by humans?
Yes, I believe that the earth’s climate is changing and that it is caused by humans. You don’t need to take my word for it; this is the overwhelming consensus of scientists. Climate catastrophe is on the horizon, and history will judge us for how we rose to meet this challenge in our time. It affects Americans today, impacting not only our coasts but also farmers, small businesses, homes, and communities across our country. Instead of telling some Americans they are part of the problem, as president, I will channel all of our energies into a national project, one that unifies every American around this urgent threat and seizes the tremendous opportunity of a new era of climate action.
If you could unilaterally make one change, or enact one policy, that would affect the climate, what would that be? And why?
I will enact a price on carbon that increases each year, and the revenue collected through this mechanism will be given to working Americans, so they receive enough to be better off economically than they were before. This policy will help transform our economy and change how every single organization makes decisions in order to account for and combat the harmful impacts of climate change.
How would you engage foreign leaders to work with the United States on issues related to climate?
I will take the steps necessary to rejoin the Paris Agreement on my first day in office and make clear to the world that we are fully committed to being a global leader on climate change. I will prepare and submit a more ambitious U.S. emissions reduction goal that commits us to greater emissions reductions and that challenges other countries to increase their climate change goals as well. I will pledge $5 billion per year to identify the best ideas and shift the global debate toward a focus on scaling proven climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. My administration will also collaborate with foreign governments to generate additional or matching funding, multiplying U.S. resources.
Should the U.S. explore additional use of nuclear power as an alternative energy source? Why or why not?
We are facing an existential crisis caused by sources of energy that pollute our atmosphere and environment. We can’t afford to be absolutist about our solutions. All technologies must be on the table for us to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, including existing safe nuclear energy. We must also confront the problems presented by nuclear technology, particularly the need for solutions for the safe disposal of nuclear waste.
Should the U.S. government offer subsidies for renewable energy, such as wind energy or ethanol? Why or why not?
Yes, the federal government should provide financial support for clean energy, including renewables. I propose funding clean energy technologies through three new innovative funds that total $550 billion in new investment. This funding would be critical for us to deploy renewable energy, including wind energy and ethanol, on the rapid timeline that is needed to meet the climate challenge. We also need to end subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, which I will do as president.
How would you address gun violence in America?
We must make background checks universal. We must also close three gaping loopholes in federal law: the “boyfriend loophole” that allows stalkers to buy and possess guns and domestic abusers to have guns simply because they're not married to their abusers; the “Charleston loophole” that allows dealers to sell a gun after three business days even if their background check application is not complete; and the “hate loophole” that allows people convicted of hate crimes to buy and own guns. It is also critical that we ban the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. We need red flag laws in order to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing firearms.
How do you propose making schools safer from acts of violence?
Instead of arming teachers, we need stronger gun violence prevention laws, including red flag laws and background checks. But we also need school-based intervention solutions that have proven effective and help schools identify and de-escalate dangerous situations before they become deadly. I believe that states and schools should create — and adequately fund — school-based threat assessment programs like the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines. Effective threat assessment programs must identify threats and promote information gathering, address student access to guns, and invest in school mental health services.
What role, if any, should the government have in regulating large technology companies?
While the Internet revolution has ushered in a new era of opportunity, I am deeply concerned about the tremendous power of large TMT (technology, media, and telecommunications) companies over the market. I will take steps to rebalance the power between these companies, government, and the American people, including through privacy, antitrust enforcement, and competition policy. Given that the source of market power in many large TMT companies is their unprecedented access to and use of data, I will work with Congress to pass a federal privacy bill that protects consumers and prohibits companies from exploiting data to the detriment of consumers. I will fix our antitrust laws and enforcement.
If you are elected, how would you interact with North Korea? What relationship would the U.S. and North Korea have?
My goal is to bring about denuclearization of North Korea. However, we have to accept that denuclearization will not happen overnight and will require a sustained, step-by-step approach spanning a significant number of years. I believe the most realistic way to get there is a framework for complete, verifiable denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula that is comprehensive in scope. I would support an initial freeze agreement that would have North Korea cease production of fissile material and end nuclear and missile testing, all verified by international inspectors, in exchange for targeted sanctions relief, which could be reversed if the North Koreans didn't uphold their end.
Would you re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran? Why or why not?
I have been clear: walking away from the JCPOA was a strategic mistake. We should have no illusions about the reality that Iran poses challenges to U.S. interests beyond its nuclear program: its ballistic missile program, malign behavior in the region, threats to our ally Israel, and human rights abuses. But having the JCPOA in place created a foundation from which we could begin addressing those concerns, all of which will be even more intractable if we lack a mechanism to verifiably and permanently prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. If Iran resumes implementing its commitments, then I would rejoin. But I would take the agreement as a floor, not a ceiling.
How do you plan to address the threat of extremism in the U.S.?
The first step to combating extremism in the U.S. is to stop pretending that right-wing and white supremacist violence aren’t serious or growing problems. They both are. To keep our communities safe from these dangers, we must improve our prevention efforts. That’s why I will invest up to $1 billion in terrorism prevention and response, including expanding the FBI’s domestic counterterrorism field staff, improving our ability to track hate crimes, and working with social media and other online platforms to identify and reduce the spread of hateful content. We must also pass common-sense gun reforms to limit would-be attackers’ access to weapons of war.
Do you believe there is equal access to voting in the U.S.? If not, how would you go about expanding access to voting?
I do not. To address this, my Douglass Plan proposes a 21st Century Voting Rights Act that will use every resource of the federal government to end all types of voter suppression, expand voting access, and create a democracy where the rights of each citizen no longer depend on the color of their skin, the community they live in, or for whom they want to vote. We will expand access to the ballot by automatically registering eligible voters using information the government already has, allowing online and same-day registration, and making registration portable within states. Voting must be made easier by allowing early voting and vote-by-mail, (and) making Election Day a national holiday.
Do you believe voter fraud is a problem in the U.S.? If yes, how do you plan to you address it?
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, but election security is a very real challenge. We have seen unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud drive voter suppression efforts throughout the country. Meanwhile foreign interference in our elections is not only going unpunished, but encouraged. We need to preserve the integrity of our democracy by expanding access to the ballot for voters and preventing interference by international actors.
Should it be a crime to enter the U.S. illegally?
Entering the country unlawfully will remain unlawful when I am president. Not only our enforcement policies but also our laws must be reformed, especially when it comes to the need to permanently and decisively end the practice of family separation. We must manage our borders and our immigration policies in a fashion that is consistent with both our laws and our values.
Should the U.S. expand or limit legal immigration?
America is stronger economically, socially, militarily, and by every measure because of immigrants. One way I am proposing to expand legal immigration is to meet the needs of American communities through a new place-based Community Renewal Visa, as described in my rural economy plan. Additionally, we need to increase USCIS personnel and resources to address the backlog of visa applications. We also need to create a system that is more flexible to the changing needs of our businesses and communities. That is why I support creating a commission that will update our visa numbers every year in order to allow the flexibility we clearly need in our changing economy.
In many areas of the country, there is a critical shortage of affordable housing. What would your administration do to address it?
I will address America’s housing crises by first recognizing that not all cities, and not all Americans, experience the same type of housing woes. To address accessible housing challenges, I will leverage HUD’s abilities to its fullest extent, including by fully enforcing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and building a navigable and current database of accessible and affordable housing nationally. To make housing more equitable and affordable, I proposed a 21st Century Community Homestead Act that constitutes a wholesale transfer of vacant land and blighted property to low-income residents of formerly redlined neighborhoods.
What is your plan to address the growing national debt?
I believe in the intergenerational compact of leaving our country better than we found it. That means preventing climate catastrophe, undoing social injustices, and investing in our children. It also means doing something about the fiscal time bombs that have been set to go off in my lifetime, largely by Republican presidents and Congresses who have contributed to exploding deficits. We cannot allow a national debt to become unmanageable, nor should it be used as an excuse to cut the investments in infrastructure, education, health, and climate we so badly need. I will fully pay for my plans by rolling back the Trump tax breaks and asking those who are wealthiest to pay their fair share.
Do you think our national debt is a national security issue? Why or why not?
The full faith and credit of the United States must be beyond reproach, and we must keep our debt to manageable levels, so that key security priorities can always be met. Our economic strength is a vital tool in our national security. An unchecked national debt can weaken that strength and therefore amounts to a security concern.
Is capitalism the best economic structure for the United States? If yes, why? If no, what is better and how do you believe it will benefit Americans?
I believe in democratic capitalism. Capitalism is a powerful economic system that has the potential to create broad-based economic opportunity and prosperity. However, capitalism does not work well without rules in place to make sure it is fair. Over my lifetime, American capitalism has gone increasingly off course. We need to enforce the rules we already have to crack down on monopolies and anti-competitive practices in the market. We need new, stronger rules to protect organized labor so that workers share in our country’s prosperity, as I propose in my labor plan. And we need to realign corporate incentives to think beyond the next financial quarter.
In many parts of the country, there is a skilled worker gap. How would you close that gap to get more people employed in the industries that need them?
To help ensure better workforce outcomes, particularly for those with the greatest need, we need to invest in helping Americans strengthen and gain new, in-demand skills. That includes options for students to pursue career and technical education, college coursework, or a bachelor's degree. My administration would prioritize equal access to high-quality workforce development programs, as well as ensure that low-income students can access higher education in public two- and four-year colleges debt-free. In addition, I will expand access to apprenticeships and other "earn-and-learn" opportunities through new investments in these programs.
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Should the government forgive student loans? If yes, why and for whom? If no, why not?
My administration will provide student loan forgiveness to teachers and other public servants, rewarding those borrowers for the sacrifices they have made for their communities. More broadly, we need to ensure that student debt is affordable. This includes guaranteeing that borrowers whose loans are cancelled through income-based repayment aren't taxed on the amount forgiven. I will also cancel the debts of borrowers in low-quality, overwhelmingly for-profit programs, beginning with those that failed federal “gainful employment” rules. I do not, however, support middle class and low-income families subsidizing the higher education costs of the students of millionaires and billionaires.
Should community college be free to anyone who wants to attend? Should other colleges and universities be free to attend?
My administration will ensure free public college tuition for low- and middle-income students. We will do this through a state-federal partnership that makes public tuition affordable for all and completely free at lower and middle incomes. Combined with a large increase in Pell Grants, we will ensure college is debt-free for the lowest-income public college students by providing for basic living expenses and ensuring the grants keeps up with inflation. Again, I do not, however, support middle class and low-income families subsidizing the higher education costs of the students of millionaires and billionaires.
Is more funding needed for mental health care in America? If yes, what amount and how should it be allocated? Where should that money come from?
Yes. In my mental health plan, I propose a $300 billion increase in funding for mental health. $100 billion of this will go to community innovation grants. We will empower communities most affected by mental illness and addiction to address the problem in their own way through 10-year grants that address policies or programs around prevention, care integration, and community. We will establish mental health parity for Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance, so they cover mental illness in the same way they cover chronic conditions like diabetes; increase the mental health workforce; provide grants for organizations to combat stigma around mental illness; and expand services for veterans.
How would you address rising prescription drug costs, specifically for medications that are necessary for people to live, such as insulin and mental health medications?
In my drug pricing policy, I lay out a comprehensive plan to reduce prescription drug costs by holding the pharmaceutical industry accountable for responsible pricing and using the power of the federal government to lower costs. My administration will cap out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs to $200 for seniors on Medicare, cap out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs to $250 on the public insurance plan that we will offer under Medicare for All Who Want It, and make copayments zero for low-income people buying generic drugs on a public plan. We will empower the government to negotiate directly with insurance companies to lower prices, starting with critical drugs like insulin.
What do you believe is the biggest health care issue facing Americans? How would you solve it?
The biggest health care issue facing Americans is that too many of us can’t access or afford health care we need when we need it. I’ve proposed Medicare for All Who Want It, to ensure that everyone has access to an affordable health insurance option through a Medicare-like public plan. I have also proposed to limit premiums for insurance coverage bought through the ACA marketplace. My plan will cover out-of-pocket costs. My plan will protect patients by ending surprise billing and capping out-of-network provider rates. The difference between my plan and others is my plan will achieve universal coverage without forcing Americans off private plans and without raising taxes on the middle class.
How would you address the opioid crisis?
As laid out in my mental health plan, my vision for the future of mental health and addiction care is rooted in embracing prevention and ensuring that every person with a mental illness or a substance use disorder has the resources and support they need to begin to heal. This means providing everyone with access to life-saving medication to treat opioid use disorder, by making naloxone widely available, deregulating buprenorphine, and increasing the number of clinicians able to prescribe medication to treat addiction. I will increase mobile clinics and access to longer-lasting forms of medication-assisted therapy for patients in hard-to-reach rural or medically underserved areas.
Should marijuana be legalized federally for medicinal use? Should it be legalized for recreational use?
Yes. We will, on the federal level, legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions. We will also eliminate incarceration for drug possession and reduce sentences for other drug offenses.
Do you support a public health insurance option for all Americans? If yes, do you support the elimination of private health care in favor of a government-run plan, or do you support an option where Americans can choose a public or private plan? If no, why?
Yes. The Medicare for All Who Want It public alternative will help America reach universal coverage by ensuring all Americans have an affordable insurance option. The public alternative will provide the same essential health benefits as those currently available on the marketplaces and ensure that everyone has access to high-quality, comprehensive coverage. The plan will automatically enroll individuals in affordable coverage if they are eligible for it, while those eligible for subsidized coverage will have a simple enrollment option. A backstop fund will reimburse health care providers for unpaid care to patients who are uninsured.
Should the federal government re-institute the death penalty? If yes, for what crimes?
No. I support a constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pete Buttigieg shares views on gun control, immigration and more